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WritingFix: a Left-Brained Word Game & Writing Prompt

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Meet the Lesson's Author:

Corbett Harrison has been a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant since 1996. He teaches a variety of inservice classes for the NNWP.

Corbett maintains a personal website where he stores most of his favorite lessons.


An Original Word Choice Prompt:
Sausage Story:
A Riddle-inspired Tale

This original prompt was posted at WritingFix by Northern Nevada teacher Corbett Harrison during a Northern Nevada Writing Project inservice class.  "I've heard it said that there's not much original in education anymore," said Corbett, "but I am confident that I invented the idea of sausage sentence stories. I hope you and your students enjoy this challenging exercise."

This Prompt Works Well in Classes
Using Writer's Notebooks and Writer's Workshop

As part of our Mentor Text of the Year Program (for the 2010-2011 school year), we began revising some of our popular prompts at WritingFix to be used to inspire writing specifically for the students' writers' notebooks. This is a prompt that was revised.

Inspire Page Collections: A great use of a writer's notebook is to have students "reserve" certain pages to "collect" small ideas that could lead to bigger writing during an upcoming writers workshop block. On these reserved pages, students can collect inspirational or humorous quotes, favorite song lyrics or poetic phrases, interesting character names, words that make them laugh, etc. Maintaining celebrated lists of language (in the notebook) is just one technique to show students how real writers think and record ideas as they make their way through the day.

These Collections Can Inspire: When a student is searching for the next rough draft idea, flipping through these "collections" will inspire him/her to consider both poetry and prose a possible end-product for their next piece of writing for your class.

Corbett's Teaching Instructions:

A note for teachers users: 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.

This is a writing prompt inspired by a word game I invented one night during an insomnia bout. To give students a different purpose in reading my lesson's teacher model (below), I set up my word game as a challenging riddle for my students to solve. Or attempt to solve.

I challenge teachers to introduce this riddle, then challenge some of their students to designate a page in their writer's notebooks called "Sausage Sentences." If you keep reminding them they designated this page, they'll continue to think about this word game outside of school hours too.

I wrote out the teaching instructions here to not immediately give away the riddle. Don't worry, teachers! You'll know my riddle's answer soon, but I would prefer it if those discovering this prompt to experience the same riddle that my students do...because the students really enjoy the riddle, and I suspect teachers will too even though teachers often just want the answer...

Here's what you need to know to start solving this riddle and writing prompt: a sausage sentence is a special kind of sentence that is created by a writer, then it's used as an important sentence in creating a story that is always entitled "A Sausage Story." The finished stories are supposed to be shared with families or friends, whose reading task becomes solving the same riddle: "Why is this story called 'Sausage Story'?"

Start by sharing a teacher model of a sausage story. I provide mine below, but I encourage teachers using this exercise to create a story of their own; it makes the experience more meaningful, and it gives the teachers some solid writing advice to be able to offer to students, which they'll most likely need, since this is not an easy writing prompt.

Hand out the teacher model to your students with these instructions: "This story is a riddle. The story has nothing to do with sausage. But its title--Sausage Story--is a completely appropriate title. Your task is to figure out why it's called Sausage Story. Good luck. Very few students immediately solve this riddle."

(Click here or on the image to print a full-page handout of this story.)

Hint #1: I have never had a student solve the riddle when reading the story through the first time. Their initial guesses for why it's called what it's called mostly are about making sense of how sausage might have something to do with the plot, or they see sausage possibilities with images (like the hanging sock), and they try to explain how it must have something to do similes and metaphors that aren't in the story but might be, if we added them. Entertain all guesses; I love to playfully make fun of the really outrageous ones, so we can all laugh. Then, it's time to give this first hint: The sausage has nothing to do with the plot or what the story is about; it has everything to do with the structure, and the picture might help you understand what I mean by structure. This hint will get them re-reading and talking, and--just so you know--only once or twice have I had a student figure it out with just one hint. Remember, this is a purposely hard riddle.

Hint #2: Now aim them in at more minute structures that might exist with hint 2: The sausage is not the whole story; in fact, it's just a sentence in the story. Which sentence could it be? Students will now really look at all the sentences. Many will guess the right sentence, but usually they don't know why.

Hint #3: Now say: In a sausage story, the important sentence is either the first or the last sentence, but not both. Which do you think it is of those two choices? I like to poll the students after they think/talk about this. If I've been objective, I generally have a 50/50 split. Usually, I have a few kids discover the actual answer with this hint; watch for their eyes to light up and then ask them to please keep the secret just a bit longer. Congratulate them; they feel honored being the first to discover the answer, and it drives some of the other kids to really be able to understand an answer they know their peers have begun discovering.

Hint #5: Say: In this story, it's the last sentence, and it's because the sentence has a very special structure. Look at the picture of the sausages. Then look at that sentence. Who can see the answer? Hopefully, many will start getting it. As they do, again ask them to keep it to themselves. I have been known to ask them to mark the sentence in a special way which shows me they definitely know the answer, and they are happy to do this and then keep their markings secret from their classmates.

Hint #6: Show them a different sausage sentence than the one in the teacher model, explaining that this is a sausage sentence too. Ask them to think about structure again.

Your red dog gets sad during games, since every year rules seem much harder, right?

--written by Meg, a seven-year-old writer

Hint #7: Ask your students who know the answer to make up a hint for the others who don't. Tell them the hint can't give it away. I find this is a really good way to encourage them to think really hard about what makes a good hint in a riddle. Often, the students can't immediately think of a hint that doesn't give it away, so it gives those with the answers something to do while the others still study the sentences.

Last Hint: Now show them the story's sentence with the explanation visually demonstrated. Have them look at the picture of the linked sausage to help them make the connection:

Every yellow warbler rested during Gideon's skillfully yodeled ditty.

And...finally, for the clue-disabled, the answer: What is a sausage sentence?  It's a meaningful string of words whose beginning and ending letters match.  The key is that the words must create a sentence that make sense; it's easy to write nonsense or semi-nonsense using this structural challenge. It's hard to write one that might actually appear in a story.

Give your students some time to compose a few sausage sentences. They're tough for a lot of students, but it's much easier to start with short ones. Students quickly discover that the words a and an can't appear in a sausage sentence, and the is a hard word to make work well. It becomes a good exercise in exploring interesting word choices.

I have been collecting interesting words to launch a sausage sentence. If you press the button below, you can see some of my favorites.

Sausage Sentence Starters:



Students need to understand that if you get stuck in the middle of composing a sausage sentence, it's often necessary to erase the last two or three words (instead of just one) to help the sentence find its way again.

If you pause the lesson and ask students to think about writing new ones for the next day or two, you'll be impressed at some of the ones students bring in to you. I always had a few students who would compose them with their families, which I always thought was evidence of a strong family structure at home.

Once students have written a sausage sentence they like, their job is to write a story that either begins or ends with the sentence. This is really an interesting thinking and writing challenge, if you do the exercise well, which means you write a story where the sentence doesn't stand out so strongly that future riddle-solvers immediately call it out as being the unusual sentence. To do this, a writer finds himself/herself really looking at the specific words in the sausage sentence, and then building a context for them (with the story's other sentences) so that sausage sentence doesn't glare at you as just a weird-sounding sentence. In my teacher sample, for example, I didn't want yodeled to stand out as a weird word with no previous context, so I made an allusion to the Swiss hiker about four or five sentences before the sausage sentence happened. That's the kind of thinking you need to do to write a successful sausage story, which isn't easy--for adults or for student writers.

Have your students look at Meg's sentence below again. Ask, "Would this sentence make a better story as the first sentence or the last sentence?" Have students talk about this. Have them talk about the various ways they could present the sentence--as description or dialogue or...?

Your red dog gets sad during games, since every year rules seem much harder, right?

--written by Meg, a seven-year-old writer

Finally ask students to write a ten- or more-sentence story that uses the sausage story as its first or last sentence. Remind them that everyone's title must be "Sausage Story," and once the story is written, they will be able to present it as a riddle to their family and friends, much like we did in class. I find this authentic "publishing" opportunity gets some of my kids much more excited about writing their stories.

To encourage revision--after students have written their stories--have them read and respond to each other using WritingFix's Word Choice Post-it® Note-sized templates. Students can rank their own use of the five word choice skills on the Post-it (ranking means they can only have one 1, one 2, etc.), then have a reading partner rank the same skills on their paper. The two students can have a conversation comparing the two rankings, and from that conversation, set some word choice revision goals for their rough drafts.

Seeking Sausage Sentence Stories from Students:

I am currently seeking original riddle stories written by students of all grade levels. I only have a small collection here, and I sure would love to see more. If you end up with a revised and polished sample that one of your students is particularly proud of, and you let me post it here, I will send you one of the NNWP Publications as my way of saying thanks.

You can post your students' stories directly to our ning/blog by clicking here and pasting or attaching your students' work.

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 non-represented grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom! Thank you, those who share their students' writing with us.

Sausage Story
by Brooklyn, fifth grader

She enjoyed “daydreaming” great things; soon, no one even noticed Diane. Always staring off into space, Diane was very different than other girls. She was not like anyone in the world. She wasn’t like anyone…because she was psychic.

Each time she was daydreaming, each time she was staring of into space, she was actually seeing future things. People eventually stopped talking to Diane and I wondered why.

So one day I went up to Diane. She was sitting on a bench, staring at some kids playing basketball. I sat down next to her. It was a while until I finally said, “Hey, Diane. So, what’s going on? Why doesn’t anyone speak to you?”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t like talking to them. It’s not my thing. I like being alone and daydreaming. It's like being psychic. Do you want me to tell you your future?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“Okay, you will earn $100 in a contest you entered,” she told me.

“Oh, Thanks!” Then I ran home. That night we went to Fortune Palace. We ate our dinner and then we got our fortune cookies. I opened mine. I stared at it for awhile. I was surprised. My fortune read “You will enter a contest and win $100.” I couldn’t believe it. I guess I would just have to wait and see.

Maybe Diane is actually psychic after all.


Some Clever Sausage Sentence Variations:

The sausage sentence variation ideas below came directly from students and writers who successfully navigated their way through creating sausage sentence riddles stories and wanted to do more with this structure.

Sausage Sentence Characters

Try inventing a character who speaks in nothing but sausage sentences. Whenever that character has dialogue, what goes in the quotes must be a sausage. Call the character your sausage character, and change the riddle to "Why is this person my sausage character?"

Meg said, "Your red dog gets sad during games, since every year rules seem much harder, right?"


Sausage Sentence 'Epic' Stories

Not just one sentence, but many stacked on top of each long can you keep going before the story becomes nonsense?

It tempted Dot to observe every yearning, going gaga amongst the effluvial, lachrymose exhortations so omnipresent that time. Each hardened despair rallied Dot to obsequent thrills: Sadness spurred delight, tautness sallied divine enjoyment, terror redeemed Dot. This salacious stew was seen not to obviate ecstasied Dot's sympathies; she empathized, definitely, yet the everflowing grimness surrounding gray youth held Dot to obdurate emotions sublime. Each heaved desolation needled Dot to overcompensation: Needing gaiety, yet thinking gloom might triumph, her reflexes spawned delectable euphoria; as sorrow waxed, Dot turned dourness sideways, smiling gleefully. Yet this subversive evil (love) eroded despair rarely; yet that trouper refused defeat. Twain newlyweds: Sad diaspora, and Dot.

--submitted by Paul Kershaw, adult WritingFix user


Sausage Sentence Exit Tickets

I've used this one in my teacher trainings, but I think it would work after a lesson that involved the presentation of a lot of content or vocabulary. Ask students to choose one of the vocabulary words and create a sausage sentence that shows they've learned an actual fact about the word:



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