A Picture Book Poetry Lesson from WritingFix

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Teacher's Guide:

What If... Poems

developing imaginative stanzas for an original poem inspired by well-worded what if questions

In 2006, this lesson was originally proposed by Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant Amanda Bodenstein. In March of 2009, it was further developed to be featured at the NNWP's Piñon Poetry Festival.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the picture book What If... by Regina J. Williams. 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 What If... 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):  Before reading and enjoying this wonderful picture book, talk to your students about word choices.  Tell them, "Some words (nouns and verbs and adjectives) are pebbles, but some words are rocks."  Talk about what that might mean.  Ask them to listen for rocks and pebbles as they listen to the picture book.  Don't be afraid to read this wonderful book multiple times.

Regina Williams is able to paint quite a picture in your mind with verbs that are rocks (fly, ride, play, pick, sing, and planted) and precise nouns (marshmallow, butterflies, window, and puppy).  Adds Amanda, this lesson's creator,"The illustrations by Doug Keith bring the writing to fruition in the minds of all.  Your imagination starts to run absolutely wild with words."  Pointing out the use of strong verbs, interesting adjectives, and precise nouns in this bedtime story is a formula for success for this poetry assignment.

Once students have talked about the strong word choices, read a few pages again, and point out how the pages don't just have one small idea; using words like and, so, and then after her initial idea allows her to build more details and a more complex and imaginative idea.

Tell students they will be creating original what if statements today, and they will be trying to use more words than and, so, and then in order to make their words sound more like poetry, which depends on the variety of words that writers can use.

Step two (introducing models of writing):    In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models or teacher models that come with this lesson.  The groups should certainly talk about the word choice and the idea development, because they are the focus of this lesson.

Teacher Models:

Student Models:

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): In groups of three, have students play the original what ifs game. Click here to open the noun page for this game, which can be run off on white paper, and the pieces need to be cut out. Click here to open the transition page, which should be run off on a different piece of colored paper and cut out.

Students take turns playing this game. One student starts the game by picking up a noun card. They read what's on the card (i.e. "What if jellybeans...") and then they must add an original verb (like "danced") and phrase (like "like ballerinas").

The other two players look at the transition cards and, when the first student has an idea on how to expand the original sentence ("What if jellybeans danced like ballerinas...") he/she grabs an appropriate transition and adds a subject and verb to the original idea (like "...and gumdrops played rap music... ").

The third player grabs a different transition cards and completes the original What if with a new noun and verb (like "...while candy bars sit in the theatre and watch the show.")

To play a second round, a different student acts as the "starter." When playing this game independently, students should be encouraged to build on the original idea with a related idea, so that you don't get random thoughts like "What if jellybeans danced like ballerinas and carrots drove cool cars while the president declared chores illegal."

If students want to play the game independently, they can use the interactive button game on the Student Instructions Page to create original ones.

Once students have played and primed their imaginations, they are now ready to begin planning an original poem. This lesson comes with differentiated templates to help students plan their poems' five stanzas:

Tell all students their poems will begin with three or four stanzas that rely on combining the words What if... with their imaginations. Their poem's final stanza will also start with What if... but it will have a more serious or heartfelt feel to it.

On the overhead, model how you would fill out the template for the first three or four stanzas, then wait until everyone has caught up.

Then...have a discussion with students how they can create a final What If that goes along with their imaginative stanzas but says something serious. This final stanza will probably be the hardest part for the students. Refer to the student or teacher models to demonstrate how others did this. There's a question at the bottom of each stanza-planning template to try to direct students to not end their poems on a down note.

If a student writes for the last stanza "What if no one loved me and...", which sounds pretty negative, encourage them to rethink it as "What if my family didn't know how much I loved them and..." to put the positive twist on the conclusion.

Once students have completed the template, have them transfer their writing to lined paper before moving to the revision paper. If they can add any special details or words to the template's ideas as they transfer, encourage them to do so.

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.  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.

If you like "What If..." Poems,
you should also check out our "Fierce Wondering" story-writing assignment.

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