A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix
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Teacher's Guide:

The Backwards Poem Assignment

using paradox or oxymorons as a poetic inspiration

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Kelly Nott during an
AT & T-sponsored inservice class
for teachers.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the chapter book Holes by Louis Sachar. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from chapter 1 of the book.

To our loyal WritingFix users: Please use this link if purchasing Holes from Amazon.com, and help keep WritingFix free and on-line. We thank you!

A note for teachers: These 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 you become an authentic writing teacher.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step (before sharing the published model):  This is a fun assignment to do right before your class does a read-aloud or a project centered around Holes by Louis Sachar.  It allows students to start playing with the notion of verbal irony, so they can spot it easier in Sachar's marvelous award-winning novel.

You can easily do this poetry assignment without ever reading the book at all, of course.  A "Backwards Poem" is just an enjoyable assignment for students who are exploring poetry and creating their own explorations of words.

Show our backwards poem example on your overhead.  Click here to open it so you can print it.  Have your students create their own definitions of "Backward Poems" by discussing the poem.  Have students share variations of the poem they may have heard.

Define paradox, oxymoron, and verbal irony for your students.  Talk about how backwards poems can be extreme versions of verbal irony from first line to last line (like the sample), but they can also be simply based on a title or a line that is an oxymoron or a paradox (like the student samples below).

This lesson will have students write poems based on oxymorons or paradoxes to begin with; if students are further inspired to create a poem completely based on verbal irony, then they can.

Students can be invited to create a page in their writer's notebooks that celebrate favorite oxymorons and paradoxes they discover throughout the school year. Once a page like this is created, students can be reminded to use their favorite oxymorons and paradoxes as poetic inspiration during upcoming writer's workshop blocks. Show them your own model and/or our webmaster's model, which we have included (at left) with this lesson as our attempt to inspire you to make your own, but we will be understanding if you want to use ours as yours. If you are teaching your students to use Mr. Stick in notebooks to serve as a journal and notebook mascot, it can become fun to make a teacher model. Your kids can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; we believe kids can have fun while learning as long as the teacher is modeling what smart and fun looks like at all times. Click here for a really large version of our webmaster's notebook page, which allows you to really zoom in on details or print on a poster, if you have that ability.

Step one (sharing the published model):
  Share the first line--perhaps the entire first chapter--of Holes.  Discuss how the first sentence contains verbal irony.  Talk about how dry lake is an oxymoron. If you are reading the whole novel, point out that students will want to be on the look out for other verbal forms of irony in the novel, since Sachar has set up the tone for irony with his very first sentence. Brainstorm, as a class, and write five or six interesting adjectives on the board.  For example: delicious, powerful, pathetic, hysterical, frozen.  Challenge your students to think of a noun that you wouldn't think should follow the adjective. 

delicious garbage
powerful weakling
pathetic hero
hysterical funeral
frozen lava

These short piece of verbal irony (which are actually called oxymorons) are to be the beginning inspiration for their original "backwards poems."  Ask students, "Could you use the phrase delicious garbage in a humorous line of poetry?  Or as the title of a poem? If you can, then you are going to do very well with this poetry assignment."

Step two (introducing student models of writing): In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups should certainly talk about the word choice , since that's the focus of this assignment .  You might prompt your students to talk about each model's voice as well. 

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!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Visit this lesson's student samples page for details.


Step three (thinking and pre-writing): The interactive buttons on the Student Instruction Page might help inspire your students to begin brainstorming for this poetry assignment

Students will need a blank piece of paper for sketching and labeling.  Students will begin their pre-write by completing their sketch and labeling it with words. Before beginning to write, students should meet with a partner and edit for ideas. 

Share Original Graphic Organizers (for Pre-Writing)
from Your Teaching Toolbox.

We share graphic organizers with our peers, we find them in books, and we think we should also be able to find tried-and-true ones online at WritingFix. This year, if you create an original graphic organizer (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original graphic organizers for specific lessons, like this one, can be submitted as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.


Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to rough draft writing, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Share Original Revision Techniques or
Adaptations from Your Toolbox.

Inspired by Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox, the WritingFix website encourages its teacher users to adapt our lessons, especially the tools of revision we have posted here. If you create an original revision tool (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original revision ideas from teacher users of WritingFix can be submitted through copy/paste or as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.


Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Step six (publishing for the portfolio):  The goal of most lessons posted at WritingFix is that students end up with a piece of writing they like, and that their writing was taken through all steps of the writing process. After revising, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  The writing started with this lesson might become even more polished for final placement in the portfolio, or the big ideas being written about here might transform into a completely different piece of writing. Most likely, your students will enjoy creating an illustration for this writing as they ready to place final drafts in their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line? You might earn a free classroom resource from the NNWP! We invite teachers to teach this lesson completely, then share up to three of their students' best revised and edited samples at our ning's Publish Student Writers group.

To submit student samples for this page's lesson, click here. You won't be able to post unless you are a verified member of this site's Writing Lesson of the Month ning.

Learn more about author Louis Sachar by clicking here.

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