A Chapter Book Excerpt Lesson for Writer's Notebooks

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The Lesson's Author:

Karen McGee worked as a primary teacher for 15 years and as the Reading Coordinator for WCSD for 15 years. Now retired, she volunteers two days a week at Jessie Beck Elementary in her grandson and her granddaughter’s classrooms.

As a member of NNWP for over 20 years, she acted as Co-director for two years and as an instructor for the Open Writing Project for 15 years. She has published her writing twice, as a member of a team teaching group and as the director of the Homeless Literacy Project.

Teacher's Guide:

What Your Room Says about You!

showing character through a crafted setting description

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by NNWP Teacher Consultant
Karen McGee
. It was revised in 2010 to be used as a pre-writing lesson for a writer's notebook.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this lesson is the chapter book Boy's Life by Robert McCammon. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of the author, focusing especially from the first two pages of chapter 1 from the book.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Boy's Life 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 (long before sharing from Boy's Life):  Have students write a description of their own bedrooms a week or two before you plan doing this writing lesson. Put those drafts away and bring them out again after you have shared from McCammon's book a few weeks later.

Step one (sharing the published model):  Give a brief summary or book talk about the mentor text. Tell the students that they are going to read just one page from a great chapter book and analyze it to discover what they might know about the character, Cory. Put a copy of the two paragraphs (from chapter 1) about Cory's room on the overhead, Elmo, or Xerox it for the students to read from. This passage begins with the sentence: "Here is my room: Indian rug red as Cochise’s blood, a desk with seven mystic drawers, a chair covered in material as velvety blue-black as Batman’s cape, an aquarium holding tiny fish so pale you could see their hearts beat, the aforementioned dresser covered with decals from Revell model airplane kits, a bed with a quilt sewn by a relative of Jefferson Davis’s, a closet, and the shelves."

Read the passage a second time, looking closely at how the author constructed the text. Draw the students’ attention to the fact that the first part of the text is a description of the room, while the second part focuses more on the important things in the room. Point out the rich language: seven mystic drawers, material as velvety blue-black as Batman’s cape.

Tell students they will be borrowing from McCammon's idea and writing style to revise their writing about their own rooms from a few weeks back.

Step two (setting up a writer's notebook page with a two-sided graphic organizer activities):  Since each student's writer's notebook page will be inspired by an alphabox brainstorm, why not share an alphabet book to further inspire your kids. We recommend Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth because it's about a fly landing on items (some are treasures!) around a room or house. When sharing this mentor text, use it as a riddle book; halfway through, once students understand the fly is landing on objects that are successive letters of the alphabet, have them guess. Ask, "The next letter is N, so what do you think the fly will land on? What details do you think the author will share about that noun?"

Next, pass out this alphabox brainstorm sheet. When you Xerox it, put a blank copy on both sides: one side will be for activity #1, the other for activity #2.

  • Alphabox activity #1: Work with a partner or group to recall as many "treasures" (in noun form) from Cory's bedroom description that they can and record them in the appropriate box on the alphabox sheet. There's not a treasure from the text for all 26 letters, but it's a great memory activity to have students use the alphabox structure to recall a variety of different items. After about three or four minutes of recall time, show the passage again. Celebrate your students who not only remembered the nouns from the description but also included a few of the author's original details (adjectives, for example).
  • Alphabox activity #2: Now, by themselves, have students brainstorm "treasures" from the space they are going to write about. It should probably be their rooms (since their previous draft was about their rooms), but you might allow some of your stronger writers to choose a different space for this brainstorm--one that holds more personal treasures (a garage, a clubhouse, a toy box, etc.). To help them focus on recording nouns on the alphabox, say, "What things might old black fly land on in the space you're writing about?" Students most likely won't have an item in all the alphabox spaces, and that's fine. If they finish early, challenge them to start adding interesting adjectives and other modifiers to the nouns they recorded that they know they'll use in their descriptions. This alphabox can certainly go home with them as homework so they come back with more treasures recorded that were "out of sight and out of mind" while sitting in class.

Inform your students that, when they revise their original room description, they will now include treasures from their alphabox brainstorm. They will NOT include all the items from the sheet--just the very best ones. With good idea development, writers choose quality ideas over sheer quantity of ideas, and this is an exercise in determining the best treasures to share. Stress that this is one of the focus skills of this writing lesson.

You might consider having students share their "personal treasure alphabox" items with one another. They can be told to ask each other detail-probing questions like "Where did you get that from?" or they can help the writer select four to six items that might be the most interesting to include in the actual description.

To help them display their best alphabox treasures before actually re-writing their original passage, require them to set-up a writer's notebook page. Inspired by old black fly's actions, students will create a page that shows an old black fly landing on a variety of treasures (4-6 of them) from their rooms. Show them your own model and/or our webmaster's teacher model, which we have included (at left) with this lesson as our attempt to inspire you to make your own page, but we will be understanding if you want to use ours as yours. If you are teaching your students to use Mr. Stick in notebooks to serve as a journal and notebook mascot, it can actually be pretty fun to create a teacher model. Your writers can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; we believe kids can have fun while learning as long as the teacher is modeling what smart and fun looks like at all times. Click here for a really large version of our webmaster's notebook page, which allows you to really zoom in on details or print on a poster, if you have that ability.

Here is how you might ask students to partition a page devoted to this lesson:

Writer's Notebook Page Title:
Old Black Fly on my Personal Treasures
A picture of the fly landing on treasure #1:
A picture of the fly landing on treasure #2:

Beneath each picture, students will write a sentence with interesting details about the item. Have them save space beneath the drawing.

A picture of the fly landing on treasure #3:
A picture of the fly landing on treasure #4:


A picture of the fly landing on treasure #5:
A picture of the fly landing on treasure #6:




If you create your own graphic organizer for this part of the writing process, consider sharing it. See the offer below!

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.
  • Thanks for sharing back with our site! Connecticut teacher and WritingFix user, Kerri Gedanski, shared this adapted graphic organizer with us for this lesson, and we sent her a complimentary NNWP Print Guide.


Step three (introducing student models of finished writing):  In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  Draw your students' attention to places where the writing helps them “see” the authors. Pose questions like, “Was it his choice of details that worked well?” or “Did the author use rich language to help you see him?” “What might the author have done to better show himself to you? The students should certainly focus their talk on the examples idea development, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might prompt them to talk about each model's organization as well.

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 (re-writing and revising): Students will start revising their original room drafts about their bedrooms with the stem: Here is my room... Here is a revision worksheet for them to create a new draft.

They will continue their writing following the model and completing the text with the ending: I am rich beyond measure. Keep the Boy's Life model visible for students to refer to when needed. Move around the room, reminding students, at point of need, to use rich language and to choose details which really tell readers important things about themselves.

If there's time, you might also promote additional response and revision to the new draft by attaching WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' second 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 Robert McCammon by clicking here.

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