A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
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Teacher's Guide:

Beyond Once Upon a Time... or One Day I...

revising ordinary sentences into strong leads, then launching an original story that uses one

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Nevada teacher Jenelle Sumrall at an AT&T-sponsored in-service class for teachers.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the chapter book Crispin: the Cross of Lead by Avi. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from chapter 1 of the book.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Crispin: the Cross of Lead from Amazon.com, and help keep WritingFix free and on-line. We thank you!

A note for teachers: These lessons are posted so that you may borrow ideas from them, but our intention in providing this resource is not to give teachers a word-for-word script to follow. Please, use this lesson's big ideas but adapt everything else. And adapt it recklessly; that's how one becomes an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step…before sharing the published model:   Avi is a great writer who captures his readers' attention in each and every one of his chapters by starting with a strong introduction. For this lesson, the mentor text is Crispin: The Cross of Lead. This is a book set in the middle ages and addresses the lifestyle and conflicts of daily living including the black plague and political instability. You may want to discuss this historical setting with your students so they have a better context for the chapter introductions you can share with students.

Step one (sharing the published model):  You will need a copy of Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Before reading from chapter one, write this sentence on the board: “They went to a funeral.”

Ask the students what they pictured in their minds when you wrote this down. Answers will vary because of students' variety of experiences. Then read Chapter one, paragraph one in Crispin: The Cross of Lead.

Then ask the students what they picture in their minds now. Why are the pictures different? (You can also read other great chapter leads in this book. They are all great.) Finally ask, "What makes an introduction to a story something that your reader wants to continue reading." Lead the discussion towards description words –adjectives, adverbs, action verbs. Says Jenelle, "I call them power words, and I tell my students that I am tired of hearing Once upon a time... and One day I... because they are boring. No one wants to read that.

Tell students they will be revising a boring lead today so that they can use it to start and original and exciting story.

Step two (a showing lesson and a writer's notebook page): At the heart of this lesson is the ability to transform a boring telling sentence into an interesting showing sentence. Teaching students to do this with the first sentence of a story is a technique that requires them to begin with an action sentence, which is almost always a powerful lead or introduction.

At the heart of a telling sentence is a linking verb, like was, were, are, is.

Three example telling sentences:
(one person, one place, and one thing)
  • The girl was scared.
  • The downtown was noisy.
  • The sun was high in the sky.

When faced with transforming a telling sentence, one needs to think of a specific action verb to apply to the person, place, or thing that was the subject of the showing sentence. It's a bit easier to do this with people, so it's important to model all three types.

It's also possible to transform the same telling sentence into three or four different showing sentences. You might model that with a sentence like The girl was scared. This worksheet for revising boring leads is designed to have students--perhaps in small groups--create multiple possibilities for the same telling sentences.

Three showing sentences:
(one person, one place, and one thing)
  • Sally's fingers gripped the roller coaster bar so tight that they turned white as vanilla ice cream and waxy like a candle.
  • The car in front of him blared its horn, but Dave hardly heard it above all the other city noise and racket.
  • Noon blazed across the vast desert, and Pennsylvania Smith's canteen had recently been drained dry.

Have students practice making dull telling sentences, then livening them up by transforming them into showing sentences. Their goal is to create a large enough number of them so they can eventually choose three to record in their writer's notebooks.

The interactive button machine on the student instructions page of this lesson has many telling sentences programmed into it, in case your students need a jump-start or they run low on ideas.

When they're ready to choose and illustrate three telling/showing sentences, have them partition off a page in their writer's notebook into four sections; below is one way they could do this:

Writer's Notebook Page Title:
Showing a Lead
a personal explanation of how to transform a telling sentence into a showing sentence:

Cartoon #1:

Telling Lead:
Showing Lead:

(add an illustration that shows the showing lead.)

Cartoon #2:

Telling Lead:
Showing Lead:

(add an illustration that shows the showing lead.)

Cartoon #3:
Telling Lead:
Showing Lead:

(add an illustration that shows the showing lead.)

Show them your own model of a finished notebook page and/or our webmaster's teacher model, which we have included (at left) with this lesson as our attempt to inspire you to make your own, but we will be understanding if you want to use ours as yours. If you are teaching your students to use Mr. Stick in notebooks to serve as a journal and notebook mascot, it can become fun to make a teacher model. Your kids can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; we believe kids can have fun while learning as long as the teacher is modeling what smart and fun looks like at all times. Sample notebook pages from a teacher can be inspirational! Click here for a really large version of our webmaster's notebook page, which allows you to really zoom in on details or print on a poster, if you have that ability.

Put the pages away for a while. During the next writer's workshop block, invite students to share their showing leads and cartoons with others. Have them ask each other, "Which one do you think would start the better story?" You might also share with your students--as part of a review of the learning-these popular handouts from the WritingFix website; both are about the importance of using strong introductions, and both can be compared to the three leads students have placed on their notebook pages.

Encourage your students to turn their best showing lead into a longer piece of writing for their writing portfolio.

Step two (introducing student models of writing):  We're looking for student sample for all grade levels that start as a lead in the writer's notebook and end as an original story. Publishing your students' hard work at WritingFix is a great motivator for your young writers; their stories will be seen by thousands of other students who will use this lesson in the future.

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use this lesson. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually!

We're currently looking for student samples for all grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Visit this lesson's student samples page for details.


Step three (thinking and pre-writing): Give students time and space to create a rough draft of a longer story. Remind them that a story doesn't have to be as long as a novel! Three or four interesting paragraphs about a character can make a superb story, and when the stories are shorter, it's easier to revise them.

Here is a Rough Dafting Sheet with Embedded Word Choice Post-It,where students can write their rough drafts using this sheet, then check their own word choice, this lesson's support trait.

If you have an original graphic organizer that helps students with a lead shape the rest of their story, consider sharing it with us so that other teachers using this lesson can be inspired too! See the offer below:

Share Original Graphic Organizers (for Pre-Writing)
from Your Teaching Toolbox.

We share graphic organizers with our peers, we find them in books, and we think we should also be able to find tried-and-true ones online at WritingFix. This year, if you create an original graphic organizer (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original graphic organizers for specific lessons, like this one, can be submitted as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):  Chances are the students' leads won't need to be revised, but you might direct them to think about improving their other organizational skills during revision: transitions, conclusion, pacing, title, etc.

To promote response and revision to rough draft writing, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Share Original Revision Techniques or
Adaptations from Your Toolbox.

Inspired by Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox, the WritingFix website encourages its teacher users to adapt our lessons, especially the tools of revision we have posted here. If you create an original revision tool (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original revision ideas from teacher users of WritingFix can be submitted through copy/paste or as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.


Step six (publishing for the portfolio): The goal of most lessons posted at WritingFix is that students end up with a piece of writing they like, and that their writing was taken through all steps of the writing process. After revising, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  The writing started with this lesson might become even more polished for final placement in the portfolio, or the big ideas being written about here might transform into a completely different piece of writing. Most likely, your students will enjoy creating an illustration for this writing as they ready to place final drafts in their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line? You might earn a free classroom resource from the NNWP! We invite teachers to teach this lesson completely, then share up to three of their students' best revised and edited samples at our ning's Publish Student Writers group.

To submit student samples for this page's lesson, click here. You won't be able to post unless you are a verified member of this site's Writing Lesson of the Month ning.


Learn more about author Avi by clicking here.

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