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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:

Roni Schotter's Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street is a wonderful mentor text for any writing classroom. A young writer learns how to turn 'nothing happening' into a story worth reading.

In the book, Eva receives four pieces of advice (from four different neighbors) about what writers do: 1) observe and record the most interesting details; 2) play with words as you write descriptions; 3) add action words to their descriptions; 4) ask "What if.." to keep their stories going.

Once Eva receives these four pieces of advice, her story is off and running!

Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street was WritingFix's Mentor Text of the Year for the 2008-2009 school year.

Welcome to this Lesson:

Talking about
The Four Corners of 90th Street
for choice-inspired revision

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:

In his Hooked on Meaning packet of materials and craft lessons, the great Barry Lane has a wonderful video about being bored and spitting off a bridge with his friends when he was a kid. The theme of his video is "Even if you are doing what you think is 'nothing,' you can make it seem like something if you're writing about it." Good writers are masterful at making something out of nothing.

This is a wonderful concept to teach our students, many of whom are reluctant to write about themselves or their lives because they are convinced "nothing" happens to them. If your state test--like Nevada's--has students write about themselves, you know how many of your students think very little they do is worth writing down on paper.

At least a day before writing, tell students they will need to think about a time--other than watching TV or sleeping--when they are doing "nothing." They can be outside just resting in the shade, or inside waiting for an older sibling to get ready to leave the house, or at the bank with a parent waiting in/on line.

Challenge your students to think about all the times they consider themselves doing "nothing." They can ponder this idea over recess or they can talk about it with their families as homework.

Drafting the "Seed" Idea:

Write the topic--"Write about a Time when Nothing Really Happened to You"--where students can see it. Tell students they will have ten or fifteen minutes to write between five and ten sentences on this topic. They need to acknowledge that nothing is happening, but they must try to write about it with interesting details and words

Allow for ten minutes of sacred writing time, which means quiet writing time. A few of your students will write a whole 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 this craft lesson.

It's five minutes before the end of school. I am sitting at my desk doing nothing. I tap my pencil and watch the clock. My teacher tells me to stop it. I turn around and look at my friend. He's not doing anything either. We raise our eyebrows up and down and make each other smile. My teacher tells me to turn around. I look at the clock. Still four minutes left to go.

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:

Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street is a pretty long story to get through in one sitting. I like to share the story in parts over a few days. On the first day of reading, just be sure to get through the four pieces of writing advice offered by Eva's neighbors.

On later days, as you share a bit more of the story, remind students of the four pieces of advice that Eva received and have them listen specifically to where in her story Eva follows the advice. Many pages of the text have an instance where Eva follows all four pieces of advice as she unfolds the next piece of her story. You can Xerox certain pages (the page where Baby Joshua makes his first appearance, for example) and have students look for the four pieces of advice in just that short piece of text from the book.

Once students are very familiar with the four pieces of advice the book offers to all writers, so much so that they can recite it to you if asked, set up four corner stations in your classroom. Each corner is to be devoted to one of Eva's four neighbors. If you have the ability to post a picture of each neighbor in his/her corner (I use my digital camera and make a full-page photo of each neighbor), you should. If you want to paraphrase each neighbor's advice on a sentence strip (have your students help you make the paraphrase) and post it in the corner too, you should. The idea is that when students take a draft of their writing to each corner, they devote themselves to pretending that neighbor is sitting in the corner with them, and they need to pinpoint where in the draft that neighbor would suggest they make improvements.

Have students re-read the rough drafts to their own "writing about nothing" prompts. Then divide the class up equally to move to the four corners. At each corner, have students work in pair or in triads; they need to read one another's writing and come up with a specific place in the writing where the neighbor (whose corner they're in) would advise them to revise. Students need to mark ideas on their drafts before moving to the next corner and repeating the process.

Once students have moved to all four corners, they need to plan their revision. In the rewriting, they need to change three things from their original draft. In changing, they need to be certain that they're following the advice of three of the four neighbors. Tell them that other students will be reading both of their drafts and trying to figure out whose advice the changes seemed to have been inspired by.

Model this revision task by using the model below (or one you create about yourself). Ask students to see if they can figure out whose advice is now present in this new draft:

I tapped my number two pencil on the edge of my desk and stared at the classroom clock again. Five minutes until the end of the day. Time was creeping along much too slowly, and I could think of nothing to do to make it move faster. My teacher lowered her glasses on her nose and told me to stop tapping. I wondered what would happen if I didn't stop. Would she really send me to the principal with only five minutes left in the day? Thomas, my friend who sits two seats behind me, looked bored too. I arch an eyebrow when he looks at me. He arches one back at me, and we snicker silently. Not silent enough because the teacher scolds me again. I look at the clock. Still four minutes left to go.

Authentic Revision:

Rewrite the writing prompt on the board: Write about a Time when Nothing Really Happened to You.

Tell students you are proud that they wrote like students their age are supposed to write when they created their first drafts. Now, they must try to write about doing nothing in a way that three of the four neighbors would be proud of. They have four pieces of advice to think about when planning their revision; they need to think about that advice and choose three to help them make their writing better.

If you can show them both your first model and your revised model at the same time, this helps many students. For those who need help getting started with their revised draft, read aloud the first sentence of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street. Read it again and again. Challenge students to craft a sentence that sounds similar but is about the nothing moment they have written about. For example...

I sat in my desk, tapped my pencil, and sighed and stared as the clock's big hand refused to move.

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 uses even better details and word choice.

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 90th Street's advice by pointing to the four corners of the classroom. Challenge them to use the advice 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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