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

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Students: Publish your writing to this prompt on-line

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This Lesson's Title:

Starting
at the
End

exploring a unique apprach for writing introductions

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Nevada teacher Cindy Kimball 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 The Afterlife by Gary Soto. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from the first four pages of this novel.

Check out The Afterlife 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 :

Step one (sharing the published model):  Get a copy of Gary Soto’s The Afterlife and read aloud the first four pages of Chapter 1.

Ask your students: Have you ever had trouble writing an introduction that grabs the reader’s attention? Or writing a powerful ending? Did this story's beginning grab your attention? Why do you think he started at the end of his story? What do you think happened before this? What was the main character’s life like before he was killed? Was there a reason the stranger in the bathroom killed him? Or was it just random?

Discuss how this unique approach is a sure-fire way to grab a reader’s attention: when a book starts out that way, it should make you want to read more because your mind fills with questions.

Then ask your students: What do you know about the main character? What kind of person is he? Would you like him? Do you know people like him? How is he dressed? Where is he? Where does he live? What background does he come from? Is he rich? Middle income? Lower income? How do you know?

Find passages in the first four pages where the author describes, in rich detail, the events (in this case, seemingly very ordinary events) that led up to the main character’s death. Tell how, in just a few pages, he paints a picture of a friendly, ordinary guy who is excited and happy to be meeting a girl he likes at a dance. Remind them of the last line three words of the passage: “. . . I was dead.”

Tell your students that for this challenge, they will learn to grab their readers’ attention by starting at the end of a momentous (very important, possibly life-changing) event in their lives. They will describe what happened in the moments leading up to the climax of their event in such a way that their readers feel as if they were there with them.Unlike the book's character, they certainly won't be able to write about the last minute in their lives, but they can borrow the book's technique of starting with their own stories' most climactic moments to "hook" their readers.


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 organization, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also have your students talk about the idea development 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): To begin, have students choose a momentous event from their own lives. Model how you would choose the event (your marriage, the first day of teaching, a death of a loved one, your first job, etc). Have your class brainstorm as a group more events. The Interactive Button Game on the Student Instructions Page might get your students thinking about momentous moments from their lives that might be able to be told with the most climactic thing happening first. If students can think up their own momentous event to write about without pressing the buttons, encourage them to do so.

Distribute this graphic organizer -- “Writing about a Momentous Event and Starting at the End” -- and have your students plan to record the elements of their momentous event. Ask your students put themselves back in time at the climax of the moment (model for them, e.g. “I said ‘I do’ and fainted.” or “The score was 31-30.”) Then ask them write the last sentence of their introduction—the climax of their momentous event—on the graphic organizer.

Next, have your students complete the graphic organizer to help them write interesting and high-quality details about the events leading up to the climax. Model the process, using your event.

OPTIONAL IDEA: Have the students place their ideas in chronological order using a linear graphic organizer.

Finally, have your students use their completed graphic organizer and last sentence to write their introduction, which should be at least five sentences for this writing, but it can become four pages long (like in The Afterlife) if your students are inspired by the style of Gary Soto.

When students are ready to compose their story's first draft, you might have them compose on this Drafting Sheet with Organization Checklist, which will remind them to include other organizational techniques beyond the strong introduction.


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 narrative, 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 Gary Soto by clicking here.


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