A Picture Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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Floating Down a River

planning both pacing and details
with a graphic organizer

The writing of author Jan Brett inspired these four student writers to try new techniques with the traits of organization and idea development. Join us in teaching (and adapting) this on-line lesson and sharing your students' work.

You can publish up to three of your students' edited and finished stories at this page.

Use these samples to inspire your student writers! Discussing the strengths of published student samples before, while, and after using this on-line assignment is important. If your students are engaged in trait- or skill-inspired discussions about any of the samples we've posted here, they will produce better writing, especially if you help them take their writing all the way through the writing process.

Thank you, those who share their students' writing with us.

Additional Student Samples Being Sought:
Grades 5, 8, 9, 10

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WritingFix is currently seeking additional student samples from this writing assignment that can be featured in this space. Submitted student work must show evidence of revision, editing, and the final draft must be typed and sent through e-mail.

To have us consider your students' writing for inclusion on this page, you must post the writing to our Ning page dedicated to this lesson. Click here to access that page. You must first be a member of the Writing Lesson of the Month Network in order to post.

Student Samples: Early Elementary

On the Snake River
by Brihana, second grade writer

I’m at the mouth of Snake River. I hear a coyote howling at the moonlight. As I got on my raft, my feet bound against the solid, cold wood. I smell the stench of seaweed as I start rowing my boat.

As I go, I see an electric eel. When I go by, I see it stinging an animal. It sees me at the dawn of midnight.

Then I see a dog sitting in a boat. As I float by, he growls. He comes towards me like a wild animal.

I carry on with my trip. I see a cat eating a mouse. It was meowing crazily.

After I got out, I was at a rainforest. I was excited to my friends. It was amazing.

(Click here to open/print Brihana and two of her classsmates' Floating Down a River stories.)

In the Rain Forest
by Austin, 3rd grade writer

I’m climbing into the mouth of the Amazon River when I meet 3 fascinating animals. I am caught in rapids, seeing lazy fish, round rocks and a sunken raft. I smell the bitter smell of oil and rotten seaweed. I taste salt water. Read more.

When I am floating down the river, I see a branch with a boa constrictor squeezing a mouse to its death. It comes closer to me and is looking as evil as it can. When I float under the boa, my teeth chatter from fear.

The next thing I see is a tiger shark just swallowing the remains of a clownfish. He is coming nearer and nearer, looking very hungry. Then a fin pops out of the water.

When I swim past the shark, I see an okapi. It’s coming nearer with fascination. When it’s real close to the water, it eats some grass. I reach out and pet it.

I need to get out now. When I get out, I’m in the rainforest and thinking about how exciting the adventure was.

Student Samples: Upper Elementary

On the Mississippi
by Joselin, 4th grade writer

“Oh, that’s cooold!” I screamed as I got onto the wooden raft. I pushed my feet against a rock and left shore. I made a big splash. The water was as cool as a snowflake in Antarctica. I thought I was going to freeze. My feet were so cold that they were numb.

As I floated down the Mississippi River, I noticed a leopard frog. It was trying to camouflage itself in a tree, but it moved too much. All of the sudden, it jumped into action and leapt on a lily pad. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Further down the river, I spotted two green, glittery eyes. I jumped with excitement! It was a rare salamander. It was sun bathing on a giant rock surrounded by other rocks.

Another animal I saw was a white tail deer. It was drinking water from the river when it heard the snap of a bear stomping on a twig along the shore. The deer lifted up his head and looked everywhere and then ran as fast as his little legs could carry him back to the forest. I laughed.

Suddenly my raft stopped! It got stuck on a sand bar and I knew it was time to get off, so I did. While I was trying to find my way back, I was thinking of my adventure and that I was so glad that I floated on the Mississippi River that day.

(Click here to open and print Joselin and one of her classmate's final drafts to this writing prompt)

One Big River
by Damon, 6th grade writer

Ouch! I thought as I fell out of the tour bus and landed on the hot dirt. I was leaning out of the side too far, just to get a good look at the Nile River. How am I ever going to catch up with the tour bus? Hey look, a raft! Maybe that'll help me catch up.

I put the raft in the river and settled down on the wooden surface. While I was floating, I saw a little green bee-eater sitting on a branch watching a bumblebee. I looked like a little green and yellow bandit because black feathers covered its eyes. I felt like this would be a calm adventure as I floated by the little green bee-eater.

I was just starting to relax when a crocodile jumped out of the water onto the bank and stared at me with hunger in its eyes. Quickly I grabbed a branch and started rowing as fast as I could. When I looked back, the crocodile was resting under the shade of a tree. I could barely make out its thick, scaly side going in and out.

After the crocodile was long gone, I stood up to stretch my legs. It was at that moment that I heard a thump on the back of the raft. I turned around and saw a black mamba snake with a rat in its mouth. The venomous snake bent down and began to eat.

I grabbed onto an incoming branch and got over to the river bank. I spotted the tour bus by some pyramids, so I started off towards King Tut's Tomb to catch up with the tourists.

Student Sample: Middle School

Lonely Colorado
by Sarah, 8th grade writer

I hop out of dad’s Jeep and get ready for some alone time. Today Dad is having me float down the Colorado River alone while he gets the car fixed. I blow up the inner tube and begin my trip to the end of nowhere.

As I floated from the world I once knew, tears took over from boredom and I fell asleep only to wake to the sight of a raccoon. It was limping as it scavenged the park area for food. It grabbed a bag of chips and went up a tree where I soon discovered it had babies. All I could do was giggle at the little fluff balls as I floated away.

I must have fallen asleep because I opened my dreary eyes to the sight of a little field mouse on my inner tube. I must have hit a bush or something because the mouse was a little wet and I had a leaf in my hair. There was a leaf wedged in the mouse’s ear, and it had a white heart-shaped fur patch by its eye. I thought it was pretty cute. I let it off the inner tube when we got close to a bush again and I was alone again.

I looked up and saw a road. At last I would go back to civilization, but then the funniest sight caught my eye. I saw a desert tortoise with a lizard of some sort on its shell. The shell was one to tell the long story of a wise man, for I found it had many nicks and scratches in it. The lizard just sat upon the shell enjoying the ride.

Finally I saw the Jeep and immersed my body in the cool river’s water and pushed the inner tube to the dirty land. “How was it?” Dad asked. I didn’t know what to say. I thought I would hate this trip, but the memories of the raccoon and mouse and the tortoise would stay with me till death. I really wanted to stay, but I said, “It was just fine, Dad. Just fine.”

Student Sample: High School

The River Styx
by Rachel, 11th grade writer

I knew that I was going to have to experience this eventually, but who knew it would be so soon. The water of the river looked just as thick and as black as oil. I could hardly see it through the thick blanket of fog covering it. I saw no animals, possibly nothing was living. Even the trees that spotted the shore seemed to be dead. Everything was silent.

I could see something moving in the distance out on the river. As it inched its way closer, I saw a tall, thin, mysterious figure. It was wearing a cloak as black as the river itself. It was in a small ferry rowing up close to the shore where I stood wide-eyed and scared to death. It was Charon, the ferry driver of the river. I slowly stepped inside, half scared of what I had stepped into and half scared of the man beneath the cloak. We rode along slowly. Neither looks nor words were exchanged.

I could hear a faint cry of a man not to far away. As we got closer, I saw what I thought to be as the skinniest man I’d ever seen. I could see streams of tears running down his thin face as he reached as far as his arms could stretch just for a piece of fruit. But no matter how hard he strained, he would never be able to have the fruit touch his pale, cracked lips. Even the water seemed to go out of its way to be out of reach. After passing him, I could still hear his shouts and cries of hunger. (Tantalus)

I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. But the man I saw next could possibly have had it worse. A tall, muscular man wearing little to no clothing was pushing a boulder up a large hill. He was sweating profusely. He seemed angry, tired and determined, all at the same time. As he got close to the top of the hill, the boulder fell from his grasp and landed all the way back to the ground. He cried out in anger. It apparently wasn't the first time it had happened. He climbed back down the hill and began pushing the boulder back to the top. (Sisyphus)

There was another long stretch of silence and cold, black river. A sudden gleam of light made my eyes strain to stay open. The river was coming to an end, and I could already feel the feelings of depression and sadness just fall away into the blackness, which I would never return to. I would never want to have these feelings again, not even on the day I die and take the trip back down the River Styx to Hades.


(Click here to open and print Rachel and two of her classmate's final drafts to this writing prompt)

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