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A Lesson for Continued Practice of Authentic Narrative Skills
after students have written to an on-demand practice prompt for writing test preparation

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


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.


Another book that might get your students in the mood for this writing prompt is James Solheim's It's Disgusting And We Ate It.

A Narrative Revision Lesson:


Ralph Fletcher

This is a follow-up lesson we suggest using after one's fifth graders have written to an on-demand prompt in preparation for Nevada's Writing Test. Corbett Harrison created this lesson.

Nevada's New Narrative Resource:

Coming to Northern Nevada teachers April 1!

A note for teachers: This lesson would work with students from most grade levels. In Northern Nevada, we've exclusively ear-marked this lesson to be used in October or November of our students' fifth grade year. It is designed to have fifth graders continue practicing showing skills they learned about while writing to this on-demand practice prompt. When preparing for on-demand test prompts, we believe it crucially important to teach an authentic writing lesson in between practice sessions for the writing test.

Lesson Overview:

This is a revision lesson that again introduces Ralph Fletcher’s writing style to student writers. After students write a rough draft about a time they eat (or saw someone else eat) something unusual, they analyze Fletcher’s “Eating the World” chapter from Marshfield Dreams. Students rewrite their rough drafts, trying to add skills that would impress Ralph Fletcher, if he knew they had been studying his writing style.

6-Trait Overview:

The focus trait for this lesson is voice; students will add “double verb sentences” in their revised drafts, and they will find an appropriate place or two to add one or two lines of dialogue. A support trait you might work on during this lesson is organization; when revising well, one technique most writers make use of is creating a brand new opening, lead, or “hook”; challenge your students to create an introduction that doesn’t use the predictable “start with a question” lead.

Teaching Instructions:

Note: These lessons are not intended to be used as "scripts" for other teachers. Study this lesson, then adapt it to match your teaching style. Adapt it recklessly. We become great writing teachers by adapting good ideas from other writing teachers!

Step one (brainstorming topics to write about): At least a day before writing, tell students they will need to think about strange things they have personally eaten or that they've watched friends or family eat. Perhaps you can tell them a personal story on this topic from your own past. My Dad, for example, loved to eat beef tongue sandwiches, and I'll never forget the morning his farmer friend--who'd just had a cow butchered--brought him a very fresh, raw tongue in a grocery bag, which he popped down on the kitchen counter where I was still eating my breakfast. When we ate the tongue for dinner that night, I had a hard time enjoying it because all I could think about was the blood-soaked paper bag next to my box of Cheerios on the kitchen counter.

Challenge students to talk about the topic over recess or to even talk about it with their families as homework. Challenge them to find a memory that they were actually present at to witness, as opposed to watching someone on TV.

NNWP Consultant Julie Leimbach, who uses this lesson to prepare students for the state writing test, shared this brainstorming sheet that she created for this writing prompt, and she sent it home with students as a homework task. Julie wrote, "I always try to add a literacy school-home component.  The students really enjoyed talking to their parents about what they have eaten and why."

Step two…Drafting the "Seed" Idea: Write the topic--"Eating Unusual Things"--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 ate something unusual, or they witnessed a friend or family member eating something unusual. They need to try and explain what happened so that someone who wasn't there could picture the scene in their mind.

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 my teacher model for this writing prompt. I try to write my rough drafts using the type of sentences I know my fifth graders will probably use in their rough drafts. I make sure the writing is competent but not stellar. I also make sure the writing is missing the two skills (verbs and dialogue snippets) that we will analyze in the mentor text during the next step of this lesson:

Once my Dad ordered menudo at our favorite restaurant. Menudo is soup that has some pretty weird stuff in it. There was a pig's foot floating in his soup. There was also another kind of meat that he said was a cow's stomach. He ate it and thought it was great. I didn't even want to taste it.

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

Step three…Inspiring Revision through the Mentor Text: Tell students they will be revising their "Eating Unusual Things" writing, but first they will listen to how a really famous author wrote to that idea. The chapter called "Eating the World" in Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams should be Xeroxed and handed out to your students to read for comprehension, then re-read so they can analyze several of his writing skills.

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

Ask students to work with a partner and to analyze two things from Fletcher's chapter:

  1. His use of interesting verbs; and
  2. His use of dialogue.

Create a class list of interesting verbs from the text that imply the verb to eat: munched, gobbled, chewed swallowed, nibbled, tasted, etc. Then have students brainstorm other verbs that are synonyms for eating. Add those to the class list.

Next, have students look closely at Fletcher's dialogue, which adds much voice to the chapter. Fletcher is very good at using tag line verbs ( said, replied, asked, etc.) but he is also really skilled at adding other actions to the descriptions that accompany the bits of dialogue. Have students really focus on the examples where instead of a tag line verb, Fletcher gives us a different action instead of speech ("Ugh!" I wanted to throw up just listening to the description.) and the examples where he adds an additional verb to his dialogue tag lines ("That's the stupidest excuse I've ever heard," Jimmy said, rolling his eyes.")

Tell students you want them to start from scratch and re-tell their unusual food stories, using inspirational skills from Ralph Fletcher. They must, in fact, pretend Ralph Fletcher is going to be in their response groups after they rewrite, and they have to predict which of their sentences they think Ralph would like the best.

Pass out these three student samples and have students look for places where each writer seemed to be imitating one of the writing skills they noticed Ralph Fletcher using in his chapter.

Step four…Authentic Revision: If students are stuck with how to begin their new drafts, keep re-reading the following “double-verb sentence” from Ralph Fletcher's chapter, challenging them to mimic the sentence's style, structure, and use of multiple verbs:

One morning Tommy wandered away from our house and walked down Acorn Street.

You might model some possibilities to help them get started. Here’s how I did it with my model; I think it’s incredibly important to show the process of creating more than one choice for yourself, so you can choose the best idea for the actual draft.

One afternoon my family climbed out of the car and entered our favorite Mexican food restaurant.


One afternoon at a restaurant my father put down his menu and announced that he was ordering menudo.

As they begin to create more sentences in their stories, remind them to not only reference the class's list of eating verbs but also to think hard about the other verbs they are using in their stories.

I know there are some teachers who "outlaw" the use of to be verbs and the verb to say; I’ve seen them called “dead verbs” on charts and bulletin boards. I don't outlaw many words. I think to be and to say are verbs that real writers use, but they use them in balance with stronger verbs. The only verb I have ever "outlawed" is the verb to get.

Remind students to find a good place to use some dialogue, and refer them back to Ralph's dialogue sentences that do interesting things with verbs.

At some point, show them an improved version of your original model. If you show yours before they write or while they are writing, it might further inspire them. Here is mine; I completely revised this piece from scratch.

My Father's Bizarre Soup
by Corbett Harrison

One afternoon at a restaurant my father put down his menu and announced that he was ordering menudo.

"What's that?" I asked, looking for it in my menu.

Dad pointed and I read what it said. It didn't sound so bad. The menu called it a traditional Mexican soup in a spicy broth.

When it came though, I was horrified. There was a pig's foot floating in the reddish broth. There was also something in there that looked like a piece of coral.

When I asked what that was, my Dad replied, "Tripe." It turns out that tripe is cow's stomach. My father gobbled it down and thought it was delicious.

I refused to taste it even though he offered to let me. It made me so sick that I almost couldn't finish my tacos.

Click here to open/print my entire teacher model, which comes with a worksheet that challenges you to create one for your own students about one of your experiences.

Final step…Extend the Learning: Assign a few more quick prompts to your student s over the next week or two. This time, before students start writing, remind them of Ralph Fletcher's two craft tricks: verbs and good use of dialogue snippets. Challenge them to use those tricks in their first drafts so they can try some new craft tricks during revision time.

Publish Students' Bizarre Foods Stories On-line:
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 samples for this lesson that we can feature at this page to promote further discussion from student writers.  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.

Bizarre Foods
by Oswaldo, fifth grade writer and reviser

Once I was watching a perplexing show called Bizarre Foods, and saw a creepy guy eat something I would have never expected. Snake soup! I saw them kill the slimy, slithering snake, and then I saw the cruel chefs put the dead snake to boil.

It was sickening to watch when I saw them prepare the gut-wrenching meal, adding more ingredients. But it was much more disgusting when I saw some bizarre people actually scarfing down the concoction.

If it wasn’t on TV, I would’ve have puked. “Let’s make some!” joked my cousin, seeing how disgusted I was. I would sooner taste dirt before eating something as gruesome as snake soup.

(Teachers...If you click on the image of Oswaldo's rough draft, you can see it in larger form and note the revisions he worked on!)

Frog Legs
by Katie, sixth grade writer and reviser

One time I was with my friend Olivia, and we went to a restaurant in town called The Pines. It was a night when they had crab and a lot of other foods. When I went to fill up my plate with delicious food, I stopped by to see what was there. There were frog legs.

As I went back to my seat, I snatched a piece of a frog leg. I put it in my mouth and gobbled every bite of it.

“Ew, what is that?” Olivia asked.

“They are frog legs,” I replied with a grin.

It was great because it tasted like chicken, and it did not taste bad at all. Some people would not want to try frog legs because they would probably picture a slimy frog, and they wouldn’t want to put that in their mouths.

“I wouldn’t want to taste that,” Olivia exclaimed.

But actually, you fry the legs and it looks like pieces of chicken. You never know what a disgusting food will taste like until you try it.

Frog legs are kind of weird to eat when you think about it. But I don’t care what I eat, as long as I like it. Eating unusual things can be hard if it’s really gross. As I get older and go out to restaurants, I will always remember the time when I ate something unusual.

(Teachers...If you click on the image of Katie's rough draft, you can see it in larger form and note the revisions she worked on!)


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