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A Right-Brained Writer's Notebook Lesson from WritingFix
Focus Trait: IDEA DEVELOPMENT Focus Skill: Finding a unique topic to write about

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Publish your students at our Ning!
(You must be a member of our "Writing Lesson of the Month" ning to post student writing inspired by this online prompt.)


Other amazing David Wiesner picture books:

Sector 7

June 29, 1999

Free Fall

(Click here to see WritingFix's writing lesson based on this book).


Inspiration from Student Choice!

a writer's notebook page that shares two crazy pictures that could become even crazier stories to tell!

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

The Mentor Text:

In David Wiesner's Flotsam, a barnacle-covered underwater camera reveals amazing images from the bottom of the ocean.

Serendipitous (adj): describing a fortunate discovery made by accident.

"I think a lot more decisions are made on serendipity than people think. Things come across their radar screens and they jump at them."

     --Jay W. Lorsch, Harvard Business School

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 prompt you find here is one that I personally created as a demonstration lesson for our "Differentiated Writing Lessons" Workshop. One important element of a good differentiated lesson is that it gives students opportunities to make personal choices to invest them in the writing process. The button-pressing game below always excites my students when I teach this lesson.

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 you can access the new lessons and training materials I have been developing since 2009.

Overview of this Notebook Prompt & Lesson:

Author/Illustrator David Wiesner says that he often just draws a crazy picture as part of his writing process. If you know his books, you know what he means by a "crazy picture." If he likes the picture he creates, he begins to imagine the whole story that might be based on the illustration.

For this prompt, students use the serendipitous crazy-illustration-idea machine to create two fun ideas for pictures they can draw in their writer's notebooks. After drawing, students create a title for the story their picture inspires in their brains. On the next writer's workshop day, the teacher can challenge the writers to create a rough draft for the story idea they like best from their two crazy illustrations.

Use our Interactive Prompt/Idea Generator:
(to create a class chart of words and phrases)

The button-pressing game below was designed to help you inspire a class chart of words and phrases that can be used to inspire independent crazy illustrations.

If you have the ability to project this page for your students to all see, you can do a whole-class demonstration that helps them all find one crazy illustration idea to sketch for their writer's notebooks. Simply ask your students to help you choose a button to click on; keep doing this (several dozen times) until all your students can piece together a description or two that would inspire a crazy illustration for their notebooks.

You can also--if you have a designated computer lab time at your school--have your students visit this page and independently click the buttons, recording favorite ideas on a piece of paper to carry back with them to class and do the writing assignment at their desks.

If you don't have the ability to project this page or computer lab time, look below the blue box for suggestions on replicating the interactive prompt with less technology.

Press the four buttons until you create an idea for
an illustration you'd be willing to sketch in your notebook!


(It's okay to substitute any of our words with your own words as you press the buttons.)

Ways to replicate this interactive prompt without using technology: It's simple; make four columns on your whiteboard or chalkboard or on chart paper, labeling them adjectives, nouns, verbs, and prepositional phrases. Write four or five adjectives, nouns, verbs, and prepositional phrases (borrow a few from the button game above) to give your students a model; then, have your students work in pairs to create more words and phrases that could go in each column; the goal is that the row of words should put a funny picture in students' heads, so make sure the examples defy logic a little bit. When students share their ideas out loud, record the very best ones on the classroom chart. With a chart created, tell students they are to add two crazy illustrations to their writer's notebooks, and to do so, they must choose wisely from the chart's options. I always give students the freedom to change any of the words in a row to make an original idea; for example, they might change potato in just the first row so it reads wrathful lizard hurtling beneath a city.

Example class chart:
Adjectives Nouns Verbs prepositional phrases
wrathful potato hurtling beneath a city
jolly cow walking around a zoo
teen-aged snowman laughing at summer camp
frightened pony talking on the phone
confused alien running way from his shadow

Analyzing Wiesner's Mentor Text(s):

Before your students draw their crazy illustrations, direct them to the crazy pictures from the mentor text. Explain that author/illustrator David Wiesner once claimed that--for brainstorming--he often draws a crazy picture long before he thinks up his longer stories. Latter, when looking back at some of his crazy illustrations, Wiesner often hatches an idea for a while story--all based on a crazy sketch he once made. As students look through Flotsam (or any of Wiesner's books cited on this page), ask, "Which one picture do you think might have been his original crazy illustration that inspired the book's whole story?"

If you own several Wiesner books (or can get them from your library), you could send student groups around to "stations" to explore the texts, each station having a different book by Wisener.00

Wiesner is a marvelous illustrator, and your goal here is to use his pictures and his method of brainstorming to launch original ideas from your writers, but you don't want to intimidate them with his art; none of them will be able to draw as well as he does, but that shouldn't stop them from wanting to sketch some crazy pictures.

An Additional Mentor Text:

Marissa Moss, author of the Amelia's Notebook series, also published a model writer's notebook for boys: Max's Logbook. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as popular as the Amelia series, and it went out-of-print.

Max's Logbook contains numerous crazy illustrations and Max's first attempts at writing stories that explain those pictures. It's very delightful stuff that complements this prompts big ideas.

If you can find an affordable used copy of Max's Logbook for your classroom.

Creating a Writer's Notebook Page:

Have students create a page in their notebooks or journals for this lesson. They should title the page My Serendipitous Crazy Illustrations , and they should partition it as follows:

A Writer's Notebook Page:
My Serendipitous Crazy Illustrations:

Illustration #1
(caption the illustration with the adj + noun + verb + prepositional phrase)

adjective noun verb prepositional phrase

After students draw this illustration, ask, "What would be an interesting title for the story that would contain this picture?" Somewhere on the page, they should include their title.

Illustration #2
(caption the illustration with the adj + noun + verb + prepositional phrase)


verb prepositional phrase

After students draw this illustration, ask, "What would be an interesting title for the story that would contain this picture?" Somewhere on the page, they should include their title.

If you really want to inspire your students with this writer's notebook task, you will have created your own model of a notebook page that you can show them. When you can explain your thinking process as you created your crazy illustrations, created your title, and planned what a longer story based on the picture you drew, you will help your students get the most out of this pre-writing experience.

For inspiration as they create their own pages, continue to show students your own model of a finished notebook page and/or our webmaster's teacher model, which we have included (at left) with this lesson as our attempt to inspire you to create 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 or notebook mascot, it can actually be really fun to make your teacher model to show them. 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 an adult are 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.

Using the Notebook Page for Writer's Workshop:

After students have created the notebook page of crazy illustrations, the page can become a tool to encourage original writing during writer's workshop. As students finish up previous writing tasks and need a new idea to take through the writing process, invite them to re-visit their crazy illustrations (like Wiesner claims to) and ask themselves if one of the visual ideas they captured on the page is worth taking through the writing process. A well-crafted writer's notebook contains many pages like this one that can serve as a "launch" to a rough draft during a writer's workshop; if students aren't later inspired by their illustrations, hopefully they'll have plenty of other pages to refer to as they seek independent ideas to pursue through writing.

An Invitation to Share Crazy Illustrations and Stories they Inspired!
(Publish your students with us! It's incredibly motivating!)

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!

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.

Resources for Students Writing Longer Stories:

The goal of a great writer's notebook page is to inspire students to write a longer story during an upcoming writer's workshop block. Encourage your students to come back to their notebook pages often and write a longer story for their portfolios.

If they pursue this lesson's ideas in a longer piece of writing, here are some tools that will help them continue to explore idea development skills as they expand their ideas.


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