blog stats

An Alphabet Book-inspired Pre-Writing Strategy
a writing across the curriculum project sponsored by WritingFix

Navigating WritingFix:

WritingFix Homepage

Alphabet Projects Homepage

Right-Brained Prompt Homepage

Pre-Writing Homepage

________________

Meet the author of this lesson:

Corbett Harrison is the webmaster for and creator of the WritingFix Website.

In 2001, the Northern Nevada Writing Project asked Corbett to design a resource-based website for writing teachers. The result was WritingFix, which--a decade later --has become a place where teachers from all over the globe share lesson ideas, resources, and student samples inspired by the model lessons posted here.

Corbett uses the pre-writing strategy introduced on this page when he teaches WritingFix's popular What Your Room Says About You lesson, and he has included his teacher model at that lesson. It's a good example of how the idea introduced on this page can be used in future lessons.

 

Welcome to this Lesson:

Old Black Fly buzzing around...
Serendipitous Story Settings

This alphabet lesson was created by Nevada teacher, Corbett Harrison, who designed it as a pre-writing lesson that can be used anytime a student's writing will include a setting description.

Corbett's inspiration for this lesson was the alphabet book Old Black Fly.

In Northern Nevada, we believe alphabet books belong in every single classroom! If you have ever searched for alphabet books at a bookstore, library, or online, you know these types of books address every subject, every content, every curriculum.

Early on in every school year, a teacher should introduce the alphabet book structure to the class so that students can be challenged to pre-write and publish all year long inspired by the structure of the alphabet.

An important note for teacher users: WritingFix is not a "writing program." Our website simply contains thoughtful lessons designed by outstanding writing teachers. These model 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 one becomes a genuine writing teacher.

Lesson Overview:

After introducing the class to the mentor text's "Old Black Fly" character, who lands on things around the house that start with successive letters of the alphabet book, students create a writer's notebook page that can be replicated as a future pre-writing tool. The notebook page will show Old Black Fly landing on various items that might be present in a random setting they choose to write about; when they write a paragraph about their setting, they delete Old Black Fly from the picture but include all the details about the items he had landed on. For future writing assignments that would need a setting description, the notebook page can be re-created.


6 Trait Overview:

The focus trait for this activity is idea development; as students create their cartoon-like notebook page, they need to save enough room to write interesting and memorable details about the items or setting features the fly is landing on. The support trait here is word choice; strong verbs and interesting adjectives should be encouraged as students craft a paragraph about their setting inspired by their notebook pages.


An Interactive Setting Prompt Game:
(promoting student choice and serendipity)

Step One (helping students each choose a setting they're willing to pre-write and write about): Pressing the three buttons below will give the user a random and serendipitous idea for a setting the write about. If a word or phrase doesn't work for you, click that button again. If you go past a choice that you liked, you can right-click on the white windows below and select "Undo" to go backwards.

The goal here is for every student to create an idea for a setting description they are willing to write about, first for their writer's notebooks, then in paragraph form, perhaps are part of a longer story.

How you get students to use these buttons is up to you. If you can project this webpage where all can see, you can click the buttons in front of them until they each have an idea they like. If you have designated computer lab time, you can have each student independently press the buttons and record on paper (that can be brought back to class) several ideas they created using the buttons.

If you have little or no technology, you can replicate the button game by making a three-column chart of choices for students to select from. See more suggestions on this idea just below the button game.

A SERENDIPITY PROMPT!
Press the three buttons until you create an idea for
a setting/place you'd be willing to write about!

      


Ways to replicate the above interactive prompt without using technology: It's simple; make three columns on your whiteboard or chalkboard or on chart paper, labeling them adjective, place, and phrase. Write four or five adjectives, place ideas, and phrases (borrowed from the button game above) to give your students a model; then, have your students work in pairs to create more words and phrases that could go in each column. When students share their ideas out loud, record the very best ones on the classroom chart. With a chart created, tell students they are to all create an original setting by choosing an adjective, place, and phrase that are in different rows.

Example class chart:
Adjective
Place/Setting
Phrase
a gloomy garage at midnight
an out-of-the-way lighthouse in the heart of the city
a lonely cellar on a post-card
a welcoming attic in the dead of winter
a mist-covered porch near a beach
a brightly-lit living room at high-noon
     
     
     
     

So, by asking students to create a setting based on words in different rows, you are not allowing them to go straight across. With the above example, a gloomy cellar in the dead of winter is an acceptable choice of a unique character because different rows are represented in the choice. Make sense?


Step Two (sharing the mentor text): Old Black Fly is a great alphabet book that--if you don't introduce it as one--sometimes is overlooked as an alphabet book. I like to read it and stop about letter 'J' to see if anyone has noticed anything about the book's structure yet. Once students do realize there's an alphabet book between the book's repeating choruses, you can use it as a riddle book. Ask, "So the next page is the P page. What do you think Old Black Fly will land on in the house? What interesting detail might you add to the noun you're using as your guess?"

I like to go through the book a second time, asking students to listen for modifiers (like adjectives and prepositional phrases) that come before the noun the fly lands on and after the noun the fly lands on. For this lesson, I really try to have students understand that a noun modifier isn't always a single adjective in front of the noun; it can be a phrase that follows the noun too.


Step Three (creating a writer's notebook page): Tell students they will be creating a notebook page about things Old Black Fly might land on in the unique setting they've chosen to write about.

Hand each student an alpha-box worksheet and ask them to brainstorm "Nouns that Old Black Fly might land on if he was flying around your setting." For a gloomy cellar in the dead of winter, students might put stairwell in their "s" box, or preserves in their "p" box, or jar of preserves in their "j" box.

Give them time to quietly work on their alphaboxes. The goal here is to not put a noun in every box. Students should also be told that it's okay to list multiple nouns in the same box. The alphabox worksheet is simply a tool to help them think about initial letters and different objects.

Partner students up after they have brainstormed independently. Challenge them to help each other come up with interesting modifiers that might go in front of after the nouns they have listed on the alphabox worksheet.

Now have students choose either four or six of their best nouns that they will put on their Old Black Fly writer's notebook page. While the mentor text has the fly land on 26 items, their notebook page will only have the fly land on 4 or 6 items from their alphabox brainstorm.

Inspired by old black fly's actions, students' notebook pages will show an old black fly landing on a variety of setting elements (4-6 of them) from their alphabox list. Show them your own model and/or my teacher model, which I have included (at left) with this lesson as my attempt to inspire you to make your own page, but I will be understanding if you want to use mine 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 will 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 one way you might ask students to partition a page devoted to this pre-write:

Writer's Notebook Page Title:
A Serendipitous Setting with Fly!
A picture of the fly landing on setting element #1:
A picture of the fly landing on setting element #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 setting element #3:
A picture of the fly landing on setting element #4:

 



 
A picture of the fly landing on setting element #5:
A picture of the fly landing on setting element #6:

 


 

 

Step Four (composing a paragraph about the setting): With the notebook page complete (and possibly put away for a few days), students should be directed now to write a descriptive paragraph about their place. Encourage them to--instead of Old Black Fly--incorporate an original character in the setting, or to describe the place using "I" or "me" as the narrator. I find that students just writing about a place (without inserting person) often have duller paragraphs than the rest of the class.

Below is my teacher model of the paragraph inspired by my notebook page for a gloomy cellar in the dead of winter. I wrote it in two forms to give my students a choice: one version has a character in the place and uses third-person point-of-view; the other uses first-person point of view to narrate.

Teacher Model of a Setting Paragraph:
Charlie Elwood placed his foot cautiously on the first step of the stairwell, and it creaked and moaned. Slowly, he made his way down into the dusty cellar. On the wall at the bottom, he found the light switch, and a dangling bulb on a wire flickered and then glowed. Across the room he discovered a workbench, covered with tools and shadows from the light. The wrench he touched was ice cold, colder than the winter day outside. In a cabinet that creaked like the stairs, he found sleeping bags that smelled musty, maybe even moldy. The jars of preserves near the window were cloudy and brown. "How old are these?" Charlie wondered aloud, having decided that this would be the place to spend the night.
I placed my foot cautiously on the first step of the stairwell, and it creaked and moaned. Slowly, I made my way down into the dusty cellar. On the wall at the bottom, I found the light switch, and a dangling bulb on a wire flickered and then glowed. Across the room I discovered a workbench, covered with tools and shadows from the light. The wrench I touched was ice cold, colder than the winter day outside. In a cabinet that creaked like the stairs, I found sleeping bags that smelled musty, maybe even moldy. The jars of preserves near the window were cloudy and brown. "How old are these?" I wondered aloud, having decided that this would be the place to spend the night.

As students compose their setting paragraphs, monitor and help them include a variety modifiers--ones that go in front of their nouns and ones that go after the nouns.


Step Five (revising the paragraph for idea development and word choice): Several days after students have written rough drafts, challenge them to return to their paragraphs and re-examine their use of the lesson's focus and support trait.

To promote thinking about these two traits, use WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates.  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 Six (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 Seven (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.

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! We're looking for photos of writer's notebook pages inspired by the lesson on this page, and we're looking for setting paragraphs that were inspired by the notebook page.

We've established this posting page at our site's Ning where teachers can easily post up to three samples from their classroom. If we like your samples enough to move over to the actual WritingFix site, we will send you a complimentary NNWP resource for your classroom!

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.


WritingFix Homepage Alphabet Book Projects  Pre-Writing Homepage  Right-Brain Homepage 
© WritingFix. All rights reserved.