A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
Focus Trait: VOICE 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:

Creating a School
Survival Guide

writing an interactive journal to further develop student voice

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by NNWP Teacher Consultant
Rob Stone
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 Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from chapters 1-4 of this book.

Check out Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie 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: This lesson was written for freshmen towards the end of their 9th grade year, but it could be used with any sudents approaching a school year's end. It was designed to be a reflective endeavor in which students explore personal experiences through a variety writing styles, genres, skills and objectives in mind (compare/contrast, personal narrative, persuasion, exposition, poetry, etc.) You can go as big or as small as you would like with this lesson.

As with most writing lessons, it can and should be adapted to meet the needs of specific groups of kids. Before attacking the novel, explain to students that the narrator, Scott Hudson, is a 13-year-old boy struggling to survive his freshman year of high school. When he finds out his mom is pregnant, it is almost too much to deal with and, since he loves to write, he decides he needs to write about all of his fears, frustrations, desires, experiences, etc. But since “boys don’t write diaries,” he decides the format of his expression will be a “high school survival guide” to his yet-to-be-born younger sibling.

Sell your students on two facts: first, that they are experts on how to survive a school year; and second, that they would have benefited heavily from a survival guide written by someone with experience. The more they see this collection of writings as a personal, relevant endeavor, the better writing you will get. You simply can’t top intrinsically motivated, relevant writing.

One last thing: I have developed activities that model Scott’s entire diary/survival guide, but have only included five entries based on chapters 1-5 in this lesson. If you want a quick idea, you can use them individually, but to meet the objective of the lesson, which is to have students explore their freshman year through a large variety of short writing assignments, you would need to carry on, guiding students through the entire novel to have an appropriate, authentic product. A few of the other writing lessons that model Scott’s survival guide include: responding to the same writing prompt in four different kinds of prose (persuasive, narrative, expository and descriptive); mixing genres (taking a poem and turning it into a newspaper article, taking a sports recap and making into the form of a play); and exploring paradox by listing the worst things about something good and the best things about something bad. This novel is a gold mine of writing ideas!!!

Step one (sharing the published model):  As students read chapters 1-5 of the novel, they will be stopping each time Scott Hudson adds an entry to his diary and modeling it, replacing Scott’s experience with their own. I find it helpful to read the entire novel aloud as a class because of the frequent discussion and writing. You can follow this script, adjusting where necessary:

“Now that you are approaching the end of your freshman year, you can reflect on what it takes to survive an important and often tumultuous time period in your life. Your experiences and life lessons have made you an expert! So how can you share what you have learned? Why not write a survival guide that a future freshman could follow based on your positive and negative experiences? I bet there were times this year when you could have used one! As you read Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar, you will examine narrator Scott Hudson’s survival guide and at the same time reflect on your own memories and experiences. You will interact with the novel by recording your own entries modeled closely after Scott’s. You will experiment with a variety of genres, you will explore the four different types of prose, you will have fun with words, and you will take advantage of the power of words. The final product will be your own survival guide full of memories, lists, rules, maps, pictures, comparisons, rankings, etc. A big piece of you will be in your guide and that piece of you will come through as you develop your voice, which is the focus trait of this lesson. You will use that voice to convey emotion and capture tone, mood and humor. The fact that you will be using a unique approach to exploring the experiences of the last year and describing those experiences with high quality details makes the support trait idea development. Readers of your guide will not only be able to learn from your rules of survival, they will get treated to rich descriptions of people, places and events that provided the backdrop and storyline of your freshman year.”

The first five entries are as follows:

***Rate Your Year …for the first entry, reflect upon your year and, taking all things into consideration, give it an overall grade(A+, B-, F, etc.) Write a one page narrative explaining how you came up with the grade you did using vivid, detailed memories and experiences as support. If you are having trouble thinking of everything that might play a part in your overall grade, use the interactive button #1 on the student instructions page to help you generate ideas.

***Field Guide To …after reading a field guide to fish, which describes the various kinds of fish in the world, Scott Hudson finds himself stuck on a scary bus with a shouting bus driver. Scott decides to do a “field guide to bus drivers,” which explains the five different types of bus drivers one might encounter. Since Scott covered that topic, choose your own field guide that explores a topic applicable to a high school freshman (ex: five different kinds of cliques). Model Scott’s example of 5 different examples with a two or three sentence description of each. You can get some ideas by using the interactive button #2 on the student instructions page to help you generate ideas

***My First Class Schedule …Scott is very interested and excited when he gets his first schedule. Where are his classes located? Does he have any friends in them? How about the Julia, the girl he is obsessed with? What are his teachers like? Are the classes hard with lots of homework? I bet those questions sound familiar. There are three parts to this entry. First, list your class schedule with period, room, class and teacher. Second, write a two to three sentence blurb about each class, telling the reader what they need to know: avoid this class, you have to get this teacher, the best unit in this class is…, the one thing you have to know about this class is…, etc.

***My First Day/Week …As Scott shares the memories of his first day and first week of high school, many things will sound familiar. Think back to that crucial time and do an entry that compares and contrasts your experience to Scott’s. Did you get lost? Did you get picked on? What was your new outfit/hairdo on the first day of school? Did you have friends for support or did you have to go it alone? What was your first reaction to your classes, teachers, homework, etc. Be as descriptive and detailed as you can while comparing your experience to Scott’s.

***High School Survival Tips …By the end of chapter 5, Scott Hudson already has a list of seven rules for high school survival. Some are humorous, some are intense, all of them are directly tied to personal experience. After reading Scott’s rules, come up with seven rules of your own. Be sure to avoid generic rules (do your homework, stay out of trouble, go to class) and focus on personal experience (don’t go out with a guy who will treat you bad, cheat on you, lie right to your face and date that awful Sarah Smith!, don’t take your mom’s car on a quick joyride around the block and get seen by twelve different neighbors in five minutes!).

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.

  • 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, talking and pre-writing): The Interactive Button Game on the Student Instructions Page might get your students thinking about topics for their first two entries.

A pre-writing graphic organizer for each of the five entries is included here:

And here is a specially designed place for students to write rough drafts that will remind them of this assignment's focus trait.

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 David Lubar by clicking here.

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