A Poetry-Inspired Writer's Notebook Lesson from WritingFix

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Teacher's Guide:

Little Toy Friend

a poem told from a "lost" plaything's point-of-view

This original writing lesson was created by NNWP Consultant Regan Ringler Hartzell. It was revised in 2010 to include a writer's notebook page.

This on-line writing prompt is based on the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. Before writing to this assignment, students should hear and discuss the poetry of this great poet.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Robert Louis Stevenson poetry from Amazon.com, and help keep WritingFix free and on-line. We thank you!

A note for teacher users: 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:

Click here to open and print "The Dumb Soldier" on an overhead transparency.

Click here to open and print "Little Boy Blue" on an overhead transparency.

Step one (sharing the published model):  Print copies of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem "The Dumb Soldier" and Eugene Field’s "Little Boy Blue."  Share both poems to the students. Discuss with the students how the toys children played with in the 1800’s were different from the toys children have today. Ask the children why toys such as metal soldiers and cloth toys were popular during this time. Talk about how young children had fewer toys during this time period and how important their few toys were to them.

Ask the children to name a favorite toy and explain why it is a favorite. Encourage the inclusion of toys given as baby gifts that they have had for a long time and why that toy is important to them. (Perhaps a favorite grandmother gave them the toy or the toy is one they sleep with.)

Tell the children that each of them will have a different attachment to their toy and this is their opportunity to include specific an interesting details in their writing that show how deep that attachment is.

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.  Encourage the students to talk about the idea development in each poem, and then to talk about how sentence fluency was accomplished by the writer.

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 (building a writer's notebook page): After you have read and talked about the poem(s), have the children choose three of their favorite toys (encourage them to choose different types of toys--not three different dolls, for example) and think of three interesting settings where the toys might be misplaced. Have students title a page "Lost Toys" in their writer's notebook, then have them partition the page so it's similar to our example below:

Writer's Notebook Page Title:
Lost Toys

Challenge students to think of three different types of toys for this notebook page. Don't allow them to "lose" three video game toys, or three different Barbies. See the teacher model below as an exemplar.

Toy #1
Toy #2
Toy #3

In each box, students should sketch their poem in the location that it is lost.

Have them add a sentence that explains where it is and/or how it was lost.

Sentences about the toys that begin with an interesting preposition:
Interesting list of Prepositions
  • Have students create a sentence about toy #1 that starts with a prepositional phrase.
  • Have students create a sentence about toy #2 that starts with a prepositional phrase.
  • Have students create a sentence about toy #3 that starts with a prepositional phrase.

Before writing the sentences at left, have students select some interesting prepositions from this preposition list to write here for easy reference.

To inspire them, show them your own model of a finished notebook page and/or our webmaster's teacher model, which we have included (at left) with this lesson as our attempt to inspire you to make your own, but we will be understanding if you want to use ours as yours. If you are teaching your students to use Mr. Stick in notebooks to serve as a journal and notebook mascot, it can actually be really fun to make your teacher model. Your kids can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; we truly believe kids can have fun while learning as long as the teacher is modeling what smart and fun looks like at all times. Sample notebook pages from a teacher can be inspirational! Click here for a really large version of our webmaster's notebook page, which allows you to really zoom in on details or print on a poster, if you have that ability.

With the notebook page's three toys chosen and sketched and explained briefly (which may take a few days--it's okay to come back to the page for five or ten minutes on different days), have students share their pictures and ideas with each other. Challenge them to explain specific details about their three toys aloud in order to develop their ideas more. This will help them with this lesson's focus trait: idea development.

Then, focus on the support trait here: sentence fluency. Tell students that poets start their sentences with different types of words. A great "different" type of word to begin a sentence with is a preposition. Share this list of prepositions with them. For the bottom half of the page, have students--first--select some interesting prepositions they might use to describe where their lost toys are: beneath the dirt, inside a hole, among the fallen leaves. Ask students to choose and list five to ten they can consider using. Then...have them create a poetic, interesting line for each toy that might begin a poetic description about it; for each sentence, have them use a different preposition. Model writing a sentence or two in front of them before they write.

With the three sentences written, have them share their notebook pages with different partners. This time, they are to ask their listener, "Which of my poetic sentence starters do you think would make the best poem?"

Step four (pre-writing and rough drafting the poem): At this point, students should have chosen a toy to "lose" in their poems, and they should have a pretty decent introductory sentence. Now have them do some detail brainstorming.

Have the children use a scrap piece of paper and apply the five senses to their chosen toy: Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound, writing short sentences or phrases to describe what the sense was in each setting. Have the students share with a small group what they have written down and take suggestions or changes. 

One more step before drafting--using this brainstorming sheet, have the children write down some of their best descriptions from their scrap paper; encourage them only to keep the very best ideas. Remind them that a good poem isn't built of every idea they thought of; rather it is to be created by the very best ideas they've brainstormed. This graphic organizer should end up being a collection of their very best details.

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.

With the graphic organizer completed, now it's time to draft on a piece of lined paper. Remind them of the great introductory sentence they wrote in their writer's notebooks. As they transfer that sentence to their lined paper, challenge them to polish it a little more, perhaps adding a favorite sensory detail from their graphic organizers. Then...allow them to compose. You might show them the student models included with this lesson, if they seem to be stuck for ideas; show them and ask, "What did this poet do that you might borrow an idea from without copying?"

Remind them to try using prepositions in the rest of their poems' sentences; remember, prepositional phrases can begin or end sentences, or they can go right in the middle of a description. They add sentence fluency when used well and in a variety of ways.

I like to share really good sentences from students' poems aloud when I am monitoring and happen to spot one.

If all your students like what they are drafting, they are more likely to want to revise the writing. Do whatever it takes to help all your learners end up with a draft that they like enough to revise.

Step five (revising with specific trait language):   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 six (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 seven (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 poet Robert Louis Stevenson by clicking here.
Learn more about poet Eugene Field by clicking here.

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