A Picture Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
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Teacher's Guide:

Unusual Friendly Letters

A R.A.F.T. assignment that relies on persuasive writing techniques

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by Nevada teacher Jennifer Mitchell at an SBC-sponsored inservice class.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the picture book Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague. 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 Dear Mrs. La Rue: Letters From Obedience School 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 you become an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources:

Step one (sharing the published model):  Mark Teague’s hysterical picture book, Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, charmingly uses point-of-view and persuasive writing techniques in the safe format of a friendly letter.  The book is about Ike the dog, who is attending obedience school, and who is writing letters to his owner.  Describing each day with specific details and dramatic words, he tries to persuade his owner, Mrs. LaRue, that he is a good dog who doesn’t belong in an obedience school.  The charming part of the book is that often the pictures of Ike's life at obedience school directly contrast the message he is sending in the letters.

While reading this book, teachers should stress what author, Mark Teague, has done well. Notice the dog, Ike, uses powerful details when describing each day from his point of view.  He uses emotionally-charged words.  He uses emphatic capitalization techniques.  He slips in a quote or two to support his argument that he doesn’t belong in obedience school.  He crafts each letter to persuade his audience--Mrs. LaRue--whom he wants something from. 

Xerox a few of the letters from the book.  Put one letter on the overhead, and discuss whole-group 1) its most persuasive word and 2) its most persuasive technique.  Share your opinion.  Ask students if they have a different opinion.  

Hand out the rest of the letters to small groups and have your students analyze Ike's most persuasive techniques.  Each group should share 1) most persuasive words and 2) most persuasive techniques.  List the words and techniques on the chalk board or white board.  Challenge your students to use these words and techniques in their own persuasive and friendly letters.

Say, "It would be an unusual letter that someone might receive from their dog, since dogs can't really write. What other ideas do you have for unusual letters?" Tell students they will eventually b writing their own unsual letters.

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 voice, since that's the focus of this lesson, 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 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): Tell your students it is now their turn to plan the writing of an unusual friendly letter. If your students aren't sure what unusual Role and Audience on which to base their letters, the interactive button game on the Student Instruction Page will help them come up with fun ideas.

Something that couldn't actually write a letter Someone the chosen Role could complain to A friendly letter Persuade your Audience to behave differently

The persuasive word cluster will help them think of words and ideas to put in their letters before they write them, and the friendly letter template will remind your students how to organize a letter.

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 author/illustrator Mark Teague by clicking here.

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