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

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This Lesson's Title:

Death Personified
(or Life, Have a Seat...
We Need to Talk

creating an original poem based on a creative dialogue with an abstract idea or object

This lesson was built for WritingFix by Northern Nevada Writing Project Consultant Rob Stone 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 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author.

Check out The Book Thief 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 (before sharing the published model):  Have students do a quick-write in which they make a list of five important things they haven’t said, but would say to someone if they had the guts/knew there would be no consequences. Students can choose one person to say five things to or five different people. They can be positive or negative. However you decide to do this, keep in mind that the goal is for students to mine their brains for important things they really want to say to people.

Step one (sharing the first mentor text):  This lesson’s final product is modeled after the poem, “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne, in which the poet addresses “Death” as a personified entity. Donne uses a strong, condescending, almost mocking tone towards death while attacking the pride Death feels for putting such fear in the minds of people. This tone will interest and surprise students as they contemplate the thought of taunting death in such a way. What if Death can hear him?

Put a copy Donne's poem on the overhead and read aloud to students once without stopping, and then slower while you break down Donne’s language and have kids analyze what he is saying and why. Students should fill in the first page of the graphic organizer as you read and discuss. It is important that the students are processing while they read the poem and logging any thoughts and questions that come to mind. Have a discussion about whether John Donne was effective in the areas of voice and idea development. Do they know the message of the poem? How? Do they know how the poet felt about the topic? How? Students should look for specific words and lines that support the traits of voice and idea development.

Tell students they will be writing a poem modeled after Donne's idea.

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, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also have your students talk about the idea development in the writing too.

Step three (deciding on a topic, thinking about the second mentor text, and pre-writing): Guide students as they work through the second page of the graphic organizer. This step is crucial as they brainstorm potential topics. It is absolutely imperative that students choose a topic they have important things to say about. Idea development shows you have an important message or theme, while voice shows that you care about it. Like all poetry (and writing in general), students must be invested in the topic if you want it to be authentic; if they cannot come up with a topic, have them press the buttons on this lesson's Student Instructions Page.

After completing page 2 of the graphic organizer, have students model Donne’s poem and write their own draft of a poem to their abstract idea/object. They can use page 6 of the G.O. but have them leave the right half of it blank for now.

Next, introduce the lesson’s second mentor text, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This beautiful and disturbing novel employs Death as the narrator and, in the process, gives death a very powerful, unique persona. The voice, personality and point of view of death are a vast contradiction from that cold, arrogant recipient of Donne’s lecture. Students will have strong reactions to it. If, sadly, you do not plan to read the novel in its entirety, use several excerpts: 1) From the prologue to page 24 where death says, “no one waved back”; 2) pgs 307-310; 3) pgs 336-338; and 4) 529-550.

While students read the novel or excerpts (individually, in small groups or whole class), have them fill out page 3 of the graphic organizer which has them document death’s characteristics and views as well as compare/contrast death as represented in the two mentor texts. Now that they have two contradicting views of who/what death really is students will complete page 4 of the G.O. and then write a response poem to John Donne from death itself. On page five of the graphic organizer, students should write their poem, using voice, tone and personification to capture death’s point of view.

Finally, students will write a response poem to themselves from their chosen object/idea on page six (of graphic organizer) next to their original piece.

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 poet John Donne by clicking here.
Learn more about author Markus Zusak by clicking here.

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