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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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Publish your students' Award Writing at our Ning!
(You must be a member of our "Writing Lesson of the Month" ning to post.)

A Fourth Grade Narrative
Practice Prompt:

Show Me
an Original Awards for a
Deserving Person

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!

A Writer's Notebook-Friendly Lesson! Although this exercise has a designated purpose for our Nevada fourth graders, it's a solid writer's notebook suggestion that can be used to inspire students in most grade levels.

Writer's notebooks, unlike daily journals, allow students to explore potential writing ideas at their own pace. Independent notebook-keeping should be a teacher's goal when requiring notebooks, but students generally need a lot of guidance when learning to think about future writing in a way that can be celebrated in a writer's notebook.

The exercise on this page is one to use when students need more guidance on how to explore ideas in their writer's notebooks.

a great classroom resource!

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:

If you could give a special gift or award to a deserving person, what would it be and why? Share reasons and details as you compose your answer.

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

Three 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: On the board, write several awards down that your students may have heard of:. For example:

  • The Oscars (or Academy Awards)
  • The Nobel Peace Prize
  • Time Magazine's Person of the Year Award
  • The Hiesman Trophy
  • Or...?

Ask students, "Why do people give awards to other people?" and "Who do you think creates the awards?" Allow them to talk for a few minutes about each question, then share some of their answers.

Explain, "In a few days, I'm going to have you create your own award to give to someone you know who deserves it. The award can be for any accomplishment--big or small--but you will need to think of more than one reason why the person you're giving it to deserves the award."

Have them think about this when they go out to lunch or recess.

This would be a good day to share the lesson's mentor text: No More Pencils, No More Books, No More Teacher's Dirty Looks by Diane deGroat. In this charming story, Gilbert watches his classmates receive end-of-year awards but doesn't think he'll get one. Little does he know!

Talk about school awards and who makes them and who deserves to win them. Ask, "What awards do you wish there were that you might give to someone?"

Two Days Before Students Write:

Remind your students they are to be thinking about awards. Caution them not to get too caught up thinking about awards that already exist. After all, they probably don't know anyone who deserves a Best Actor in a Motion Picture Award.

On the board, share a few creative, more-in-tune-with-their-world award ideas, like the following:

  • The Most Generous Friend Award
  • The Most Athletic Fourth Grader Award
  • The Person Who Always Makes Me Laugh Award
  • The Best Gift Giver Award
  • Or...?

Have students work in pairs to create two or three other ideas for original awards that would pertain to them as fourth graders. When they share an idea, remind them that they will have to give several specific reasons why the person deserves the award. If they come up with something like The Bluest Eyes Award, explain how that really won't work for this assignment because the person only has one reason to earn it; they need to have several good reasons to earn the award they create.

Add several student-generated award ideas to the list that fit the criteria above.

One Day Before Students Write:

If you have students keep a writer's notebook (or a journal), get them out. Tell them you would like them to devote a page in the notebook to the original award they are creating. If you don't have writer's notebooks in your classroom, you can simply use the graphic organizer provided below and skip the notebook page.

Hand out the graphic organizer, which has students name their original award, designate a recipient, sketch what it would look like, and begin citing specific reasons for why the recipient is deserving. The second page of the graphic organizer contains a teacher model to show them.

Here are three pictures of famous awards that might inspire your students' drawings.

Don't let them spend too much time sketching the award; in fact, you might tell them they can't draw it until they name it and write down their specific reasons for awarding it to their chosen person.

When they have written ideas and made a sketch, ask them to transfer the information neatly onto a page in their writer's notebook called "An Original Award."

We always strongly suggest to teachers that they keep their own writer's notebook page too. It's powerful and it's motivating when a student sees his/her teacher participating in the writing process.

At left, you will find our webmaster's notebook page dedicated to this writing prompt. You can certainly show this one off and pretend it's yours, but why not take the time to create your own page. It doesn't take that long! You'll inspire students to participate more eagerly than they would have if you don't show a model.

Here is a really large version of the notebook page so that you can zoom in on details or print it on a poster, if you have the ability to do that.

On the Day the Students Write:

First of all, show them the prompt. Discuss it thoroughly. Draw students' attention to the word why. This needs to be a paper that is just as focused on the award as it is on the reasons why it would be given. Next, draw their attention to the word details in the second sentence. Explain that they will receive a much better score on their writing if they do more than tell the reader about the person; they need to show the reader the reasons by sharing specific stories with memorable details.

If you could give a special gift or award to a deserving person, what would it be and why? Share reasons and details as you compose your answer.

The ideas they put on the graphic organizer would help them create a very basic piece of writing. They need to add really interesting details as they take their organizer's ideas and turn them into a rough draft on a lined piece of paper.

Have them compare this very basic piece of writing (based on the graphic organizer sample) to this much more detailed version. Ask, "In the better piece of writing, what specific details were added?"

You might keep the more specific version of the writing up and refer students to it as they compose.

You might also show your students 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 Students' Original Award Descriptions:
We're seeking 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 "Award 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 fifth grade.

Overview: Ralph Fletcher's chapter from Marshfield Dreams called "Friends, Age 10" shares specific details about memories he has of his three best friends from childhood. For this lesson, students write a draft about one of their friends, then put it away for a few days. While the writing "rests," students read Fletcher's chapter, analyzing his use of specific details. After creating a revised lead for their narratives about their friends, they then revise the entire draft using specific and more memorable details.

The mentor text
for this lesson


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