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

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The Mentor Text:

Jane Yolen's Owl Moon is a beautifully crafted story about a young girl's hike through the woods at night to find owls with her father. Like all of Yolen's books, the sentences are crafted with the care of an artist. This is a great mentor text to use when helping students see and hear what high quality sentence fluency looks and sounds like.

Welcome to this Lesson:

Ananlyze First Words and Sentence Lengths
to inspire revision

This lesson was created and posted by WritingFix's webmaster, Corbett Harrison. Check out all of Corbett's on-line lessons by clicking here.

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 memory when they had some alone time with an adult. This could be a parent, a grandparent, a much-older sibling, or a family friend. They need to think about what they did with this person and why they consider that time to be 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--"Alone Time with an Adult I Care about"--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 while they were together and why the time remains 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 this craft lesson:

I went out with my Uncle Steve. He has a quad and a motorcycle. He wouldn't let me ride the motorcycle. But I got to ride the quad. I was only allowed to ride with him on it with me. But then he let me ride it a little by myself. I really like my Uncle Steve.

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 "Alone Time with an Adult I Care about " prompt writing, but first they will listen to how a really famous author describes a special time with an adult: looking for a hard-to-find animal with her father. In sharing this special time in her book Owl Moon, the author also makes sure she includes memorable details about the place and the person she is with.

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

Tell students that Jane Yolen uses a technique used by many writers when they want to craft their sentences: she makes sure most of her sentences start with different words. While most student writers begin sentences with personal pronouns and the word The, Jane Yolen makes sure she has a variety of sentence beginnings.

Read the first half of the book again, having students list words other than I and The that Jane Yolen starts her sentences with. You might have them make the list right on their rough draft for easy reference.

Ask students to circle the first words of every sentence in their rough draft of the "Alone Time." With some of your students who still haven't mastered periods, you may need to help them identtify their sentence beginnings. Once done, you might even create a class graph of the most commonly used sentence beginnings on this prompt.

Tell students you want them to vary their sentence beginnings much more during revision. Before starting that, you want them to think about one skill that Jane Yolen does remarkably well.

Xerox two pages from the book and hand them out to your students. I use the page that begins with "I could hear it through the woolen cap..." and the page that begins with "The owl's call came closer..."

First, have students circle just the first words of the sentences. Point out that they're not all different, but there is a wide variety.

Next, have students count the number of words in Yolen's sentences. They should write the number right next to the text. Have them do the same with their own drafts, writing the number in the margin.

Working with a partner, have them discuss the difference. Most should notice that Yolen varies between big number and short numbers. This is a revision craft trick called varying sentence lengths. We love Jane Yolen because doesn't really have a predictable pattern--long, short, long, short, for example. But she consciously varies, creating a balance of long and short.

Write several subordinating conjunctions on the board, perhaps throw in some prepositional phrases, and have students choose several that they feel comfortable using in writing and write them on their rough drafts. Don't let them write down words that aren't appropriate for them to use; instead of giving them copies of the lists which contain phrases like on account of and conjunctions like lest, you might just want to list five or six from each list that would be appropriate.

Use the model and discuss how you would a) change sentence beginnings and b) create a variety of short and long sentence. It's important for them to see you adding descriptions of the place as well as imagery as you revise; point out that you were inspired to do this through Jane Yolen's writing.

My Uncle Steve owns a quad and a motorcyle, and he loves to ride them over dirt and mud. Last year, he took me along. It was a hot day so we drank lots of water. When you are out in the desert, you have to drink lots of water. I held on tight as Uncle Steve drove the quad. We didn't ride the motorcycle. At the end of the day, he even let me drive the quad by myself for a little. I hope Uncle Steve asks me to do it again some time.

Authentic Revision:

Rewrite the writing prompt on the board: Alone Time with an Adult I Care about.

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 special alone time in a way that even Jane Yolen would be proud of. They have learned two craft tricks: varying sentence beginnings and varying sentence lengths; both of these are part of the sentence fluency writing trait.

If you can show them both your first model and your revised at the same time, this helps many students. For students who need help getting started with their revised draft, read aloud the first sentence of Owl Moon. Read it again and again. Challenge students to craft a sentence that sounds similar but is about the special time they remember. For example...

It was a hot afternoon, during the weekend, when Uncle Steve took me quadding.


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.

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 Jane Yolen'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 you appreciate how WritingFix shares ideas with you, consider sharing back with our site.

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