This prompt was revised in 2010 are part of our "Year of Writer's Notebooks" Project.
The mentor text that inspired this prompt is Brian P. Cleary's A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What is a Noun? Cleary celebrates interesting nouns of all types in this mentor text that cleverly teaches students how to identify a part of speech
Washoe County teachers, click here to search for this book at the county library.
Greetings, fellow teachers! My name is Corbett Harrison, and in 2001, I helped the Northern Nevada Writing Project launch this WritingFix website. For ten years, we sponsored lesson-building workshops throughout our region, and the best-of-the-best lessons created by our participants were posted at WritingFix for all teachers to freely access.
The lesson you find here is one that I personally created as a demonstration lesson during our Year of Writer's Notebooks project.
If you enjoy this lesson's big ideas and want to hear more about the work that I do to inspire student writers of all ages, I invite you to visit my personal website--CorbettHarrison.com--where you can access the new lessons and training materials I have been developing since 2009.
Overview of this Notebook Prompt:
After learning the basic definition of noun -- a person, place, thing, or idea -- students begin a interesting noun collection page in their writer's notebooks. After collecting personally interesting, common (not proper) nouns for several weeks, the students choose their best person noun, place noun, and thing noun and write a descriptive paragraph that uses and describes all three. The goal of crafting the paragraph is that it can--if well-written--be used as the first paragraph of a longer story.
Where this Prompt Originated:
In April 2001, WritingFix was launched. This site began with twenty-one interactive prompts that had students pressing buttons to receive ideas for writing. The interactive button game below was one of the original twenty-one prompts.
In 2010--our "Year of Writer's Notebooks"--we revised this prompt by adding a mentor text suggestion and a writer's notebook page element.
Introducing the Mentor Texts:
Write the definition of noun where all can see: a person, place, thing or idea. Write the nouns man and person on the board. Write the nouns room and place beneath them. Write the nouns object and thing on the board.
Tell students they will be learning about nouns today, acquiring the basic definition, but then they will be challenged to create a list of interesting nouns. Point to the nouns on the board and explain, these are nouns, but they aren't very interesting words because they don't help you see much in the way of specific details.
Cross out man, and replace it with magician. Cross out room and replace it with attic. Cross out object and replace it with flashlight. Explain how the nouns just became more interesting because now they are more specific. Say, "If I asked you to write a story about a man in a room with an object, versus if I asked you to write a story about a magician in an attic with a flashlight, chances are you'd be more excited with the second option. That's what specific nouns do--they inspire better writing."
Bring out Brian Cleary's A Mink, A Fink, A Skating Rink. Tell students, after hearing the mentor text, they will need to choose what they thought were the five most interesting nouns used by the author. Enjoy the book. You might even consider reading it a second time, giving students a chance to revise their list of five nouns.
Have students share their favorite nouns with each other.
Creating a Writer's Notebook Page:
Tell students you'd like them to devote a page in their notebooks to interesting nouns. Today, you'd like them to add some interesting nouns to the page, and throughout the next month, they will be invited to come back to the page and add more nouns. So their job is to be listening for interesting nouns, and they are to remember them for the next time they open their writer's notebooks
Here is how students should partition a notebook page to complete this task:
A Writer's Notebook Page: Interesting Noun Collection
leave room for fifteen or more nouns in this column
leave room for fifteen or more nouns in this column
leave room for fifteen or more nouns in this column
Illustrations of my most interesting nouns:
Illustration of most interesting person from the list.
Illustration of most interesting place from the list.
Illustration of most interesting thing from the list.
Show them your own model of a finished notebook page and/or my teacher 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 actually be really fun to make your teacher model. Your kids can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; we truly believe kids can have fun while learning as long as the teacher is modeling what smart and fun looks like at all times. 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.
The Interactive Button Game:
If your students have trouble thinking of interesting and original nouns, the buttons below are designed to inspire their creativity. They can click until an interesting noun that appeals to them "pops up" in all three categories. If students accidentally go past a noun they liked, they can right-click on the white windows and select "undo" to go backwards.
Keep clicking the three buttons until you find a person, place, and thing that you might put together in an interesting paragraph.
If putting a descriptive adjective in front of any of your nouns helps, then do that! A broken flashlight might be more interesting to you than just an ordinary flashlight, for example.
When you have a person, place, and thing selected, write them down in your writer's notebook for "safe keeping."
When the page is first set-up, allow them to record no more than five nouns in each category. This is an exercise in really good, interesting choices; don't let them just put any ol' noun on this page.
Over the next few weeks, keep asking, "Have you all been thinking of interesting nouns that might be added to your 'interesting noun' pages in your notebooks?" If you have a few minutes at the end of a lesson or before recess, allow students to add a few more nouns over time.
Encourage them to double-check their spelling on the nouns they ultimately select.
When students have finally created a page with many interesting nouns in all three categories, it's time to encourage them to be creative. Explain their task with this scenario: "You need to look over your three lists of nouns, and you need to choose one in each column that you could put together in a really interesting story. After you draw an illustration of your three choices at the bottom, you will need to compose just the first paragraph of a story where all three of the interesting nouns would shape the plot. All three nouns must be mentioned and described (using interesting details) in the opening paragraph."
My Teacher Model of an opening paragraph: (based on the example notebook page from above)
The ladder creaked and sighed as Manfredi the Amazing lifted his foot off its top rung and lifted himself into the attic. The dust was stale, and it entered the magician's nostrils, causing him to sneeze and drop his flashlight. The window in the corner had been painted over decades ago, so the only light available would come from the aluminum cylinder that he fumbled for with his fingers on the floor. Finally, he found it, and the beam danced across the rafters, casting shadows that startled him. More startling than that, however, were the fresh set of shoe prints that went from where he stood to behind the crates in the far corner. Manfredi had not been up in this room for years. These storage boxes held artifacts from his long-dead father's magic act. And someone--or something--was hiding behind them.
"Don't make me use my wand on you!" Manfredi hissed towards the crates.
"I mean you no harm," a small voice replied.
If the students revise the paragraph they compose, they can write the rest of the story during upcoming writer's workshop blocks.
The Courageous Warrior by Kirsten, fifth grade writer
Person/Character: a warrior Place/Setting: a bridge Thing: a sandal
Swish!! Swish!! You could hear the fighting noises from miles away as the warrior and the enemy brawled on the old, rickety, wooden bridge that arched over a long, skinny river. The bridge was a squeaky mouse as they clashed their heavy feet, battling over the treasure. Dressed in her bleach-white ghi with a pitch-black belt wrapped around her thin waist, the warrior karate chops the enemy. “HOI YA!” she shouts. All of a sudden the enemy flips the warrior and she lands on the ground next to a nearby bush. Searching around for a rock, the warrior reaches back and finds something solid in the bush. She pulls it out and notices it’s a sandal. She wonders for a moment until she sees her enemy approaching. Knowing that she has no time, she quickly throws the sandal forcefully. Flipping in the air and spinning and spinning like there’s no tomorrow, the sandal knocks the enemy over, onto the bridge. The force of his fall causes the bridge to break. Suddenly, the enemy and the sandal fall into the river. At the same time, the treasure is catapulted into the air and the warrior watches it land on the other side. The enemy sinks into the water and floats downstream with the skinny sandal. While she watches the enemy float away, the courageous warrior thinks, “What if the enemy comes back for revenge?”
Pencil and Paint by Kora, seventh grade writer
Person/Character: an artist Place/Setting: a street Thing: a pencil
She sat impatiently on the fading white scratched-up curb, hitting her pencil against the sketchpad impatiently. She sighed, almost growled, and I laughed. My best friend pressed her pencil onto the paper for a second as if to draw. I waited. She scowled a little, turned her pencil around in her hands, and erased the small mark she made. We’d been sitting here forever, me talking and trying to help, while she drew. Or really, tried to draw. Her pencil was dull, but the page was still as white and clean as fresh fallen snow. I looked down at the clock on my iPod – about an hour and a half had passed. I slid my hand along the curb. It was chipping. I pulled a falling piece of dried white paint off and threw it at her. The paint landed on the middle of the page. She smiled, and traced it.
“There,” she said, showing me a haphazard square. And all of a sudden we couldn’t stop laughing.
The Creature by Tommy, seventh grade writer
Person/Character: a sailor Place/Setting: a boat Thing: a monster
Captain MacLeod had been sailing the oceans ever since he was a wee lad. This night was different; it was darker and deeper than ever before. Captain MacLeod was standing on the bow of the boat in his yellow rain suit. He had no use for it tonight, but he just loved wearing it. The black waves silently hit the side of the slippery hull, making the boat rock back and forth, back and froth. The sea spray scorched his eyes, but he didn’t care. The waves started to grow larger, rocking the boat violently. Then, a huge black mass arose out of the water. It had red eyes and smelled of rotten flesh. Suddenly, something crashed into the side of the boat. Captain MacLeod reached for his rifle. He aimed at the creature’s eye. “What if?” he thought. “What if I miss?"
Do you have student samples inspired by this prompt?
Post it using this posting page, and you'll be eligible to receive a complimentary guide from the NNWP.