Looking through the Lens of the First Person Narrator: Writing from Models

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SWBAT develop their own first paragraphs based on the models studied in the Famous First Paragraphs lesson. Students will incorporate details of setting, the "seeds" of conflict, and revealing information about the speaker.

Big Idea

After looking carefully at famous authors' first paragraphs, students should be inspired to follow those examples and take a purposeful approach to their own writing.

Latin Roots Warm Up

10 minutes

This is our daily warm up, wherein students work with two or three Latin roots per day.  The resource that I use to get my roots is Perfection Learning's Everyday Words from Classic Origins.
Every day, when the students arrive, I have two Latin roots on the SmartBoard.  Their job is to generate as many words as they can that contain the roots, and they try to guess what the root means.  After I give them about five minutes, we share words and I tell them what the root means.

The students compile these daily activities in their class journal.  After every twelve roots, they take a test on the roots themselves and a set of words that contains them.

Opening Question

10 minutes

I began this lesson with a set of questions on the SmartBoard.  These questions are for discussion, but I ask students to take a stab at answering opening questions in their journals.  It is ungraded -- it's just a place for them to get their thoughts together.

Which of your senses is most closely tied to memory?  How do you know?  Can you give an example of a smell/taste/sensation that is particularly resonant?

After we discussed that topic a little, with students giving answers that ran the gamut from smell to hearing to touch, I introduced the NY Times article, "The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine."  Scientists have suggested that the sense of smell is closely tied to memory.  According to the NY Time article entitled The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine, "the olfactory cortex (where smell is processed) is embedded within the brain’s limbic system and amygdala, where emotions are born and emotional memories stored. That’s why smells, feelings and memories become so easily and intimately entangled."

Then, I asked the students to write the answer to this question in their journals:

If the sense that you identified in the opening question wasn't smell, can you identify specific smells that are tied to memories?


Working with the Ideas

30 minutes

This section of the lesson is taught in the computer lab, so students each have access to a laptop computer.

When we entered the lab, I handed students a piece of paper.  On it was this prompt: 

Select a memory that you have that you feel comfortable sharing.  It can be from yesterday or from your childhood, but make sure that your selection is actually something that you remember vividly.  In other words, memories that stem from photographs won't work.  Why?  Because our goal is to make the memory vivid for the reader.  In order to make it really jump off the page, your memory has to have a clear, defined, non-generic setting and at least two categories of sensory details.

But wait, there is a catch...remember the lesson that we did on "Famous First Paragraphs?" You are only going to write the first 250 words of your memory.  Your job is to leave the reader wanting more.

The students' first reaction is that two hundred and fifty words seems like a lot, until they start typing and then they get frustrated because they don't have enough words to tell a story.  

In addition to building on our discussion of setting and sensory details, this also plays into one of my major themes for my eighth graders: being a disciplined writer.  This ties into the CCSS, because of the Common Core's focus on logical development of topics and arguments, and the selection of specific, appropriate vocabulary to complete a task.

Because I teach Honors-level courses, I often get students who will write ten pages when two would suffice. They equate effort with quality.   I work with them all year to help them to develop self control and focus. (In other words, yes, you wrote 1000 words...however, you didn't even begin to address the prompt until page three.  At that point, I have lost interest.) Sometimes, these are tough conversations, but I do believe that, once the students see that I am consistent and unbiased in my judgments, they start to catch on and trust me to guide their writing.  


Looking Ahead

5 minutes

Students will complete their 250-word Memory Write assignments for homework.

While I give class time to start the assignment, I like to give a few days to allow for polish.  The downside to doing that is that sometimes the parents get involved and it's hard to help the students when the writing isn't 100% their own, but it's hard to produce under time pressure, especially when you are working with a new rubric.