My Life As an Artifact (or Fossil) – the Planning Process

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Write a scene about an artifact or fossil explaining its origin, how it ended up buried, or what happened once it was excavated by an archaeologist from the point of view of a narrator, a character, or the item itself.

Big Idea

Plan a story & make it pop by writing from the point of view of a recently uncovered artifact and by including appropriate content area vocabulary.

Introducing the Writing Task

30 minutes

This lesson occurs thanks to a weather event. For an explanation, click here.

In class the next day as an opener to the lesson, I pass back to student groups the items that were bagged and tagged during the mock archaeology dig the day before, each person selects one they find interesting and takes a picture of it with his/her iPad for later reference. Of course there are a few students that choose the same item, which is perfectly fine because the main purpose is to maintain a high level of interest for the writing activity about to be introduced.  

There are a number of different options to use if actual items from a dig are not available. You can access photos from the website of an archaeological dig site near your geographic area or from someplace around the world. This is a great opportunity to make a connection with another content area. Take this opportunity to check in with social studies or science teachers for a curriculum topic that lends itself to this assignment.

Once everyone settles in, the Narrative Writing Experience: Archaeology Dig Experience worksheet is passed out and we go over it together. Reading the sample story with inflection intended to produce suspense, draws everyone in and a lively discussion ensues. They talk of their surprise in realizing the candleholder is the narrator and the unexpected twist when the “prideful” (as described by one student) candleholder becomes a hostage.

Then we read the worksheet over again. This second reading is with a focus on the ‘how’ of the activity. I find that it’s best to project the document onto the whiteboard and lead the students in the process of marking up the text in a way that the most essential information is underlined or highlighted. In the “Your Task” section, I particularly point out the tiny word ‘and’ - making its purpose in linking parts of the assignment together clear to the students. Then we go through the sample and mark up each part that we underlined in the directions:

  • Choose an item
  • Imagine where it came from
  • Explain its origin
  • How it ended up in the dirt
  • When happened after it was excavated
  • Choose a point of view

The next step was to create list of terms related to the study of archaeology that might appear in the story: archaeologist, dig site, excavate, sifter, examining table, trowel, and grid.

To determine how the sample held up against the rubric, each student worked with a partner to determine what grade it would receive. Lucky for me, it earned a ‘4’ in each category!

Planning the Narrative

30 minutes

Now it was time for the students to begin planning their own stories. I asked them if they thought that the sample flowed out onto the paper in perfection. Right away, many responded in the negative and they were able to come up with a model for the writing process, which shows those fifth grade teachers did their work well!

  • Brainstorm ideas & select a topic
  • Plan
  • Write a rough draft
  • Revise until there’s a logical sequence start to finish
  • Edit
  • Final copy

 I wrote this on chart paper and placed it prominently for all to see. We will refer to this list often as we work on writing assignments throughout the year, so the students also added it to their notes in the ELA folder each keeps in the Notability or Pages app on their iPads. Some students prefer to use a spiral notebook for class notes, which is also perfectly acceptable. The only stipulation is that they stick with their choice so that all class notes are in one place. As we go through the writing process for this assignment, I move a sticky note to the appropriate section of the list.

Since students have already chosen artifacts from the dig, we quickly moved from brainstorming phase to planning the stories. We discussed the parts of a plot: a clear beginning with a strong lead, ‘many middles’ (their words!) in a logical sequence, and an ending that does not leave any loose ends. They use the rest of the class to work on their planning. The homework assignment is to come in with a completed plan the next day.

As students get down to the business of planning their stories, I circulate through the room, checking in with students that I suspect will need additional support. I make a planning worksheet available to all students and specifically presented it to struggling writers. This method is particularly effective because no one feels pointed out and the strugglers see that many stronger writers opt for it too.