A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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Teacher's Guide:

Moving through a Machine

using a variety of transitions to explain the workings of an imaginary machine

This lesson was created by NNWP Consultant Corbett Harrison. Corbett demonstrates this lesson during his 7 Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson Workshop for Teachers.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the chapter book Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from chapter 3 of this book--you know, the chapter with the doughnuts!

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Homer Price 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: Talk about transition words and phrases with your students. Explain that a transition helps a reader move from one idea to another in writing. And and then are two very common transition words, but for today's writing, your students will have to use much more variety in the transition words they choose to use.

Ask, "If we were to write step-by-step instructions for how to build something--like a treehouse--,we would use a lot of transition words as we moved from step one to step twenty-five of the process. What are some transition words that we might write in between the steps?"

Start your class list with first, second, and third, and then ask your students for others that aren't numbers. Encourage them to think of phrases (like after that) as well. Brainstorm for just a few minutes, then hang the list where everyone can see it.

Step one (sharing the published model):  A personal note from Corbett Harrison about this mentor text: "I meet a lot of people who remember reading Homer Price and Centerburg Tales when they were younger. When I ask for specifics of what they remember, everyone always brings up the donut-machine...and very rarely anything else. McCloskey's chapter about the donut making machine just sticks in people's memory, and I love that fact. There are plenty of other Homer Price adventures in those books, but that donut machine is a part of the collective memory of anyone who ever was lucky enough to read these books. Now what I find really interesting is the amount details about the donut machine that people remember when, in fact, McCloskey doesn't give that many details in his story. He gives the basics, then he lets our imaginations take over. Don't be surprised if you pick up this book to teach this lesson, and you find your memory's version of the donut machine much better than McCloskey's. I think that speaks so positively to McCloskey's ability as a story teller!"

In Chapter three of the first Homer Price by Robert McCloskey, we find Homer helping his Uncle Ulysses in the family's lunch room found in downtown Centerburg. When his uncle leaves to go chat at the barber shop across the way, Homer watches shop. When a rich lady enters the shop and offers to whip up a batch of donut batter, Homer sees it as an opportunity to try out his uncle's homemade donut-making machine. The lady makes a bit too much batter, the machine makes a mountain of donuts, and the lady realizes she has dropped her bracelet in the batter. Deducing the bracelt must be inside one of those donuts, Homer and the lady sponsor a donut-eating contest and the braclet is--of course--found. Your kids will love hearing this wonderful story inside this novel, but you should practice reading it a few times...it has a lot of dialogue and needs some different voices. It's worth the rehearsal time!

In June of 2010, I was hired for a two-day workshop in Burns, Oregon, with a group of wonderful teachers. One of the teachers--Karen Klus--informed me there was a 1963 short film of the donut-machine chapter from Homer Price. She recently contacted me to tell me the video is on You-Tube in three parts. I have set up this page to give you access to the three-part video, but you'll need to figure out how to show You-Tube in your classroom. Enjoy! And thanks, Karen!

After reading the whole chapter, ask students to work with a partner and try to remember specifics about the donut machine. How did it work? What happened first? See how well their memories work.

Share just the paragraph about the donuts being made again. It is about five pages into the text, and it starts with the words: "Homer got down from the chair and pushed a button..." If you can put this paragraph up on the overhead, it will be helpful here.

Look for the transition words: If you find after, and, and then you'll have pretty much found them all. Hand out this list of transitions to student partners and say, "I want you to change those three transition words to different words or phrases, and when you're done, the paragraph must still make sense. Choose only transition words from the list whose meaning you understand enough to subsititute for and, then, and after." Have students share their descriptions with other partners.

Explain that the donuts made by the machine are plain cake donuts. In Homer Price's day, fancy donuts were much less common. If you were to have a modern day donut-making machine, the donuts would need to come out much fancier. Brainstorm how modern day donuts are much fancier.

Now it's time to make a longer class paragraph about a fancier donut-making machine's workings. You can certainly borrow some of the basic details from the original text, but if you do, use one of your student's versions with the different transition words in place of the original ones. As your class decides to add sprinkles and/or glaze and/or strawberry filling, make each added thing a new step in the instruction. In between the new steps, negotiate a transition word or phrase.

Publish the class paragraph where everyone can see it.

Tell students they will be inventing (in their minds) a machine that makes something different than donuts, and they will write a showing paragraph that demonstrates the steps the machine goes through to make its product. Their paragraphs will need to show a variety of transitions in between the steps of the process.

Step two (introducing student models of writing):  In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups will certainly talk about the sentence fluency , since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also have your students talk about the organization 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, talking and pre-writing): The Interactive Button Game on the Student Instructions Page might get your students thinking about interesting food-making machines, but your students might have better ideas than the buttons suggest. If you have exceptionally creative students, you might encourage them to make a machine for something unusual: a poem-making machine, or a friend-making machine.

Have students plan their paragraphs using this graphic organizer and the transition list. Encourage students to--with each step of the process--include one memorable and interesting detail. Encourage them not to "force" complicated transitions in between the steps; instead, have them choose ones that completely make sense. The goal here is to use a variety of transitions, not the transitions that are the hardest to spell.

After students have filled out their graphic organizer and are ready to compose the rough draft, have them share their ideas with a partner before composing. When they are ready to compose, you might want to use this rough draft composing sheet, which comes with a sentence fluency checklist.

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, at the very least 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.

Here's a new revision technique I will be using with this lesson when next I teach it. This new idea involves using a second mentor text, and it was inspired after I devoured Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret one afternoon. In an incredibly well-described two-page spread, Selznick describes the awakening of the mechanical man (page 240). It begins with this sentence: "A cascade of perfect movements, with hundreds of brilliantly calibrated actions, coursed through the mechanical man." Share the whole passage with your students and talk about what makes it really good writing!

Compared to the initial drafts my students usually generate for their original machine write-ups, this passage from the book sounds so much smoother to the ears, and it's certainly powered by its verbs.

I am going to help my students see the difference between the rough drafts they currently have and the polished writing of author Selznick.

And then we will revise, and my students will be required to tell me where they "tweaked" their writing in a way that was inspired by the passage from the second mentor text: The Invention of Hugo Cabret.


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 and illustrator Robert McCloskey
by clicking here.

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