A Picture Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix

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Teacher's Guide:

What's Been Lost?

exploring "lost" nouns (both abstract and concrete) in students' writer's notebooks, then writing about one...

This lesson was created by NNWP Consultant Barbara Surritte-Barker. Barbara created this lesson to complement 2010's Mentor Text of the Year Program at the WritingFix website.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the picture book Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming. 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 Where Once There Was a Wood 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:

Pre-Step (sharing a song from your iPod):  While students read through the song lyrics, “Where is the Love” silently, create two posters for your classroom: one for abstract nouns, one for concrete nouns. Here is a link to finding the lyrics online.

After reading the song, I like my students to write a sentence or two responding to the content of the song before they actually listen to it. Do they think they’ll like this song, have they heard it before? A simple one to two sentence response at the bottom of the lyrics print-out. Discuss their responses, either whole group or with a partner.

Jot several interesting responses on the board for reference during the second half of the lesson. Here's an insightful conversation to have at this point: What category would love fall under, abstract or concrete noun?

While listening to the song, instruct students to use their highlighters to identify significant thoughts and ideas in the song. For example, in my class, students almost always highlight “I think the whole world is addicted to the drama” because they can connect to that idea as middle schoolers.

At the end of the song, have students discuss with their partner/group their highlighted sections. Discuss whole group. Acting as facilitator (instead of lecturer), guide your students to find the abstract nouns used throughout the song; words like: drama, anger, love, peace, truth, selfishness, values, fairness, equality, animosity, unity, faith.

Ask, "If any of abstract things have been lost to our society, how did we lose them and where did they go? Complete the third page of Barbara's graphic organizer titled, “Where is the ___________?” Discuss whole group responses.

Post several original ideas around the abstract noun poster and inform your students of your intentional transition to now begin considering any concrete “things” we’ve lost in our society. Point to the still-empty concrete noun poster.

Step one (sharing the picture book mentor text):  Now introduce the book titled Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming, which is about losing something a bit more concrete. I like to type up the words from picture books, allowing my kids to follow along at their desks while I read from the actual text . This book also has some great illustrations, so periodically throughout the reading, I’ll remind them to look up from their copy and enjoy the illustrations as well. This story is all about the destruction of the forest (a very concrete noun) to make way for a housing development.

After reading this mentor text, I have the kids respond to the piece by writing one or two sentences at the bottom of the xeroxed page. These sentences can be either a summary or an explanation of their opinions about the text. Discuss whole group. Have students complete--alone or in small groups--the second page of Barbara's graphic organizer.

Setting up a page in the writer's notebook: Tell students they will be thinking of original things they believe to be lost, and they will ultimately be writing about one or several ideas. To help students gather personally-interesting potential topics, have them dedicate a page in their writer's notebook to this topic: "Lost Nouns." Here is one possible suggestion for how to have them partition the page they set up.

Writer's Notebook Page Title:
"Lost Nouns"

Write down a favorite quote/idea from the song "Where is the Love." Then illustrate it

(this box should include name of mentor text, author, quote, and illustration)

Write down a favorite quote/idea from the book Where Once There Was a Woods. Then illustrate it :

(this box should include name of mentor text, author, quote, and illustration)

5 Interesting Abstract Nouns that I Believe are "Lost:"
5 Interesting Concrete Nouns that I Believe are "Lost:"
1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.
5. 5.

Students may add any type of illustrations to this page. The goal behind any notebook page is--should you ask your students to revisit it in the near or distant future--to provide the student writer a topic/idea worth exploring with a longer piece of writing.

Tell students they will next look at some models from students who wrote about "lost" things, inspired by Where Once There Was a Wood.

Step two (introducing student 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 should certainly talk about the idea development, but you might also have your students talk about the organization in the writing too.

The picture book mentor text can easily be used to inspire a playful "Where Once There Was a __________" piece of writing. Consider all of the possibilities with your students: electricity, parents, family, TV, brothers, animals, friends, teachers, school. One year, a very clever class of mine came up with a creative play on Where Once There Was a “Cool” parent. Here’s our finished product:

Where Once There Was a “Cool” Parent
by Barbara's Second Period Class (7th grade)

Where once there was a cool parent,
A mom
And a dad.
Where once there was a messy room, where clothes layered the floor like carpet.
Where once there were no rules and chaos ruled the roost.
Where once there were no dishes, where bratty baby sisters washed and washed.
Where once there was no dog dropping, all the fun without any of the mess.
Where once there was no curfew, no clocks or watches.
Where once there was no nagging, just generosity and spoiled children.
Where once there was freedom.
Where once there was no humiliation, no "you’re stupid" or "you take after your father."
Where once there were no consequences, just rewards and good times.
Where once there was no homework, and better yet, no school!
Once there was a Mom and Dad that let us make our own mistakes.
Where once there were two cool parents.

  • This is a brand new lesson just posted! Individual student samples from Barbara's class will be coming very soon. If you use this lesson too, we'd love to see your student samples. Visit this lesson's student samples page for details.

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): The interactive word game on the student instruction page will

Direct students to complete the first page of Barbara's graphic organizer; to do this, have them select their "best" and "most interesting" noun from their writer's notebook page.

Once they’ve completed the graphic organizer, draw their attention to the structure of the mentor text to help them begin composing . Students can easily impersonate the pattern of Where Once There Was a Wood with either an abstract concept (like peace) or with a concrete issue (like the 2010 oil spill in Louisiana). You may have students who are confident enough to create an original piece of writing that does not base itself on the pattern from the book; allow them to do this!

As I move students through the stages of writing, I really like to reference the mentor text we’ve used in the classroom. Dissecting the sentence structure of Where Once There Was a Wood allows my students to see how the author has developed her idea. “Where once heron fished and speared his glittering food.” Discuss the details of this sentence and others like.

Also, I use word choice resources from WritingFix, like the adjective word list. I usually copy off several pages and encourage students to reference it as they develop their pieces.

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 basic 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 using 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.

Optional step (extending the lesson's big ideas):

Finally, there are several songs that would support this piece should you decide to take the idea further.

Please share additional song ideas with me at: barbarasurritte@sbcglobal.net

Learn more about Denise Fleming's books by clicking here!

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