A Picture Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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Lesson & 6-Trait Overview

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Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources

Student Writing Samples from this Lesson


On-line Publishing:

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Teacher's Guide:

Powerful First Paragraphs

Can three random nouns launch a powerful story idea?

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Northern Nevada Writing Project Consultant Cindy Reynolds.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the picture book Brave Margaret: An Irish Adventure by Robert De San Souci. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Brave Margaret 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 you become an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step (before doing this lesson):  This page's "strong opening paragraph lesson" should probably follow a "strong opening sentence lesson."  Here are two great WritingFix handouts to help your students discuss and learn what a strong introductory sentence can be like.

  • "Little Red Riding Hooks" Handout A one-pager from the awesome classroom of teacher Dena Harrison, this handout shares eight different techniques to start a story interestingly with just one sentence.
  • "Novel Openings" Handout A one-pager from the NNWP's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Guide, this handout shares twenty-three interesting sentences that have started real novels over the years.

Step one (sharing the published model): From Teacher Cindy Reynolds: "Brave Margaret: An Irish Adventure, by Robert De San Souci is a wonderful story about a woman who yearns for adventure, fights a dragon, and in the end, wins the heart of her true love. In addition to the story’s engaging action, it has a strong introduction which draws the reader in. As you read the first page to your students, ask them to close their eyes and listen for four things: the introduction of the main character, the setting of the story, interesting objects, and finally, the wants or desires of the main character. Make four columns on the board for each of the elements: main character, setting, and the wants and desires of the main character. Lead the students in a discussion about what they heard and using their words, fill in the three columns."

Next, in front of your students, use the same columns to brainstorm ideas for stories that haven't been written yet but would make great stories:

Character Ideas:
Setting Ideas:
Story Objects:
  • a convict
  • a nurse
  • a peasant
  • Or?
  • a prison cell
  • a hospital
  • a potato farm
  • Or?
  • a loose brick
  • a new medicine
  • a fishing spear
  • Or?
  • his innocence proved
  • to save everyone
  • to find her brother
  • Or?

This might be the ideal time to show the teacher model for this lesson on the overhead.  Have students discuss the questions at the bottom of the overhead and share their answers.  Talk about how good organization often comes from a powerful opening, in this case an opening paragraph, not just a sentence.

Step two (introducing 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 , because of the discussion tool that has been included with each model.  You might prompt your students to talk about each model's organization 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 and pre-writing):   Time to write.  Distribute a blank pre-writing and drafting worksheet to each of your students, and have them plan to write.  The interactive button game above will give your students lots of choices to help plan their paragraphs.  If you are unable to get your students to a computer, you can click the buttons yourself, find five to ten examples, and write them on your blackboard or whiteboard.  Students can make their choices from the list you give them.

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):   Two tools for revision are provided below.  You can use one or both, depending on how much time you have to spend on this assignment.

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 Robert De San Souci's books by clicking here!

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