A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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Teacher's Guide:

Writing to your Favorite Author

composing a letter by first brainstorming great questions

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Nevada teacher Shannon Mullen 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 Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from pages 14-30 of the book.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Dear Mr. Henshaw 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 you become an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step (before sharing the published model):   Prior to sharing excerpts from Dear Mr. Henshaw, the teacher should give some background information about this text. This is a story of a boy who begins writing to an author in second grade. As his own life becomes more difficult, he continues to write to this author. One letter asks a series of questions for an assignment in school. The author, Mr. Henshaw, then replies with his own series of questions. This idea is the springboard for this assignment.

Step one (sharing the published model):  Read pages 14 – 30 in Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. Throughout the reading, stop and discuss the details that Leigh uses to respond to the questions. He does not simply answer the questions asked, but extends to add details to help create a picture of his life. Ask questions such as: What does this give the reader? How does it help create a picture in your mind? What does this help us understand about the character, Leigh?

Re- read one or both of the letters dated November 24th (pg. 20) and/or November 26th (pg. 23). Have students summarize the information Leigh provides in these letters.

Tell students as they prepare to write friendly letters to their own authors, they will first imagine a series of questions that an author might ask them, and they will use these imagined questions to introduce themselves in the first half of their letters.

In the second half of their letters, students will ask interesting questions of the author, explaining their interest in knowing the answers.

Step two (introducing models of writing):  In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the models that come with this lesson.  The groups will certainly talk about the organization, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also have your students talk about the idea development in the writing too.

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 other 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): The Interactive Button Game on the Student Instructions Page will get your students thinking about authors they might write, and questions they might answer about themselves as they prepare to introduce themselves to their author.

Before students write, create two class charts of interesting questions. The first chart should be interesting questions that an author might ask them. "What grade are you in?" isn't very interesting, but "What do you like best about being in the fourth grade?" is. If students suggest a less-than-interesting question to add to the class chart, help them revise it before you write it on the chart.

The second chart should be interesting questions that they might ask an author. Again, don't accept uninteresting questions; help your students revise and create powerful questions.

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):   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 Beverly Cleary by clicking here.

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