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WritingFix...A teacher-made lesson inspired by "Reviving the Essay" by Gretchen Bernabei

A Differentiated Writing Lesson from WritingFix
lessons inspired by Carol Ann Tomlinson's The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of all Learners

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This on-line write-up was posted by Caroline Hatcher, who has been a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant since 2008. She teaches high school and serves as an implementation specialist for her school district.

Feel Something
from my Story!

discussing a real author's writing process and her craft skills,
then choosing a way to emulate one or both of them

In Nevada, our Northern Nevada Writing Project co-sponsors many workshops that help teachers begin to apply the principles of differentiated instruction to their classrooms.

One book we study and cite during our workshops is Carol Ann Tomlinson's The Differentiated Classroom. Tomlinson has spent her career creating books and workshops that show just how complex differentiated instruction is as a topic. When some teachers working with us say, "This is too big a topic for me," we paraphrase Tomlinson when we say, "It's okay to start small. Just start."

There are many ways to begin differentiating. Teachers can differentiate the way they present their content, and they can differentiate their formative and summative assessments. They can also design instruction that honors students' different skill levels, as well as their students' different interests learning styles.

The write-up on this page was created by a Nevada teacher who focused on one or more of the above techniques to begin differentiating instruction.

Lesson Overview:

Whether you like the Twilight saga or not, you have to admit that author Stephanie Meyers is a skilled writer. In this lesson, students will read and analyze a climactic scene from Twilight in order to identify the various elements used by the author to create suspense. They will then have two text-inspired choices as their writing task: “creating their own climactic scene” or “transcribing a dream."

When skillfully differentiating, the teacher has pre-determined certain skill(s) that all students will work on during the lesson; in our writing workshops, we label this a "focus skill." The teacher has also identified "support skill(s)," which the teacher expects from students who are ready to work on additional skills.

  • Focus Trait/Skill: Idea Development/details that enhance an emotional response from the reader
  • Support Trait/Skill:Organization/launching a story in the middle of action and then keeping its pace going


Lesson Information to Share with Students:

This lesson was designed to provide some interesting insight into how best-selling Twilight author, Stephenie Meyer, was inspired to write her now-famous books, and how she often develops story lines for her books. Your focus for today will be to take note of Meyer’s idea development in a particular chapter of Twilight and notice how she organizes her action sequences.

You will have two different choices to use as writing prompts: One will focus on writing a “money scene” or the other will be about giving life to a dream you have had in the past.

Teaching Instructions:

Tell students they will first be reading an excerpt from a mentor text that is designed to leave the reader feeling suspense. There are many chapter options you might consider in the first book of the Twilight series. I use chapter 17, "The Game," starting on page 369, which includes the baseball scene, because I think it might appeal to a wider audience. You can also choose from chapter 22, “Hide and Seek,” starting on page 444 of my copy of the book.

A differentiated instruction suggestion: You might even have xeroxed copies of both chapters available, giving students the choice, and leaving you with the ability to create discussion groups that contain class members who've each read different suspenseful scenes.

Just bringing out Twilight itself causes excitment for many students. If you've got them, have a few “Twifans” share out the main idea (a good exercise, in itself) of the book, in order to give some background to the two chapters and the book's characters.

Explain to students that Stephenie Meyer’s idea for her bestseller came to her in a dream, which she, in turn, developed into Twilight in three months.

When students talk about the book, most of them will agree that “The Game” (chapter 17) is one of their favorites. Meyer calls scenes like chapter 17 her “money scenes,” according to interviews, and she writes these scenes first. Hence, Meyer’s Idea Development is to write the climax first and work on the other elements after.

Tell students that they will be inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s process of writing and her craft skills as they focus on this lesson.

In small groups or by themselves, have your students read from the chapter assigned or chosen, and then respond using the provided graphic organizer. You may also choose to read the text aloud to students through guided reading, so they can mark up the text.

The groups will certainly talk about the Idea Development, because that's the focus of the prompts on the graphic organizer.  You should prompt your medium- and high-level writers students to talk about the chapter's organization as well.

All students will complete the graphic organizer “What’s the Big Idea?” to jot down the idea development elements that Meyers uses to build a foundation for emotion (in her case, suspense). The graphic organizer can be completed in small groups during/after reading in or whole group with guided reading. The purpose of the organizer is to get them to analyze the craft the author uses so they can emulate elements of it in their own original piece of writing.

What is differentiated instruction? It's many things.
One element of D.I. is designing different choices for students

A Differentiated Element...Student Choice: With the organizer filled out and discussed, explain to students that they will have a choice in how they begin to craft their own story/scene that attempts to make the reader feel an emotion. Students can either:

  • Organize their own “money scene” they have floating in their minds using this organizer: Drafting a Money $cene;
  • or they can focus on the idea development of a dream they once had (like Meyer’s inspiration for Twilight). See graphic organizer: My Dream.

The “money scene” organizer can be used to guide the idea development of their story line, borrowing elements from Meyer’s chapter. Remind them that their emotional appeal does not have to be suspense. You might brainstorm other emotions to base their stories on.

If they are choosing the “My dream” option, students need to think back to a dream they remember or a recurring dream they have and “breathe life into it” by thinking of the details of the dream and what they remember most. They should give their dream a title and ask questions about the dream, which will further stimulate their ideas in the writing process. Ultimately, the final goal is to get students to use a dream as the basis for their writing piece.

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