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Short Story Writing Lessons from WritingFix..."The Long Rain" by Ray Bradbury
 

A Short Story-inspired Writer's Notebook Lesson
teaching students while they create a notebook page that houses future writing topics

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a R.A.F.T. Notebook Prompt:
Fortune and
MisFortune!

inspired by:
W.W. Jacobs'
"The Monkey's Paw"


This R.A.F.T.S. prompt was created by Corbett Harrison of the Northern Nevada Writing Project during a workshop for teachers.
A book club sponsored by the Northern Nevada Writing Project in 2007 inspired the lesson you are looking at. Middle school teachers read Less is More: Teaching Literature with Short Texts and designed example R.A.F.T.S. prompts that would help students respond to literature in a uniquely written way. If you're inspired by these lessons, you can create your own (using this template) and earn an NNWP Print Resource for sharing back with our site.

This is a writer's notebook-friendly lesson! The 2010-11 school year was our "Year of Writer's Notebooks." We revised lessons--like this one you're currently reading--to showcase how a teacher could model using his or her own notebook as a place to "capture and hold " future writing topics. Click on the image at left to see a full-page, printable version of the writer's notebook page inspired by this newly revised lesson. You can visit WritingFix's Writer's Notebook Resources Homepage to access more lessons and prompts revised to inspire effective modeling of writer's notebooks for our student writers.

Overview:

This lesson comes with two parts: The first is a RAFTS-inspired grammar activity followed by a quick writing prompt; the second part is a short-story writing challenge that follows the reading of "The Monkey's Paw."

You can put as much time between teaching the two parts of the lesson as you wish, or you could opt to only do one half of the whole lesson. I find if both parts are completed within a week of each other, the students not only create an original notebook page that they like re-visiting all year long, but they will also inspire a fun piece of writing that they might not mind coming back to during revision.

Here is the RAFTS prompt to share with the students as you prepare them to set up a notebook page dedicated to this idea:

Role Audience Format Topic Strong verb
Computer Programmer Fortune Cookie Manufacturers An automatic fortune cookie fortune writing machine Good luck and good fortune Impress your audience enough to buy your program

(Need to know more about RAFTS? Click here to visit our RAFTS Homepage.)

Lesson Part 1:
The Fortune-Making Machine
(an on-the-desk Group Post-it/Grammar Activity)

I'm pleased to say that I invented this grammar/writing prompt, and then I shared it with all my colleagues. My students loved making fortune-cookie fortune-makers in small groups. It became a clever way to teach them some sentence-based grammatical concepts; then, I could use the same idea to prompt them to do some writing for their writer's notebooks after we read a short story about fate or luck.

Differentiate groups! Begin by sharing the RAFTS writing prompt above. Break your students into heterogeneous groups of three or four members. Explain that they are to pretend they are using their knowledge of grammar to create three lists of words and phrases for a new computer program that will create random fortunes that wish people good luck. Their goal is to build a list that ALWAYS creates a fortune that makes sense and that is good.

Hand each group a pack of 3" x 3" Post-it® Note-sized templates. Have them write "You will" largely on the first Post-it, then stick it to one of the desks. Explain that every fortune their machine creates will begin with these two words.

Have students make three columns of Post-it® Note-sized templates as demonstrated in this picture. These fit nicely on my students' desks.

Students must work together to write words and phrases that will go on each Post-It. When read across, starting with "You will..." and selecting one Post-it from each column, the students should create a sentence that sounds like an actual fortune from a cookie.

My example is below. Notice how you can randomly take one Post-it from each column and still create a fortune that is grammatically sound:

Assign challenges before students begin:

  • Challenge 1: Limit easy vocabulary! Instead of happiness, show them how the model uses the word bliss.
  • Challenge 2: Every Post-it in the columns can not contain the same number of words. It's real easy to just write transitive verbs for the first column. Show students how adding adverbs and using intransitive verbs followed by a preposition creates a variety.
  • Challenge 3: If a group flies through 3 columns of 5 Post-it® Note-sized templates, make another row for them, then another. This is a great differentiated activity.

Note: My wife saves all the Post-it® Note-sized templates and puts them in three coffee cans. Later, she can have her students randomly draw one Post-it from each coffee can and make a new writing prompt out of random fortunes for themselves.

Here is what this prompt looks like when a list has actually been entered into a computer...pretty cool...If you have one of those students who would think this was cool to put the class's final product into a computer, allow that to happen. Tell your student he/she can even borrow the code I used from this page.


You will...
.

         

 

Have students pull out their writer's notebooks and partition off a page like the example below:

Once students have created their lists, have them circulate the room with their writer's notebooks. Their job is to find a random fortune that they might base an interesting story on. Most of my students end up writing six or seven fortunes down before returning to their desks.

Writer's Notebook Page Title:
Interesting Fortunes for Stories

 

In this upper third of the page, have students write between 4-8 favorite fortunes they discovered as they looked at the rest of the class's fortune cookie Post-it® Note-sized templates.

 

My personal fortune-cookie fortune-maker:
verb or
verb + prep
interesting nouns interesting phrases
You will... 1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
A Scene from a Mind Movie
(based on one of your machine's fortunes given to a character)
A Scene from a Mind Movie
(based on one of your machine's fortunes given to a character)

 

 

 

 

 

Once students have created a partioned notebook page, have them circulate the room with their writer's notebooks. Their task is to find a random fortune that they might base an interesting story around. Most of my students end up writing six or seven fortunes down in their page's upper box before returning to their desks. I have included three on my teacher's model (at left).

On their notebook page, I also have students record a few of their favorite words and phrases from the Post-it® Note-sized templates around the room in their own notebooks in the middle section of the page.

On any day when we have a few minutes left before passing or recess, I can have them return to this page, create a fortune from their own words on the page, then pretend there's a movie that has been filmed that has one pivotal scene where some character's fortune comes true. They need to draw the movie scene and show the moment when the fortune comes true. I call these one-panel drawings in their notebooks Mind Movies.

During your next writer's workshop block, challenge students who need a writing idea to create a short story based on one of their machine's fortunes. Their story should begin or end with the fortune itself.

Here is an example by a writer's notebook story by one of my wife's wonderful middle school students:

Fly Away…
by Julianna, seventh grade writer

I was going to Raley’s to get some Chinese takeout. It was late and the store was empty except for the workers. I walked in and asked for my order, which I had called for fifteen minutes before. The women gave it to me and I thanked her. There was one fortune cookie at the top.

It was summer, and I was really hungry so, as soon as I got in the car, I rolled down my window, and started to eat. I finished the Chinese food and threw it all away, saving the fortune cookie until I got home.

I sat down on my way couch and took off the wrapper. I broke the cookie in half and ate it while reading the fortune out loud to myself. “You will fly away with kindness from a stranger” it read. The lucky number on the back was 18.

I settled in and watched a movie, eventually going to bed. I couldn’t sleep because it was hot with sheets and P.J.’s. So I moved downstairs and slept on the couch.

The next morning I woke up, dressed, and went for my jog. While I was running, I stepped aside to avoid a puddle of mud. I slipped on the edge and teetered on the bank. It looked deep, really deep. Then a stranger’s hand caught mine and pulled me back right before I fell in. I turned to thank him, but he was already walking away.

And that’s how “I flew away with kindness from a stranger.”

Lesson Part 2:
Can Good Fortune Be Bad?

Be careful what you wish for and Not all luck is good are two themes my students always enjoy thinking and writing about; there are many great stories and poems on the topics of fate and luck.

After my students think about fortunes and fortune cookies in their writer's notebooks, I challenge them to create a bigger--perhaps darker--story for their portfolios--a story that took a different look at toying with fate or fortune. Our inspiration was W. W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw."

Short Story Summary:

This is a great story to read around Halloween, but it grabs students' interest any time of the year.

In "The Monkey's Paw," an older couple (Mr. and Mrs. White) end up the new owners of a mysterious talisman from a world-traveled friend: a mummified monkey's paw that is said to be able to grant three wishes. The friend warns them to never use it, as bad things happen to people who try to give themselves good fortune, and the paw has been cursed to teach people that lesson. Thinking it's nonsense, they end up wishing for £200, and their hubris costs them. Their only son is killed during an accident at work the next day, and the company sends home £200 as their way of compensating for the accident. Of course, the couple uses their second wish to ask they he be alive again, and when the son's mangled corpse ends up pounding on the front door in the middle of the night, they use the third wish to send it back. The old couple learns that good fortune is not be taken advantage of.


Reading the Short Story:

Before reading, ask "What's an example of good luck becoming bad luck?" If students are clueless, share with them idea that people who have suddenly won a fortune in a lottery might not be so happy in the long run. They can become reckless or destroy the relationships they held dear before they were fabulously wealthy. See if students can come up with any other examples of good fortune not being so good.

Enjoy the short story. Be sure to cover the vocabulary before reading, and stop when each wish is made to see if student can predict what is going to happen next.

At the end of the story, show them this RAFTS prompt:

Role Audience Format Topic Strong verb
Author People who think all fortunes are good. Short Story with a message Theme: "Not all luck is good" Convince them to think differently!

Explain that good writers think of themes they like before writing, and then they plan their story to teach/show that theme to their reader. They have the task of teaching a dark theme about the topic of luck or fate; they can use the theme listed as the topic above, or they can create their own darker theme about these interesting luck or fate.

Then, they are to write a story that demonstrates the theme they have chosen through their characters' actions. Below are two examples from boys who liked the dark theme in "The Monkey's Paw" and their own fortune-cookie fortune-makers from their notebooks:

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 seeking student samples for other grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we might send you a free resource for your classroom!  You can post revised and edited stories at this lesson's page for posting stories about fortune and misfortune.

 

Fortune Cookie of Fate
by Conner, fifth grade writer

George opened his fortune cookie and frowned. His dinner had been good until now. You will lose $40,000 in 24 hours his fortune read.

That meant he had until 6:47 p.m. tomorrow. George paid his bill and left. After wasting an hour trying to find an easy way to avoid the inevitable loss, he walked up to Old Bob’s house. George rang the bell.

“Hello,” Old Bob said harshly.

“Hi. Would you mind if I ask you something?” George inquired. “Do you know of any $40,000 treasures?”

“Come in.” Old Bob led George into his house where he picked up a large piece of paper.

“What’s this?” George asked.

“One of my life’s ambition,” Old Bob replied. The treasure hunter then explained about the map he’d found of thirty years before.

“That’s just what I need!” exclaimed George, who set out that night. His seven-hour flight gave him some time to sleep. At 4:00 a.m., he landed in Juneau, Alaska. Just as had been planned, some outdoors men were waiting. They hailed a taxi, and rode in silence to Fairweather Mountain.

George checked the map that Old Bob had given him. Nobody knew exactly what he was searching for. At 6:48 a.m., they arrived. The outdoors men went off on their own.

George was halfway up the mountain by 7:34. He knew he could only find the cave entrance from the top. At 8:00, he discovered an ice sheet. This is it, George thought. He slid down at rapidly increasing speeds, then…contact!

His ice blades gripped the wall of the huge snow cave. Climbing down, he found a concrete path. He still had ten hours and seventeen minutes. Surely there was time.

When George finally found the treasure – a solid gold sphere – he grabbed it and made for the taxi.

Sold! George made the money at the last minute. He was safe. He was ready to lose it as his fortune had promised!

Fixing his Fortune
by Bryson, sixth grade writer

George was tired, bored and full. After a large dinner at a Chinese restaurant, he just wanted to leave, but the bill was taking forever. “Where is the darn bill?” he wondered. The waiter dumped the black leather folder onto the table as if George had asked out loud. There was a fortune cookie on it. George thanked the waiter, and after paying, he left.

As he stepped into the parking lot, rain splashing his every step, he snapped open the paper bag that held his fortune cookie, dumping it in the nearest trash can and popping the Chinese cracker in his mouth. He loved to eat the things, but the notes actually kind of annoyed him. He had always thought they were too jolly. Little did he know that tonight’s jolly fortune would change his mind and his life.

“Are you kidding me?” gasped George. “My cookie says, ‘All your friends will die tomorrow and you will be sad!’” He realized he was talking to himself, which he had a knack for. Steering his thought process in a radical direction, he decided that he would have to destroy the people who made the cookie. “My friends will die!” he laughed. “Yeah, right!” But he was wrong.

At his work the next day, he keyed open the door and stepped inside. “Yo, Samuel” he shouted stepping into the building. “You got that work from Saturday finished?”

No answer.

“Sammy?”

Still no answer.

“He must have not gotten here yet,” George muttered to himself. “Typical.” Three hours later Samuel still hadn’t come in; neither had the other six workers who were supposed to be there.

Finally, he came to a chilling conclusion – his fortune had come true!

* * *

Later, opening the door to Mr. Henderson’s lab, George announced, “I’ve got a problem.”

The scientist looked at him and said only, “Pay up.”

George rolled his eyes and dumped the 500 bucks that this mad scientist charged for any “problem.” It was a lot of money, but George was determined to fix this.

Henderson nodded and said, “Okay, the time machine is now yours for five minutes. He walked out, leaving George to work.

As George prepared to enter the machine that would fly him through time, he couldn’t help but snapping a picture with is camera. Then he climbed in the machine and set the date. Pressing the green button was all he had to do and he would be catapulted through time. He pressed the green button.

Back at the restaurant, George changed history. All he did was say he has allergic to fortune cookies. Easy. The problem was fixed. He smiled and re-entered the time machine. He was prepared to hit the red button to return, but the red button wasn’t there—instead, there was an electronic sign that said, “Pay $500.” George rolled his eyes and paid – with the same money he had bought the first trip with! His time power had worked, and didn’t really have to spend an extra penny.

Let the samples above serve as inspiration for your students who might choose to write their own fortune and MisFortune stories for their portfolios.

If you have a student who is inspired by this prompt and writes a story you believe worth sharing, we have a posting page just for this lesson at our ning.


Tools for Revision:

Don't accept just one draft of this writing from anyone! After they've created a competent rough draft of an original story, it's time to re-inspire them with some well-written passages from The Monkey's Paw. Challenge students to include a few sentences just as good as the ones you're showing them from the original story text.

Looking at the student models once more before revising can also be helpful.

But most helpful might be having the students self-rank or rank one another's skills on one or two of WritingFix's Revision Post-it® Note-sized templates.

For this lesson, I use the following two Post-it® Note-sized templates, though for some of my struggling writers, I only give them one Post-it.



Publishing for the Portfolio:

Pieces of writing placed by a student into his portfolio should be able to be discussed with that student easily. "Why did you like this piece of writing better than the others?" and "What did you learn about yourself as a writer when you wrote and revised this?" are the two questions I always ask.

You have better conversations around those two questions when the student chooses on his own what to place in the portfolio. This piece of writing is an option to all my writers to pursue as a portfolio piece.

I don't know why but my students who chose to pursue this writing always seem to have fun with this story idea. My kids really liked adding an illustration or two to their final stories, which I required mine to type.

Consider Publishing On-Line! We are excited to add a publishing page for this lesson online. We ask teachers who use this lesson to choose no more than three samples from their classroom to post. We're looking for pieces of writing that are original and would serve as an inspiration for future students using this lesson.

 


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