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

Prose Poetry Paragraphs

imitating Sandra Cisneros' style by subtly using poetic elements in descriptions

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Kelly Rubero during an
AT & T-sponsored inservice class
for teachers.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the chapter book The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from the vignette entitled "The Four Skinny Trees."

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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):   This lesson is a great follow-up to a poetry unit where students have the opportunity to use some of the poetic elements that they have learned. The following terms should be reviewed with the class before getting started: personification, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, internal rhyme and end rhyme. I expect my students to imitate Sandra Cisneros’ “Four Skinny Trees,” so I like to make sure that they are knowledgeable of these poetic elements and techniques. A great way to review these elements is to have them label or underline them in “Four Skinny Trees.” Some of these elements are also evident in other vignettes of Cisneros.

Step one (sharing the published model):    I like to start this lesson with background on the narrator of The House on Mango Street. That way the students understand that Esperanza is telling her story through a series of vignettes on how she lives in a neighborhood that she really can’t call her own. I usually read “The House on Mango Street” and “My Name.” The students are always interested to hear more once I share these two vignettes. I like to share some of the titles too because they are able to see the great use of word choice that Cisneros uses. It also helps to give a quick explanation of vignette writing.

After reading “Four Skinny Trees,” students will identify the poetic elements and techniques being used. Once I have read this vignette, I have the students write down the definition of prose poetry. I simply tell them that prose poetry appears like paragraphs but reads like poetry because of the elements being used. If the students are given a copy of this vignette, they are able to label the poetic elements that they find and then can come back to it when they get started on their own writing. Just as Esperanza chose four familiar trees in her front yard, students will be asked to choose a familiar object from their home or neighborhood. Sometimes, students will want to write more about their home or neighborhood and they become inspired to write a series of vignettes too.

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 word choice, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also direct your students to talk about the voice 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 word game on the Student Instructions Page will help students to think of human characteristics that they can apply to their familiar object. In “Four Skinny Trees,” Cisneros uses a lot of personification, so I usually have my students really focus on that poetic element. It is a great way to get them started on their writing and using figurative language.

The graphic organizer gives the students the opportunity to brainstorm many ideas, from which they only need to insert the best into their writing. They will need to write down the one object that they will be writing about. On the graphic organizer they will need to create at least 3 similes comparing their object to other un-like objects. And they can play with the idea of personification in order to find one or two that will make their writing sharper; good writing, remind them of this, isn't stuffed with personification and similes; good writing uses small doses of quality personifications and similes. They can make a list or begin writing sentences that they will use in their prose poem.

Each student’s task is to take their familiar object and write a prose poem. They can tell a story about the object or even have a message about life in relation to their object. In “Four Skinny Trees,” the reader can make the connection between the “secret strength” of the trees and the way that they “teach” Esperanza to not give up and to “reach” like the trees do for something better. Although the skinny trees may be weak with “skinny necks” and “pointy elbows,” Esperanza knows that they still stand tall and can grow “despite the concrete.”

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 is 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 their 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 free-to-use Writing Lesson of the Month ning.


Learn more about author Sandra Cisneros by clicking here.

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