A Literature-Inspired Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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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:

Showing Creative Problem Solving

writing about an animal's dilemma from start to finish

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Nevada teacher Lisa Larson 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 Call of the Wild by Jack London. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from pages 17-18 of the book.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing The Call of the Wild from Amazon.com, and help keep WritingFix free and on-line. We thank you!

A note for teachers: 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 one becomes an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:

Pre-step #1 (a song to inspire thinking as pre-writing): Introduce the idea of animals dealing with problems by playing the song "High Hopes" for your students from your classroom I-Pod. Frank Sinatra sings a great version, which you can easily download to your own music player; challenge your students to sing along with this classic crooner by handing them the lyrics.

Tell them you'll be reading a passage in the near future from a famous book where an animal--like the ant and the ram from the song--has determination, but the animal also uses creative problem solving techniques.

Pre-step #2 (creating a writer's notebook page): WritingFix's webmaster, Corbett Harrison, has become a huge Northern proponent of using writer's notebooks as a means to increase the quality of pre-writing in his own classroom as well as the classrooms of his peers. During the 2010-11 school year, Corbett--who posts these lessons of the month--began adding an example from his own writer's notebook that could serve as a pre-writing step for every featured lesson of the month. This lesson is one of those that Corbett added to; below, find explicit directions from Corbett on how he created a notebook page to inspire his own students to think before doing the writing found in Lisa's "Showing Creative Problem Solving" lesson.

A writer's notebook challenge for this lesson: From Corbett: "For this lesson, I wanted to have students combine visuals and written words on a notebook page weeks before teaching them Lisa's awesome lesson here; I am always inspired by the combination of visuals and words that Marissa Moss uses in her Amelia's Notebook series.

"I asked students to think of an animal that might be fun to write about; I explained they would be giving the animal a problem, then visually showing other students how their animal proves its smart by solving its problem (in two or three steps) on a writer's notebook page. I showed them a photograph or Xerox I made of my teacher model that only shows my animal-solving-its-problem story without the words. It is at right for you to see; click here to view it as a letter-sized image, which you can print.

"Thanks to Robert Marzano's research, I am a huge fan of using non-linguistic representations to assist my students in talking to each other. Other than my title and written-out problem near the top of the page, my notebook page without the words is a pretty good example of me using non-linguistic representations to tell a story with three parts. I do allow my students to use symbols (like the question marks in the third picture) and up to five words to help identify of tell theirr story, but no more. When I show them this version of my notebook page, I ask them to try and figure out what story the pictures are telling. There are many interpretations, which I love to hear. I explain (out loud) the real story, after I hear their guesses.

"Inspired by my teacher sample, I ask my students to now create one of their own over the next few days; many work on it at home, but others work on it when they finish some other task early and need a task to work on. First they'll need to think of an animal with a problem; then they'll need to figure out how to illustrate the problem being solved in two or three steps. It's okay to let students come up with story ideas with partners, as long as they each end up creating their own notebook pages. I keep my page displayed so they can continue to think about my model. Here is a really large version of my notebook page, if you have the ability to project it so they can see the details, or if you have the ability to print it on a poster.

"When students all have pages completed a few days later, I have them move around the room, switching partners at least four times, trying to guess what their partners' stories are just based on the pictures. As students explain the real story after their partners have guessed, they are practicing putting their stories into words out loud, which is a fantastic way to increase their pre-writing thinking; most students tell the story a little bit better when they have to explain it a second or third time out loud.

"Now, I show them my finished page from my writer's notebook, which also contains words that would help someone else know my story without me telling them out loud. See the example at left. If you want a really large (poster-sized) version of this page, click here.

"I instruct them to carefully write out just enough details here to fill the spaces in between their non-linguistic representations. This page is about the frame of the story, not the details yet; this page will help them organize their ideas when we go through the full assignment a few days (or even weeks) after we create this page.

"My number-one challenge to my teaching colleagues is to create your own model of these writer's notebook pages. Certainly you can use mine (I don't even care if you claim my page as your own!), but when students see their own teachers participate in the writing process alongside them, great things happen. If you're not an artist, then I invite you to check out my Mr. Stick materials, which I keep at my own website; they help me--an artisically challenged guy--have the confidence to try using art in my own notebook."

Step one of actual lesson (sharing from the mentor text):  Share the 3-paragraph excerpt from The Call of the Wild. Says Lisa, "In my copy of the book, it begins at the bottom of page 17 and ends on page 18." The first sentence is That night Buck faced the great problem of sleeping, and the third paragraph ends with …though he growled and barked and wrestled with his bad dreams. This excerpt shows how Buck was presented with a problem and how he eventually solved it.

After reading the excerpt, discuss with the students London’s use of “big words.” Use the first half of the graphic organizer to record London’s great adjectives, nouns, adverbs and verbs, either in pairs or small groups. Copy these words onto the board and talk about how they paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Introduce the concept of word choice and its influence on the text.

Next, talk about Buck’s problem and how he tried several possible solutions and eventually solved his problem through trial and error. Make a timeline of events on the board of the things he tried before reaching his final solution. Introduce the concept of idea development and how London took the reader through each step of the problem.

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 should certainly talk about the idea development, since that's the focus of this writing assignment, but you might prompt your students to talk about each model's word choice 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 all developmentally appropriate grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll make your hardest-working students "famous" to the thousands of teachers and students who use this lesson annually!  Visit this lesson's student samples page for details.

Step three (thinking and pre-writing): The Interactive Button Game Lisa designed on the Student Instructions Page is designed to get your students thinking about possible animals, settings, and actions that might lead to problem solving situations.

Says Lisa, "In London’s piece, the story was broken down into three distinct parts: the who – Buck, the where – the Yukon, and the what, or the problem – looking for a warm place to sleep. Direct students to the interactive buttons for these three parts. After selecting one from each button, have the students brainstorm a timeline of events for their story, as well as interesting words that they might use in their own writing. They are now ready to begin writing.

"If your students struggle to get started, or get focused on the naming of the character (like mine did!), and forget what they are supposed to be writing about, have them use London’s first line and replace the name and the problem. I found this was very helpful for my extra-creative students who wanted to explain every little thing."

Below is the showing video that we created to accompany this lesson. You can show this to your students to encourage them to show their animals' conflicts/problems in their stories' rough drafts.

Students will plan word choices and a story line before writing using the bottom half of this lesson's graphic organizer.

To promote deeper thinking about idea development while students draft, you can have your students draft their writing on WritingFix's 2-page idea development drafting sheet.

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.

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 notebook pages and their revised and edited stories at our ning's Publish Student Writers group. Great motivation can be spread among your students when you set-up a "top three contest" among your students, especially with the potential promise that those students' work might get moved to our official student samples page for this lesson, where thousands of teachers and students visit annually!

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 author Jack London by clicking here.

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