A Picture Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
Focus Trait: VOICE Support Trait: CONVENTIONS

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Teacher's Guide:

Just the Facts, Ma'am

bringing in Joe Friday's voice to solve an original, silly mystery

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Corbett Harrison. Check out 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 The Web Files by Margie Palatini. 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 The Web Files from Amazon.com, and you will 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 (before sharing the published model):  Your students probably won't know Dragnet.  And that's a shame.  So you may want to take a few extra steps before (or after) sharing Margie Palatini's awesome book, The Web Files, to familiarize your students with the show and the character she has delightfully parodied.

Amazon.com offers episodes of the TV show Dragnet available for under $10.00, if you look for them.  You can buy entire seasons too, if you are a genuine fan.  A few short segments of the show shown to your students can help them recognize the concept of parody.

You can go further back than TV too.  Jack Webb was on radio as Joe Friday, long before the TV show became popular.  You can buy a CD or MP3 of Dragnet shows at the OTR Cat on-line store, or you can download an episode for free at I-Tunes.

I-Pod Link: If you happen to have access to YouTube at your school (or know how to download one of their videos to your I-Pod), you can show a video clip from the old Dragnet television show, using the link below. If you can't see the video link just below, you are on a computer that doesn't allow access to YouTube; you can certainly watch the video later on a computer that allows you access.


Step one (sharing the published model):  This is the classroom.  It was Monday morning, and the students were learning.  We were studying voice.  Not spoken voice but written voice.  I'd heard about the perfect book on the street.  The Web Files, and it was by Margie Palatini.  I read it out loud.  The students howled with laughter.  My name's Friday, and I teach writing.

This book is a riot!  It mixes Jack Webb (Joe Friday) and Jimmy Cagney ("You dirty rat") together with wonderful puns!  If you're going to read the book aloud, practice first.  Some of the lines are tongue twisters.

This book also makes a wonderful reader's theater script.  It can be performed in its entirety by a large group who has practiced it, or you can break the book into numerous scenes that smaller student groups can each practice and perform.

Celebrate the sounds of the book's character's voices.  Celebrate the word play and puns.  Celebrate the concept of parody.

Xerox a few pages from the book and hand them to student groups.  Ask them to highlight the detective's narration in one color, and to highlight the scene's dialogue in another.  Each interview scene contains both narration and dialogue.  Your students' scenes will contain both too, so make sure they realize that the narration is voice-filled, but it doesn't use dialogue punctuation.  The interviews done by the detective continue using the hard-boiled voice, plus they use dialogue punctuation too.

While they have the Xeroxes in hand, this is a perfect time to review dialogue punctuation.  Have student groups study the dialogue punctuation, and ask each group to share one rule of dialogue punctuation they notice from Palatini's story.  Create a classroom list of dialogue punctuation rules for them to refer to when writing. Make sure they spot that when a different character speaks or responds, a new paragraph has to happen.  Remind them of this as they write their drafts, and accept the fact that two or three students will still lump multi-character dialogue into the same paragraph.

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

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 students' assignment is to write out an introduction and three scenes of a mystery they have imagined in their heads.  The mystery's narrator will be a hard-boiled detective, modeled after Joe Friday or Duck-tective Webb.  The detective will question three witnesses or criminals.  If they want their mystery to come to an end, their last witness will probably need to confess to the crime.

The interactive button choices on the Student Instructions Page can certainly inspire your students to begin generating ideas for this assignment, but you can certainly create a class brainstorm that accomplishes the same without being on the computer.

Requires students to plan out their stories before writing a rough draft.  The mystery planning sheet below can be Xeroxed and filled out by student writers planning this assignment.

Joe Friday speaks in short sentences, and he uses a lot of direct address ("Just the facts, Ma'am.").  As students prepare to write their three scenes, a quick discussion of direct address (using the overhead below) might be helpful.

For a review of dialogue punctuation rules, you can use one of WritingFix's rules of dialogue handouts.

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):  One tool for revision is 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.

Learn more about Margie Palatini's books by clicking here!

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