Plotting to Sustain Suspense

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SWBAT...use the narrative technique of building suspense by identifying how description and pacing develops experiences and events in sample passages

Big Idea

Suspense builds excitement and interest for our readers. To become a good writer we first need to learn the steps to creating suspense before we can apply it to our own stories.

Creating the Purpose

5 minutes

I start the lesson by telling my students a story about my weekend – I read the passage to model how suspense builds readers interest. It also shows them how to use red flag words (words that describe a character or story element without naming it yet - "it", "he", "something" and the magic of three (give readers three steps of suspenseful wondering before you reveal the "who" or the "what") to build the ideas W 5.5)  

After I read it, I ask them to predict the reason for the lights going out. I take responses (SL 5.1d) and then tell them that it was an electricity problem at the store and that I was so focused on my list that I didn’t hear the warnings to leave the store. Their staff had come down all aisles but because I was crouched down behind my cart they didn’t see me.   

I then introduce that this is called the suspense part of a story and it’s the part that causes readers to feel emotions due to the unknown questions and slowing down of events in this paragraph W 5.5)

Our objective today will be to identify and write suspense paragraphs using the magic of three, word referents and key words (W 5.3b) 

I use to teach this suspense lesson in one setting and then move on. Problem was that they skipped it in their final post assessment writing and went from setting to main idea. My students are writing with much better anticipation following the Barbara Maraconda "Magic of Three" strategy and the Lucy Caulikins writing advice.


Guiding the Learning

15 minutes

Now that I have my students' interest I want to help them see the value of a suspense paragraph and to begin to understand the three different ways writer’s can show it. I play the Developing Suspense powerpoint for them and pause on each slide to better explain each of the underlined words and the examples. This power point helps them to visualize how they can apply what they jknow about word referents and the magic of three to writing strong suspense sentences. I love that the examples are written at their ability levels.

I take student questions. Then, to probe further I ask them when they have seen or read suspenseful passages? I expect to get quite a few movie lines or plots from mystery books. A word of caution here – many students misinterpreted suspense with the main events leading up to the climax. To make sure they understood the difference, I share that suspense is the first paragraph before they write their main events and one that gets the readers excited about the stories. It can be excitement  surrounding a happy event, mystery involving the readers in a problem soon to happen, or even an unanticipated surprise. Its purpose is to get your readers attention and to motivate them to read your main events paragraphs (W 5.5, W 5.3b).

I introduce the worksheet Building Suspense – Magic of Three and have the back side printed with Identifying Suspense – Magic of Three. We review the first side together and I refer back to clues I used in my shopping story as examples. My students are familiar with these terms from the previous lesson and from what we teach at our school, but need to improve it to the 5th grade level of writing. 

We then turn the worksheet over and I complete the first two passages with the class and then have them finish the remaining with their partners (W 5.3b). 

Independent Practice

20 minutes

I review their results together answering questions as they come up. I introduce the Word Referents List and students create examples before I give them their independent worksheet because I know they will need to refer to the list to complete the assignment (W 5.5, W 5.3 b, SL 5.1d). This helps students to understand what they should be writing in their suspense paragraphs.  

I give students the Suspense Worksheet and have each student choose one copy and complete it using their other papers as a reference (W 5.3b, RL 5.5)).

We will be reviewing this again and apply it in the next lesson so I just am looking at them showing a beginning understanding of identifying the components of suspense. 

Closing the Loop

5 minutes

I close by calling on students to underline parts of our model worksheet projected on the board. Then I ask the class  to agree or disagree with their responses and discusses why/ why not this answer is correct identifying evidence in the passage (SL 5.1d, W 5.3b).

We continue until all sections are completed and students then turn in their own copies. Here's a sample of what a completed worksheet will look like.

This does not really give me a strong guide for who has the stronger/ weaker understanding except for what I can gauge from their discussions and shared class responses. My purpose for including so much guided steps in this lesson is that this suspense paragraph was entirely missing from almost every pre test which indicates that it is a new concept for them to learn. Knowing this I decided to adapt the lesson to give them more guidance and modeling before I had them apply the strategy to increase their understanding of what should be included and why.