In a previous lesson, students began planning a narrative about the life story of an artifact found when they participated in a mock archaeology dig a few days ago. During this lesson they will move through the writing process to produce a final copy of their story, which will be added to a class collection. Students enjoy having their work published in this way. They take greater care in their work when they know others going to read it, especially their own peers.
The Common Core State Standards call for students to become well-rounded individuals who write different types of text (argumentative, informative, and narrative) for a variety of purposes and audiences. The objective for this day’s lesson is to follow the writing process to write a narrative with a connection to social studies content and with the teacher and classmates as the intended audience. The most engaging element is its connection to a real experience. It was rewarding to see the level of enthusiasm generated by the assignment and it has inspired me to continue to take advantage of such opportunities. Of course, the downside of such teachable moments, as they are called, is that they require a willingness to make changes to lesson plans on the fly and to put in extra time preparing these lessons. The final product will determine if it was worthwhile.
The class begins with a check in of the homework: a completed plan for the story. Students are encouraged to share their plans with others at their table group. They open up the notes from yesterday’s class and refer to this checklist:
It is encouraging to note that the conversation was lively and on topic. One group of students decided to color code the elements from the list, which I thought was particularly useful and had them share that idea with the rest of the class.
After checking in with each group, our attention turned to the large chart created the previous class with writing process listed in this order:
We moved the sticky note from ‘Plan’ to ‘Write to Rough Draft’ to mark our progress. Writing is a complex process that takes time and requires concentration. Therefore, the students would spend the rest of the period working quietly. If that was not encouragement enough, the knowledge that the completed stories were due the next day worked on the few remaining stragglers that continued to chat.
Students could choose to write their the story on lined paper in spiral notebooks or to use a writing app on their iPads, such as Pages, Notability or Google Drive. In order to make the editing process easier for those using paper, I require that they double-space their rough drafts. It always surprises me how many forget, though, because I know this is a requirement in the younger grades also. So I check on those students right away to make sure they are on track.
As I circulate the room, I check for students that are off to a particularly good start with a well-developed plot line. Only after 15-20 minutes of silent writing time do I ask them to read aloud as an example for others. It really helps the other students to hear the good writing of their peers. They are challenged to do better by the fluency and creative description they hear. All of a sudden, the importance of a logical flow of plot events becomes more meaningful. A few good examples from their classmates does more good than a thousand well-developed stories from me.
At the same time, as I make my way around the room I identify a few struggling students to work with individually or in small groups that have similar problems. The most common problem is getting stuck with the plot line as it moves from the present to the past and then back to the present. Once corrections are made to this framework, they are ready to work on their own again. Another stumbling block comes in the way students incorporate the vocabulary terms related to the archaeology. Some have even forgotten altogether and I realize that it would have been helpful to have a checklist for these students to refer to throughout the process.
After about 35 minutes, many of the students are moving to the revising stage. They read over their own work with a critical eye and give it a passing mark only to be surprised when a peer reviews their story and finds places where the plot is unclear or illogical and that elements, such as a conclusion, are missing. Then it’s back to revising again and again until the work says just what the author intends; that’s the beauty of the writing process.
At first, I thought that we may need to spend another day on the writing process but the students applied themselves to the task and worked diligently during class so the extra time was not needed. I have attached a few exemplars for your review. Happy reading!