A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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This Lesson's Title:

Creating a Parallel World

using similarities and differences when describing a parallel world

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Nevada teacher Paul Heller 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 Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from the first chapter of this novel.

Check out The Subtle Knife 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 a discussion with your students to remind them what similarities and differences are. Discuss the importance of looking for thoughtful similarities and differences, which means ones that can be talked about in depth. If asked to find a similarity between The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, for example, saying "Both have page numbers" is not anything that can be talked about with depth, but saying "Both are about saving the world and about saving the soul" could be.

Give students two topics you've been studying and have them come up with one DEEP DIFFERENCE and a DEEP SIMILARITY between the two topics. For fun, you might have them also come up with a SHALLOW DIFFERENCE and a SHALLOW SIMILARITY.

Step one (sharing the published model):  Read pages 14 – 24 (in our paperback edition) of Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife to your class. If you have a different copy, this section begins when Will observes a cat vanish into a parallel world. He proceeds to follow it through a portal, and ends up in this parallel world. He soon meets Lyra, who has also entered this parallel world from her own world. They soon discover that though many things are similar to all three worlds, there are some differences. The reading selection that is important for this lesson ends after they eat a meal.

After reading this selection, create a master list of similarities and differences on your board or overhead. Point out that the differences don’t have to be “big” things (Lyra doesn’t have baked beans in her world, for example), but they want to make sure they don't just look for "small" and easy things. Encourage them to find both big and small similarities and differences.

You may want to have a discussion about things that they would like to change about our world if they could (both big and small) as these might be interesting elements to base their parallel world on.

Tell your students that they will be creating an original narrative with a main character who enters a parallel world. Their character will have a goal to achieve in the story, and students will have to determine what will be similar and what will be different about this parallel world as they take their character on his/her adventure.

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, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also have your students talk about the word choice 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): As students plan to begin writing, they may certainly use the similarities and differences noted in The Subtle Knife, but they shouldn’t stop there. Their first step is to determine who their character is and what he or she is going to do in the narrative. Use the interactive buttons on the Student Instructions Page to help students explore fun possibilities.

Once students have a character and plot idea determined, they will be better prepared to start coming up with similarities and differences for the parallel world. Have them use this graphic organizer's "Similarity and Difference Grid" to begin jotting down ideas. They can also use ideas from the master list you created together from the book.

Students shouldcreate outlines or storyboards before creating their rough drafts; they should also talk with fellow students about how their stories are coming along in the planning before they begin writing. Use your own methods for outlines or storyboards, if you agree. The "Event Planner" on the graphic organizer to have writers map out their story plots.

The last piece of the graphic organizer is the Word Bank. Students should brainstorm some higher-level verbs and adjectives to incorporate into their narratives before they begin writing. Have them record these on the graphic organizer so they don’t have to be sitting in front of a computer when they start their rough draft. If you aren’t going to use a computer lab where students can access the interactive buttons, you can have a brainstorming session with your students to create a word bank. You may want to refer to vocabulary and/or a word wall that you have used throughout the year for additional ideas.

When students are ready to move from the graphic organizer to the rough draft, you might have them use this Drafting Worksheet with Idea Development Checklist. It is designed to have them continue thinking about the focus trait--idea development--before, during, and after they compose their rough drafts.

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 an even 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 Philip Pullman by clicking here.

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