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A Right-Brained Writer's Notebook Prompt from WritingFix
Focus Trait: ORGANIZATION Skill: STRONG INTRODUCTIONS

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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. You can access more of his writer's notebook lessons at his personal website.

 

Inspiration from Student Choice!
Serendipitous Character Names
& Powerful Opening Paragraphs

building a writer's notebook page based on characters you'd like to write about someday

This prompt was revised in 2010 as part of our "Year of Writer's Notebooks" Project.

The mentor text that inspired this prompt is Bertrand R. Brinley's The Mad Scientist's Club. Brinley used both unique character names and strong introductory paragraphs in his Mad Scientist's series, which were first published in Boys' Life Magazine.

Check out The Mad Scientist's Club at Amazon.com with this link, and WritingFix will receive a small portion of the sale. Thanks for helping us keep WritingFix free and online for all teachers to use.


Overview of this Notebook Prompt:

After analyzing the introductory paragraphs of the cited mentor text and its sequel, students create a writer's notebook page inspired by unique character names they create on their own or using the interactive button game found on this page. In their notebooks, they create three or four original characters who have interesting names. Then they create a powerful introduction about one of these original characters, inspired by again by the mentor texts. At a later writer's workshop session, students can choose to develop their notebook's introductory paragraph into a longer story.

A note about this prompt's mentor texts from WritingFix Webmaster, Corbett Harrison:

"I discovered the Mad Scientist's Club series when I was in fifth grade, and they quickly became the best books I'd ever read. I enjoyed reading back then, but I had a pretty short attention span when it came to chapter books. This series was perfect for me because each chapter was its own short story about one adventure of the seven main characters. I could read just one chapter and put the book away for a while; there was no slowly-building plot that I had to maintain. The chapters could also be read out of order, which I loved to do; I definitely had favorite chapters, and I re-read them more times than I care to even guess. These books proved to be a valuable transition for me as I moved from picture books to full-length chapter books."

Where this Prompt Originated:

In 2004, at one of our Northern Nevada Writing Project Summer TWIST Camps, we worked with two wonderful fifth grade writers to create this prompt. Natalie and Morgan, when asked how they liked to pre-write, both explained that they kept lists of funny character names. When they needed an idea for a new story, they often consulted these lists and--somehow--a character's name launched a story for them.

We borrowed names from Natalie and Morgan's lists to create the interactive button prompt found lower on this page.

In 2010--our "Year of Writer's Notebooks"--we revised this prompt by adding a mentor text suggestion and a writer's notebook page.


Introducing the Mentor Texts:

Author Bertrand R. Brinley introduced his "Mad Scientist's Club" to the world in Boys' Life Magazine in the 1960's. Later, the popular short stories were compiled into the two books that are cited at this online lesson.

In short, the club consisted of seven boys who all loved science. They used their knowledge of science to mostly make mischief in their community, but occasionally they were heroic too. The Mad Scientists Club was made up of seven boys with very interesting names:

  • Jeff Crocker--the club's President
  • Henry Mulligan--Vice President and "Chief of Research"
  • Dinky Poore
  • Freddy Muldoon
  • Homer Snodgrass
  • Mortimer Dalrymple
  • Charlie Finckledinck (who also narrated the stories)

The amazing illustrations of Charles Geer help to bring these boys to life in these wonderful stories. Here is a sample illustration found at the official Mad Scientists' Fan Webpage, which is hosted by the author's son.

Brinley's writing style is fairly basic, nothing too spectacular, but his stories are meant to be fun. And they are. Both books' first chapters begin with strong introductory sentences that invite you into the characters' adventures. Here are both books' first two sentences to share with your students. We provided them here and hope they inspire your students to seek out these old-but-great adventure stories at the library.

From The Mad Scientists' Club:
Dinky Poore didn't really mean to start the story about the huge sea monster in Strawberry Lake. He was only telling a fib because he had to have an excuse for getting home late for supper.
From The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club:
Henry Mulligan has always had a generous supply of what is called scientific curiosity. Sometimes it gets us in trouble--like the time Freddy Muldoon and Dinky Poore got kidnapped for being too nosy about something Henry had discovered.

Share both introductions with your students. Ask, "If these were the opening sentences of two different stories, and you were only allowed to read one of them, which would you choose and why?"

Share the list of seven character names from above. Ask, "If a character has an interesting name, does it make it more interesting to read about that character?"

Here are some interesting character names from literature that might make your discussion richer. Feel free to add your personal favorite characters with interesting names to this list:

Huckleberry Finn
Sherlock Holmes
Jane Eyre
Oliver Twist
Cinderella
Ebenezer Scrooge
Madame Bovary
Peter Pan
Holden Caulfield

Creating a Writer's Notebook Page:

Tell students you'd like them to consider devoting a page in their notebooks to interesting, original character names. You'd like them to come up with three or four different names, create a drawing of each character, and then add a few choice details. Then, you want them to create--at least--one really interesting story introduction that uses one of the original character names.

Here is one way that students can partition a notebook page to complete this task:

A Writer's Notebook Page:
Interesting-Sounding Character Names

Character #1: NAME

 

 

 

Challenge students to create a Mr. Stick-inspired drawing of this character. Underneath the drawing, have them include one or two sentences that help us know the character just a tiny bit better.

Character #2: NAME

 

 

 

Challenge students to create a Mr. Stick-inspired drawing of this character. Underneath the drawing, have them include one or two sentences that help us know the character just a tiny bit better.

Character #3: NAME

 

 

 

Challenge students to create a Mr. Stick-inspired drawing of this character. Underneath the drawing, have them include one or two sentences that help us know the character just a tiny bit better.

Character #4: NAME

 

 

 

Challenge students to create a Mr. Stick-inspired drawing of this character. Underneath the drawing, have them include one or two sentences that help us know the character just a tiny bit better.

Possible introductory sentences about one or two of my original characters:

 

Introduction #1

 

Introduction #2

Show them 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 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 creating original character names, the buttons below are designed to inspire their creativity. They can click until a name that appeals to them "pops up."

Write a story starring this character:

   

    


With names, students are ready to create their writer's notebook pages. Once the students have created, drawn, and added some details, show them the two introductions from the cited books again. Ask, "What would a two- or three-sentence introduction about your character need to sound like to invite your reader into the story?"

Have students--perhaps over a week's time--craft several introductions about their original characters.

Invite students, during upcoming writer's workshop blocks, to transform their introductions from their notebook pages into longer stories.


Resources for Students Writing Longer Stories:


An Invitation to Share Students' Finished Stories:

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 grade levels for this writer's notebook prompt!  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!

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.


 


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