A Picture Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix & HistoryFix
Focus Trait: IDEA DEVELOPMENT Support Trait: VOICE

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This Lesson's Title:

A President's Perspective

researching and voicing facts about a president in journal form

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Corbett Harrison.You can access all of Corbett's on-line lessons by clicking here.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the picture book My Tour of Europe by Teddy Roosevelt, Age 10 by Ellen Jackson. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author.

Check out My Tour Of Europe: By Teddy Roosevelt , Age 10 at Amazon.com.

Washoe County teachers, click here to search for this book at the county library.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step (before sharing the published model):  Review the definition of primary sources with your students. Ask your students, "If you wanted to really know more about a person who was no longer alive, what would be the most revealing primary source documents from that person that you could get your hands on? What documents from their hand might really tell you about the person." The answer you're looking for (for this assignment) is an actual journal written by that person during the time you wanted to know more about him/her, but you'll probably get other interesting answers, like letters...if you do, have students rank the their other answers against a journal, like the journals of Lewis and Clark: from best document to not-as-best documents.

If you have time, share a few pages from Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss, which shares the thoughts, emotions, and crazy notions of a fictional narrator. Marissa Moss, who created the fictional character of Amelia, goes out of her way to make the picture book look and feel like a real journal that might be kept by a real girl in school. Talk about the realistic things the book's character does and says, and how these are revealing of the character.

Ask, "Do you think you could find out about explorers Lewis and Clark as people by reading their actual journals?"

Step one (sharing the published model):  Ellen Jackson has used a primary source document--Teddy Roosevelt's actual boyhood journal to create a picture book that helps us know the president long before he was president. This picture is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a great president. Read My Tour of Europe by Teddy Roosevelt, Age 10.

A day or two later, read the book again, this time with this instruction: "We can make smart guesses about the types of people who become president, can't we? We can say that all the presidents were probably intelligent, had leadership qualities, perhaps they all had a certain degree of ambition. I would bet that Teddy Roosevelt at age 10 showed evidence of qualities that might hint that he'd make a good leader someday. As I read this again, I want you to listen for evidence that might show us character qualities that would help Teddy become president some day."

After reading the book a second time, instruct students to talk with partners or small groups about evidence of character they can find in Teddy's journaled words. Then, record the evidence they have discussed on the board where it can be seen.

Tell students, "Ellen Jackson was lucky...she found an actual journal by a future president for her picture book. For this writing assignment, you're going to need to use your imagination and your common sense since you won't have an actual journal. You get to choose any past president and investigate a period in his life other than his time as president. When you find a president with research written about his pre- or post-presidential life, you are going to 'ghost write' about a time you have found research on. You're going to create a fictional two- or four-day journal that not only conveys actual facts about the period and president you have researched, but that also uses a realisitic written voice that might have actually come from your president during that time. There's no way to capture the voice exactly...so your assignment is to capture the voice as realistically as possible."

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, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might prompt your students to talk about each model's voice as well.

  • We're looking for student samples for all grade levels for this prompt!  Help us get some, and we'll send you free books for your classroom!  Contact us at publish@writingfix.com for details.

Step three (thinking and pre-writing): The interactive button game on the Student Instructions Page is designed to help your students think of the lives of our U.S. Presidents when they weren't president. It's designed to make them curious enough to want to research other periods in presidents' lives, but you can certain pique your students interest without visiting that page.

Once students are interested in a president they have chosen or you have chosen for them, send them off to research. They are looking for a fact-filled resource that provides several pages of information about the pre-presidential or post-presidential life of a president. This might take the form of an encyclopedia article, a Yahooligans or magazine article, or a chapter from a age-appropriate biography.

Step one of the research process: Find five to ten facts about this president during the era the students have researced. Record their facts (in their own words) on this graphic organizer.

Step two of the research process: Choose an appropriate "Wacky We-Search" format from Barry Lane's awesome book 51 Wacky We-Search Reports, or from chapter four of Barry Lane's The Reviser's Toolbox. Have students transform their research into "A Top Ten List," "A Recipe Poem," "A Wacky Report Card," or any of the formats that you feel would work. Says Corbett, "I like the Top Ten List for this one; I assign it as 'The Top Ten Things [this president] might have thought about [during the period that has been researched]. Using Barry Lane's advice, I encourage my student writers to write one humorous list-item for every two or three serious items they include; I encourage them to refer to and utilize researched facts to inspire the humorous entries. In my class, we called this making 'smart jokes, not fart jokes.'"

Step three of the research process: Have students--in small groups--share their Wacky We-Search with each other.

Finally, assign your students a two- or four-day series of journal entries from their researched president's point of view. They are to include, at least, two actual facts in each journal entry, and they will need to be encouraged to expound with details that they would most likely not find in actual research: the weather conditions, details about other people who would/might have been there too, etc. Student writers are also to write in first-person, using the pronouns I and me, and in doing so, they are to use words that show authentic characterstics one would expect to see in a future- or past-president who was writing this journal.

Allow students to use their Wacky We-Search reports as they write their journals rough drafts. Consider NOT allowing them do the writing with their original researched facts in front of them; if students put the encyclopedia away while they write, they are less likely to copy entire sentences into their drafts.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):  Two tools for revision are provided below.  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.

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):   When they are finished revising and have second drafts, require students to create a final draft.  Students will probably enjoy creating original illustrations for this journal assignment as they get ready to publish it for their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line?  We invite student writers to post final drafts of their original reports at WritingFix's Community of Student Writers.  This is a safe-to-use blog for students and teachers. No writing is posted until it is approved by the moderator. Contact us at publish@writingfix.com if you have questions about getting your students published.

Research the lives of the presidents
at Yahooligans!

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