A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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This Lesson's Title:

What's in a

writing a character sketch for an interesting and unique character

This lesson was developed for WritingFix after being proposed by NNWP Teacher Consultant Denylle McDowell 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 Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially excerpts from the first seven chapters.

Check out Stargirl at Amazon.com.

If you are a Washoe County teacher, click here to search for this book at the county library.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step (using a picture book to start a discussion before sharing from the chapter book novel):   Share Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! by Dr. Seuss with your students. This story explores the things that children can think of. It gives brief ideas that are meant to inspire children to imagine all of the possibilities that can exist from one, smaller idea. As you read the story, students should listen for the things Dr. Seuss encourages the reader to “think” about and record them on the idea-gathering chart Denylle has included in this lesson, but they should only fill out the first column during the story.

After you’ve finished the story, allow students to complete the second column of the chart—which encourages them to expand on the ideas in the first column.  Put students into small groups. Each group should discuss the different ideas on the idea organizers. You might, also, create a whole class idea organizer for each of the ideas Dr. Seuss gives to post somewhere in your classroom. They can become great idea inspirers for future writer's workshops.

Have each group create a funny story starter for one of the ideas on their group's chart (i.e. If the idea were “cheerleaders”, a story starter could be: “As the captain of the cheerleading squad stepped forward to be crowned prom queen, her shoe got caught on the end of her dress. Then...”).

Using Dr. Seuss's story as a springboard, facilitate a class discussion about the many different ways that the same idea can be explored through writing. In your discussion, be sure to emphasize these two points: 1) students’ personal experiences and beliefs can have a tremendously powerful effect on the expansion of the ideas they present in their writing; 2) society’s ideas and expectations affect all students' process when developing ideas within their own writing, and that’s okay!  You might use the example of the cheerleader/prom queen in the story starter suggestion in step 4. That story starter might satirize societal expectations of “the popular crowd” in school communities.

Have the students journal about the effects that names have on identity. Remind students to reflect on the ideas discussed in the previous step. (Some topics for students to consider-- How do names define one’s personality? Do names limit personalities, in some cases? What do names say about the people they belong to?)

Step one (sharing the published model):  Share excerpts from the first 7 chapters of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. This novel is about a girl who enrolls as a new student in a high school in a small town in Arizona. However, she acts VERY differently than the “normal” students in the school. The novel describes the impact this “abnormal” behavior has on individual students and the community she lives in. The novel is narrated by a student who attends Stargirl’s high school. The first 7 chapters of this novel describe Stargirl’s unconventional behavior (i.e. she leaves little gifts for her homeroom classmates each day, she wears bizarre clothing, she plays the ukulele and sings in the cafeteria during lunch). These chapters also describes the community’s response to her;  some students are intrigued, some are outraged, and others don’t know how to respond. Be sure to choose excerpts that share both Stargirl’s non-conformist actions and the response Stargirl receives from her high school community.

As you read, have students fill out the Stargirl idea organizer that Denylle has included for this lesson. Facilitate a class discussion about Stargirl’s unconventional behavior, and the specific details they remember about it.  Use the ideas students wrote down on the idea organizer.

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 idea development, because of the embedded discussion tool that comes with each set.  You might also have your students talk about the organization in the writing too.

  • We're looking for student samples for all grade levels for this prompt!  Help us get some, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Contact us at publish@writingfix.com for details.

Step three (thinking and pre-writing): Tell students they will be writing a character description about a person who (Like Stargirl) defies stereo-types.  Have students prepare for this writing by using the interactive buttons on the Student Instructions Page.  To help students organize their thoughts, they should create their own idea organizers, based on the two examples used in this lesson.

To encourage more voice in students' rough drafts, you might have them compose their rough drafts on the attached drafting sheet, which has an embedded Idea Development Post-it® Note-sized template to remind them to think of the focus trait during and after composing.

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.

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):   When they are finished revising and have second drafts, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  Their stories might become a longer story, a more detailed piece, or the beginning of a series of pieces about the story they started here.  Students will probably enjoy creating an illustration for this story as they get ready to publish it for their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line?  We invite student writers to post final drafts of their original at WritingFix's Community of Student Writers.  This is a safe-to-use blog for students and teachers. No writing is posted until it is approved by the moderator. Contact us at publish@writingfix.com if you have questions about getting your students published.


Learn more about Jerry Spinelli's books
by clicking here!

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