An I-Pod Inspired Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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This Lesson's Title:

The American Dream

creating an Animoto video that shows a well-developed opinion of the American Dream

This lesson was proposed by NNWP Consultant Cyndi Kirklin at the NNWP's iPods Across the Curriculum inservice class.

This writing prompt inspired by

"Little Boxes" sung by Malvina Reynolds

Click here to do a Google search for the lyrics.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:

Some background on the writing of the song, "Little Boxes": Malvina and her husband were on their way from where they lived in Berkeley, through San Francisco and down the peninsula to La Honda where she was to sing at a meeting of the Friends’ Committee on Legislation (not the PTA, as Pete Seeger says in the documentary about Malvina, “Love It Like a Fool”). As she drove through Daly City, she said, “Bud, take the wheel. I feel a song coming on.”

Pre-step…before sharing the songA note from Cyndi, this lesson's author: "I use this lesson as an introduction to a unit on the American Dream with my juniors. We will read both A Raisin in the Sun and The Great Gatsby as part of this unit. This lesson is to get them to define and develop a personal understanding of the American Dream."

Handout the American Dream Journal graphic organizer. Students should take about five minutes to write what they think the “American Dream” is, and if it is possible, good/bad, etc. as well as obstacles to the dream.

Step one…sharing the song and other inspiring media:  Day one: Students should have down their journals. Give students the comparison chart to take notes on the song, video and readings on the American Dream. Play “Little Boxes” song on your iPod, or (if possible) you might show them the opening titles for any of the epidsodes of Weeds, which makes a nice visual statement of things the song is trying to say.

Discuss journals...did students include anything about owning a home? Pair-n-share on views. Have a class discussion on whether the American Dream’s a fantasy or possible? Etc. Discuss tone of song.

Show the YouTube video below on the American Dream; it is a patriotic/positive one, and you can load it onto your classroom iPod, if you can't make the link below work in your school. Students should take notes on images or words that suggest the creator’s ideas about the dream. Pair-n-share on notes, looking for what the creator’s tone towards the dream is. Have students highlight/underline anything from notes that reflects their ideas from their journals.

American Dream video #1:

Next handout some reading(s) on American Dream. Students will read and take notes again on words, images, and ideas that convey an opinion of the American Dream. Discuss their notes as a class. Analyze tone. Look for anything that reflects on the ideas from their own writing. Here are two links for readings that Cyndi uses:

Students will now write a half- to full-page REFLECTION on the American Dream, as well as 2-3 discussion starters for Socratic discussion they will participate in next day: Is the American Dream dead? Was it ever not a myth? Who does it inspire? Etc. To keep your students focused on the trait of idea development during this reflection, you might use the second page of this trait-focused drafting sheet as a place for them to do their writing.

Day two: Host a Socratic discussion on the American Dream. Post socratic reflection questions.

Day three: Show second YouTube video, which is a student project on American Dream. Have students take notes on images words that convey creator’s ideas about the dream.

American Dream video #2:

Tell students they will be creating short videos on their view of the American Dream, using Animoto.

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 it's the focus of the lesson, but y ou might prompt your students to talk about each model's word choice as well.

  • Because this is a new lesson at WritingFix, 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!  Visit our student samples page for information.

Step three…thinking, talking, and pre-writing:  Handout this graphic organizer to help students organize thoughts for their animoto video. Use one side to document how student in second video showed his ideas visually, with sound and words. Then flip the G.O. over and plan their own video. Have them ask themsevles, "What idea do I want to get across about the dream? What is my tone towards the dream? What words, sound and images will help create and communicate that to my audience?"

Go to computer lab and log onto Go over how the site works. Give students time to create animoto videos.

Ultimately, you can download the students' Animoto videos into your ipod to share with class and/or grade. Be sure students know that before that can happen, students must commit to revising and editing their final videos so they show excellent idea development, word choice, as well as skills of conventions.

If your students do an exceptional job, you can upload their videos to YouTube or TeacherTube.

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 if you have questions about getting your students published.

Learn more about Malvina Reynolds by clicking here.

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