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Pre-Writing to Help Students Practice for a Writing Exam
teaching useful processing skills while students learn to perform for on-demand prompt writing

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A Fourth Grade Narrative
Practice Prompt:

Showing Amazement and other States-of-Being Adjectives

This activity was designed for Nevada 4th graders preparing for Nevada's Writing Test, which happens halfway through their fifth grade year.

Nevada's New Narrative Resource:

Coming to Northern Nevada teachers April 1!

How this Exercise Assists Our Nevada Students in Preparing for their State Writing Exam:

Nevada fifth graders take their writing exam halfway through the school year, and the prompt they are given is designed to inspire narrative (descriptive) writing from the students. During three 45-minute sessions, our Nevada writers brainstorm, draft, revise, and edit a piece of writing that can fit on this answer sheet.

The writing is scored based on these traits: idea development, organization, voice, and conventions. Clicking the links will allow you to open/print the rubrics.

While we don't believe three 45-minute sessions based on an on-demand prompt produces the most authentic writing from our students, we respect that our students must be tested. We also believe they must begin preparing for their fifth grade test much earlier than fifth grade. In fourth grade and again in fifth grade, we suggest students be given three on-demand practice prompts and that teachers learn to score these prompts in a way similar to that of the test. Between these prompts, teachers should be presenting crafted lessons that teach authentic narrative writing skills.

This exercise was designed to serve as a pre-writing activity for one of our three designated fourth grade practice prompts. The practice prompt is:

There are many amazing people, things, places, and events in our world. Tell a story about one of them.

In Nevada, we suggest to teachers that this prompt be given in the middle of the Spring of our students' fourth grade year. To see all of our fourth grade prompts, click here.

Four Days Before Students Write:

A Rationale: The great writing teacher and author, Donald Graves, once suggested that when the writing process is truly being honored, 85% of a students' time could easily be spent in the pre-writing step. Although our writing test doesn't allow for this length of pre-writing, the more opportunities students have before the test to pre-write well, the more skilled they will be when given limited pre-writing time in the future.

Pre-writing is not just about filling out a graphic organizer; it also includes asking students to simply think, then talk with others about what they've thought about.

Beginning the Lesson: Showing Emotions (see our pre-writing activity practice prompt #1 for fourth graders) and Showing States-of-Being are similar but also different. Both are great topics to discuss and study when teaching students to show ideas with writing instead of simply tell their ideas. Showing details is a powerful strategy that can improve both a student writer’s idea development and voice skills. What’s the difference between the two? Here are examples:

Emotional Telling Sentence:

The man was angry.

angry = emotion

State-of-Being Telling Sentence:

The man was alert.

alert = state-of-being

When teaching students to show ideas, provide them with a telling sentence and ask them to brainstorm with this question: “What does that look like? What is the man doing to prove that he is feeling/being that?” When students have made a list of four or five action-verb sentences (for example, His eyes narrowed. He shouted at people. His fists were clenched and his face turned red.), they can then be asked to take their best ideas from these sentences and build a showing paragraph description. You can encourage students to use their original telling sentence as their paragraph’s opening sentence or its closing sentence; good writing is a balance of showing and telling sentences.

The man was angry as a showing paragraph:
Mr. Jackson’s face glowed red, and his eyes narrowed. When his teenage son asked him a question, he shouted him down. He stared out the front window of his house with his fists clenched. This man was angry.

Hand out the graphic organizer pictured at right. This worksheet has students turn state-of-being telling sentences into showing paragraphs. The first box has a model already completed. It’s helpful to have students, when they first read the state-of-being telling sentence, ask, “Why? Why is the dog content?” For the model we provide, we’ve clearly decided the dog was content because it had found a way to keep warm. Having that context helps to create a better showing paragraph.

As students prepare to work with a partner on the first empty box of the worksheet, suggest they create a context for the telling sentence. Ask, “Who is this man? Why is he exhausted?” This will help them add details to the action-verb sentences they will brainstorm before writing a short paragraph in the box.

Share several paragraphs based on the box about the exhausted man; then, put the worksheet away for a day.

Three Days Before Students Write:

Back to the graphic organizer from the day before! Have students work with different partners and go through the same process to create a showing paragraph for “The lady was delighted.” Remind students that the original telling sentence can be used as the showing paragraph’s first or last sentence; have them try putting it in a different place than they did while writing about the exhausted man.

Finally, test their independence with the task by having them create a showing paragraph for the “I was amazed” sentence. Challenge them to think of a true story about a time they were amazed and let it serve as their paragraph’s context. If students have trouble thinking of a time they were amazed, ask them if they’ve ever seen fireworks or a huge animal at a zoo; this usually works, but you’ll want to remind them their showing paragraph should be focused mostly on their amazement, not mostly about the fireworks show or the huge animal.

Two Days Before Students Write:

Tell students that in two days they are going to write their very best showing description that is inspired by this writing prompt:

There are many amazing people, things, places, and events in our world. Tell a story about one of them.

To help them really explore the variety of topics they could focus on for this pretty broad prompt, they will be spending the next two days brainstorming amazing things they might write about. Their goal is to have so many possible topics that when asked, “Which topic stands out as the best topic for you?” they’ll have a good answer.

Amazement is an interesting state-of-being for fourth graders to think about. There are students in your classroom who probably will claim they’ve never or rarely been amazed; amazement, to them, might be limited to the kind of spectacular things that they see in movies. A supportive writing teacher needs to help them discover that small, real things are just as amazing as those expensive special effects in film.

The brainstorming worksheet at right is designed to help them make this discovery. As you share our teacher model (on page two of the handout)—or better yet, share one you make—it’s important to show them examples that are based on powerful things as well as examples that are based on small, amazing things. Amazement can come from many sources.

Give students time to think and add several ideas to their Brainstorming Amazement! worksheet. It might be helpful to have students share their first few recorded ideas aloud with a small group they’re comfortable working in. When students hear what fellow students are brainstorming, it often shows them new possibilities. The goal is to find three or four possibilities for each of the four boxes, but they won’t and shouldn’t all come out on the first day. The best writing topics take time to find; the best writing topics are often “mined” in our students’ brains from good, long-lasting pre-writing.

Send students home with the task of coming back tomorrow with two new ideas they can add to their brainstorm the next morning.

One Day Before Students Write:

The next day, have students continue to think about and revisit their brainstorming sheet. Near the end of the school day, have them partner up with a friend and exchange brainstorming sheets.

Ask students to become “temporary actors” in these pairs. They are to read each other’s brainstorms, then ask, “So it says you were amazed by a roller coaster ride (for example). Show me what that amazement looked like. Use your face, hands, and whole body, if necessary.” The goal of this “acting” activity is for the students to visualize what amazement looks like so they can capture that look when they write about one of their best topics tomorrow in class.

Time for the Rough Draft:

First of all, show them the prompt again.

There are many amazing people, things, places, and events in our world. Tell a story about one of them.

Focus on the fact that the prompt gives multiple options but specifically says they need to write about one of them. Students who create a list of many amazing topics will actually score lower in idea development because they did not read the prompt carefully; the prompt wants them to write about one amazing thing and to describe it with many specific and relevant details. Also focus students on the word story. Discuss how their writing shouldn’t be a collection of facts or reasons why the topic they write about is amazing; story tells them they need to tell it as a narrative, involving themselves in the tale and including an obvious beginning, middle, and end to the story they relate.

You might show them a few of the 4th grade student “Sparklers” before they begin composing, and have them analyze the sample writing for the fact that the writers did exactly what the topic asked.

Revising & Editing & Assessing:

A day after they write their rough drafts, have all students analyze their use of narrative skills using our narrative writing Post-it® Note-sized templates.

The important thing to note on this tool is that it asks for students to rank the skills in their own (or a partner’s) writing, not rate the skills. When you rate skills, you can assign the same score to different skills; you could, for example, give all the skills a score of ‘4,’ which many kids end up doing because that’s an easy way to fill out the Post-it-sized note. Ranking requires the students to decide on their absolute strongest skill from the list, and to give that skill a ‘5’; the next strongest skill receives a ‘4,’ then a ‘3,’ etc. Ranking is harder because it requires the students to apply their knowledge of these skills to their writing, then to analyze them by comparing them to each other.

Our Common Core State Standards require us to start pushing our students to analyze and evaluate what they’re reading and writing, and these Post-it® Note-sized templates are a small tool that—when modeled well and monitored carefully during the first few uses—can begin to help your students learn to independently create revision plans that match their own drafts’ strengths and weaknesses.

When using these Post-it® Note-sized templates for response and revision, most students will claim that ranking the skills in someone else’s draft (instead of their own) is easier, so it might be a good exercise to have them first work with partners to rank the skills in any of the student samples that comes with this practice prompt.

With a ranking of their own skills on a Post-it, students can then be challenged to look at the one or two lowest-ranked skills and use them to create a revision plan. This, too, needs to be modeled well.

Ask students to carefully copy their final drafts, checking for conventions, onto the answer sheet. If you’re planning to use our set of annotated samples to assist you in scoring your students’ practice prompt writing, use that as an incentive to encourage more careful editing. When students know they’ll be given a score that will help them understand their chances of passing the upcoming state test, they are often more willing to check conventions a second or third time.

For editing, you might teach your students to find a corner and read aloud their own papers to themselves before turning them in; many careless conventional errors are often discovered by students doing this.

You might also teach them to read their drafts backwards, starting with the last word and going backwards through each sentence. This is good for students to learn to do, especially if they are prone to making careless spelling errors as they copy a rough draft onto a final draft page, as they will be expected to do when they take their actual test.

Publish Your Students' Sparklers for this Prompt:
We're seeking new student samples to post here!

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use WritingFix lessons and prompts. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually! We're currently seeking additional student sparklers for the "Amazement Prompt" that we can feature at this page to promote further discussion from fourth graders using this lesson for state exam writing practice.  Help us obtain up to three from your students, and we'll send you a free copy of the NNWP's "Show Me Your Story" Narrrative Writing Print Resource.

You can post your students' finished stories at this posting page set-up for this on-line lesson.

Extending the Learning with a Narrative Follow-up:
A lesson we suggest fourth grade teachers use between this practice prompt and the next.

Narrative Lesson:
Plan an Amazing Sleepover

Overview: After listening to Anne Whitford Paul’s book, Everything to Spend the Night from A-Z, students will write about either a real or imaginary sleepover, focusing on the things they will bring to make that event an amazing experience. Students will be encouraged to select some specific things they will pack, using the answers to the questions “Where are you going for your sleepover? Who will you go with? What do you plan to do?” as guidelines. This online prompt helps students focus on relevant, specific details as they describe their own sleepovers.

The mentor text
for this lesson


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