Serial Writing: Getting the First Words On Paper

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SWBAT write narratives using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences by applying their knowledge of Dickens, and narratives in general, to their own storyline.

Big Idea

Putting their own stories on paper empowers teenagers.

Famous First Words

15 minutes

Before I direct the class to write independently, we will discuss this list of famous first lines from classic novels. All of the examples were taken from online lists of the best opening sentences. I will go around the room, asking each student to read one line. At the end we will briefly talk as a group about which lines we like and why.

I like this opening activity because it makes the act of writing less daunting. They see that a writer can approach the process from a variety of ways and engage his or her reader with a quick and snappy sentence or a more mysterious and even philosophical one (W.9-10.3d). The discussion helps them vocalize what type of writing they like, because even if they know what they like to read, they may never have put it into words before. This vocalization is the first step to writing, for many of them.

Getting Down to Work

35 minutes

Students will have their graphic organizers and character descriptions on their desk as they start to work. We only work on these narratives once a week, so these resources remind us of earlier work and help direct the writing (W.9-10.3).

For the next 35 minutes, I will insist on silent writing. I expect that I will need to be stern for the first five minutes, while they settle down and start writing, but that then they will work without interruption. They do not have to meet a certain length of writing, nor do they even have to write chronologically, if they don't want to at this point; they just need to write. In the end, this will be an edited and polished piece, but they have to start somewhere. I will walk around the room intermittently, but I don't want to distract them, so I expect that most of the time I will sit among them and work.

I expect that most students will write about two pages in this time. I expect that they will introduce the characters that we worked on in the last class (W.9-10.3d) and that most will identify, if not resolve, the first conflict (W.9-10.3a). I will collect their work at the end of the period, so that I can use it to best determine the most appropriate next step in the process. Here are a few samples.

Exit Tickets

10 minutes

I want to make sure that the students and I are on the same page throughout this project. Therefore I'm going to ask for an exit ticket, through which I aim to gauge their interest levels. They will answer these three questions:

1. What do you like about this project?

2. What parts have been challenging so far?

3. What questions/concerns/comments do you have for me?


In the up-coming lessons, we will continue to write and then we will do some peer editing before handing in a final story. For peer editing, I plan on giving students a check-list to use as a guide while they read, so that they are focused while reading their peers' stories.