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WritingFix...A teacher-made lesson inspired by "Reviving the Essay" by Gretchen Bernabei

An Expository Teaching Idea from WritingFix
lessons inspired by Gretchen Bernabei's Reviving the Essay & the NNWP's Expository Workshop for Teachers

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This on-line write-up was posted by Caroline Hatcher, who has been a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant since 2008. She teaches high school and serves as an implementation specialist for her school district.

Truth Be Told

unpacking truisms in a great picture book,
then writing an essay about one of them

In Nevada, our Northern Nevada Writing Project hosts annual teacher workshops on Expository and Informative Writing.

In the sixteen-hour version of this class, participants are each given a copy of Gretchen Bernabei's Reviving the Essay: How to Teach Structure Without Formula, which contains great lesson ideas for teaching authentic expository writing. No hamburger paragraphs in this book!

We encourage our participants to adapt the book's lessons, applying the book's ideas to their favorite mentor texts. This page contains a lesson that was created by one of our teacher participants.

Lesson Overview:

Using a haunting children’s book, Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, students will identify "truisms" from the text on a graphic organizer. They will then use a favorite text-inspired truism as a prompt for their own expository writing, incorporate examples from their lives and literature as evidence in their essays.

Focus Trait/Skill: Idea Development/writing clearly about a message or theme
Support Trait/Skill:Organization/strong introductions and conclusions that link back to the introduction.


Lesson Instructions:

After introducing students to the concept of truisms from Gretchen Bernabei’s Reviving the Essay, bring this lesson out to begin an essay for the students' portfolios. Truisms are defined as “truths that we hold about the world or people,” and when you have a really good truism that you believe in, writing an essay about that truism is easy.

Before reading from Fox, you may want to put up interesting pictures from Google images to practice. I like to type in feeling words, like lonely or thrilling, or a symbolic image like a roller coaster or lock/key works well too. If you have it, I would also suggest using Bernabei’s CD Lightning in a Bottle: Visual Prompts for Insights because they always lead to great truism discussions among students.

Remind them that there is a great variety of truisms in the world around us. Ask, "What is the author we're about to hear from telling us is a truth in the world?"

Read aloud Margaret Wild/Ron Brooks’ Fox to students. While listening and discussing the book afterwards, students fill out the graphic organizer. They will need choose one truism (along with evidence) they gathered from the story.

Share and chart students' truisms. As each truism is added to the chart, focus students' discussion on how the author used her characters to demonstrate truisms. The book is often seen as a negative or sad story by students, but there are really positive truisms in it. Make sure students share an equal amount of positive and negative truisms. Have them think about if their statement is true to just them or everyone in general.

Look over the list the class has created. Review several different ways that authors create strong introductions to writing. You might need to use a resource like Little Red Riding Hooks as part of this review. Have students--in small groups--create possible introductory sentences for any three or four of the truisms from the list. Have each group share the best introduction they created aloud to the class.

By themselves, students now select a truism from the list they believe they can write about based on personal experience and/or based on stories they've read that support the same truism. Using the graphic organizer, students will develop their own personal essay inspired by the truism they have chosen. Essays will need to incorporate personal examples or examples from other texts to provide evidence of the truism they are writing about.

Student Samples:

This is a brand new lesson that was created over the summer of 2010. Students samples will be added by Caroline soon.

If you use this lesson and want to share a particularly good student essay about one of Fox's truisms, send it to us at If we end up posting it here for other teachers to share in their classrooms, we will send you one of the NNWP's Print Guides as our way of saying thanks.


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