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A Right-Brained Writing Prompt from WritingFix

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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.

Serendipitous & Interesting
Story Titles

This prompt was one of the first twenty-one interactive idea generators that started the WritingFix website way back in 2001. It was revised over the summer of 2010 to include a mentor text and a graphic organizer, two of the Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson discussed in a workshop created by WritingFix's webmaster, Corbett Harrison. Visit his website for more details on this teacher training.


This lesson has students think about how nouns can be used as interesting adjectives in story titles. It challenges students to create an interesting list of possible story titles in their writers' notebooks; then student select several of their titles and create a scene from the "movie made in your mind" by the title.

During a future writing workshop block, students can be invited to re-visit this page as a place to gather ideas for their next writing assignment.

Mentor Text for this Lesson:

The Paper Bag Princess
by Robert Munsch

Setting up the Notebook Page:

This is a writer's notebook-friendly lesson! This write-up has been recently revised to incorporate the creation of a writer's notebook page as part of its pre-writing process. A teacher model of the notebook page can be seen at left. Below, you can read the step-by-step instructions for this writer's notebook task , which makes use of our webmaster's "Margin Mascot," Mr. Stick.

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.

Have students select a blank page in their writer's notebooks and label it "Interesting Story Titles." The partitions below are one way you can have your students divide this page; feel free to adapt the parts to better-fit your style of teaching. I personally love requiring my students to use Mr. Stick illustrations as part of their notebooks' pages, but I know others who would rather include less structural suggestions for this page. Both techniques are workable techniques for a writer's notebook.

Writer's Notebook Page Title:
Interesting Story Titles

Inspired by the use of "Paper Bag" as an adjective in the mentor text, students brainstorm and write three interesting noun phrases where an interesting noun is being used as an adjective. They can write them in this space on their page

The + Nouns that could act as Interesting Adjectives
Interesting Nouns that could go in front of the Adjectives at left
  • The Applesauce
  • The River
  • The Backyard
  • The Library
  • The Cheerios
  • The St. Bernard
  • The Oven Mitt
  • Pancake
  • Pier
  • Terror
  • Protector
  • Bandit
  • Walker
  • Cleaner
"Movie in the Mind" Scene for two of the "Crossed Titles" above






"The Backyard Pier"






"The Oven Mitt Bandit"

Here is my teacher-model for the page. By clicking on it, you can make it large enough to print (in color!) on an overhead or on paper for a document camera demonstration. I strongly suggest teachers create their own models for this lesson, if they're using it. I think it's important for students to see you create pages for writer's notebooks too! Click here to see a really large version of the page, so you can zoom in on any details or print on a poster page, if you have that ability.

Once the page has been partitioned for everyone's notebook, you can begin the lesson.

The Lesson:

The First Day: For this lesson, you don't really need to read the entire book by Munsch, if you choose not to; it's based on the story title, not the story's plot. But the students always enjoy this book, so find time, if you can. The book also provides you with a strong female character example that can be compared and contrasted to other strong female characters you may read about in future mentor texts.

The focus here is simply the title of the mentor text. Talk about how a paper bag--normally used as a noun in our language--has been used as an adjective in this story. It sounds unusual, if we really think about it, and that makes an interesting title.

Sometimes a strong title can--by itself--launch an original story idea in a writer's mind. Tell students, "Today is about collecting future interesting titles in our writer's notebooks. These titles can be written about today, or they can be written about during a future writing block. The notebook is our place to store them, but we only are going to store ones that we personally like."

Start with thinking about "Paper Bag" as an adjective for other interesting nouns. Make a chart from student suggestions. Here are three I write down to get them started:

  • The Paper Bag Mystery
  • The Paper Bag Incident
  • The Paper Bag President

As they begin, let's be honest, students will probably shout out some pretty lame ones. My students recklessly shout them out based on things they see around the room ("Paper bag desk!" "Paper bag door!") and you've really got to carefully select interesting ones in order for the students to be successful with this. Say, "I'm not sure I get much of a story/movie in my mind when I hear 'The Paper Bag Pencil.' I'll bet we can think of some more unique ideas that give us an idea of a story or character that might be written about."

After you've created a short list of interesting Paper Bag titles, ask students to imagine the words Paper Bags have disappeared, and they can replace them with other just-as-interesting-sounding nouns that are serving as adjectives. I model this with my three examples above:

  • The Cemetery Mystery or The St. Bernard Mystery (I let students choose one of my two ideas to list as our class example.)
  • The Robot Incident or the The School Lunch Incident
  • The Baby President or The Pickle President

Challenge students--for the rest of the day--to think of other nouns-serving-as-adjectives that would make interesting titles based on your class list. Write down any that seem really strong and interesting.

For homework, tell students they will need to think of three to five original samples of interesting titles that contain an interesting noun-serving-as-an-adjective.

The Next Day: The Students need to write their three title ideas in the top part of the page they partitioned.

Then, the students need to play "Give One, Get One" with their three titles. To play, they visit a partner, look over his/her three titles while theirs are being looked over too, and if both agree that the partner has one they want to borrow, the "Give one to get one."

Partners carefully write down the title that was given, spelling the words correctly, and dividing the title into two pieces: 1) The + Noun-Serving-as-Adjective and 2) The Noun-Serving-as-Noun. They write these down in the center section of the page they have partitioned. This activity is a great activity for teaching some grammatical concepts while they are splitting the pieces of the titles.

Ideally, students should end up with 5-10 title ideas that were given to them by classmates. These all go in the center section of their notebook page.

The Next Day: Now comes the fun part. Challenge students to come back to their notebook page's center section, and instead of going "straight across" to create a title, they need to "mix it up" by making imaginary diagonal lines between the titles.

So....if you're using my teacher model, here are some "mixed up," diagonally-inspired titles from my page's center section:

  • The Cheerios Protector
  • The St. Bernard Pancake
  • The Backyard Pier
  • The Backyard Protector
  • The Oven Bandit
  • The Oven Terror

The goal of this "mixing up" of ideas is for students to ultimately choose two diagonal ideas from their lists. You will have some who want to choose one word for their list and create the second word from scratch for this, and that's fine. The idea here is to create interesting titles, and they may not have all the words on their page to create the most interesting title to them.

When they've selected two, they need to write the titles in the bottom of the notebook page's bottom two boxes. Then--today or at a later date--they can be challenged to write a "Movie of the Mind" scene inspired by the title; this means, they visualize one scene from the movie someone might make inspired by this story title and capture it as a cartoon starring Mr. Stick, the Margin Mascot.

Coming Back to this Notebook Page: With this page in their notebooks complete, students no longer have the right to say to me "I don't have anything to write about today." They have a page in their notebooks that can launch not only the two stories they cartooned, but multiple other titles can be created from the middle section's list of words. The page also can be referred to the next time a student turns in a paper with a trite or too-obvious title.

This Prompt's Student Choice Generator:

As your students are building this page in their notebook, if they become stuck or are struggling with the idea, you can use this serendipitous story title generator below to support their learning.

Tell students to "Press the buttons below until you create a title you really like.  Write down the titles you like best. Only choose ones that you think would make an interesting, longer piece of writing."  

Can you start an original story with this title?


Drafting & Revision Resources to Use When Students Write Longer Stories:

Publish Students' Title-Inspired Stories online!

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use our online lessons. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually!

We're currently looking for published stories inspired by this title-making prompt and notebook page. Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll make them a little bit more "famous" to the millions of teachers and students using our site!  It's pretty great motivation to see your writing posted at WritingFix! To post your students' writing, use this posting link. You must be a member of our Writing Lesson of the Month Ning to be able to post. You can join when you click the link we've provided.

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