Tag Archives: mini-lesson monday

Mini-Lesson Monday: First and Last Lines

In the spirit of all the books we’re giving away (winners announced tonight!), today’s mini-lesson is one of my favorites to do with independent reading books.  It celebrates the beauty and power of language, no matter the text–poetry, nonfiction, YA, award-winners, graphic novels, and more.  It also celebrates the pure joy of discovery; the launch into a new world attained only by opening to the first page of a new book.

Objectives:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will identify patterns in opening and closing lines of texts, synthesize their noticings, and draw conclusions about a text’s craft and structure.

primcacyLesson:  “Have y’all learned about the concepts of primacy and recency in psychology yet?  Who can refresh us?”

A student reminds us that the concept says that the first and last items in a series are easier and more likely to be committed to memory.

“Well, this concept isn’t just for psychology.  It applies to books too.  The first and last lines of books are the most powerful, and the most likely to stick with us.  Let’s talk in our table groups about why the first and last lines are so powerful.”

I wander the room for three minutes as students discuss, in groups of 3-4, these concepts.  They conclude that the first line often sets the tone, introduces a new world, or hooks the reader with some mystique.  The last line, they say, helps keep the reader wondering, or solves a lingering mystery, or even makes you cry.

I write these conclusions on the board, or elicit them from groups if necessary, so that we’re all on the same page.

“Okay, let’s take a look at some of our current reads and see how they can grab our attention.  Open up your independent reading book and read the first line again, and then read the very last line, too.”  (There’s always some anxiety about this, but I reassure them that last lines rarely contain plot giveaways.)

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(OMG, have you read this? It exploded in popularity the last few weeks of this school year. Read it!)

I ask a few students to give me examples:

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with “I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen,” and ends with, “We rowed faster.”  
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany opens with “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meaney,” and ends with, “I shall keep asking you.”
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August begins with “The second cataclysm began in my eleventh life, in 1996,” and concludes, “Instead, for those few days you have left, you are mortal at last.”
  • Room opens with “Today I’m five,” and ends with “Then we go out the door.”

I ask students to write for a few minutes about all that they can learn from the first and last lines, based on what they already know of the text from reading.  This is key–the lesson is much different than a simple craft study of a text they’re not already invested in, because they’re bringing lots more prior knowledge to their text analysis.

7937843I quickly model with Room, whose plot is simply explained and well known from a recent booktalk.  “I notice the sentence structure first–both lines are short, simple sentences.  Then I get a sense of the narrator’s voice, as he is obviously five years old, and that shapes how I’m going to view the text.  I also know that while they start out trapped in Room, they manage to escape somehow, either literally or figuratively, because of the last line.  I’m intrigued by all of these things, and it sets me up for what sounds like a pretty good read.”  As I talk, I note on the board the kinds of things I’m noticing–craft, tone, characterization, theme, plot, sentence structure.

Students write for five minutes about these topics.  Because they’re midway through these books, they have more knowledge of the text than just the first and last lines.  After a few minutes of writing about what they’ve noticed, I ask, “Now, how does revisiting the first line, and looking ahead to the last line, shape your reading of the text?  What do you find yourself thinking about?  What do you predict might happen?”

Follow-Up:  After students have written their reflections, I ask that they pass notebooks.  They’ll read all of their table mates’ entries, providing 2-3 mini-booktalks–a variation on speed dating.

This lesson could also be a great companion to Jackie’s mini-lesson on writing leads.

This lesson also acts as one of a series of lessons leading up to the students’ writing of a craft analysis of their independent reading books.

Mini-lesson Monday: A How-to on One Way I Teach with Short Texts

“Hey, Mrs. Rasmussen, I noticed this passage when I was reading,” Geovany said after class as he flipped a few pages in The Kite Runner and read a few lines. “That just really make me think, and it’s really nicely written.”

“And this is what I want you to understand, that good, real good, was born out of your father's remorse. Sometimes, I thing everything he did, feeding the poor on 
the streets, building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all 
his way of redeeming himself. And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, 
Amir jan, when guilt leads to good.” ~Khaled Hosseini

That might have been the passage. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember the moment. It’s one of my favorites of the year.

Geovany did little work in my class until these book clubs. I’m not sure he finished reading even one book all fall. Although bright and capable, he is busy. He works 20 hours a week changing tires at a local auto shop, plus school with at least one AP English class. Mine. I know Geo has big hopes for his future, and I know he wishes he had a dad. He’s written a few times this year about how he wishes he had a father to mentor him, care for him — be a dad to him. So when Geovany showed me that passage in The Kite Runner, and when he explained that he’d made a connection to it, I knew all my talk about reading and noticing how authors craft language was working.

I will keep doing what I know works.

This lesson is an example of how I use what my colleagues and I call a triple play. We got the term from Penny Kittle. A triple play is when we find a passage that allows us to do three things with it:  1. have student write a personal response to the passage, 2. talk about an engaging book students might like to read, 3. study the author’s craft — not necessarily in that order. This lesson uses a passage from Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. (Actually, there’s two passages because I love them both!)

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will make observations about a text, write a response, discuss and analyze the author’s craft, and construct meaning of their own modeled after the writer’s.

Lesson: First, to give students a glimpse into the book, I introduce it by reading the cover, 18075234which has three interesting quotes:  1. “A brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frieghtening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak; then two from the book:  2. “The bottom is only the beginning.” and 3. “My feet are on safe, solid ground, but that’s just an illusion.”

I ask: What do you think this book is about? After we read a passage from this book today, analyze a little bit, and write a little bit, I hope this is a book you will want to read.

Next, I give students a copy of the passage. I read it aloud first and ask students to pay attention to anything they find interesting that the writer does with language. They almost always find the literary or rhetorical devices I hope they will. Sometimes they do not know how to name it, so this is where I teach academic vocabulary. We discuss the effect of the devices on the meaning of the passage or why the writer might have made those choices when constructing meaning. We almost always talk about tone. Depending on where we are in the school year and how much we’ve done with analysis, I may ask students to write an analytical paragraph that answers the craft study question.

Finally, I ask students to read the passage again to themselves and then write a response. Some suggestions for response prompts are at the bottom of the passages. Students have about 10-15 minutes to write. I always ask students to read over what they wrote and then revise before they share. Sometimes students share at their tables. Other times we share out as a whole group.

Follow up:  Throughout the school year, I use a variety of texts I pull from books I read from my classroom library. You’ll find other passage I’ve used if you search the categories for craft studies (or just click there).

A few times a year, I ask students to find significant passages in the books they read. Sometimes they construct their own “craft study” questions. (I especially like to do this when we read in our book clubs.) Sometimes students answer the questions they construct in formal response one-page essays.

The goal is to help students learn how to identify and analyze the moves writers make to craft meaning — and to help them practice writing using these moves as models for their own craft.

And just maybe they will make connections to a text like Geovany did to The Kite Runner.

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: Mining Memories to Begin a Writing Unit

Narrative is, to me, the most powerful genre of writing one can do.  Whether the narrative rests in a fictional or true story, or acts as an anecdote within an argumentative text, or helps to illustrate a concept in an informative one, story is central to great writing.  Students know and live this, and are natural storytellers once they get going…but sometimes knowing what story to tell is easier said than done.

I find that stories students have rehearsed well through talk or reflection are the best stories to get them to write.  As a result, we mine our memories to harness our most powerful topics for writing all narratives.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify memories that are rich with complexity to write from. Or, from the Common Core:  Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Lesson — My students in West Virginia are well familiar with the concept of a mine.  For them, a mine is “an abundant source of something,” while to mine means “delve into (an abundant source) to extract something of value, especially information or skill.”  Using this metaphor for brainstorming topics is comforting for them, since they know we’re digging for existing ideas and knowledge–not crafting something new.

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My scars maps

One of my favorite activities for mining memories came from Tom Romano, which he simply calls “Scars.”

I begin by drawing a stick figure on the board and then turning to my students.  I point to my knee, then draw a small dot on my stick-figure knee.  “When I was about eight,” I begin, “I really thought I could jump down a whole flight of stairs and land on my feet.”  I get them laughing as I tell them the story of how I got that particular scar.  Then I draw a little dot on my left stick-figure eye, and tell them the story of how I got chicken pox so badly that it went into my eyeballs.  They cringe in horror, so then I draw a little dot on my left wrist and tell them about how my new kitten just really won’t stop using my arm as a scratching post.

We laugh together.

“All scars have a great story behind them.  Draw a stick figure in your notebook and label your own scars.”

They do this, unable to keep silent as they show their neighbor their stick figures and begin to tell their stories in brief.

After a few minutes, I draw their attention back to the board and draw a large heart.

“All scars have stories, but not all scars are visible.  Sometimes we carry scars on our hearts, where no others can see.”  The classroom always gets eerily quiet at this point.  I write the name “MeMe” in my heart on the board, and tell about my awesome Tennesseean grandmother and her fabulous Southern drawl and feisty persona, and how she passed away on my very first day of teaching.

“It was basically impossible to get through my very first day of this career that I so love,” I share.

Then, I write the word “miscarriage” in my heart, and tell about that worldview-shifting event in my life.

“Go ahead and draw your own hearts and label your own heart scars.  We all have them.  Don’t be scared.  This is just for your notebook, for now.  It will stay private.”

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My scars story

The classroom falls silent and I open my notebook under the document camera while they scrawl, not telling any stories to neighbors this time.

“Beneath your stick figure and your heart, let’s take eight minutes to write about any one of these scars.  Tell the story of how it came to be.  It could be a funny story, or a sad one, or a scary one.  But tell the truth and tell it well.”

We write together, revisiting a routine that has become commonplace in our classroom–I model not just the act of writing, but the act of vulnerability, and my students dive headfirst into the tough stuff as a result.  This is just one practice that builds a strong community of readers and writers.

Follow-Up — After we write, we revise briefly, then elect whether or not to share at our tables only.

The next class, we mine another set of memories by creating a map of our childhood homes, then telling the story of one of the places on the map–a Penny Kittle gem.

Another day, we go through our playlists, choose a song that is the soundtrack of our life, then tell the story that made it so.

We continue with five seed prompts in a row, five class periods in a row.  Then we select one of those stories to refine and workshop into a narrative.  I teach a mini-lesson each day about a narrative skill, so that by the time we’ve really committed to a topic, students are well-versed in pacing, dialogue, descriptive detail, and the like.  We confer and workshop and revise.

I’ll employ this routine when we return from break, focusing on reflection and rejuvenation and resolutions in the new year, working to craft multimodal “This I Believe” essays as we read Siddhartha together.

How do you get your students to come up with meaningful topics for writing?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Talking Tone and a Bit More Reasoning in Our Writing

I sat at our staff Christmas party talking to a colleague about the essays my students just drafted. We read and analyzed several pieces by Leonard Pitts, Jr, talking about the effectiveness of his style, arguing over his opinion, justifying our own. The task was to write their own OpEd piece, responding to a topic in the news or a topic of their choice. Most chose interesting topics:  How the world defines beauty, Should armed guards protect our schools, Does keeping a home clean matter in the long run..

A few students wrote clearly articulated arguments that show intentional craft moves.

Many showed intentional craft moves but wrote little in the way of argument — or anything close to critical thinking about their topics. In short, some of my writers say pretty much nothing, but they say it very very well.

Therein lies the problem:  How do I get some of my students to think critically about their topics so they can write critically about their topics?

Sitting at that dinner, my friend and colleague, Mary Heffner, shared an activity she’d recently done with her students to help them understand tone. I decided that not only would it help my students understand tone (which most failed to consider when they began writing — “Do I have to remind them of every little thing?” she says with a sigh), but it could help them reason through the beliefs they have about their topic and write stronger sentences they might use when they revise.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels: Define the tone of your essay; Construct reasons to express why your topic should be expressed by that tone word; Create sentences and synthesize your knowledge of punctuation, syntax, and sophisticated vocabulary to express your reasons while using this tone; Revise your writing to include these well-constructed sentences.

Lesson — (Prior to reading their drafts, I asked students to identify the tone of their pieces and write it in the top right corner of their papers. I determined quite easily that many of my writers thought they felt a certain way about their topics but were having trouble expressing that tone.)

First, I ask writers to clarify their choice of tone word by putting a short list of common adjectives that describe tone on the board:  infuriated, excited, confused, sorrowful, scornful, exasperated, concerned. We quickly define what each word means. I then tell students what I noticed when I look at the tone word they wrote on their papers and when I read their essays. “Some of you have a misconnect — you think you’re taking a certain tone, but you have little or no evidence of it in your writing. (Time permitting we might revisit one of Pitt’s pieces that we read as our mentor text and analyze the tone.)

“The other thing I noticed in your writing is a lack of reasoning. Today we are going to practice getting both a clear tone and powerful reasoning into our arguments.

“Once you have your tone word, and you know this is how you feel about your topic, you will write five reasons that support your topic and demonstrate this tone. Sometimes you can even use the tone word, or a synonym of it, in your reasoning sentences.”

Then I show students my own reasons I wrote to add to my writing. My topic “longer vacation time over the holidays.” The tone “emphatic.”

Reasons:

  1. Two weeks vacation time hardly covers the travel time when a family must drive far distances to share just a moment with their loved ones.
  2. Teenagers thrive on rest and relaxation.
  3. If families spent more time together we may have fewer problems in our society.
  4. Teachers work too hard, sometimes even taking work home over the break, to not enjoy more one-on-one time with their families over the holidays.
  5. With a longer, more relaxing, break, students and teachers would return to school more rejuvenated and infused with energy to embrace the love of learning.

As they read through my reasons, I ask students to talk to one another about my word choice:  How do I show I emphatically care about this topic?

Follow up — Students will revisit their drafts and work on clarifying gaps in reasoning. They will add their five new sentences to make their arguments stronger and more logical.

Reflection — As we move into our next writing piece, I will be more purposeful in directing students to think about tone. We will spend more time thinking through our reasoning before we begin writing.

Sometimes I assume too much, and I end up having to take us back and start again.

Writing critically is hard for many of my students — although their style is improving. I remind myself that I must continue to give them interesting and thought-provoking things to think about — their words and many of their worlds are so limited.

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: Plot Pyramids in Reading and Writing

2000px-Freytags_pyramid.svgThis year I experimented with literature circles to not only explore four of the popular whole class reads associated with our ninth grade curriculum but to also inject some choice into the required reading.  This was my first time attempting literature circles and while I recognized the potential struggles, my hope was to inspire open conversations about these complex and challenging texts.  In the past, class conversations with my students were dead and lackluster.  They were oftentimes reduced to leading plot-based questions. This year though, I couldn’t take a second quarter of policing reading, empty conversations, and painful silences, which meant I opened class time to small group conversation and taught reading skills through mini-lessons.  My classroom shifted from teacher-centered lessons on books to student-centered conversations on reading.

Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will draw, identify, and label the multiple components of Freytag’s Pyramid.  They will construct a plot pyramid using class notes and apply the concepts learned within the mini-lesson to construct their own plot pyramid based on their literature circle’s chosen book.  Students will summarize the moments within the book that coordinate with the various points on the plot pyramid, citing evidence from their book to support their analysis.  Finally, using guiding questions, students will discuss and critique the author’s use of plot to move the story forward.

 Lesson:  I began class with a recap on Freytag’s Pyramid.  Many of my students had seen this traditional plot triangle in sixth grade but hadn’t revisited the concept since then.    They understood that plot provides the backbone of the story, yet to them, plots looked rather one-dimensional, rising perfectly at a 45-degree angle, peaking smack in the center of the story through one climax, then cleanly declining at the same 45-degree angle.

Avid readers know this is far from the case: if every book had the stereotypical plot-triangle-shape, there’d be no sense in reading.  It would be as perfectly predictable as Hallmark’s line of holiday movies (although I admit I love them just the same).  Good readers understand that plots are messy; they jut out at multiple angles, taking longer to rise in some cases or providing a false climax only to plateau and eventually rise farther.

IMG_1288I typically like to use novels I am currently reading and/or studying to model my analysis of plot.  This year I discussed Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as an episodic novel since I am studying it with my AP Literature students.  Other options include previously studied short stories, whole class reads, or popular novels-turned-films.

I then provide students with time and guiding questions to draw and create their own plot triangle that they will then present to the class.  As they chart their plots providing explanations and evidence, they must also answer the following: What makes your plot shape distinctive? How might it differ from other books you’ve read?  What is the climax? How did your group decide on the climax? Why do you think the author decided to place the climax where they did?  How did the structure impact your personal reading of the piece?  Did the structure create suspense or the did the rising action last too long?

The conversation part of this is key; my students’ success derived directly from their ability to sit with their peers and draw out the plot’s structure.  In the end, many students struggled with distinctly placing the climax.  This gave me time to sit with groups and help guide their understanding.  They had deep conversations over the artistic choices of their authors, arguing that Golding could have decreased his rising action in Lord of the Flies or that Steinbeck’s decision to place Lennie’s death at the end of Of Mice and Men had the greatest impact.

Some students claimed that there were multiple climaxes in their novels while others were adamant that only one existed.  These discussions culminated in consensus, which students then shared with their peers. In the end, each group arrived with a firmer understanding of how plot can guide readers through suspense, excitement, and tragedy.

Follow-Up: This mini-lesson is two-fold.  It serves as a basis for deeper literary analysis, but it also provides a starting point for my next free writing unit.  Over the next couple weeks, students will harvest an idea from their writer’s notebooks, workshop the pieces, and finalize them prior to the holiday.

Using their knowledge of plot from our literature circles, they will apply these concepts to their own stories, completing exercises from The Plot Whisperer Workbook by Martha Alderson to help structure their narratives, fiction, and poetry.  I’m hoping that this recycled mini-lesson and common concepts will reinforce the interconnectedness of reading, writing, and craft.

How do you approach plot with your students? What mini-lessons do you make a point of revisiting throughout your year?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Introducing Thematic Units through Poetry

d284bf40a1804c66d4fff674f59b350eSince the Freshman English curriculum is set up thematically, I like to introduce quarter themes through poetry.  While I love the quarter’s discussion of larger themes, students oftentimes lose the goal, purpose, or relevance of these themes as the quarter progresses.

In turn, I make it a point to introduce the quarter’s themes independently as a pre-reading exercise.  Instead of asking questions specifically about lit circle or whole class novels, I lead in with poetry that will help students begin teasing out the bigger ideas from the beginning.

Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will identify the central theme of the poem “Trolls” by Shane Koyczan, stating its message, and quoting from the text.  They will interpret the meaning through individual quick writes and group discussions, and they will apply the concepts learned from their discussions to the books they are currently reading in literature circles.

Lesson: The Freshman Team’s Quarter two theme is “darkness of man’s heart,” which I introduced this year through Shane Koyczan’s poem “Trolls.”  The purpose of this quick write is threefold: it introduces students to denotation and connotation; it allows us to discuss second person point of view, and it provides a smooth transition into our quarter theme.

First I hand out the printed copy of “Trolls” and I play the video for students.  Students then perform a five-minute quick write to the poem by either pulling an idea or a quote from the poem and using it as a sentence starter or by responding to the poem as a whole.  Regardless of their method, their goal is to connect pencil to paper for a full five minutes until I tell them to finish up their line.  During this time I model my own writing on my document projector.  Our quick write time is followed by two minutes of Kelly Gallagher’s “RADaR marks” in which students return to their writing, colored pencils in hand, to quickly review and revise their work.

I love the immediate reaction and rawness of their writing in these moments, which makes it the perfect time to turn and talk within our groups.  I first model my writing then ask students to share theirs, urging them to read at least one line from their responses.  These quick writes provide the necessary steps to build a writer’s community.  The more students share these tidbits, the more willingly the engage in the writing process with each other at every step.

It is these individual discussions that lead to greater questions about Koyczan’s use of denotation and connotation to describe both mythical trolls and Internet trolls.  We talk about his intentions in starting the poem with the fairytale line of “Once upon a time” as well as his reliance on second person to not only garner solidarity with his audience but to attack cyberbullies.

Once we’re done discussing the intricacies of the language, I send them back to their groups to contemplate what Koyczan has to say about the darkness of man’s heart.  Starting with poetry allows them to grapple with major themes in a small burst.  Spoken word poetry plants these ideas before they even begin to delve into more complex novels.

Follow Up: This quarter is the first time I have done literature circles.  My students chose from Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, or a combination between Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm.  I used Koyczan’s poem to practice our literature circle roles and then to use our roles as a basis for discussion in the literature circle groups.

Because “Trolls” was short, accessible piece, students were able to discuss the theme before we even began our reading of our exploration of our lit circle books.  That being said, this process of discussion, while simple, allows students to explore themes, thus building the necessary foundation for them to further examine these themes within their novels.

Here are some additional poems to pair with literature themes:

Theme: Loss of Innocence—Poem: “Jellyfish” by Sarah Kay

Theme: Individual and Society—Poem: “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan

Theme: Identity—Poem: “Names” by Rachel Rostad or “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar paired with “Masks”  by Shel Silverstein,

Theme: Love—Poem: “How Falling Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali

Theme: Coming of Age—Poem: “On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins

Theme: Invasion of Technology—Poem: “Look Up” by Gary Turk

What theme-poem pairings do you use in your classroom?  What suggestions would you add to this list?

Mini-Lesson Monday – Strengthening Dialogue With Punctuation

Punctuation_Saves_Lives2After reading second drafts of my students’ narratives, I was wowed by so much of their writing.  Thoughtful leads, powerful topics, intriguing plot structures.  But, despite a mini-lesson on the conventions of writing dialogue last week, some of their characters’ conversations were lacking.  I needed to design a responsive mini-lesson accordingly.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels: Synthesize your knowledge of how punctuation works with narrative speech conventions to craft thoughtful dialogue; Construct dialogue based on your knowledge of a character’s personality.  Or, from the Common Core: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Lesson — While reading drafts, I set aside a few exemplary pieces of student work in terms of dialogue.  In each class period, there were at least two students whose dialogue was superior.  It was subtle, nuanced, and really added to the characters’ depth.

I asked students to open their writer’s notebooks to the Craft Study section and I projected one example of a student’s work on the board using my document camera.  “Good dialogue isn’t just about what a character says,” I begin. “It’s also about how they say it.  A greeting can really change based on phrasing or punctuation.”

I point to the example on the board.  It’s Logan’s, and in his dialogue, his mom is yelling at him for getting drunk:

“LOGAN WAITMAN SANDERS!” Mom hollered. “Just WHAT do you think you are doing, young man?!  And…and…YOU, Jeremy!  You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Everyone laughs, and I ask a volunteer to read the dialogue aloud.  Dylan does, with perfect angry-Mom-inflection.  He makes Logan shrink back in his seat a little.

I ask the class, “Why did Dylan know how to read that dialogue so perfectly?”  They volunteer: the capitalization helped; he knew when to raise his voice.  “How did he know to stutter?”  They say: the dots (ellipses, I add helpfully) told him to stutter.  “How did he know to sound kind of incredulous while yelling?”  They reply: the exclamation points, and especially that exclamation point mixed with a question mark.  “How did he know when to pause?”  They know: commas.

I put up other kinds of punctuation on the board–dashes, periods, italics–and we discuss what effect each of those would have on a character’s dialogue.  Students jot all this down in their notebooks.  Then, I pass back their drafts and ask them to find a partner.  “Now that you know how to really make dialogue more personal, revise your dialogue in your drafts.  Work with a partner to determine whether or not your dialogue has the effect you want it to when you revise–write a line, then ask your partner to read it aloud the way Dylan read Logan’s.”

Students take ten minutes per person to revise, then we launch into writer’s workshop with the remainder of class.  I write beside them on the board, working on my own dialogue in my NaNoWriMo novel.

In each of my other classes, we repeat this exercise with drafts that contain good dialogue.  It’s so important to use student work as mentor texts–students see that great writing is attainable, not just imitable, when we show them their peers’ successes.

Follow-Up — After today’s revision and writing workshops, students will have one more day in class to keep working on their drafts before turning them in again.  I’ll hope to see much improved dialogue, and as such, I’ll ask writers to answer a question on their self-evaluations about how their dialogue enhances their characterization.

Mini-Lesson Monday: This lesson stinks, literally.  Teaching Sensory Details in Narrative Writing.

FullSizeRender-1I, like many of my students, am a kinesthetic learner.  Not only do I learn by doing, but for many tasks, I require a hands-on approach to fully grasp the complexity of a concept.  Yet as a teacher, applying kinesthetic techniques to English concepts can be somewhat challenging.  While we write and read and physically play with words, I try to create simulations and activities that allow my students to experiment with writing in unique ways.  This activity, which is one of my favorites of the year, uses students’ olfactory sense to stimulate sensory detail writing within their personal narratives.

Objectives:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will identify personal memories associated with unidentified scents.  Recalling prior and newly acquired knowledge, they will translate their observations into descriptive writing by constructing sentences that rely on sensory details.  Finally, students will apply their understanding of descriptive writing to their own personal narratives.

Lesson:  This mini-lesson takes preparation, but students’ responses are worth the extra time.  First, collect the following supplies: Plastic cups (I use blue Solo cups), a permanent marker, tinfoil, a toothpick, rubber bands (optional), and a variety of objects that have a scent.  This year I used lime juice, perfume, scented wax blocks from Walmart, BBQ sauce, apple cider vinegar, garlic, mint extract, crayons, and Play-Doh.  Every year is different though and I typically rely on what I have around my home.

I put the scented sauces, liquids, and objects in each of the cups, cover the cups with tin-foil, and wrap a rubber band around the top to secure the foil.  I label each cup with a number and poke holes in the tin-foil with a toothpick.  Next I place the cups around the room. After taking some notes on the concept of “show don’t tell,” students walk around the room smelling the contents of each cup.  They must not peek (believe me they will try)!

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My students were convinced I had a tiny Abercrombie and Fitch model in this cup. In reality, it was a block of scented wax from Walmart.

I provide each student with a grid in which they fill in the cup number, adjectives to describe the scent, and personal memories the scent conjures.  They must then write a two-to-three-line story or scenario in which they describe the scent without identifying what the scent is.  By the end of the activity, when we come back together as a group, students excitedly volunteer to read their sentences in order to reveal the contents of the cup.

Follow Up:  Following this activity, we identify sensory details within our independent reading books and take turns discussing these details within our groups.  Finally, during workshop time, students add sensory details to their personal narrative rough drafts, in turn “showing” images rather than “telling” them.  The process of digging into their narratives and writing in the margins reinforces the messy, step-by-step process of revision that many of my students struggle to grasp.  If time allows, students partake in a whip share in which we each share one line from our narratives that includes sensory details.

What are some untraditional writing activities you use? How do you get your students moving around the classroom?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Connecting to Poetry with Heart Books

Today is my first day back with my students, since my excellent student teacher departed on Friday.  Having observed their learning and their needs for the past six weeks, I have lots of goals for them in mind.  But, most urgently, I am struck by how much I want readers to connect more authentically to literature–to nurture their investment in, and passion about, literacy.  I want to begin helping them do that by creating and curating Heart Books, which I heard the excellent Linda Rief present about at NCTE in 2013.  Thank you to the very thorough Vicki for this excellent description of Heart Books.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify a topic/theme to explore in heart books; Collect and display a variety of poems about this topic/theme over time; Connect your poems to your topic and yourself.

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My heart map

Lesson — We’ll begin the lesson by returning to the Heart Maps (here’s a great handout on those) we created early on in the school year.  “Choose one topic on your heart map that you’d like to explore further.  On my heart map, I think I’m going to choose my students–this kind of includes themes of learning, growth, and teaching, too,” I’ll explain.

Once students choose topics from their heart maps and expand on what themes they might include, we’ll create a new section in our writer’s notebooks called HEART BOOKS.  Then, we’ll browse various poetry anthologies and collections (check Amy’s selection out if you seek inspiration for building your poetry shelf!), searching for poetry that matches their selected theme.  I’ll ask students to copy the poem into their notebooks once they’ve made a selection.

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My poetry shelf, unshelved

From there, Linda Rief suggests having heart-bookers illustrate the poem, write a response about why it was chosen, and research the poet to find out what he or she might have to say about reading and writing.  I’ll encourage my students to do the same, but also will ask them to make a note of their favorite bits of language from the poem–words, phrases, or even punctuation.  The craft moves poets make are valuable teachers of writing.

Follow-Up — Next class, I’ll ask students to share in groups their Heart Books.  Perhaps we’ll have a notebook pass in which we write in one another’s notebooks, responding to each other’s poems.

For the remainder of the year, once per month, I’ll set class time aside for curating Heart Books.  By the end of the year students will have created a personal anthology of ten poems that help them explore a key theme in their Heart Maps.

What routines do you have in place that help your students connect to literature and explore personal themes?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Sentence Boundaries and Adding Some Variety

Sorry, I forgot to record the book’s title.

Even the students in my AP English class struggle with correct punctuation and varying their sentences. In one-on-one conferences, I’ve started to remind them more often to pay attention to how the author of their self-selected books craft meaning. I used to get glossy-eyed blank stares, but students are beginning to understand that writers make intentional moves to draw us in, and keep us within, the pages of their books.

“As a writer, you must do that, too,” I remind them.

This lesson grew out of a conferring conversation with a student who told me:  “I just do not understand all the comma and semicolon stuff, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say in my writing.”

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize the sentence boundaries and the variety of sentence structures in their self-selected books. They will make observations about the author’s use of punctuation in these sentences, assessing the writer’s effectiveness in crafting meaning. Students will then use their author as a mentor as they apply their knowledge of sentence boundaries and sentence variety and create, revise, and rewrite sentences in their own pieces of writing. Finally, through peer-to-peer conferring, students will evaluate the accuracy and effectiveness of one another’s sentences.

Lesson:  Every student needs their independent reading book. If a student is reading a book of poems, or a graphic novel without many sentences, you will want to supply a stand in book for this lesson or ask the student to find a book she’s previously read.

Tell students that you’ve noticed in their writing that they are ready to make their sentences more sophisticated. Correctness is one way to do this. Varying the length of sentences is another way. Instruct students to turn to a random page in their books, say page 51. Ask them to read the page in search of one long sentence and one short sentence. Give students sentence stips or blank paper and have them write out the sentences they find in their books. They should spell and punctuate the sentences exactly like the author does.

sentence boundaries lessonNext, in small groups, ask students to discuss with one another the structure of the sentences. They might put all the short sentences together and compare them. Then they might put the long sentences together and look at how the authors use commas to separate ideas. Some students will know more about grammatical terms than others, and that is okay. The idea is to get students noticing how writers compose within the boundaries of standard English and to get them to understand how punctuation works to craft meaning. Ask questions that help them discover why boundaries and variety work to produce effective writing.

You may choose to have students imitate the sentences they chose from their books. Imitation is a useful tool for many writers.

Using self-selected books, not just to practice wide reading, but to teach students to read like writers, adds an important element to the workshop classroom. Our writing improves when we take the time to notice and apply the skills of professional writers.

Follow up:  Have students review a piece of their own writing. The writing can be in any stage of the writing process. They should study their writing to evaluate their use of sentence boundaries and variety. Encourage students to revise their writing as necessary, remembering to use the author of their books as their mentors.

Extension:  This lesson works to have students study leads, similar to what Jackie wrote about in the mini-lesson Pick up Lines and Leads. It also works to have students search their books for sentences that include imagery.

 

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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