|A note for our 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 (creating a writer's notebook page a week before introducing this lesson): One of our favorite mottoes at WritingFix has become, "Pre-write so secretly that students don't even know you are preparing them to do some writing." A week before asking students to do the actual writing required of this lesson, have a discussion about favorite vocabulary words. This discussion will lead to a fun-to-create writer's notebook page that will help students succeed with this assignment, but your students don't need to know that...not yet.
One of Ralph Fletcher's simplest suggestions in his Writer's Notebooks: Unlocking the Writer in You is that students should create celebrations of favorite words in their writer's notebooks. This pre-writing activity has students celebrate some of their favorite vocabulary words by personifying them and designing them clothes to wear.
As adults, most of us have favorite words. We like the sounds of certain words, we like the meanings of others, or we just have an interesting personal connection to a word. There's a tiny, memorable scene in the movie version of Cormac McCarthy's rather gloomy novel, The Road, where the father and son find a safe place to stay and locate lots of supplies that have survived the post-nuclear world the boy was born into. As they clean themselves up, using the supplies they have discovered, the father mentions the word shampoo, which the boy has clearly never heard before. He repeats the word in such a way that you can tell it has become one of his favorite new words. "Sham-poo." When children discover new words they like, they should be encouraged to hang onto those words as "favorite words" to take into their adulthoods. A notebook is a great place to celebrate and store favorite words.
Share some of your favorite words with your students; explain your reasons for liking those words so much. If you've never pondered your own favorite words, spend some time thinking about it; start with plethora and onomatopoeia, which most teachers seem to like, and then start thinking of unique ones that fit you.
At left, you'll find our webmaster's writer's notebook page which shares his two favorite vocabulary words: defenestration and cacophonous; the definitions can be found on the page, which you can see better by clicking on the image. Your kids don't need to know it yet, but this is a model of the writer's notebook page you'll be asking them to imitate as a pre-writing task for this lesson.
Ask students to start thinking of interesting vocabulary words they've learned or that they have spotted in books they are reading. Tell them you have a fun challenge for them as soon as they all think of two fun vocabulary words that they're willing to play with, that they're willing to call "two of my favorite vocabulary words!" Give them a day or two (with constant reminders) to think of two words; challenge them to ask their parents what words they like.
When students have all committed to one or two favorite words, tell them you'd like them to design a writer's notebook page that personifies the words. Ask them to put a Mr., Mrs., or Miss in front of their words, and to then creatively think about who that person would be. Explain the person they create must somehow represent the meaning of the word, so if they create Miss Onomatopoeia, somehow the character must have something to do with sound effects. Perhaps Miss Onomatopoeia was the class clown who annoyed the teacher by making sounds, or perhaps she works as the sound effects person on a radio show.
After sharing the onomatopoeia example, ask students, "What about the word plethora? What kind of person would Mr. or Mrs. Plethora be? Would this person be young or old? How would the person behave or what would the person do for a job so that he/she represented the meaning of the word? What clothes might the person wear to further represent the meaning of plethora?" Let students work in small groups to decide on a personality, profession, and outfit for Mr. or Mrs. Plethora.
Have students share their best ideas out loud for Mr. or Mrs. Plethora.
Step one (building some "fashion show schema"): Ask your students what, if anything, they know about fashion shows. Talk about how models wear unique clothing and walk up and down a runway while a narrator/announcer talks about what the models are wearing.
Break students into five groups. Assign each group to brainstorm a different category from this brainstorming worksheet: nouns, verbs, adjectives, -ly adverbs, and transition phrases. The words and phrases they brainstorm must be words one might hear said at a fashion show by the fashion show announcer; these would be words or phrases used to describe the models or their clothes and accessories. Show a copy of the brainstorming worksheet on your overhead, which has a few examples to get students' brains going. Give students five minutes to brainstorm the word category you have assigned them. Create a class list of "Fashion Show Vocabulary" by having groups share their best examples until your chart is full.
If your students need a boost to get going, get out your copy of Barry's Lane's 51 Wacky We-Search Reports, which we use in many of our Northern Nevada workshops for teachers. There's an assignment in the book that has students create fashion show scripts for concepts they are studying in all curriculum areas. Barry provides a hysterical model where he describes different rock types (igneous, marble, magma) as though they are fashion models on a runway. If you don't own this Barry Lane collection of lessons, you should change that! It's one of the best for-under-$20 teacher books out there.
Step two (sharing the published model): Debra Frasier’s book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster offers the reader a delightful word choice adventure. Frasier introduces lively adjectives, strong verbs, precise nouns, risky words, alliteration, and word play as we experience a fifth grader’s week at home sick, while she tries to complete not only her vocabulary homework but also an extra credit assignment. Upon Sage’s return to school, she discovers that she has not completely understood the meaning of some of her vocabulary words. In the end, Frasier has her young character create a costume for the Vocabulary Parade that fully expresses her new understanding of one very difficult word. Debra Frasier uses every inch of space, including the endpapers and extra pages, to inspire the creative use of vocabulary words.
Suggests Sandy, this lesson's author, "Teachers should take several sessions to read this book aloud. During the first read aloud session, stress the many interesting and unusual words that are bold printed and explained by Sage. During the follow up sessions, call students’ attention to any of the many word choice sub-skills incorporated in Sage’s description of her week in bed. I would also suggest that a separate session be spent reading the book with a special focus on the extra credit assignment introduced on the copyright page. This writing assignment is intended to be used as a follow-up only after several readings of Miss Alaineus."
For this writing assignment, students will be imagining that--instead of a Vocabulary Parade (like in the book)--they will be creating a Vocabulary Fashion Show. Each student will be taking a word from a vocabulary list (or a favorite vocabulary word) and asking, "If this word was a model at a fashion show, what kind of outfit would he/she be wearing, and how would he/she move up and down the runway?"
Assuming the voice of a fashion show announcer, students will be writing a 5- to 10-sentence script that describes their vocabulary word on the runway.