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A Right-Brained Writer's Notebook Lesson from WritingFix

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Inspiration from Student Choice!


building a writer's notebook page based on unique superhero qualities...from A to Z

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

This writing prompt inspired by

Bob McLeod's picture book:
SuperHero ABC

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 Year of Writer's Notebooks Project at WritingFix during the 2010-11 school year.

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:

Here is a writer's notebook page that--once completed--can be visited again and again when a writer wants a fresh idea to think about. For this prompt, students, working in groups, create unique lists of superhero powers inspired by the alphabet. They combine their favorite two (or three) ideas to create and draw a superhero that has never existed before.

During a future writer's workshop, students can do any of the following:

  • Create an "origin story" for the superhero that explains how the person came to have such powers or attributes;
  • Create a story about the superhero fighting his/her nemesis;
  • Create a story about the superhero saving someone important;
  • Create comic-book styled stories starring their superheroes (use Jules Feiffer's Meanwhile... as a mentor text for this option!)
  • Or...?

The write-up on this page focuses on creating a writer's notebook page that is inspired by twenty-six noun phrases. If you wish to have students develop their pages' ideas into any of the story options above, there are a few trait-based tools at the bottom of the page to help them along.

Creating a Writer's Notebook Page:

Pass out a blank alpha-list to each student. Explain that over the next few days they will be doing some brainstorming that will eventually become a writer's notebook page you'd like them to all develop for future writing ideas.Talk about well-known superheroes and the fact that they have interesting and unique powers and attributes.

Explain that you'd like students to think about some superheroes they know about, and that you'd like them to explain those heroes' qualities using interesting noun phrases.We could say that Superman, explain this to them, is really strong, but that's an adjective. How can we describe Superman's unique powers/qualities with noun phrases? Here are some examples to get their brains going.

  • Superman = "Invincible Strength " and "Bullet-proof chest" are both noun phrases
  • Wonder Woman = "Skills of the Amazons" and "Bullet-defying bracelets" are both noun phrases
  • Spiderman = "Spider-like Powers" and "Web-shooting wrists" are both noun phrases.

Once students have practiced creating noun phrases for well-known superheroes (check their work!) now it's time to create interesting noun phrases for superheroes that are unique and not famous yet. For sure, the button-pressing game will help them start thinking this way. Explain they are to--over the next few days--fill out an alphalist that contains (at least) 24 unique noun phrases that a unique superhero might have.

If the button-game here doesn't get them laughing and thinking, then something must be wrong with your students!

Press the two buttons until you create an idea for
a unique superhero power/attribute!



Use this prompt generator to come up with three or four unique superhero qualities for your alphalist; them use your creativity to complete the other quadrants of your alpha-list.

Set aside a small amount of time over the next few days to allow students to brainstorm in small groups new unique qualities. You might switch the groups each day, so students hear different perspectives.

Very important: Sometimes students write down an idea in an alphabox, then a better idea for that letter comes to them at a later time. Encourage your students to cross off mediocre ideas and replace them better ideas, if they think of them as they think more and more about this task.

When each student has a complete alphabox, they can then think about transferring their best ideas into a notebook page they can use to inspire writing during upcoming writer's workshop blocks.

Here is the frame I used to create my own notebook page:

My Unique Superhero
A Save the middle space for a picture of your finalized superhero! N

For inspiration before and while they create their own pages, show students your own model of a finished notebook page and/or my teacher model, which I have included (at left) with this prompt as my personal attempt to inspire you to create your own, but I will be understanding if you want to use mine 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; my wife and I had great fun working on the alpha-list together, then we each selected one of the traits from the list to create our combined superhero.

Your kids can gain real inspiration from having proof that you had fun as you created your own notebook page; at WritingFix, 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 are inspirational!

Click here for a really large version of my notebook page, which allows you to really zoom in on details or print on a poster, if you have that ability.

Give students several days to work on this page. They must start with their finalized choices for their alphalists. Challenge students to make sure that their twenty-six item list of noun phrases are somehow different from all their classmates; no two students should have the exact same list.

Once the lists are created, students can choose two (or three) of the powers/attributes to invent a totally original superhero. I ended up choosing my E box (Electrical Fingers) and my T box (Time Traveler) to create "Electric Dave" who--thanks to an accident at the electrical plant--now has enough electricity in his body to travel through time. I picture him going back in time to help with historical incidents. I am ready to write on a future writer's workshop block.

The goal is to have your students create a similar character that personally inspires them.

After seeing my page, my students always want to add color, which I allow them to do, provided they do it when they finish another classroom task early. Colored pencils should be on hand!

Student Models of the Assignment:

I recently revised this writing prompt (it was one of WritingFix's original 21 interactive tasks) by creating a writer's notebook page for it, and I am planning to use it next school year when we are setting up our writer's notebooks. At present I have no student samples (of either notebook pages or stories they wrote inspired by the notebook page), but when I do, they will go here:

  • Corbett's future student samples will be available here!

If your students create great notebook pages (that can be photographed, like mine) or great stories inspired by the notebook page, we hope you'll consider sharing some of them with the link in the blue box below. Thousands of teachers and students access WritingFix lessons every year, and having a your students' samples become part of this website is very motivating!

An Invitation to Share Unique Superheroes:
(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 to Help Students Writing Stories:
(These help keep your students trait-focused)


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