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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:

Nikki Grimes' Bronx Masquerade is fabulous classroom mentor text that helps teach a very powerful revision strategy: rewriting an idea in a completely different genre. Grimes' book shares short narratives in the voices of teenagers. Each narrative is later shared in poetic form. Having students write to the same idea in different genres is an effective way to get them to think deeper about their subject matter.

Welcome to this Lesson:

For Revision:
Narrative Writing
while Exploring a Theme

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:

Explain to students how we learn important lessons both inside and outside of school. In school, we not only learn lessons from teachers and adults, but we also learn lessons by watching our fellow students behave well..or badly. Outside of school, we have many influences that help us learn life lessons too; time spent with family, friends or completely by oneself can educate us too.

At least a day before writing, tell students they will need to think about an important life lesson they have learned either inside or outside of school. The lesson they choose to write about must be a lesson they believe they will remember for the rest of their lives. Math lessons and history lessons will most likely only be remembered up until the time of the quiz, but the time you saw someone you always thought was a jerk give his lunch money to a hungry classmate who really needed it might stick with you longer. Or the time your grandmother taught you how to identify a bird by its song. Or the time you lied about something, felt guilty, and ratted yourself out before it could be discovered by your parents. These are life lessons that teach people to live better lives.

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--"Life Lessons Learned in and out of School"--where all students can see it. Tell students they will have ten or fifteen minutes to write between five and ten sentences about a time they learned a valuable life lesson either in school or outside of school. Ask them to skip lines as they write, leaving a blank space (for adding ideas) between the sentences and lines.

Allow for ten minutes of sacred writing time, which means quiet writing time. A few of your students will write a page of double-spaced 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 checked out a book from the library. It was "Where the Wild Things Are" and it is one of my favorite books. Then my little sister wrecked it with her crayons when I wasn't looking. I knew Mom would be so mad at her (she's done it before) and I knew I didn't have enough money to buy the library a whole new book this time. All I had was 75 cents. I took it to the librarian and showed her the book and said all I had was 75 cents and told her how my sister would get in a lot of trouble. The librarian said she knew where she could a new copy for 75 cents. I kind of knew that wasn't true. She was trying to help out my little sister. I learned some adults can be really nice about mistakes if you tell them the whole story.

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:

In Bronx Masquerade, a group of eighteen high school students share observations and discoveries they make about life during a school poetry assignment. Diondra is a young lady who must discover that it's okay to be talented at art, even though it disappoints her father, who still wishes she'd play basketball. Share Diondra's final narrative from Bronx Masquerade (pages 152-153), asking students to think about the way Diondra uses the following writing skills well:

  • An introduction that launches into the narrative;
  • Her conversational style of writing is enhanced by her use of one- and two-word sentences;
  • Her conversational style of writing is enhanced by her use of interesting thoughts at the end of sentences that are separated by commas (...the way he looked at me, ...under the remote, why wait?)

Ask students to look for conversational elements (voice) in their own rough drafts. It might help them to read their drafts out loud to peers so they can hear how their own words. Challenge them to find places where they could make the writing more conversational. Give them time to add several conversational elements on the blank lines they left in between their original sentences. Here are a few revised sentences from the model from above.

It was "Where the Wild Things Are" and it is one of my favorite books. Always will be.

All I had was 75 cents, pretty sad I know.

I kind of knew that wasn't true, that she was being nice for some reason.

Next, tell students they need to look at another piece of writing by Diondra. This time, read the poem, which is on the same topic as the narrative but told in another genre. The poem can be found on pages 154-155 of the book.

Spend some time discussing the theme that connects Diondra's narrative and poem. Talk about how a theme is a big idea that a story or poem conveys to its readers. What is Diondra's theme?

Then ask students to think about their own draft of their "Lesson Learned" prompt writing. What might their theme be? You'll know it's a theme when students can put it in the form of a sentence. A theme for the example student writing (about the librarian) is "If you are honest with people, you might be surprised how people will be forgiving of mistakes and accidents."

Share the following rough draft poem that re-tells the Where the Wild Things Are incident with a focus on the narrative's theme:

My sister went wild with
Her box of crayons
Scribbling across the pages
Of the book I'd checked out from the library.

She'd done it before
And mother was furious,
Promising there'd be much trouble
If it happened again.

My little sister didn't mean it.
She simply loves Where the Wild Things Are
As much as I did and do,
But she shows her love with crayon scribbles.

I told this all to the librarian
Who I was certain would be furious.
I offered her every cent I had--75 of them--
If she wouldn't tell my mother.

Sometimes kindness happens
When you explain the truth about accidents to adults.
The librarian smiled, and pretended 75 cents
Was enough to replace the book...

...And mother never knew.

While some students might be able to launch right into turning their narrative into a poem that focuses on the same theme, many will not. It might be important to do a whole-class poem before asking students to write their own.

There's a great chapter in Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid called "School, Age 7." It shares how Ralph's younger brother seemed to learn more life lessons from the woods than in school. There are several themes in this little chapter. A really good one is that traditional school doesn't work for everyone, that some people would rather learn from watching the natural world. After discussing this theme (or a different one from this chapter), work together as a class and write a short poem about Ralph's younger brother based on the chapter.

Give students time to create a rough draft of a poem based on their own narratives. Refer them back to Diondra's poem and the class's poem about Jimmy Fletcher if they are uncertain how to shape a poem.

Now it's time for students to make a choice: which version--their story or theirr poem--do they want to revise once more and then publish for class.

Authentic Revision:

Before revising the poem or story, require students to read Diondra's poem or narrative once more from Bronx Masquerade. Have them look specifically for two or three imitate-able writing skills they spot in Diondra's writing during this final read. Have them write those skills down on their rough draft. Have them work to add those skills to their own poem or narrative in this revision. Look over their shoulders as they re-write and ask, "So where have you added one of those skills you wrote down?"

Lastly, require students to add a title to their poem or story. Their titles should hint at the theme they have focused their writing on.

Extend the Learning:

Suggest students consider coming back to the version--poem or narrative--they didn't revise for a few weeks later. Say, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a poem and a narrative on the same topic? Like we saw in Bronx Masquerade? It wouldn't be hard at this point. All you have to do is revise the version you didn't revise before."

If students do this, publish them side-by-side on a large piece of ledger paper.

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 a revised poem inspired by the 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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