What Would Published Authors Do?

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SWBAT analyze a short story for effective writing strategies in the personal narrative genre.

Big Idea

Student writers learn that they can "copy" what published authors do, only if they pay close attention to the strategies published authors use.


10 minutes

“Do I have to do that? I already know exactly what I want to write about. I wrote my draft, I’m done with my story.” These are things I often hear as I guide students through a writing unit. I often will respond, “These strategies and skills are things that published authors and writers use in their own writing. We are learning to be great writers.” They listen but walk away, not necessarily believing what I say.


This lesson allows them to make a connection between what I’ve taught and expected them to do in their writing and what published authors and writers have done.


I start by rereading a short story that I’ve used in previous lessons. The story is called “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros from her book Woman Hollowering Creek. Its a short story about getting older and also experiences all of the feelings and emotions of the previous years told through an experience of a 12 year-old girl in school. I also display the chart of writing strategies that we have been creating, referring to, and adding to. I show them that I’m looking for things that this author does the matches what we have written on our writing strategies chart as well as any strategy that I might add to the list that the author does well.



I read the story out loud and then go through the list telling them what the strategy is and where I found it in the story. I then add that the author in this story described in detail exactly what happened in a step by step way.

With a Peer

10 minutes

After I demonstrate how to read a piece of writing and analyze it for qualities of writing, I provide a second short story and ask that students work in pairs to do what I just did. I want them to read the story out loud to each other and then discuss and write down what they believe that the author has done that made the story an interesting one to read. They may also add new ideas to the list if any came up.

 The story should be about a page to two pages long. More than that will be too much for students to read and comprehend for this part of the lesson. I try to choose short stories from memoirs or authors I like. Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros is full of great story. Although the book is an adult book so read closely and choose wisely before giving to children.


After they finished reading, I ask a few students to share what they found and gauge understanding by asking other students to raise their thumbs in the air if they got something similar to the ideas that are shared. If there are any new ideas that are helpful, I add those to the chart as well.

On Your Own

5 minutes

Finally, I ask them to do it one more time with a third piece of writing but this time on their own. I want to check for understanding and I want them to feel confident in the ability to find successes in other pieces of writing.


 Another great place to look for short stories is from the children version of Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul by Jack Canfield.

Just like the previous part of the lesson, they must write down with they believe the author is doing that is successful.


5 minutes

After everyone has read and taken notes, I ask a few students to share ideas about what they think authors did well. I call on a few students share what they learn about writing qualities and then I write up what they said on the poster. After the share, I remind students that many authors have mentors or coaches that help them refine how they write. As long as they don’t plagiarize, it is very useful to have an author they really like and then to pay attention to what you can try from their writing.