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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:

Show Me
Your Pride or Your Pleasure

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 Nevada Students in Preparing for their 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 prompt is:

Think of something you have done that brought you satisfaction, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Tell a story about this activity or event.

In Nevada, we suggest to teachers that this prompt be given in early 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: Emotions are easy to tell about in short, undetailed sentences: I was happy; I was sad; I was proud. To do well on the writing test, students must show these ideas as well as tell about them. Showing details is a powerful writing strategy that can improve both a student’s idea development and voice skills. When you teach showing authentically, you teach students to use both showing sentences and telling sentences. This pre-writing activity shows students how to balance showing with telling.

Write a list of ten interesting emotions on the board or a chart. Explain that happy and sad are emotions, but there are more interesting synonyms for these simple words, and there are even more diverse emotions to choose from. More interesting emotions are the basis of more interesting pieces of writing. When students learn to unpack and show emotions in the personal narratives they write, their writing dramatically improves.

Ten Interesting Emotions for Fourth Graders to Show:

Tell students they will be working in small groups to write a short play about one of these emotions. To model the creation of this play, the teacher will take the word proud and, working with several of the more creative students, create a four- or five sentence script that will be performed.

First of all, model the creation of a telling sentence based on the emotion word: I was proud. Explain that telling is something that writers do when they want to be quick and to the point; showing is what writers do when they want to create an actual story, the type of detailed story that would help students pass their writing test with flying colors.

To write their plays, explain that it will be important to give the emotion word they’re assigned some context; good stories, after all, need to have a situation going on for the person involved. Ask your student helpers, “If I am proud, what’s going on to make me proud? When do people act proud? What’s a context for our play?”

Listen to student suggestions, and help them sharpen them to be specific. If students suggest, “You did something really hard,” then respond with, “What specifically did I do?” Try to end up with three or four very specific ideas to choose from. Then select the one that, you feel, has the most interesting potential for a variety of ways to show pride.

For example, you might choose: The time I told a bully to stop picking on a third grader and he stopped.

On a chart, have your student helpers think of what you looked like after you’d helped, at the moment you were feeling proud. “What am I doing to show you I’m proud? Give me some action verbs!”

  • You smiled but not too big.
  • Your chest swelled up.
  • You felt taller than you actually are.
  • You looked around to see if anyone else had seen what you did.
  • You patted the third grader on the back.

Explain that you need to now use the best of those ideas to write a three- or four-sentence script for your play. Explain that all the sentences must use the word “I” as narrator. Help them create three or four sentences that borrow big ideas from the list of action verbs but add more details to the scene. For example,

"Showing" this emotional sentence: I was proud.

When I told that bully to quit picking on the small third grader, my chest swelled up a little bit. We learned how to stand up to bullies in class, but I wasn’t sure it would actually work, and I looked around, hoping others had seen it. I smiled but I didn’t smile too big because I wanted to stay humble. As I walked the grateful third grader back to class, I felt taller than I actually was. I was very proud of myself.

With the example script written, now it’s time to perform it. One or two students will read the script out loud, taking turns sharing sentences, while the other student(s) performs the action verbs, showing what the emotion looks like. When performing the model, the teacher should play the proud student, exaggerating the action verbs just a little bit so they stand out. The goal of the play is for students to see the emotion being shown to them, and a little exaggeration helps.

Put students into groups of 3 or 4, and assign them a different emotion word from the initial list. At the top of a piece of blank paper, they are to write a telling sentence with their emotion in it: I was thrilled, for example. Beneath the telling sentence, they need to commit to a context/situation for their script that answers “Why were you thrilled?” Following that, students need to list action verbs that show their assigned emotion. On the back-side of the page, they will be writing their script.

Keep the teacher model visible to them during their group writing process. Remind them how you added interesting details to your actual script that weren’t in the original brainstormed list of action verbs. Challenge them to do the same.

Three Days Before Students Write:

Allow students time to polish their scripts and to rehearse so that everyone has an active part in the performance. Enjoy your students’ skits, which will most likely be a little silly and fun. As they laugh at each other’s performances, stress that good writing can be fun. Showing action verbs—either in front of the class or in a reader’s imagination—is a great tool to help students like what they are writing.

Two Days Before Students Write:

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

Think of something you have done that brought you satisfaction, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Tell a story about this activity or event.

To help students really look closely at the prompt, say, “The word or in that first sentence means you have some options-- choices of emotions you could base your writing on. How many emotions can you actually choose from with this prompt?” Have them talk with partners to come up with emotion possibilities. In short, they have three emotions, shown below as telling sentences:

I was satisfied.
I was pleased.
I was proud.

It is important for them to choose a true event or activity to write about, so give them the rest of the day to brainstorm three or four true events or activities from their lives where they felt each emotion. They probably shouldn’t brainstorm all at once; fourth graders can get a little bored coming up with 9-12 story ideas all at once. Allow them to write a few obvious answers down, share with a partner, put the brainstorm sheet away until after recess, come back to it, and share again. If you did this two or three times throughout the day, you’ll be surprised how many new ideas come to students in between the designated times to write on the brainstorming sheet.

A great writing teacher is constantly prompting students to think a little more about an upcoming writing topic. Discover clever ways to remind students again about the topic once it’s introduced.

This brainstorming worksheet (pictured at right) allows students to easily collect ideas, leaving space for them to create a drawing for their best idea in each box.

One Day Before Students Write:

One nice thing about narrative writing is that it has a natural organization to it; a narrative prompt asks for a story from the writer, and stories should have natural beginnings, middles, and ends.

On the day before you write to the actual practice prompt, consider asking students to fill out the graphic organizer at right, which has them draw the beginning, middle, and ending scene of their story and brainstorm ideas for lead sentences and conclusions. To do this, they will need to choose which story (satisfied, pleased, or proud) from the previous graphic organizer they will actually use for their rough drafts.

Pass out the planning worksheet at right, and have students begin by drawing three pictures that represent where their narrative will begin, and where it will be in the middle and end. Try encouraging them to begin their stories in the middle of the activity or the event; challenge them with, “Instead of starting with a Once Upon a Time-like beginning, you might start your narrative five or ten minutes before you felt the emotion you’re going to show us.” The middle of the story should be when they actually felt the emotion, and they can borrow from their illustration on yesterday’s worksheet for this picture. The end should be a scene that would help a reader understand that the event or activity was over.

With the beginning, middle, and end pictures drawn, now challenge students to craft an interesting first sentence and an interesting idea for their conclusion.

We’ve included here a link to a handout from our organization homepage called Little Red Riding Hooks, which shares eight different techniques for launching an interesting story. Challenge your students to begin their story with a sentence that isn’t a question, which tends to be the easiest (and most predictable) type of introduction for writers to use. You might ask students to use the worksheet to come up with three possible introductory sentences to their stories, then to poll their friends as to which one would work best.

For the conclusion, teach your students the “So What?” technique, which works well with personal narratives. A “So What” conclusion is a sentence or two that attempts to explain the importance of the activity, the event, or the emotion to the reader. There has to be a reason the writer chose this story to write about when he/she had multiple options on the previous day’s brainstorming sheet. What makes this story more important to them? Can they capture that idea in a sentence or two? “I learned a lot about myself the day I stood up to that bully. I think I’m a better person because of that experience” is an example of this type of conclusion.

On the Day the Students Write:

First of all, show them the prompt again.

Think of something you have done that brought you satisfaction, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Tell a story about this activity or event.

Tell them it's time for them to take their ideas from brainstorming and turn them into a rough draft that shows the emotion they write about.

You might show students one or all of the “Sparkler” samples included with this practice prompt; they are samples from Nevada fourth graders who wrote to the same prompt and each writer did something to make one of the traits stand out, or "sparkle."

The Interactive Task and Challenge boxes below each “Sparkler” contain great advice that can help your students create a stronger rough draft. The “Sparklers” also are a great tool to show and discuss with your students right before they begin revising.

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 "Pride or Pleasure 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" Narrative 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.

Overview: Molly Bang’s book, When Sophie Get’s Angry—Really, Really Angry…, provides students with positive ways of dealing with anger. When students explore their own methods of dealing with anger and then talk and write about new ways of expressing that anger, they use their writing as a vehicle into their own thinking processes. This on-line prompt encourages students to generate writing ideas as a way of reflection, especially in the area of expressing feelings and modifying behavior. It also asks students to “show” themselves as they “show” their feelings and behaviors.

The mentor text
for this lesson


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