A Chapter Book-inspired Narrative Writing Lesson

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Teacher's Guide:

Episodic Narrative Writing

developing a series of episodes that build on a theme

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Kim Polson and then presented 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 Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Pictures of Hollis Woods 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 (talking about the word episode with your students)  Kim--the creator of this on-line writing prompt--became intrigued by the concept of episodic writing when she took the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Summer Institute in 2003.  An informational and inspirational article about episodic writing (complete with several examples from adults you might share with your students) can be found at the National Writing Project's website by clicking here.  This spring, Kim will be adding student samples from her own students.  Her students are working on a year-long episodic-writing assignment.

Explaining her interest in episodic writing, Kim says, "So many times students want to write simple lists of events. If you ask them to write about their scariest moment, many of them are inclined to write a series of the scariest things that have ever happened to them in their entire lives, instead of focusing interesting details on just one event.  This writing tends to lack both organization and idea development.  There is little to grabs the reader in a string of an underdeveloped incidents."

But might there be?  Could a list of different episodes prove to be interesting and captivating?  Could they tell a larger story?

Talk about the word episode with your students before sharing the book.  Explain that the book will be sharing multiple episodes from a character's life--out of order episodes--and all the episodes come together to explain the importance of family.  The book is a complete story, but it's told through episodes, which can be a very unique way to write about a topic.

Step one (sharing the published model):  Pictures of Hollis Woods is a brilliantly written book that uses an organizational writing style called episodic writing.  In this story, Hollis Woods recounts her experiences in a current foster home along side the memories she shared with the Regans, the foster family from her past who has loved her the most.  The writer, Patricia Reilly Giff, has done an amazing job of developing the chapters into well-thought-out episodes of Hollis’ life.  She includes the most intricate details, while grabbing the reader by continuing with the theme of children in foster care.

Kim suggests teachers share this example from Hollis Woods to read to their students:  The Eighth Picture: End of Summer, which begins on page 77 of Kim's edition of the book.  Kim explains, "In this 'picture,' Hollis recounts the most important details of the day that the Regans asked her to be a permanent part of her family.  She makes the pages come alive so that you feel as if you are sitting with the family, partaking in their conversation."

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 students should certainly focus on the idea development, but you should prompt them to talk about each model's organization as well.

Middle School Samples:

High School Samples:

Adult Samples:

  • There are adult examples posted at the National Writing Project.  Those samples can be accessed by clicking here.

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): After talking about episodic writing and hearing an example episode from Pictures of Hollis Woods, students should individually brainstorm a list of topics/themes/subjects they could write a series of episodes about.  You might have your class share these to make a list of topics compiled by the whole class.  This might broaden their choices.

Once this list is completed have the students individually write a list of “I remember” statements about any and all of the topics which were brainstormed.  For example:  "I remember when my grandma took me to Disneyland when I was 7 and we went on Space Mountain."   They can then use this list of "I remember statements" to get started writing to a topic episodically OR  they can choose a topic by clicking the interactive button on the Student Instruction Page.

After students have chosen an individual writing topic, hand out either version of the graphic organizer Kim has provided below to help them create a central theme by linking their short episodes together.  This graphic organizer will also “force” them to pull out the most important details of the stories.

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 Patricia Reilly Giff by clicking here.

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