A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
Focus Trait: IDEA DEVELOPMENT Support Trait: VOICE

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This Lesson's Title:

Imaginative Home Movies

letting a funny title inspire a story a child might tell

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Christy Aker-Minetto for 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 Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially chapter 5
of the book.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 from Amazon.com, and help keep WritingFix free and on-line. We thank you!

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Step one (sharing the published model):    Christopher Paul Curtis writes about hard times in American History, but he does so with so much voice and humor that students are able to relate to the conflicts and sympathize with the characters.  By the time the Watsons reach Alabama, the family is dear to the reader’s heart.  Even Byron--the young juvenile delinquent--shows his soft spots when his brother witnesses the church bombing.  It's the book's early use of humor that creates Curtis's strong voice that carry his great ideas to the reader.

Obtain a copy of The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.  Share chapter 5 as a read-aloud with your students.  Celebrate the notion of Byron imagining the making of his own "home movie" as he lights “Nazi” parachutes on fire and throws them into the toilet.  Discuss with your students how the chapter's title brings so much of the humor into the chapter.  Talk about how a child's overly active imagination might become the basis for other types of stories.

Ask your students to remember a time when being an imaginative child turned a situation into a different event for them.  Take a few of your students' real examples and--whole class--turn them into funny chapter titles--like Byron's funny title.  Write the funny titles down where all students can see them. 

For the writing assignment, students will be elaborating on their chosen idea and adding humor.  Their first step to assuring that humor is present will be to create a long and interesting title for their "home movie."  Just like Byron, who goes into the bathroom to play but is actually pretending to make a home movie, they will first write out their title.  Once they have a title, they will write the story of them pretending to be the child who is involved in the making of the "movie."  In order to tie together the humorous title of the chapter and the ordinary event that takes a new twist, the students will envision making their own "home movie" of the action that takes place in the story.  The story students write will tie together the "home movie" events and the consequences of the twist.  Students might even end their story with a new title to the "home movie" just like Christopher Paul Curtis did with his own chapter.

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 voice 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): Once your students have seen the models and have an idea of what the story will look like when done, have them use the interactive choice button on the Student Instructions Page to help them select a topic for a story that imitates what Byron has done in chapter 5. 

This lesson comes with a pre-writing story map for students to use as they prepare their rough drafts. Xerox one for each student, and make an overhead of one for you. On the overhead, model how you'd plan a story with the story map before asking students to.

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 author Christopher Paul Curtis by clicking here.

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