An I-Pod Inspired Writing Lesson from WritingFix
Focus Trait: VOICE Support Trait: IDEA DEVELOPMENT

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Lisa Larson has been a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant since 2009. She teaches middle school in Reno, Nevada.

Lisa keeps a personal portfolio of work here at WritingFix.


Teacher's Guide:

If Today is Your
Last Day

writing a letter about a loved one's importance to you

This lesson was created by NNWP Consultant Lisa Larson during an iPods Across the Curriculum Workshop.

This writing prompt is inspired by the song

"If Today Was Your Last Day" by Nickelback

Click here to do a Google search for the lyrics.

A note for teacher users: These 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 you become an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:

A note from Lisa, this lesson's author: "This lesson is written for grades 7 and above, but could be easily modified to lower grades by reading aloud a picture book as an illustration of meaningful writing and changing the focus to telling a loved one how much a remembered event meant to the student." Lisa cited the picture book, Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James, as a picture book that might inspire younger writers in such a way.

Some backgroundWhat if you knew today was your last day? How would that change what you do or say? The song, If Today Was Your Last Day, by Nickelback spotlights these questions and, at least for a moment, directs students to think about their actions and how their behaviors affect others.

I also read Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture, and was personally inspired by his positive attitude and his encouraging words about how to live life. If you have older students, this is a must-share. If you have younger students, then I recommend you at least read it for yourself.

Pre-step…before sharing the songHold a discussion about the potential that children hold at this point in their life. They can grow up to become absolutely anything they desire, they can dream about travel to exotic and faraway countries, they can fantasize about robots that clean their rooms, or they can envision playing the whole way through on their favorite video game without any cheats. The possibilities are endless when you are a child! Have the students fill the left side of this graphic organizer with these hopes and dreams for their future and share with one another.

Share Original Graphic Organizers (for Pre-Writing)
from Your Teaching Toolbox.

We share graphic organizers with our peers, we find them in books, and we think we should also be able to find tried-and-true ones online at WritingFix. This year, if you create an original graphic organizer (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original graphic organizers for specific lessons, like this one, can be submitted as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.


Next, narrow the focus just a little bit. What if they had only 6 months left to live? How would these hopes and dreams change with that information? Discuss how their priorities would change and then--if you can--show the clip from Randy Pausch’s interview with Diane Sawyer. Discuss Randy’s speech, his attitude about his loved ones and believing in yourself. Have the students fill in the center section (The Bucket List section) of the graphic organizer and share with one another. The clip (from You-Tube) is posted below; if you can't see anything in the space below because you're at a computer that blocks You-Tube videos, you can download the video to a home computer, then use a program like ___ to save the video to your iPod and show it directly from there to your class.

You-Tube Video of Interview:
(Watch from home, if your school district blocks You-Tube)

Finally, explain to the students that they'll need to imagine they have only one day left. Hold a discussion and talk about the truly important things in life; family, friends, memories, etc. and write these things on the board.

Step one…sharing the mentor texts:   Give the students a copy of the lyrics to If Today Was Your Last Day, and tell them to listen for the important things in the song. After listening to the song once, have them go back and highlight the important things as well as the advice about how to spend your last day. Listen to the song again and have students decide who the audience is for this song. Accept any reasonable answer.

Read aloud pages 69-72 of The Last Lecture. Point out that this chapter was about a specific memory that Randy Pausch held close to his heart. Hold a discussion about the types of specific memories that could be included in a letter (a sporting event, vacations, special events, attempts and/or successes with cooking, to name a few) and write these on the board. Share a specific event of your own to model narrowing the focus. Also, point out that the chapter you read aloud was short and focused on a single memory. Explain that their voice will really shine through if they are not trying to jam 14 years of experiences into a single page!

Students can now fill in the point of the arrow on the graphic organizer and begin a rough draft of their letter.

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 it's the focus of the lesson, but you might prompt your students to talk about each model's idea development as well.

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use this lesson. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually!

We're currently looking for student samples for other grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Visit this lesson's student samples page for details.

Step three…thinking, talking, and pre-writing:  If students are struggling to get started, I have them talk individually to me about achievements and special moments to get them thinking about their importance inside the family unit. I also remind them that this letter can be addressed to only one person, so they need to concentrate on their audience and saying things that this person can relate to and care about.

Although I don’t require it, I also encourage my students to share their piece with the addressee. I’ve gotten several phone calls and e-mails from parents thanking me for the assignment and letting me know that they had no idea how much their child cared about them.

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.

Share Original Revision Techniques or
Adaptations from Your Toolbox.

Inspired by Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox, the WritingFix website encourages its teacher users to adapt our lessons, especially the tools of revision we have posted here. If you create an original revision tool (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original revision ideas from teacher users of WritingFix can be submitted through copy/paste or as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.

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): 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.

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.

Learn more about Nickelback by clicking here.

Learn more about Randy Pausch by clicking here.

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