A Picture Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
Focus Trait: IDEA DEVELOPMENT Support Trait: VOICE

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Teacher's Guide:

Planning a Fierce Wondering Story

a list of story ideas brainstormed in a Writer's Notebook

The picture book that inspired this lesson was the 2010-2011 school year's Mentor Text of the Year. This write-up comes from WritingFix Webmaster, Corbett Harrison.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is Marissa Moss's Amelia's Notebook. Before writing, students should listen to, look over and discuss the writing style of this book's author (through the voice of Amelia.)

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Amelia's Notebook from Amazon.com, and help keep WritingFix free and on-line. We thank you!

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 one becomes an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Step one (three days before the writing task):  Days before you actually share from the mentor text, tell students you want them to start thinking of "fierce wonderings." For now, just explain that a fierce wondering involves observing the way the world is and asking yourself what the world would be like if something was different.

I like to explain that there is a continuum of "fierce wonderings." Some are based on smaller observations, and the difference in the world made by the fierce wondering feels much smaller because it is written to mostly impact the person doing the wondering. I call these "personal fierce wonderings." Here are some examples of this type of wondering:

  • What if my dog was actually a cat?
  • What would happen if liver was my favorite food instead of hamburgers?
  • What if my family won the lottery?

Then I explain that there are wonderings that are a little bigger because they would impact everyone in the class:

  • What if our summer vacation actually happened over the winter?
  • What if our school paid its students to do their homework?
  • What if the principal punished you for celebrating Halloween?

Finally, I explain that there are wonderings that are much bigger because they would impact and affect everyone in the world?

  • What if the clouds wanted to be our friends?
  • What if dinosaurs and mankind shared the planet at the same time?
  • What if jobs were assigned to everyone by the president?

Ask students to spend the next few days thinking up different types of fierce wonderings for the next few days. Tell them if they think of a really good and original one, they will really enjoy the next writing assignment.

If you need more information on introducing "fierce wonderings" to your students, share ideas from Ralph Fletcher's second chapter of A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You.

Step two (two days before the writing assignment): Show students a page from Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss. There is a page in the second half of the book where Amelia does some interesting wondering about fingers. Ask students to rate how big Amelia's wonderings are.

Tell students you have been thinking more about the fierce wonderings you shared the day before, and that you really like this one particular one:

  • What if the clouds wanted to be our friends?

Tell them you're planning on developing this into a piece of writing because you like it so much. Ask students their opinion on the following question: "What type of writing do you think I should write based on my fierce wondering? A story? A poem? A song? A tall tale? An essay about clouds? A friendly letter?" Listen to students' opinions, then tell them you still want to think about it a bit more.

Redirect students' attention to the page in Amelia's Notebook about fingers. Ask the same question, putting the writing responsibility into Amelia's hands (no pun intended). "What type of writing do you think Amelia should write based on her fierce wondering? A story? A poem? A song? A tall tale? An essay about fingers? A friendly letter?" Listen to students' opinions again.

Step three (one day before the writing assignment): Tell students they're not going to believe it, but you finally got to the end of your personal reading of Amelia's Notebook (wink, wink), and you had no idea that Amelia had had almost the same fierce wondering about clouds that you'd had. In fact, the story she finally writes for the book's Author's Faire is about a girl who keeps a cloud as her personal pet. Share the story with them from the mentor text; it's on almost the last page of the notebook.

Point out how fierce wonderings can inspire some pretty original ideas and writing about those ideas.

In honor of that idea, have students open their Writers Notebooks and "reserve" one of its pages to the idea of "fierce wonderings." You might even have them write "My Fierce Wonderings" in the space at the top of the page.

Invite the class to share any fierce wonderings out loud that they've thought of based on classroom discussions from the past two days. As each is shared, ask, "How big is that wondering? Is it more of a personal fierce wondering or a global fierce wondering?" Have students discuss, and encourage both types from your students.

Write 5-10 favorite fierce wonderings on a classroom poster. They can be framed in either way:

  • "What if _________________________________________."
  • "I wonder what would happen if ______________________________."

Tell students they may borrow three or four of the class wonderings to write neatly on their page in their writers notebook, but they must put (at least) three or four others down that are original and not on the class poster.

As you walk around while they work, show them the finger page from Amelia's Notebook. Challenge them to leave space for drawings later on, like Amelia does. Ask them, "How big is that wondering?" and "What type of writing would you do about that wondering?"

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, 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 become fun to make a teacher model. Your kids can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; I 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 my notebook page, which allows you to really zoom in on details or print on a poster, if you have that ability.

Students who don't end up with six or more fierce wonderings that they like on their page should be told they have one more night to think about it. Let them write new one downs when they come in the next day.

Encourage students to fit as many fierce wonderings as they can on their page in their notebook. If some students run out of room, allow them to create more pages with "fierce wonderings" on them.

Step four (the day of the writing assignment): Optional step, but you might prime their "fierce wondering" pumps one last time by reading from the picture book What If... by Regina J. Williams.

At the end of reading, challenge students to think of any new original fierce wonderings they've thought of and add them to their page(s) in the notebooks.

Tell students the purpose in setting up this page in their writers notebooks was to give them a place where--if they have nothing new to write about--they can always visit for ideas. The page can always be independently added to later on.

Today, students are going to look over their fierce wonderings and decide if one of them should be taken through the writing process for possible inclusion in the students' writing portfolio or folder.

You might re-read Amelia's cloud story to them so they can hear once more how a fierce wondering inspired an original piece of student writing.

Step five (introducing models of writing):  If students need further inspiration, share with them any of the published "fierce wondering" stories we have posted here at WritingFix.

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 six (drafting while thinking about the focus trait): For this step of the process, you might want to review paragraphing rules (especially with dialogue) before students begin. You might share out loud Amelia's cloud story once more so they remember they should attempt to add personality to their stories.

To encourage students to think about the focus trait--idea development--as they compose their rough drafts, you might want to use WritingFix's Idea Development Drafting Worksheet, which contains a trait-specific, embedded checklist for students to consult before, during, and after writing.

Step seven (revising with specific trait language):   Two basic tools for revision are provided below.  You can use one or both, depending on how much time you have to spend on this assignment. For some detailed classroom application ideas for our revision 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 eight (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 nine (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 author Marissa Moss by clicking here!
Learn more about author Ralph Fletcher by clicking here!

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