Canoeing up a rapids


In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.


The scene:

Rivers flow along with countryside. If they reach what amounts to a cliff they form a waterfall. If they flow down a hill they make a rapids or white water. Good canoeists can paddle upstream or against the current and even through a rapids if it’s not too fast. When paddling up a rapids it’s important that no one in the canoe grabs a branch to rest because the canoe will turn sideways in the current and either swamp or shoot back down the rapids. In this scene three boys are racing back to a city to get medical help for a badly cut hand of one of the passengers. They decide to paddle up a rapids instead of getting out and carrying the canoe around (portaging). Describe what happens…


Here’s what Zan, Luat and Lazelle do in, Can Do, Zan:

 Zan, anxious to keep the rhythm going, said, “Why don’t we keep paddling? Go right up the rapids?”

“You’re crazy,” Lazelle said.

“I did it by myself. Well, almost. Remember Luat?”

“Yeah. But the water was slower. The falls weren’t steep.”

“Hey, look at it this way,” Zan pushed his argument. “We’ve got two paddlers now. Besides, I watched Nick fish there and I know a route we can follow through the rocks.”

“What’s the point?” Luat asked.

“We can gain a half hour,” Zan replied, “and make up the time we lost in the first hour…” Noticing Lazelle’s head come up and his shoulders tighten, Zan added, “while we got our pace going.”

 Pausing before the falls, Zan mapped out the path they would follow. “First we get booking for the shore side of that big rock. That will be the worst part. Just past the rock, we hang a right across the white water. That should be easier. And once we get to the far side, we’re in. And don’t touch anything outside the canoe, Luat, it can dump us.”

Luat raised his bandaged hand to his forehead in a mock salute. “Aye, aye, sir.”

“Let’s do it,” Lazelle said, digging his paddle deep in the water. Soon the canoe was traveling at twice the normal cruising speed.

The water coursing around the big rock rose up in a wall that reached over Zan’s head. He steered as far away from it as he could but the force of the current squeezed in the narrow space between the boulder and the shore slammed the canoe to a near standstill. He and Lazelle dug furiously, inching forward against what felt like a big hand pushing them back. It seemed like a draw. They couldn’t go forward but they weren’t falling back. Luat reached out to a branch hanging over the water to pull them along. That’s all it took to edge the nose of the canoe sideways in the current and in a second they spun completely around and washed down to the quiet water below.

Zan exploded between ragged breaths, “Dang, Luat…I told you… not to grab…anything.”

“Sorry, guys. Nice try, but let’s just walk the canoe around.”

Zan’s jaw clenched. “No! We can do it. We’ll try the other side. I’m sure we can do it this time. Right, Lazelle?”

 A furious paddle and a couple of minutes later, the Wa-Tonka canoeists rested in the gentle lake above the falls.