A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
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Lesson & 6-Trait Overview

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Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources

Student Writing Samples from this Lesson

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Teacher's Guide:

"Knot" the Whole Truth

writing a modern-day story with a tall tale's voice

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Northern Nevada teacher Patty Dalton during 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 Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from chapter 20 of the book.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Maniac Magee 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):  Depending on the experience or age of the writers, it may be necessary to share with them some classic tall tales in order to introduce or review the genre.  Steven Kellogg’s version of Pecos Bill will work well. 

A tall tale is a uniquely American story form that features: (1) a larger-than-life main character; (2) a story problem that is solved in a humorous or outrageous way; (3) exaggerated details that describe things larger than they really are; and (4) characters who use everyday language. Tall tales are often based on actual people or on a composite of actual people.

Discuss and list the characteristics of the tall tale genre with your students.


Step one (sharing the published model):  Jerry Spinelli’s Newbery Award winning Maniac Magee is filled with many modern day tall tales centered on his hero, Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee.  This book, through its dealings with racism and ignorance, delivers an incredible main character who takes on larger-than-life qualities; these qualities make him heroic and endearing.  Chapter 20 tells how Maniac conquers the legendary Cobble’s Knot.  Read this short chapter aloud to your students.  Discuss with your students the tall tale characteristics from your list that occur in this chapter.  Re-read the chapter focusing on similes and metaphors written abundantly by Spinelli and list them.  Point out how these give voice to this tale, and also help create the wonderful images of both the knot and Maniac.

Tell students they will be writing their own tall-tale-like story, inspired by a modern day character they will create themselves.


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 voice, because of the Post-it® Note-sized template that has been embedded on each model.  You might prompt your students to talk about each model's word choice as well.

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 choice game on the student instruction page will inspire your students to think of modern day character ideas that might work with this assignment. Students will need to select a character and situation with which to begin their tales. 

Once they have done so, they will need to brainstorm some qualities theirs character will need in their scenarios. They will also need to brainstorm the details of their situation that will develop the tall tale. They can use the brainstorming organizer below to record their ideas.  Then using their list of character qualities and situational details, students can write similes and/or metaphors that will help them in their exaggerated tales.  The Tall Tale Organizer will help students assemble their ideas into a multi-paragraph tale.

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 Jerry Spinelli's books by clicking here!


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