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A Left-Brained Writer's Notebook Lesson from WritingFix

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Making & Decorating a List!

A Pentalogue:
5 Personal Beliefs

to reflect on a student's learning, each writer creates a list of "5 Things I Know about Good Writing" list

This prompt was revised in 2011 as part of our
"Year of Writer's Notebooks" Project.

This reflective prompt inspired by

Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie

Decalogue (noun): a list of ten personal beliefs.
Pentalogue (a made-up noun): a list of five personal beliefs.

This is a writer's notebook-friendly lesson! This lesson has been recently revised to incorporate the creation of a writer's notebook page as part of the pre-writing process. A teacher model of the notebook page can be seen at left. 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.

A great classroom resource!

Overview of this Notebook Prompt & Lesson:

In chapter four of Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie, the writer has one major character share a list of ten interesting facts with the other major character. Although the author never uses the archaic word decalogue in her prose, this is what she is using as a structure. A decalogue is a list of ten things the writer of the decalogue (or the character sharing it) believes.

This lesson has students create an end-of-year pentalogue (five personal beliefs). The list is to be about five different things each student has learned in the past year about what makes good, high-quality writing. A revised and edited copy of the list can be added to the students' journals or writer's notebooks, where it can also be decorated. This list can become an authentic tool for assessing each student's learning this year about crafted writing.

Ideally, if a teacher assigns this list-assignment at the beginning of the school year, and then again at the end of the school year, the teacher will have something powerful to compare and contrast from the school year's starting and ending points. Something to think about for next Fall, right?

Sharing from the Chapter Book:

You don't have to read this entire chapter book to make use of this lesson. Chapter four of Because of Winn Dixie--with a small amount of explanation of what has just happened in chapter three--makes a great read-aloud by itself. Reading it well might just inspire some of your students to independently pick up this book the next time they're at the library.

A decalogue (noun: list of ten personal beliefs) is an older word. It's not used commonly anymore, but it's a great root word for deca- and -logue, and this lesson adds the root penta- to the picture. The Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments are both examples of decalogues, and David Letterman's "Top Ten Lists" are funny modern examples of this format. If you know Barry Lane's 51 Wacky We-Search Reports as well as we do at WritingFix, you know he features a "Top Ten List" writing lesson in that book.

If you don't know Winn Dixie, change that this summer. It's a great read. In the book's fourth chapter, Opal asks her father, the Preacher, to tell her ten things he believes and knows about her Mama. Opal doesn't know her mother; she abandoned the family years ago. The Preacher's list is heart-felt and contains great showing details; it's not just a simple list. When the preacher finishes sharing this chapter's decalogue, Opal dashes to her room to write down everything she just heard; she wants to memorize the list so that she might use it to recognize her mother someday. It's a very touching moment from the book, and it uses the decalogue as a structure to bind the chapter together.

Write several of the preacher's most descriptive items from his list on the whiteboard, chalkboard or Smartboard. Talk about his use of relevant, showing details. Explain that tomorrow, you're going to have your students write a 5-item list, and you want them to use showing details in their lists, modeled after the Preacher's style.

Sharing a Teacher Model of the Writing:

The goal of our 2010-2011 "Year of Writer's Notebooks" at WritingFix was to inspire teachers to create model writer's notebooks they could share with their own students. If you didn't do this yet, the summer is a perfect time to begin. If you have been keeping a writer's notebook, here is a perfect assignment to end up on the last page or the back inside cover. For students, it's a good summative thinking assignment about writing skills.

Before showing the teacher model, have students brainstorm a list of "Five or more things they learned about good writing this past year" on a piece of scratch paper. Each item on the list can begin with the words Good writing_____. You might choose to have students work in small groups on this task, but you should increase the number of items they are to brainstorm, if they are using multiple heads to produce the list. If you have trait posters in the room, challenge students to look at them as they brainstorm. If students have kept portfolios, challenge them to look over their best writing examples from the year. If students have a library book with them, have them look over the author's words for ideas. Challenge the students/groups to come up with unique items on their list they don't believe the other students/groups will think of. Don't let them make the world's fastest brainstorm here; require them to "unpack" all they've learned about writing this year.

Once students have a brainstormed list, it becomes safer to show them the teacher model; that way, copying is less of an issue.

Here is our webmaster's teacher model of a completed/published notebook page, which we have included (at left) with this lesson as our attempt to inspire you to make your own writer's notebook page, 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 or notebook mascot (like our webmaster does), it can actually be quite fun to make a teacher model to share with your students. Your writers can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; we believe student writers can have fun while learning as long as the teacher is modeling what smart and fun looks like at all times, and sample notebook pages from a teacher can be inspirational! 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.

Tell students they will be creating a similar page for their notebooks or portfolios; first, they must use their best writing skills to make the brainstormed list a stronger piece of writing.

Refer to Mentor Text during Drafting & Revising:

Students will be choosing their five best brainstormed items from the "What I've learned about good writing this year" prompt. They will then revise those ideas into well-stated beliefs that match the quality of the Preacher's spoken beliefs in chapter four's decalogue. Share from the mentor text again, asking, "How is the author showing strong writing skills here? How is this not just a simple list of beliefs? What skills is she practicing with her writing here."

To demonstrate, show the following example from the webmaster model above:

  • Original brainstorm: "Good writing is original."
  • Revised belief: "Good writing doesn't sound like I need a formula to write it. It's fresh as a breeze. Not predictable like a robot."

Students should spend some time revising their lists of beliefs. To help them polish their second drafts, you might have them make use of any of the following revision Post-it® Note-sized templates:

Publish Final Drafts:
(Publish your students with us! It's incredibly motivating!)

Students can carefully copy their final plenteous into their writer's notebooks or journals; you might consider having them write the list on the notebook's last page or on the back cover.

You might have them publish their lists on fancy paper and create a bulletin board that celebrates what your students have learned about writing this year. They might make a great gift to your students' next-year teacher.

We are also accepting well-crafted, final lists (typed or photographed) at our Publishing Ning. Check out the blue box below for information.

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use WritingFix lessons and prompts. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually! We're currently seeking student samples for all non-represented grade levels for this writer's notebook prompt!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!

You can post your students' finished stories (as well as photographs of the notebook pages that inspired them) at this posting page set-up for this on-line lesson.


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