A part of great writing is narrowing in on a specific topic. The Standards tell us argumentative claims must be precise (W.9-10.1), informative texts should be explained accurately through effective selection (W.9-10.2) and narrative writing must have well-chosen details (W.9-10.3). This means students need to be able to zoom in on a broad topic and identify the well-chosen topic on which to write. Education researcher Lucy Calkin has identified this need and aptly named it developing a seed story. On her website she identifies the need to this important skill and lists it as a unit of study for 3-5th graders. I've taken her ideas and with the help of National Writing Project, I've developed a lesson for 10th grade English. Today, I ask students to develop their writing by planning for a specific purpose; a narrative moment (W.9-10.5)
I'll tell students,
Yesterday, you created a heart map. Please get out your heart map and choose one of the topics that you might enjoy writing about. I'll give you 45 seconds to choose. Then, I will ask that you share your topic aloud with the class.
I'll ask each student to quickly share out their topic.
I explain to students,
All of the topics you shared are great. Since they come from your heart, I have no idea you will be able to write about them well. Our objective today is to zoom in on a topic and identify a seed topic. Think about your entire topic as a watermelon. Your goal today is to identify a small seed within the watermelon that signifies a small part of the memory. That equals a great topic. First, I'll share how I found a seed story out of my watermelon tale.
Last year I went to Washington DC for the first time [as I recount this story, I add an outline to the white board. This teacher outline example is a picture of what I put on the board and teacher explanation of outline is a video explanation]. It was an amazing experience. The Nation's Capital is a magical place. While I was there, I went to numerous museums, the Capital Building, The White House, Dupont Circle, and my favorite, The Holocaust museum. While at the Museum, there were many interesting exhibits including the he anti-Jewish books for children at the time; the room of discarded shoes and luggage; the room of portraits. However, the most impactful was the listening room. More specifically, the listening room where I held a book that told the stories of Holocaust survivors. While holding this book, I listened to the survivors tell their stories.
Students, notice what I did, I began with a watermelon story, my trip to Washington DC and ended with a seed story; sitting in the listening room of the Holocaust Museum.
Its important to know that great writers focus their writing. They zoom in and write with detail about small moments.
I explain to students:
Students, today you are going to strengthen your writing by addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose (W.9-10.5) You will take two of your heart map topics and reduce them from watermelon stories to seed stories. I want you to create a graphic like the one I did on the board. Really think about what significant part of your memory you want to focus on.
While you're working, I will walk around and confer with many of you. During this collaborative discussion (SL.9-10.1), I will be asking you specific questions about your topic.
I confer with students because I want them to practice collaborative discussions. This early in the school year, we need practice building the expectation of student-teacher communication.
I'm not going to collect these graphic organizers of their seed stories. Rather, I will ask students to place them immediately behind their heart map, in their notebook. Throughout the year, when students struggle to get started with their writing assignments, I will ask them to pull out both of these activities. They will help them remember great memories and experiences that they can write about.