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The NNWP celebrates its Consultants who've created websites about teaching and writing:


Corbett's
Always Write
Website
(Grades K-12)



Jodie's
Start to Learn
Website

(Kindergarten)



Holly's
Making Mathematicians
Website

(Grades K-12)



Brian's
Learning is Messy
Blog

(Grades 4-6)



Dena's
Write in the Middle
Website

(Grades 6-8)

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NWP's Website

Writing Genres: Teaching Narrative
demonstration lessons and resources presented at NNWP workshops for teachers

How did this page of resources come about? The 2009-2010 school year was our Year of Narrative Writing at WritingFix and in Northern Nevada. We hosted inservice workshops for 100 lucky teacher teachers, where we gave away, read, and discussed Ralph Fletcher's How to Write Your Life Story as well as his Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid. We sponsored the creation of new narrative resources, especially for grades 3-5, since our Nevada fifth graders are tested using a narrative writing prompt. Those resources ultimately became a new print guide for all Northern Nevada teachers in March of 2011. Below, you can find out how you can obtain your own copy of our "Show Me Your Story" Print Guide.

On this free-to-access page of resources, you will find the best-of-the-best narrative resources that were created as part of our Year of Narrative Writing.

Introducing our 2011 "Show Me Your Story" Print Guide! We designed this print resource specifically for our third-fifth grade teachers, but if you're teaching description skills to students of any age, you will learn valuable lessons from this collection of superb materials.

The strength of this new resource clearly rests in its skillful use of mentor texts and its abundance of student samples from real students in a variety of real classrooms.

In Nevada, narrative writing is a fierce reality for us because our fifth graders are tested with a narrative prompt halfway through their school year. This guide not only provides resources to help third, fourth, and fifth graders succeed with on-demand narrative prompts but also (and more importantly) authentic narrative lessons that focus on genuine writing skills a student will carry into middle school, high school, and beyond.

Resources from our "Show Me Your Story" Guide:

Don't forget about our 2006 "Going Deep with 6 Trait Language" Print Guide! In order to teach narrative writing well, your students need to be able to talk about skills they see in both published writing and the writing they're doing. At WritingFix, we refer to the six traits when identifying skills. Each writing trait refers to a collection of skills, and our "Going Deep with 6 Trait Language" Guide is the tool we use to help teachers unpack and understand the many different skills that can be taught when focusing on the separate traits.

We use our 6 Traits Guide when focusing on all the genres of writing, but below you will find some narrative-specific lessons and resources inspired by our 2006 publication.

Narrative Resources inspired by our 6 Traits Guide:

Mine for Topics with
Heart Maps!

Click here to inspire personal writing topics from your students with this popular idea.

Amazing Mentor Texts
by Ralph Fletcher

How to Write Your Life Story


Marshfield Dreams:
When I Was a Kid

Complimentary 3rd-5th Grade Narrative Resources from the NNWP's "Show Me Your Story" Print Guide:

Resources featured in our "Show Me Your Story" Print Guide: Third grade is a year to help students begin to develop more mature idea development, organization, and voice skills as they write two types of narratives: personal and creative. It is also the year they should begin focusing on revision, which is often not focused on during the early years of elementary. Third graders can revise. The best way to teach students revision skills? Model it! A great writing teacher shows students his/her brainstorms, rough draft, and revised draft as part of the learning process. The four lessons we recommend for third grade are simple ones to create a teacher model to show students. When you create model writing to show your third graders, be sure that:

  • your model brainstorm includes extra details and ideas that you choose not to put in your actual rough draft; a good brainstorm should include more ideas than the writer can actually use so that the writer can choose the very best ideas to include in the actual writing;
  • your model rough draft is competent but not polished; you may choose to use a dull introduction so that it can be revised; you might also purposely choose a trait skill to leave out of your rough draft so that you can demonstrate focusing on a trait as you make a revision plan;
  • your revised draft should be much more than sentences with inserted adjectives and changed verbs; entire sentences should be reshaped, added, moved, or deleted. Pay close attention to how different the modeled rough drafts found in the two personal narrative lessons below change for the better.

We suggest third grade teachers spread these four lessons out over the entire school year. Balance these lessons with equal amounts of expository and persuasive writing lessons, and be sure you discuss the different purposes of the three genres/modes as you move from lesson to lesson.

Personal Narrative Lessons for Third Grade
Creative Narrative Lessons for Third Grade
Lesson:
Special Places
to Love


inspired by All the Places to Love
by Patricia MacLachlan

Focus Trait: Organization
Support Trait: Word Choice

Lesson:
Special Time with
an Adult Friend


inspired by Owl Moon
by Jane Yolen

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Voice

Lesson:
Three-Meal
Weather


inspired by Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi & Ron Barrett

Focus Trait: Organization
Support Trait: Word Choice

Lesson:
Fierce
Wondering Stories


inspired by Amelia's Notebook
by Marissa Moss

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Voice

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Resources featured in our "Show Me Your Story" Print Guide: Fourth grade is a year to help students discover that their personal stories are interesting enough to write about, if they use the showing skills used by real authors. Fourth graders often think that because their daily lives aren't as interesting as the lives of TV and movie characters, they don't deserve to become good pieces of writing. If you assign a narrative prompt and your students ask, "Can we just make something up?" tell them "No!" Take that questions as evidence that they need to see writing about everyday situations modeled for them. We strongly suggest that fourth grade teachers create brainstorms, rough drafts, and revised drafts for the three practice prompts below. When you create model writing to show your fourth graders, be sure that:

  • your model brainstorm includes extra details and ideas that you choose not to put in your actual rough draft; a good brainstorm should include more ideas than the writer can actually use so that the writer can choose the very best ideas to include in the actual writing;
  • your model rough draft is competent but not polished; you may choose to use a dull introduction so that it can be revised; you might also purposely choose a trait skill to leave out of your rough draft so that you can demonstrate focusing on a trait as you make a revision plan;
  • your revised draft should be much more than sentences with inserted adjectives and changed verbs; entire sentences should be reshaped, added, moved, or deleted. Pay close attention to how different the modeled rough drafts found in the two personal narrative lessons below change for the better.

We recommend to our Nevada teachers that these three practice prompts and lessons be used between January and May of students' fourth grade year. Be sure you save your students' final drafts and assessment scores to share with the fifth grade teachers.

Practice Narrative Prompts and Narrative Lessons for Fourth Grade

Suggested Pre-writing Exercises:
Show Me Your
Pride or Pleasure

To develop ideas for this practice prompt:

Think of something you have done that brought you satisfaction, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Tell a story about this activity or event.

Suggested Pre-writing Exercises:
Showing Amazement &
Other States-of-Being Adjectives

To develop ideas for this practice prompt:

There are many amazing people, things, places, and events in our world. Tell a story about one of them.

Suggested Pre-writing Exercises:
Designing Original Awards
for Deserving People

To develop ideas for this practice prompt:

If you could give a special gift or award to a deserving person, what would it be and why? Share reasons and details as you compose your answer.

Student Samples to Learn from:


We have annotated samples for this prompt to help teachers assess their own samples.

Ernesto and three other Nevada fourth graders wrote sparkling samples for this prompt.

These samples are intended to be discussed during pre-writing or right before revision!

Student Samples to Learn from:


We have annotated samples for this prompt to help teachers assess their own samples.

Riana and three other Nevada fourth graders wrote sparkling samples for this prompt.

These samples are intended to be discussed during pre-writing or right before revision!

Student Samples to Learn from:


We have annotated samples for this prompt to help teachers assess their own samples.

Ben and three other Nevada fourth graders wrote sparkling samples for this prompt.

These samples are intended to be discussed during pre-writing or right before revision!

A Follow-up Narrative Lesson:
Showing How to Deal with Anger

Inspired by When Sophie Gets Angry..., students write a narrative about a time they were mad and dealt with it in a mature way.

A Follow-up Narrative Lesson:
Planning an Amazing Sleepover

Inspired by Everything to Spend the Night, students create a story (true or fiction) about spending an amazing night away from home.

A Follow-up Narrative Lesson:
Exploring a More Specific Story

Inspired by a chapter from Marshfield Dreams, students write a rough draft about a good friend, then revise the draft borrowing some of Ralph Fletcher's writing techniques.

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Resources featured in our "Show Me Your Story" Print Guide: Fifth grade is a year to help students discover narrative writing techniques that go beyond just "meeting the standard." In Nevada, to pass their fifth writing grade test, students must earn a score of "12." To earn that passing score, they must meet the standard on all four of the tested traits: idea development, organization, voice, and conventions. Too many of our Nevada fifth graders meet the standard in two or three of these traits, but fall short with one or two. If, during fifth grade, we help our students aim for "beyond standard" writing skills in one or two of the writing traits, they will have a much better chance of achieving a "12" or above, even if they fall short with one of the traits.

Once again, be sure you are modeling your own writing process as you use the practice prompts as lessons below. When you create model writing to show your fifth graders, be sure that:

  • your model brainstorm includes extra details and ideas that you choose not to put in your actual rough draft; a good brainstorm should include more ideas than the writer can actually use so that the writer can choose the very best ideas to include in the actual writing;
  • your model rough draft is competent but not polished; you may choose to use a dull introduction so that it can be revised; you might also purposely choose a trait skill to leave out of your rough draft so that you can demonstrate focusing on a trait as you make a revision plan;
  • your revised draft should be much more than sentences with inserted adjectives and changed verbs; entire sentences should be reshaped, added, moved, or deleted. Pay close attention to how different the modeled rough drafts found in the two personal narrative lessons below change for the better.

We recommend to our Nevada teachers that these three practice prompts and lessons be used between January and May of students' fourth grade year. Be sure you save your students' final drafts and assessment scores to share with the fifth grade teachers.

Narrative Prompts and Narrative Lessons for Fifth Grade

Suggested Pre-writing Exercises:
Showing School Scenes in
"Slow Motion"

To develop ideas for this practice prompt:

Think about a time when something special or unusual happened at school. It could be a time when something unexpected happened in your classroom. Or it could be any event at school that you remember well. Write about what happened and why it was special or unusual.

Suggested Pre-writing Exercises:
Exploring Writing Prompts in Reverse
with Ralph Fletcher

To develop ideas for this practice prompt:

It's always a pleasure to give and receive gifts. Sometimes the gift is a present. Sometimes the gift is something someone does for you or someone else. What is the best gift you have ever given or received? Tell about a time you gave or received a gift and why that gift was important to you.

Suggested Pre-writing Exercises:
Showing Relevant Setting Details
in Narrative Writing

To develop ideas for this practice prompt:

Remember a time when you did something that made you feel proud of yourself. Think about what you did and how you felt about it. Try to remember the details clearly in your mind. Then write about what you did, including the sights and sounds of the moment.

Student Samples to Learn from:


We have annotated samples for this prompt to help teachers assess their own samples.

Bryan and four other Nevada fifth graders wrote sparkling samples for this prompt.

These samples are intended to be discussed during pre-writing or right before revision!

Student Samples to Learn from:


We have annotated samples for this prompt to help teachers assess their own samples.

Amber and three other Nevada fifth graders wrote sparkling samples for this prompt.

These samples are intended to be discussed during pre-writing or right before revision!

Student Samples to Learn from:


We have annotated samples for this prompt to help teachers assess their own samples.

Daisy and three other Nevada fifth graders wrote sparkling samples for this prompt.

These samples are intended to be discussed during pre-writing or right before revision!

Our Suggested Follow-up Narrative Lesson:
Friendship Songs
to Review Showing Relevant Details

Inspired by Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing, students use their narrative skills to write a tribute to a school friend or a family friend, borrowing structural ideas from the mentor text.

Our Suggested Follow-up Narrative Lesson:
Bizarre Foods
with Ralph Fletcher

Inspired by a chapter from Marshfield Dreams, students write a rough draft about a good friend, then revise the draft borrowing some of Ralph Fletcher's writing techniques.

Our Suggested Follow-up Narrative Lesson:
What Your Room
Shows
About You

Inspired by just the first two pages of Boy's Life, students write a rough draft about the "personal treasures" they own, then revise the draft, improving their showing of specific and relevant details.

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Focus and Support Traits/Skills for Narrative & Memoir Writing

Our Narrative Workshop's Focus Trait: Idea Development
Our Narrative Workshop's Support Traits: Word Choice and Voice

In our NNWP workshops, our Northern Nevada participants receive a complimentary copy of the NNWP's print publication, The Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Guide. This 198-page resource is valued tool in Northern Nevada. Teachers not able to attend our workshops can purchase their own copy of this guide through the NNWP's website; all proceeds from the sale fund the WritingFix website.

The best lessons focus more on the writing process than the writing product. While it's important to look at narrative writing as a "product" for inclusion in student portfolios, the more important thing to think about when designing narrative lessons is the skill-set your students will gain from going through the writing process. When we talk about skills in Northern Nevada, we start talking about the six writing traits.

Our genre-inspired teacher workshops include a discussion of all six writing traits, but with each class we try to focus in on one trait that will focus us in on very specific skills. With narrative and memoir writing, our natural focus becomes idea development. All students should be expected to gain skills associated with this trait as they learn about narrative and memoir writing. You can access WritingFix's Idea Development Homepage and learn about the specific skills that make up this large and important trait.

Click here for the full sheet template of WritingFix's Idea Development Response & Revision Post-its
Click here for the full sheet template of WritingFix's Narrative Writing Response & Revision Post-its

We also believe in differentiated instruction at WritingFix. You will have many students who can only focus on one trait and its skill-sets during writing time; however, you will have just as many who can handle thinking about multiple traits as they write and revise. At WritingFix, we call these optional traits our support traits, and we encourage teachers to pre-determine them as they design their lessons. For narrative writing, our support trait suggestions are: voice, word choice, and sentence fluency. Each of these support traits also have their own homepages, which you can access by clicking on their names.

Questions we discuss: Which idea development skills do you currently have sufficient resources and lessons for instructing all your students? Which idea development skills might you spend some time creating new resources and lessons for? How can you provide scaffolded help with idea development for you students who will need it? How can you provide enrichment for your students who are also working on support trait skills?

Great "Skill Advice" directly from Ralph Fletcher: Inspired by How to Write Your Life Story

During our Narrative Workshops that are funded by grants or by schools, we're pleased to give our participants complimentary copies of two wonderful companion texts: Ralph Fletcher's How to Write Your Life Story as well as his memoir, Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid.

You can learn how our teachers are asked to discuss Marshfield Dreams with our "Teacher Book Club" materials/suggestions that are posted lower on this page of resources.

The great thing about Fletcher's How to Write Your Life Story is that he shares his own techniques for writing his own memoir. The advice he offers is both easy to understand, and it comes with accompanying passages from Marshfield that directly showcase his own advice.

Fletcher doesn't use the language of six traits when he discusses his own writing's strengths, but the skills he suggests to young writers working on narratives are clearly sub-skills of the six writing traits.

As part of our workshop, we ask our participants to paraphrase some of Fletcher's best advice, to identify which trait(s) each piece of advice falls under, and to find unique quotes from the book that show off the advice.

Below you can click on some of the posters created by past workshop participants and see them in larger form. We challenge our participants to adapt this activity to work with their own student writers, as these posters become great visual representations of the skills you want students to remember when writing narratives.

Great Fletcher Advice: "Write Small"
trait link: idea development & word choice
Great Fletcher Advice: "Create Your Characters"
trait link: idea development & voice
Great Fletcher Advice: "Invigorate your Verbs"
trait link: word choice & voice
Great Fletcher Advice: "Wake Up Your Narrator"
trait link: voice & idea development

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Eight Narrative Writing LessonSuggestions for 6th-12th Grade

We tout that our lessons at WritingFix, with the right adaptations and skillful teaching, could be used successfully in all grade levels, K-12. However, since the upper-half of this webpage is dedicated to lessons recommended to grades 3rd-5th, we'll suggest these lessons be reserved for grades 6 and up. Please note that any grade level could use these lessons, and many of the posted student samples are from elementary.

Lesson:
Two Safe Frame Choices Make a Great Narrative Warm-up!

Mentor Text: When I Was Five by Arthur Howard, as well as When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Sentence Fluency

Lesson Author: Corbett Harrison, Northern Nevada K-12 trainer and NNWP Consultant

Lesson:
Summertime-
inspired
Memoirs

Mentor Text: Summertime (various renditions) from the Opera Porgy and Bess

Focus Trait: Voice
Support Trait: Word Choice

Lesson Author: Amy Richards, Northern Nevada elementary teacher and NNWP Consultant

Lesson:
Here
You
Are

Mentor Text: Here I Am sung by Carly Patterson

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Organization


Lesson Author:
Karen McGee, Northern Nevada K-12 trainer and NNWP Consultant

Lesson:
Purposeful Paragraphs about a Teacher

Mentor Text: Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges and Thank-You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Organization

Lesson Author: Carol Gebhardt, Northern Nevada K-12 trainer and NNWP Consultant

Lesson:
Episodic
Narrative Writing

Mentor Text: Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Voice

Lesson Author: Kim Polson, Northern Nevada elementary teacher and NNWP Consultant

 

Lesson:
Reshaping Narrative
Writing as Poetry

Mentor Text: Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Word Choice

Lesson Author: Dena Harrison, Northern Nevada middle school teacher and NNWP Consultant

Lesson:
A Moment Like This
Memoir



Mentor Text: Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Focus Trait: Word Choice
Support Trait: Idea Development


Lesson Author:
Amy Hybarger, Northern Nevada middle school teacher, librarian, and NNWP Consultant

Lesson:
Starting & Stopping with Strong Imagery

Mentor Text: The Leaving Morning by Angela Johnson

Focus Trait: Idea Development
Support Trait: Organization

Narrative prompt for this lesson: Write about a special place that you love to visit. Include details that helps your reader know what it's like to be there.

 

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Comparing Narrative Writing to Expository Writing with a Non-Linguistic Representation

In Northern Nevada, we do a lot of comparing and contrasting during our workshops for teachers. Why? Because the research of Robert Marzano shows that having learners do comparative thinking is the single most effective strategy when pushing them towards deeper thinking and understanding. We value this type of thinking so highly that we created a 144-page resource that demonstrates some unique ways to use similarities and differences while teaching writing. You can order a copy of the NNWP's Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide by visiting the NNWP's Publications Page; all proceeds from the sale of this guide fund future growth of WritingFix.

In our Narrative Workshop, we compare the narrative genre to the expository genre. Why? In Nevada, both our fifth and eighth grade students used to be tested using narrative writing prompts, but after 2010 only fifth grade will continue with narrative; eighth grade is switching to an expository prompt. As we prepared to face this change, we discovered interesting similarities and differences between narrative writing and expository writing. We felt it very important to discuss those differences in both our Narrative Inservice and our Expository Inservice. By understanding where the two genres are the same, where they are different, and where there is a gray area, a teacher can serve as a much better guide in helping students make the same understanding.

First, we ask our workshop participants to study Nevada's Language Arts standards for both expository (pages 49-50) and narrative (pages 51-52) writing. Next, we ask them to work with a small group to make a Venn diagram that explores the two genres. Finally, the small groups must each create a chart-sized non-linguistic representation (another Marzano technique!) of their Venn diagrams' biggest ideas. These charts decorate the training room and are referred to throughout the Narrative Writing Workshop.

Below, find several samples of these non-linguistic representations from a recent Narrative Workshop. If you click on the images, you can see them in larger form.

Questions we discuss: How must students be taught to think differently about the six writing traits when they are writing narrative and expository writing? Which trait must be thought about in the most different way? Which trait can be thought about in the most similar way for both genres? How do you address the traits that will need to be considered "gray areas" somewhere in between the two purposes of writing?

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Mentor Texts for Narrative Writing

Classifying Mentor Texts into Three Categories

A few years back, when we first heard the term mentor text, we too asked, "What's a mentor text?" When we heard that it was a published piece of material that a teacher uses to guide and inspire student writing, we said, "Well, we've been using those for years in Nevada. It's nice to know the idea now has an official-sounding name!"

Actually, the new name for this long-standing idea has inspired a lot of fresh and interesting research around the country. Here in Nevada, it prompted us to begin our own study on how our teachers use these types of text during writing instruction. We compared and then classified the types of mentor texts that our teachers were using, and we gained a deeper understanding of mentor texts. In our Northern Nevada teacher workshops now, we share the classification system below that we created, challenging teachers to make sure they understand the variety of ways that mentor texts can enhance writing instruction. To access the mentor text classification document we share in our lesson-building workshops, click here or on the document image at right. If sharing this document, which we encourage you to do, please keep its copyright citation intact.

Mentor text questions we discuss: Do you currently have three strong examples of writing lessons that make use of the three types of mentor texts? Do you tend to use one type of mentor text over the others? Which type of differentiated learner benefits from using mentor texts during writing instruction?

Idea Mentor Texts

These are books, poems, articles, songs, etc., whose ideas spark an original idea from a writer. If you find yourself saying, "I really like the idea in this book, and I was thinking we might write something similar," then you are thinking about this type of mentor text.

With narrative writing, often the idea is a topic; your class reads a memoir, for example, that recounts a unique experience the writer had over an amazing summer, so you prompt your students to write about an amazing summer experience they had.

On this page, our Visiting Relatives lesson (inspired by two mentor texts, both featuring interesting stories about staying with family) is very much borrowing an idea to inspire your writers to tell their own stories.

Structure Mentor Texts

Some mentor texts provide an interesting structure to analyze and then impersonate. Many of our students feel much more comfortable having a structure to hang their ideas on, and these mentor texts provide the safety of such a structure.

The structures you borrow can be obvious--like the passages in Margaret Wise Brown's The Important Book, but they can certainly be more subtle. Challenge yourself to begin looking unique structures that writers use to move from point A to point B when they write.

On this page, our Frames for Narrative Warm-ups lesson clearly borrows from the structure from two books and presents a choice to students on which one they'll follow.

Craft Mentor Texts

The third type of mentor text requires an analytical eye from both teachers and students. The best writers regularly use craft techniques in their published writing, and these techniques create an author's style and voice.

When you spot an author using a writing technique several times in the same piece of writing, it can be pointed out, discussed, and then students can be challenged to find places in their own rough drafts where the technique might improve their writing.

On this page, the Introductory Phrases and Series of Three lesson is an excellent example of analyzing a real writer's techniques and challenging students to "try on" the style.

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A Celebrated Idea and Craft Mentor Text for Narrative: Lessons and Book Club Tasks

Each year at WritingFix, we select a Mentor Text of the Year. These texts are chosen based on two simple criteria: 1) they offer advice from real writers on how to write well and 2) they are worthy of being brought out multiple times during a school year, reminding students of their important messages.

During the 2009-2010, we hosted a year-long project devoted to narrative writing. We chose Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid as our Mentor Text of the Year because it met our two criteria and seemed to be an ideal mentor text for students preparing to write to narrative prompts on our state writing test. Ralph's memoir's chapters are short, manageable piece of texts that can read as part of the entire book, or as short stories that stand alone. He celebrates every day occurrences with strong writing, showing students that the people you know and the simple things that you do can make interesting pieces of writing. The memoir's content appeals to both boys and girls, and Ralph's companion book--How to Write Your Life Story--makes most of Ralph's writing process transparent.

As part of our narrative workshop, participants discuss how the book can be used as both an idea and a craft mentor text. One of the participants' final project choices for the class is to design a lesson based on one of its chapters. Below are some of the lessons that have been inspired by this fantastic memoir to feature in your classroom.

Our Book Club Tasks for Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid

Part of our Narrative Workshop involves teachers discussing a common narrative text, looking specifically for the author's craft techniques and the demonstrated trait skills found in the writing. When we use Ralph Fletcher's wonderful memoir, we assign the following book club activities to our teacher participants.

Book Club 1
Focus:
Idea Development

Book Club 2
Focus:
Word Choice & Voice
Book Club 3
Focus:
Voice & Idea Development

Reading Assignment: Pages 1 - 74
Book Club Task: Groups select two "favorite" chapters from these pages. Using this idea development sub-skill sheet, they then select two skills from this trait that Fletcher demonstrates particularly well in the two chapters they've chosen.

Groups create a poster for each chapter that identifies the subskills and quotes words, phrases, or sentences from the text that show off the skills. Click here for an example poster, inspired by Fletcher's "Farmed Out" chapter; this example focuses on word choice, not idea development. Click here for an example poster created by members of our class.

Reading Assignment: Pages 75-130
Book Club Task: Jigsaw night! We'll create four different groups, using these jigsaw labels (which can be printed on nametag badges, if you'd like.) The labels give each participant two short different pieces of content to read from Fletcher's companion book to Marshfield Dreams: How to Write Your Life Story.

Groups create a poster that highlights two passages from pages 75-130 where Fletcher strongly follows his own advice that they found in the content they read from How To Write.... Groups also create an original sentence that follows the advice, then present their posters to each other Click here for an example poster created by members of our class.

Reading Assignment: Pages 131-183
Book Club Task: On our final night of class, our book club involves this voice scavenger hunt activity. Working with a partner, participants record sentences from the last fifty pages of Fletcher's Memoir where they believe Fletcher shows his very best skills from the trait of voice.

Partners then split up to team with a new partner, sharing the sentences they recorded on their sheet and talk about the different sentences their new partners recorded.

We end the activity with a discussion where we revisit what is meant by voice and style in good writing.

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Some Mentor Text Reviews and Activity Suggestions from our Narrative Writing Class Members
Mentor text questions we discuss: Choose four or five of the mentor text reviews below to analyze. After reading the teachers' suggested activities, ask yourself, "Is the mentor text being used as an idea, structure, or craft mentor text? Is the mentor text's use possibly achieving more than one of these three purposes?"
Granny Torrelli
Makes Soup

by Sharon Creech

Activity Suggestion:
Memoirs about
Food and Kitchens
Looking
Back

by Lois Lowry

Activity Suggestion:
Memoirs about
Photographs
Bad Boy:
A Memoir

by Walter Dean Myers

Activity Suggestion:
Memoirs about
Telling Lies that Hurt
Knots in My
Yo-yo String

by Jerry Spinelli

Activity Suggestion:
Childhood Artifacts
to Inspire Memoir
Guys Write
for Guys Read

edited by Jon Scieszka

Activity Suggestion:
A Menu of Memoir Choices
Boy:
Tales of Childhood

by Roald Dahl

Activity Suggestion:
Memoirs about Pictures & Photographs
Marley
& Me

by John Grogan

Activity Suggestion:
Memories Sorted
on a Timeline
Would I Ever
Lie to You?

by Caralyn Buehner

Activity Suggestion:
A Memoir Inspired by Three Truths and a Lie
My Life
in Dog Years

by Gary Paulsen

Activity Suggestion:
Memories from a Pet or Object's Point of View
The House on
Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

Activity Suggestion:
Visualizing Memorable Details for a Memoir
Diary of
a Wimpy Kid

by Jeff Kinney

Activity Suggestion:
Strong Memoirs Inspired by a Wimpy Diary
Cookies: Bite-Sized
Life Lessons

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Activity Suggestion:
Learning Social Vocabulary while Launching a Memoir
A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote

Activity Suggestion:
Christmas Memories with a Special Relative
When I Was Your Age
edited by Amy Ehrlich

Activity Suggestion:
Memoirs with
Strong Word Choices
Thank-You, Mr. Falker
by Patricia Polacco

Activity Suggestion:
A Letter and Memoir about a Teacher
Leaving Home with a Pickle Jar
by Barbara Dugan

Activity Suggestion:
Memoirs about
Moving Away
Home to Medicine Mountain
by Chiori Santiago

Activity Suggestion:
Memoirs about
Faraway Schools
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexander

Activity Suggestion:
Unofficial Rule Lists
to Launch a Memoir


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Writing School-Based Narratives you can Share with your own Students

The difference between a non-Writing Project teacher and a Writing Project teacher is generally pretty simple. The first is a teacher who teaches writing, the latter is a writer who teaches writing. The National Writing Project has been challenging K-16 teachers to see themselves as writers for over three decades in this country. A teacher who writes alongside his/her students is a far better writing teacher because they can personalize the process.

Narrative & Memoir class presenter, Corbett Harrison (a graduate of our Northern Nevada Writing Project), stresses that instructors who are teaching the narrative genre must share plenty of memoirs that they have written about their own pasts. A teacher's brainstorms, rough drafts, second drafts, and final drafts should be ready to go on the overhead projector as students are working on their own narratives. This is a scary notion for many teachers. There are too many educators out there who have never shared their own writing with their students. When teaching narrative, you have a perfect opportunity to show your students that you are a writer. Perhaps not a perfect or published one, but you are a writer nonetheless.

Patricia Polacco's Thank You, Mr. Falker is a wonderful story that reflects on a teacher who made a difference in a child's life. As his part of our inservice class, Corbett has teachers brainstorm, then write short memoirs about teachers from their own pasts who made a tremendous impact on them as lifelong learners. By the final night of the inservice, participants have short memoirs that have gone through the entire writing process, and the purpose of these narratives is they can be shared with the writers' students.

As a writer who teaches writing (as opposed to a teacher who teaches writing), Corbett shows an example of his own narrative about his favorite teacher: Mr. Borilla.

Michael (Mike) Borilla was Corbett's fourth and fifth grade teacher, and as Corbett tells the story, he was the teacher who indirectly convinced him to become an educator himself. Mike Borilla was a colorful character who demanded the best from his pupils at Bullard Elementary in Fresno, California.

Corbett had been telling stories about Mr. Borilla to students for years when he learned that Mr. Borilla has passed away in 2007. Sending Mr. Borilla a letter that thanked him for his influence had always been one of Corbett's goals, so when he learned his teacher was gone, Corbett established The Mr. Borilla Project as an on-line forum where teachers could share short memoirs about their most influential teachers.

How Mr. Borilla Helped Me Find my Voice
by former student, Corbett Harrison

Mr. Borilla got stuck with me twice.

I was a manipulative little kid when I entered his fourth grade classroom, one who thought I could twist the trust of adults in my life around my sticky fingers. Mike Borilla was the first teacher I had who didn't put up with it, and I fought him for quite some time. He won...of course...but those fights taught me quite a bit about myself.

I needed a person like Mr. Borilla in my life right about the time we ended up together. He could have certainly survived without me as his student, I'm sure, but fate put us together for two straight years.

(Click here to read the entire story at Corbett's website.)

Up for the challenge, teachers? If you write a short memoir about your most influential teacher and want to post it among ours (as well as among others from around the country), click here and paste/type your story into the "Leave a Comment" box at the bottom of the page!

Here are some of the resources Corbett shares as he guides teachers in the inservice class through the process of writing these memoirs:

  • E-mail to class participants (sent two weeks prior to class starting in order to help them start pre-writing)
  • Questions to Leads Activity (used on the first night of class to help teachers craft the perfect introduction to their narratives)
  • Revision Sprint (used on night #3 to challenge participants to consider some final revision strategies before posting their final drafts on night #4)
  • 10-Word Memoir Activity (once the final draft is posted on night #4, participants transform their story into a 10-Word Memoir, which is a thematic synopsis of the whole story)

Questions we discuss: As a teacher, what is the most effective way to model your own writing in front of your students? How can you have them transfer their talk about your teacher model to their own writing when they meet in student groups?

Some Mentor Text Reviews and Activity Suggestions from our Narrative Writing Class Members

Dr. Giddings
by Temoca Dixon

Jeesh, she was nuts! Western Traditions was my first class back into the swing of college and I got the nutty professor for a semester. Dr. Giddings hurled ideas at us, she weaved in and out of cramped college desks flapping her wings at the grand ideas of the universe, and she asked us, “Why?” for heaven’s sake.

I plugged along and loved brimming over with intellectual knowledge that is usually reserved for lunch at the square in San Francisco. The first writing assignment was a response to Gilgamesh. I wrote insightfully and offered new ideas I was sure would become standard form in Literature classes across America. I turned in my paper confident I belonged among the great thinkers in higher level education.

Red loops, red slashes, red question marks, red running all throughout my paper as she handed it back to me. Dr. Giddings didn’t even give me a grade. She wrote, ‘See me after class.’ in fire-engine red. I stumbled back to my seat and told my Dad, who had just gotten his paper back, “I’m not cut out for college. I don’t belong here.”

(Click here to read Temoca's entire narrative.)

My Mentor
by Jenny Hoy

I was lucky. He wasn’t just my teacher, he was also my tennis coach, and in most respects, my mentor. Even today, I call him or email him with simple questions of good teaching, how to guide a wayward student back onto the path of academia, or how to deal with complexities of day-to-day life. And, he always does it with a story.

One of my first memories of him was in a large college lecture hall. The room was large with stark white walls. I was sitting near the front with a clear view of the green chalkboard, with my legs swinging back and forth, because they didn’t touch the floor. The auditorium was filled with students listening to his booming voice tell the story of how the world stopped on November 22, 1963. He was professor of the year, and his class was full. Students were furiously taking notes, yet were not afraid to ask questions. Although I sat silently, I would look at my scribbles and know they were meaningless compared to his words. I think this was the moment I fell in love with stories. He made a very complicated, scary moment so clear through the simple act of telling a story.

(Click here to read Jenny's entire narrative.)

A Tribute to Mr. Stanley
by Lisa Larson

Mr. Stanley always played his guitar on Fridays after lunch. Always. Our fifth grade class would gather in a circle on the floor in front of him and he would strum his guitar and sing goofy songs about our lessons that week. He sang about the Dewey Decimal System and the solar system, fractions and freedom and reading and responsibility – it was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me at school! So the day that I came in from lunch and saw the guitar still in its case and Mr. Stanley perched behind his desk, I was livid.

What had we done to deserve this? Who had misbehaved and gotten our music taken away? Who had disrespected Mr. Stanley and made him so mad that he wouldn’t sing for us today?

I was going to kill that person.

After everyone had trickled in from recess and came to the same realization that I had, we quickly sat in our desks, folded our hands in front of us and assumed innocent faces. There had to be some way to get the guitar and singing and fun back.

(Click here to read Lisa's entire narrative.)

Warmth from Shade
by Marianne Kelly Smith-Nott

He no longer wanders the dimly lit, crowded halls. He no longer warmly greets new students with that genuine, gleaming-white, toothy smile…welcoming the lost to “come on in.” That same bright smile appeared in his sparkling, jet-black eyes…seeming to open the doors to the cold, shadowy hall…making anyone feel safe, wanted, and truly cared for as they enter their new surroundings at Traner Middle School, I remember that terrified feeling as I peered out the steamed up windows of the overcrowded, yellow school bus.

WE had all grown up together, attended the same school…even if we didn’t always have the same teachers. WE…the soon to be 6th graders from Sun Valley Elementary in the mid 70’s…all heard the gruesome stories about gang fights, drugs, having to “dress out” and shower for P. E. in front of others, and being assaulted in the hallway bathrooms without anyone knowing by “those black kids.“ WE were the “outsiders from Scum Valley” being bussed to the “Hood” where the “Crips” and the “Bloods” were prevalent. WE were the first group of 6th graders to venture into middle school…WE were the new kids on the block, taking that first timid step off of the noise-filled bus onto the silent and still black asphalt walkway that led up to those doors of doom.

(Click here to read Kelly's entire narrative.)

 

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Five Narrative Resources from the NNWP's
Elementary
& Secondary Writing Guides

More Narrative Resources from Classrooms:

During the 1990's, Teacher Consultants from the Northern Nevada Writing Project worked together to create two wonderful print guides for teachers: The Elementary Writing Guide and The Secondary Writing Guide. Both guides shared resources and ideas on three big topics: the writing process, the writing traits, and the writing genres. The Washoe County School District generously agreed to print thousands of copies of these resources to distribute among every teacher in Northern Nevada's largest county.

In 2000 and 2004, both guides underwent revisions to align them with Nevada's new state standards, and again the Washoe County School District paid for the printing so that all Northern Nevada teachers could have access to these excellent resources. In 2007, the both guides were printed for the last time. The rising price of paper inspired the NNWP to began posting the EWG and the SWG's narrative-improving resources on-line here at WritingFix.

Narrative Tools from the E.W.G.:

Narrative Tools from the S.W.G.:

An Mnemonic Device:

We saw this graphic on the wall in the classroom of NNWP Teacher Consultant Amy Hybarger. The five parts of a narrative are represented by the five fingers of this giant green hand. Students can use such a graphic as a mnemonic device for the parts of a narrative.


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