|A note for teachers: This lesson would work with students from most grade levels. In Northern Nevada, we've exclusively ear-marked this lesson to be used in September or October of our students' fifth grade year. It is designed to have fifth graders continue practicing showing skills they learned about while writing to this on-demand practice prompt. When preparing for on-demand test prompts, we believe it crucially important to teach an authentic writing lesson in between practice sessions for the writing test.
|Inspired by Barack Obama’s picture book, Of Thee I Sing, students will write their own friendship songs, choosing as their friends a peer, a relative, or an adult friend. After the students make their lists of telling sentences, “singing the praises” of the chosen friend, they then develop three to four of those sentences into showing paragraphs. By modeling after Obama’s book, using the frame, “Have I told you that…,” students create a predictable text which is intended to read almost like a song.
The focus trait in this writing assignment is idea development; the writer’s goal is to compose both telling sentences and showing paragraphs to invite readers into his/her understanding of friendship. The support trait is word choice; every student is required to use at least one simile in his text.
Note: These lessons are not intended to be used as "scripts" for other teachers. Study this lesson, then adapt it to match your teaching style. Adapt it recklessly. We become great writing teachers by adapting good ideas from other writing teachers!
Step one (analyzing the mentor text): On day one, read the Obama book. Draw students’ attention to how the illustrator supported the text: First, you see only Obama’s daughters; then after each famous person had been added, that person as a child is standing next to the Obama children. Point out the wonderful words Obama used in his text, such as “sunshine spills” and “braid great ideas” and “unyielding compassion.” Notice such alliteration as, “lunar landing leaps.” Draw attention to the way Obama used ordinary language in unusual ways such as, “broken hearts and broken promises” or “that we behave as kin” or “swung his bat with the grace and strength of a lion.”
Suggest to the students that when they write, they, too, can focus on wonderful words. Pass out the Friendship Song Pre-writing Worksheet at right, and tell students that they must decide which friend they will write about and write that friend’s name at the top of the worksheet. Then, they will write five telling sentences about the friend, using Obama’s book as a guide.
Step two (a mini-lesson on similes): On day two, conduct a mini lesson on similes. Because I first tried this lesson in a 4th grade class where similes had just been introduced the week before, we simply practiced several together on the board. I wrote the word “fast,” and we brainstormed together as many fast things as we could think of: race car, cheetah, and bullet. We repeated this exercise with “loud” and “small,” and then the students copied these examples into their writing workbooks. At the end of the mini lesson, I told the students that they must discover and use at least one simile in their Friendship Songs.
Step three (sharing student models) Explain that you’ll be showing your students some pretty good fourth grade samples for Friendship Songs. As fifth graders, you are expecting your students to show even more skills than the fourth graders did. Ask them, “What do you now know as a fifth grade writer that maybe these fourth graders were still learning to do?”
Pass out the student models for a discussion; if you can, give each group a different one; then partner students up with members of other groups so that students can compare/contrast different sample friendship songs. Have students discuss how the samples’ showing details support the telling sentences.
|Samples for Group A
|Samples for Group B
|Samples for Group C
to open/print these three sets of samples to share with your writers.
Step four (thinking and writing): Students should choose the three or four telling sentences from their worksheets which can best be developed into strong showing writing. Each paragraph will begin with the frame, “Have I told you that…” For the ending of the piece, our students were encouraged to use a modification of Obama’s ending: Have I told you that you are one of my best friends, and that you are a part of me and I am a part of you? If students chose to write a different ending, they were allowed to do so.
Step five (revision with specific trait language): For this piece of writing, I pulled each student for one-on-one response where together we examined the telling sentences and the showing paragraphs. Sometimes, I probed for more exemplars and more clarity. We discussed the similes to see if it supported the text. Each time we re-read the text several times so that we could focus on the sound of the text---Did the piece read like a song of friendship? Helping students become aware of the sound behind their writing is a great initial step in teaching them to be more conscious of voice.
If this kind of one-on-one response is not possible, refer to the two Post-its for revision, which are provided here. You can use one or both, depending on how much time you have to spend on this assignment.
Attached to this lesson are two sheets of response & revision, Post-it-sized notes that work well with this lesson. The first is the Idea Development Post-it (at right), and the second is the Word Choice Post-it. The important thing to note on these tools is that they ask for students to rank the skills in their own (or a partner’s) writing, not rate the skills. When you rate skills, you can assign the same score to different skills; you could, for example, give all the skills a score of ‘4,’ which many students end up doing because that’s an easy way to fill out the Post-it Note. Ranking requires the students to decide on their absolute strongest skill from the five, and to give that skill a ‘5’; the next strongest skill receives a ‘4,’ then a ‘3,’ etc. Ranking is harder to do because it requires the students to apply their knowledge of these skills to their writing, then to analyze them by comparing them to each other. When planning revision, students focus on the skills that received the lowest ranking.
Our Nevada Common Core State Standards require us to start pushing our students to evaluate reading and writing, and these Post-its are a small tool that—when modeled well and monitored strictly during the first few uses—can help your students learn to independently create revision plans that match their own drafts’ strengths and weaknesses.
When using the Post-its for response and revision, most students claim that ranking the skills in someone else’s writing instead of their own is easier, so it might be a good exercise to have your students work with partners to rank the skills in one of the student models that comes with this lesson. Your struggling learners can practice with one or the other Post-its, but your advanced learners can and should certainly practice with both Post-its: idea development and organization.
Step six (editing as a community) First, before students edit their revised drafts, put them away for a while. Students need a little space between drafting and revising, and they need a little more space between revising and editing. Before having them edit, do a mini-lesson on the importance of correctness when sharing your writing publicly, including sharing it on a bulletin board inside or outside a classroom.
If you haven’t ever created a Community of Editors to make use of on days when the whole class edits revised drafts, it’s a fairly easy process. It requires that the teacher know enough about students’ conventional writing skills to place them into any of the following groups: strong spellers, strong end punctuation users, strong past tense verb users, strong capitalizers, strong apostrophe users, strong homonym users, etc.
On your assigned Community of Editors day, students all bring a complete working draft of writing. Once placed in one of the strong skill groups, students seek out four other students who must come from the other four skill groups. When paired with a student in a different skill group, they serve as an editor for the other student’s writing for just the skill they have been identified as a strong user of.
Students quickly read over each other’s drafts, lightly circling or high-lighting suspected errors just in the skill group they are assigned to. After both read and circle, they have a two- or three-minute clarification conversation, where they explain why they circled or highlighted anything in the other’s paper. The teacher is available for clarification of correctness, if there are disagreements. Students initial one another's Conventions Post-its when they are finished editing and discussing.
Then they meet with another student from another strong skill group and repeat the process. Once they have met with four editors, they are finished. They should be allowed to ask verification questions of each other or of the teacher (or of the dictionary) before beginning a final draft.
For those students who completely lack any conventional skills, you do have two options: 1) those students can meet with the teacher in a small, focused group while the rest of the class edits one another’s papers; 2) the teacher can invent a sentence fluency skill checker group as a sixth group. Having conventionally-challenged students circle just the first words in other students’ sentences, or having them count and record the number of words in each sentence from the draft (in the margin) can prompt students receiving this information to remember to use a variety of sentence beginnings and/or a variety of sentence lengths in their final drafts. It requires little conventional skill to circle first words on another student’s draft or to count another student’s words per sentence.
Step eight (celebrate published stories in ways that motivate) It’s so very important to find special ways to celebrate students who truly honored the entire writing process while creating this story. This special recognition will inspire students who haphazardly pre-wrote or drafted or revised or edited to honor those steps of the process a little more the next time writing is assigned. You can:
- Allow those students to share their writing using the class microphone;
- Place those stories in a special class book that honors the entire writing process;
- Publish those stories on a classroom bulletin board or website;
- Submit them at the online, WritingFix version of this lesson. Even though we've ear-marked this lesson for fifth graders, we would love to see samples from all grade levels! See the blue box below for details.