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A Revision Lesson inspired by a Real Author's Craft Skills
a lesson shared during one of the NNWP's teacher workshops

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The Mentor Text:

Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid is a wonderfully crafted autobiography and memoir about Ralph Fletcher's childhood in Marshfield, Mass. Ralph follows the advice he gave in his book, How to Write Your Life Story, and demonstrates nicely to students how small, childhood event can inspire big and powerful writing.

Welcome to this Lesson:

Exploring a More
Specific Story
as You Revise Descriptive Writing about a Friend

This writer's notebook lesson & revision challenge were both created by NNWP Consultant Corbett Harrison, who demonstrates this lesson with 4th and 5th graders prepping for their writing exams.

This lesson was inspired by Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox, which contains dozens of strategies that help students re-see the possibilities in their rough draft writing.

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 this topic because you will be having them write about it soon:

Prompt: Think of someone who has been (or still is) a good friend to you; this person can be an acquaintance or a relative, but choose someone who is close to your own age.  In a short piece of narrative writing, describe your friend using details that would be specific and memorable to the person reading your story.  Tell your reader what it is you like most about this friend, and if you have room, tell a very short account of a time you spent with that friend that you hope to always remember.

Challenge students to talk about the topic over recess or at home. Challenge them to think about more than one person they could write about; the first idea that pops into one's head is not always the best topic. The more they explore topics and talk about them before writing, the better their rough drafts will be.

Drafting a "Seed" Idea in the Writer's Notebooks:

If your students keep a writer's notebook, have them title their next blank page in it: Stories of Friendship."

Have students partition a page in their writer's notebook similarly to the teacher example shown. The page should ultimately house their rough draft writing, a picture (a drawing or a photograph) of their friend, and one or two revised leads for their writing; the revised leads will happen later in this lesson, and they can also be placed on another page of the writer's notebook.

A note about this teacher model: The pictured page comes from our webmaster's writer's notebook. You can certainly show this model as though it's your own, but we strongly encourage you to create your own page about this topic to show your students. When you participate in the writing process alongside your students, your students will participate with more energy. Click here to see a really large version of this model notebook page, which can be zoomed in on or even printed on a poster printer.

Write the topic--"A Narrative about a Good Friend "--where all students can see it. Tell students they will have five or ten or fifteen minutes to write between five and eight sentences about a friend (past or present) who was about their own age.

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 the teacher-made model I use when demonstrating this lesson. I find most of my writers give me a lot of description about their friends but not a lot of story. The focus of this revision lesson is teaching them to find and focus on a SPECIFIC STORY about their friend during the revising.

Mike Mackechnie was my first friend with red hair. I met him when I was two, though I was too young to remember the actual day we met. We stayed best friends for ten years. He had freckles not only on his face, but all over the rest of his body also. I swear he had them on his fingertips. I think I spent the night at his house more than my own. Mike was a great best friend.

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

Discussing Writing Skills found in the Mentor Text:

Tell students they will be revising their "Stories of Friendship" drafts in a day or two, but first they will listen to how a really famous author wrote about his friends. The chapter called "Friends: Age 10" in Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams should be Xeroxed and handed out to your students to read and analyze.

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

Ask students to work with a partner and to analyze two things from Fletcher's chapter: 1) his use of details, especially ones that appeal to multiple senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch); and 2) his use of strong verbs.

Have them notice how the narrative isn't just about the friends; Ralph--the author--is very present in the piece. Ask, "When you wrote about your friends in your notebooks, did you include yourself in the writing (using I and me and my) as much as Ralph Fletcher did?" Part of writing a good personal narrative is remembering to include yourself, especially if the topic has you writing about someone else that you know. This strengthens the voice of a piece of writing.

Finally, have them notice one more element of voice in Fletcher's chapter: The author really sounds as though he likes what he is writing about. When an author likes what he/she is writing about, which is easy to do when you're writing about a topic like a friendship, then the reader likes the writing better too. Your kids will really like this chapter by Ralph Fletcher; it's partially because Ralph had a pretty good time writing about his memories here.

Practicing Analysis...for Better Revision:

For this activity, I have half of the students focus on just the first two paragraphs about Steve Fishman; the first paragraph of this section starts with "Steve Fishman lived on a small farm..."

I have the other half of the class focus on just the first two paragraphs about Larry Waters; the first paragraph of this section starts with "Larry Waters lived down the street..."

Students should work with one partner as they use the following tool to practice analysis.

Ranking Fletcher's Writing Skills
4 = highest skill; 1 = lowest

The checklist at left asks students to re-read and analyze Fletcher's writing skills against each other. Assure your students that the author does all four of these things well in his published writing, but their task is to decide which one skill stands out the strongest and mark it with a "4." The next strongest skill gets a "3." etc.

The purpose of this ranking activity is to help students analyze writing skills by comparing their presence to each other. They will need to do this with their own rough drafts, and this is a practice round they can complete with a partner.







The author tried to appeal to multiple senses with this chapter (sight, taste, touch, smell, sound).

The author used strong verbs to help involve the reader in the story's action.

This author included just as much of himself ("I" and "me") in this description as he did his friend.

The author really sounds like he likes remembering and writing things about his friend.

Click here to print the above checklist to duplicate for your students. The handout also contains the second checklist, which is used in the next activity. I cut the whole page into thirds, give each student a strip that has both checklists (for this activity and the next one), and have them fold it in half. We start on "Side A" when analyzing the mentor text; we move to "Side B" when self-analyzing their own writing.

Have students work together to use Side A. Encourage them to disagree with their partners if they honestly don't agree with a ranking; if they talk it out, they will end up with a more thoughtful analysis of the writing. Remind them of the word compromise as they work together.

Applying Analysis to their own Drafts:

Now that they've practiced using the checklist on excerpts from the chapter, it's time for them to independently use a similar checklist on their own rough drafts.

Ranking my Writing Skills
4 = highest skill; 1 = lowest

The goal of students ranking their own writing is for them to be able to tell you which skill they excelled with, as well as which skills they might consider focusing on during a revision exercise.

Have students quietly re-read their rough drafts about their friends, then apply the checklist to their own writing.

If you have time, have students share just their rankings with a partner. Most likely, they will all have different rankings, and this will lead to some good conversations.






I tried to appeal to multiple senses with this draft about my friend.

I used strong verbs to help involve the reader in the action I included.

I included just as much of myself ("I" and "me") in this description as I did my friend.

I really tried to sound like I liked remembering and writing things about my friend.

Have students focus on their #1 and #2 self-ranked skills. Ask them to think how they might consider adding one or both of those skills as they plan their revision of their friend piece.

Crafting a New Launch Revision:

One of the best revision skills you can teach your students is to a) put the writing away for a while, b) read it again, looking for skills that might improve the writing, and c) starting over. This is easier to teach them to do with smaller pieces of writing, like the short rough draft they have created for this assignment.

To start a piece over, students need a lesson in "Strong Leads." The following worksheet is designed to have them come up with four different ways to re-launch their description about their friend. Each lead on this worksheet also points the writer in the direction of a SPECIFIC STORY about their friends.

Great revision almost always starts with a new first sentence!

Lead #1: An ALMOST ALWAYS lead answers this question:

What is something you could almost always say about this person?

Teacher-made example: You could always count on Mike Mackechnie to invite you over for a sleepover. We watched countless midnight scary movies together during the ten years we were best friends.

Your example:


Lead #2: An ALMOST NEVER lead answers this question:

What is something you could almost never say about this person?

Teacher-made example: No matter what we fought about, Mike Mackechnie never made me feel like I wasn't worth forgiving. The time I killed that bullfrog was the only exception.

Your example:


Lead #3: A MOST MEMORABLE lead answers this question:

What is one thing this person did once that you'll always remember?

Teacher-made example: On the morning we left Fresno--my hometown for twelve years--my friend Mike Mackechnie surprised me by waking me up at five a.m. I'll always remember how sad he looked when the U-Haul backed away.

Your example:


Lead #4: A RIDDLE lead uses this frame to create a first sentence:

__________________ is/was the type of person who ___________ __________________________.

Teacher-made example: Mike was the kind of kid who wore a t-shirt while swimming on a hot summer day. I think he was embarrassed by the freckles that covered him from head to toe, but I thought his freckles were so cool.

Your example:


Click here to print the above worksheet to duplicate for your students. The handout needs to be printed on legal-sized paper.

Have students explore each lead's idea, then practice creating possible leads for their revised paper using two or three of the ideas from the worksheet. Have students share their leads with each other, asking, "Which do you think would be the best lead for my revised draft? Which one sounds like it would have me write a SPECIFIC STORY about my friend instead of just a lot of details?"

I like to have students record their two best lead ideas in their writer's notebooks, but this is optional.

Once students have all chosen a new lead, have them read their rough draft once more, then fold it up so they cannot see it. Challenge them to remember their best details from the rough draft when creating the new draft, but with the new draft, they should be focusing in on a SPECIFIC STORY about their friends; the revised writing should incorporate the rough draft's best details while re-seeing the writing as a story that includes both the writer and their friend.

Here is our teacher model for a revised draft that focuses on a SPECIFIC STORY. Compare it to the original draft found higher up on this page.

Revised Story:

Mike Mackechnie was the kind of kid who wore a t-shirt when swimming. I think he was embarrassed by the freckles that covered him head to toe, but I always thought his freckles were pretty cool.

We lived in Fresno, California, where the summers were scorching, not cool. Mike, with his bright red hair, practically looked like he was on fire during the hottest afternoons. We spent our vacation days together, making friends with new neighborhood kids who had pools in their backyards, and we spent vacation nights watching scary movies during sleep-overs at his house.

When I was twelve, and my family moved away from Fresno, I'll always remember Mike looking so sad in our driveway as the U-Haul backed away. He found other friends after I was gone, and so did I, but I never had another friend like Mike Mackechnie.

Extend the Learning:

Assign a few more quick prompts about people to your students over the next week or two. This time, before students start writing, remind them to think of SPECIFIC STORIES they can focus on as they write about the person. Challenge them to include both stories and details 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 other 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 (like the students below), 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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