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A Revision Lesson inspired by a Real Author's Craft
a popular on-line lesson shared during the NNWP's teacher workshops

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The Mentor Text:

Patricia MacLachlan's All the Places to Love is a wonderfully crafted memoir about a country girl's favorite places. She talks about these special places on the day her sister is born. The language of this amazing book flows like poetry, and it is a perfect mentor text to inspire revision.

Welcome to this Lesson:

Revising with
Introductory Prepositions and Series of Three

This lesson is shared during the
Northern Nevada Writing Project's

Revision Workshops
for teachers.

In Northern Nevada, we offer inservice workshops designed to help teachers strengthen their use of authentic revision strategies.

Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox is always a popular resource we share from during our classes, but so too is the lesson write-up you can find here on this page.

An important note for our WritingFix teacher users: This website is not a "writing program." We simply feature thoughtful lessons and classroom resources designed by outstanding writing teachers. Our model 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 one becomes a genuine writing teacher.

Brainstorming Topics to Write About:

At least a day before writing, tell students they will need to think about a special day they remember from their past. Many special days from our past--like the day we were born--we can't even remember because we were so young. Their job is to think of a special day so that they can describe the day and explain why it was special to them.

Challenge students to talk about the topic over recess or to even talk about it with their families as homework.

Drafting the "Seed" Idea:

Write the topic--"A Special Day that I Remember"--where students can see it. Tell students they will have ten or fifteen minutes to write between five and ten sentences on the topic. They need to try and explain what happened and why it was special to them.

Allow for ten minutes of sacred writing time, which means quiet writing time. A few of your students will write a page of words, but you most likely will have more students who write five or six sentences.

Here is a typical writing sample from this prompt (minus conventional errors) that we use when modeling the craft lesson:

I really liked my tenth birthday party. We went to my aunt's house. She made a chocolate cake. There were lots of presents. I played games with all my cousins. That was a really special day.

Consider putting the writing away for a day so that those who struggled to write have some time to recover from their struggle.

Inspiring Revision through the Mentor Text:

Tell students they will be revising their "Special Day" prompt writing, but first they will listen to how a really famous author describes a special day: the day her younger sister was born. In sharing this special day in her book All the Places to Love, the author also makes sure she shares information about the special place where the special day happened.

Enjoy the text aloud without stopping. Ask students to remember favorite details from the text.

Tell students that Patricia MacLachlan likes to use a technique used by many writers and poets: the series of three technique. Right on the second page, she uses her first instance: "The valley, the river falling down over rocks, the hilltop where blueberries grew."

Read the first half of the book again, having students listen for other instances of series of three: three sets of names on rafters, three animals in the meadows, three types of birds in the fields.

Ask students to think about the special day they wrote about by pulling their writing out. Ask, "Is there any place in your special day where a series of three might work for you, so that your writing style is as good as Patricia MacLachlan? Series of threes can be about persons, places, or things." Have students talk about this possibility with a partner, which probably means they will need to read their stories to each other. Have partnerships share out any ideas they came up with that might be worth exploring.

Caution students not to force this technique into their writing; explain that series of three need to sound natural and keep the flow of the writing going. Re-read several of MacLachlan's examples to demonstrate what they sound like when they have a natural feel. On another piece of paper, have students to compose a series of three sentence that might appear in their revised draft.

I played games with my cousins: freeze tag, pin the tail on the donkey, smash the pinata.


I played games--freeze tag, pin the tail on the donkey, smash the pinata--with my cousins.

Next, ask students to just focus on the first page of the book..the introduction. Show how MacLachlan begins her writing with a prepositional phrase in which she shares a pretty specific detail. This is a much better type of introductory sentence than a question (Would you like to hear about a special day?) or an exclamation (Boy, this day was sure special!) that your medium-skilled writers might use. Teaching students to impersonate this type of introduction moves them towards being writers who exceed writing standards.

Have students read just their first few sentences of their drafts. Read the first sentence of MacLachlan's book again. Have students re-read their first three or four sentences. Read MacLachlan's first sentence again. Keep doing this until students feel ready to revise the first sentence of their writing.

If your students would benefit from seeing a list of prepositions that might begin their writing, be sure to have one posted or Xeroxed for them. This type of writing might feel foreign to your students, and many times they will write very awkward sentences in their attempt to do what you are asking. It's very important to suggest they try starting with different prepositions, if the sentences they create sound awkward. Don't accept bad-sounding sentences. Make your writers work hard until they discover a new introductory sentence that really improves the flow of the writing.

For my tenth birthday party, my aunt made me a chocolate cake out of flour and eggs.

Authentic Revision:

Rewrite the writing prompt on the board: A Special Day that I Remember.

Tell students you are proud that they wrote like students their age are supposed to write when they made their first drafts. Now, they must try to write about their special day in a way that Patricia MacLachlan would be proud of. They have learned two craft tricks: introducing with prepositions and specific details and using series of three.

Ask them to start by writing a new beginning sentence and then to let the story become a better piece of writing. They can borrow ideas or complete sentences from their original draft, but they must remember to think like Patricia MacLachlan would.

This is revision, not editing (which comes next). so they should not worry about spelling and punctuation. This is their chance to get their ideas down a second time, but this time in a way that flows more like poetry.

For my tenth birthday party, my aunt made me a chocolate cake out of flour and eggs. My aunt knows chocolate is my favorite. After opening presents, I played games with my cousins: freeze tag, pin the tail on the donkey, smash the pinata. When I think of the cake, the fun, and that candy all over the lawn, I smile.

Extend the Learning:

Assign a few more quick prompts to your students over the next week or two. This time, before students start writing, remind them of Patricia MacLachlan's two craft tricks. Challenge them to use those tricks in their first drafts so they can try some new craft tricks during revision time.

Share your Students' Improved Writing:
(and earn a free resource for your classroom)

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 all grade levels for this lesson!  If you obtain both a thoughtful rough draft and an even better revised draft from a student for this lesson (in typed, scanned, or photographed form), they can be posted at this blog page. If we select your student's sample to be moved from the blog to this page at WritingFix, we will send you a free NNWP Print Resource for your classroom.

At WritingFix, we aim to safely publish students' writing from all over the world. We're looking for student samples to post for this page's write-up! If your students write a rough draft that is improved upon by this craft lesson, we want to see both drafts! If we feature one of your student's writing on this page, we will send you a complimentary copy of one of the NNWP Publications for your classroom.

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