Trip to the Nation's Capital

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TSWBAT write creative narratives about an attraction they visit in Washington, D.C. and then compare and contrast their story with another student's.

Big Idea

Research, before writing, to give depth to the story.

Warm Up

10 minutes

Creative Writing...what a perfect form of writing for a child!  I'd guess it's the style they've used since they first put their thoughts on paper- or in the case of digital natives- put their thoughts onto ipads. Due to my own joy of writing stories as an child- and how excited I was when the teacher gave such an assignment, I often present this pure form of writing in my own classroom. I'm aware that not all kids enjoy writing, but with varied ideas, and unique writing hooks, my hope is they'll at least like it a little better.

The lesson I'm presenting today is more than instructing them to pen a story of their choice.  In addition to writing creatively, they must first research an actual location as the setting for their tale. Using W.5.3 developing real or imagined experiences, and combining it with W.5.7, which is conducting short research projects, they create a story of their own that's dependent on facts.  This is a great way to incorporate writing and research skills.  Although the students will pick their own specific location, everyone will be choosing a place in the nation's capital city, Washington, D.C. Choice is a wonderful thing, but there is a lot to be said for a focus.  Narrowing the kids' possibilites to "somewhere in Washington, D.C." centers them.

After I present the assignment, it's time to brainstorm a list of attractions they think of when they hear, Washington, D.C.  Here they initially brainstorm some ideas.  The responses are fast and furious as the kids name all of the landmarks and historical buildings they can think of. I give them a copy of the travel website list Looking at Wash, D.C. attractions before going to library ahead of time. Once we get to the library, they use it as a resource to center on a list of places their setting could be.


20 minutes

We're in the library using the trip advisor website.  I give the students a list of "Things to do in Washington, D.C."  Their task is to initially select two or three from the list. They research their choices using books (A chance to find books without searching!) or the internet  to gain a better understanding of the location.  The internet also provides opportunities I hadn't thought of.  For instance, in addition to researching the location, in many cases they have the option of visiting it virtually (A Virtual Tour of Ford's Theater) before deciding which they will choose as the focus.

The components of this activity are unique enough, and interesting enough to engage the kids.  I knew they'd enjoy it as least as much as any other creative writing opportunity, but I am pleasantly surprised at their enthusiasm.  Nearly everyone is excited, right from the beginning.  One of my most reluctant writers is not, however.  As the other students get into their research, ("Maybe biographies will help...").  I speak with him one-on-one about ideas.  He asks, probably in jest, about developing a story about the "Zombie Apocolypse" in Ford's Theater.  To his surprise, I tell him it's a great idea as long as he researches Ford's Theater and uses factual information.  Although to some it may sound inappropriate to allow such a topic, seeing this student dive into the project with enthusiasm is exactly what I'm going for.  


30 minutes

Once we're back in the classroom, the writing process begins (Using notes to write her Wash, D.C. story). They use library books they just checked out, encyclopedias, the internet, and smartphones to put information in order and start organizing their ideas. I pass around a piece of notebook paper with NAME and SETTING.  My purpose in this list is to organize the kids into "like" groups for the comparing and contrasting activity that comes next. (List of student names and Wash, D.C. setting of story)

When the kids originally brainstormed location ideas, I saw my February trip to Washington, D.C. made an impact.  The lesson I presented when I returned, Artifact Share, had an influence because each place I visited was on the list. This makes me happy as it indicates how well they were listening, and they found the information valuable. I challenged them to come up with new locations after our trip to the library. As it happened, most settings remained a place I'd visited, which was fine because I went to a lot of the "biggies."  Of all, Ford's Theater is the most popular setting.  In addition to my firsthand story of it, we're learning about Lincoln and the Civil War in Social Studies, so it's a natural interest to them at this time.


15 minutes

Stories are written, and I'm eager to put them into location groups (My Six Groups). I narrow the topics into six settings: National Archives National Archives Pair, Arlington Cemetrary Arlington Cemetary Pair, The White House The White House Group, Ford's Theater A Ford's Theater Group and Another Ford's Theater Group and Yet Another Ford's Theater Group, United States Capitol U.S. Capitol Pair, and those that don't fit the others- Eclectic Eclectic Group. The kids are automatically aligned with others who wrote about the same place. In the case of Ford's Theater, I had to create three separate groups to keep it manageable, so I take all of the Ford's Theater kids and pull sticks to determine what kids they work with.

They read the Washington, D.C. Stories to one another and compare similarities and differences with someone in their group using a Venn Diagram (Comparing Ford's Theater with a Venn ). For the kids who were the sole writers of their famous attraction, the Eclectic group, they follow suit with the Venn Diagram, but they compare more about the locations themselves, rather than the specifics of the story. 

Comparing Ford's Theater with a Venn

Close-up of a Comparison

Story Comparisons

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