Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Workshop Session 9 (Personal Narrative)

Session 9: Using Writer's Notebooks for Mindful, Goal-Driven Work


J.K. Rowling spoke at a graduation ceremony for Harvard Graduates.  This is what she chose to speak about:

On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. 

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned. 

Rowling's Entire Speech

Rowling wanted to teach people that it is best to face hard tasks, not avoid them.

Some people think of work-especially hard work as a negative thing, but we don't have to be those people.

The best writers or runners are not just born with incredible talent.  The people who become pros are people who figure out how to work at it.

"Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work."
Albert Einstein

*Successful Learners see hard tasks as challenges...
...They see failures as opportunities to learn.

We have started to try techniques from our mentor text author in our own writing - this is a solid first step! 

Now if we really want to make our writing get noticeably better, we need to deliberately practice writing in the ways that you admire.

Today I want to teach you how to use your writer's notebook as a place to deliberately practice the techniques and skills you want to see in your writing.

*Imagine a basketball player practicing layups in a gym, or a ceramic artist practicing his craft at a pottery wheel.  Now, imagine yourself, practicing a writing skill.  Instead of using gym equipment or pottery tools, you use your notebook, and your notebook becomes filled with your efforts to do that one thing better, better, better, over and over.

Let me show you what I mean...

Jim Howe zoomed in on the small but powerful details that really capture big moments and feelings.

"Smoky is inside a big old pretzel can with a hose attached, clawing at the can's sides as my brother pumps in the gas..."

**Teacher's use an example from their own writing or use the example below**

 (Author has climbed a tree in a park even though her mother warned her not to)

"Don't look down, just keep climbing-you're almost to the top," Bobby urged. I swallowed and snuck one quick look.

First attempt:
Lydia was still standing at the bottom of the tree, holding my dark, blue sandals with one hand and shielding her eyes, with the other, as she looked up at me.

These are tiny details, but not something someone would notice who is high stuck up in a tree

Second attempt:
The tree swayed slightly, and I tightened my grasp on the trunk.  A rough piece of bark dug sharply into my forearm, but I didn't dare move.

"I think I need help getting down," I shouted, my voice high and tight.  I thought about my mother's clear warning to stay out of the trees that bordered the playground.  This must be why.

"Hold on, " Bobby called.  He circled slowly around the tree and then walked towards Lydia, talking to her in a low voice.  I couldn't hear him over the rustle of the tree's leaves.  Suddenly he grabbed Lydia's arm and pulled her away from the tree.  "Run!" Bobby commanded, and they made a dash for the gate.

Writers, the author here has really tried Howe's technique of zooming in on the small details.  To do that the author really had to put herself back in the park and replay the scene in her head.

Student *Courtney's* Example:
Courney noticed that Howe does little bits of explaining between the characters talking.  This is called narrating in-between the character's dialogue. Courtney worked on showing more of what she was thinking and how her mom was acting by adding lines.

Active Engagement:
Now it's your turn.  Choose a technique that the mentor author has used that you want to use more in your writing.  Practice that craft in several places in your notebook.  

This is where you will be using the back sides of your old narrative drafts.  Reread and pull out a sentence or two that you'd like to practice improving.  

Practice the strategy you want to try in as many places as possible.

Do it purposefully though! For example, don't just throw any old sensory details into drafts at random  places... add sensory details that make sense to the moment and the narrator's point of view.

Your notebook is now going to be a place to deliberately practice writing strategies and craft, not just a place to collect new drafts.

*Remember, have your narrative checklist close by as well as your mentor text.  These are your tools that will help you practice.  They should be right next to you and easy for you to use.
*Use the charts in the room as well!

Make a new goal for yourself in your notebook.  Write it down and put a box around it.  

Tonight- keep your goal in mind as you work your writing muscles.  You may need to start a new draft, or use your notebook to practice smaller bits of writing.

"Great writers are not born and great writing does not emerge with a magic 'poof'.  Great writers and great writing come from hard work and from the courage to keep trying.  Tonight, write with courage."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Writing Workshop Session 8 (Personal Narrative)

Session 8: Flash-Drafting

Connection:  Last class you were asked to pick a seed idea that you were going to take to publishing.  Then, you rehearsed your story with your partner in order to help you bring your story to life.  Today, you are going to try and capture the best of those rehearsals by flash-drafting.

Today you will venture outside your notebooks, working on clean sheets of paper to create the first draft of your story.  Your job will be to write fast and furious in order to get your entire story done today.  These first drafts won’t be perfect- they never are- but I’ll give you some tips for doing them in such a way that capture the truth of your small moment on the page.    

Tips For Flash-Drafting
  • Aim to get the first draft down, regardless of whether it’s your best writing or not
  • Relive the story in your mind before you start writing, remembering the best of your rehearsals    
  • Listen and watch as the story unfolds in your mind, trying to remember what you can’t quite recall
  • Work silently and intently, holding yourself to the highest of standards 

(Have students stand)
Active Engagement:  Take a moment to reread your story in your writer’s notebook and recall your rehearsals (story telling to your partner) and then give me a thumbs up when you are done.  
(As students signal, send them back to their spots to write their flash-draft.) 

Share:  To celebrate today’s achievements, you will share your flash-draft with a small group.  When it’s your turn to read, don’t start until you have everyone’s eyes on you.  Make sure to read it like gold with lots of expression.  When it’s your turn to listen, try to lose yourself in the story you are about to hear.  Try to see and feel this powerful small moment just as the writer tells it. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Writing Worksop Session 7(Personal Narrative)

Rehearsing    Experimenting with Beginnings


Today is the start of the 2nd bend in the unit and your writing work is going to change. 

Writers, today is an exciting day! Today instead of generating new personal narratives, you will need to look over your collection of stories and choose just one.  

Writers often call that a...

Seed Idea

...meaning you will nourish and grow that seed idea into a published piece of writing.  

I'm sure it is daunting to wrap you mind around all you have written and choose just 1.  

This is the time when you have to really pay attention to the little voice as you reread-the one that whispers that there is just something about this story, that this story idea has the potential to become a really important piece of writing.  Remember, that does NOT mean that the personal narrative is already an incredible piece of writing.  It might just be an idea that you think you can develop into a powerful and meaningful story.  

Reread your notebooks and start to notice which stories could be your seed idea.  

Writers, please take  a paper clip and mark your seed idea.

Congratulations, writers, and welcome to your seed idea.

*Most writers don't just pick a story idea and then write the book; they get ready to write by rehearsing.

Partner 1: Tell the story that is your seed idea (DO NOT READ) I want to hear you using the same dramatic storytelling voice you use in the hallway, when something unbelievable has just happened to you and you bump into your best friend and tell them alllll about it.

Partner 2: Lean in and expect to get goose bumps! 

As you tell your stories, you start to figure out what you want to show about your characters and how you want to make your partner react to certain parts of the story......That is exactly why we might story-tell our story before we put it on paper.  

Tell your story about your bike accident.

Today I want to teach you that writers also rehearse for writing by trying  out several different leads.  

Writers, you know how much the first sentences or paragraphs of a story--what writers call the lead--matter.  The 1st bit of text on a page has a BIG job of grabbing the reader's attention, making the reader want to put everything else aside so he can just  read, read, read.  

Authors try out different leads, looking for the one that will set them up to write a great story.  

Look at our mentor author, Jim Howe, and see what he did at the start of 'Everything Will Be Okay' that makes his lead so powerful.  

Remember, whenever a story takes your breath away, that is your cue to pause and study the writer's moves. 

GOAL: to bring all that you can learn from your mentor text into YOUR own personal narrative writing.  

Show 1st page of "Everything Will Be Okay" on doc cam and read as students follow along.

ASK: What is he doing at the start -the lead- of this story that I can try?

The 1st thing I'm noticing is that he is right in the moment of his story, recalling and zooming in on those tiny details that must have actually caught his attention at the time: the missing fur, the leaky eyes, the stick-skinny body.  How must he have really replayed the scene in his mind bit by bit, to remember what he saw and felt at that time, for those details to ring so true?  

I also notice that, in his head, Howe has the narrator talking to the kitten in his mind, telling him how lucky he is and how he feels about the neighborhood kids.  This inner thinking, right at the start of the story, certainly pulls me into his world and makes me curious about him.  It makes me want to keep reading!


I think what is really powerful about his inner thinking at the start of the story is the way it allows him to drop some hints about what his story might really be about. 

When he is talking about how David & Claude can be mean, it seems like he is showing us that this is a lonely time in his life.  Right from the lead that the narrator could really use a little more love in his life-even from a scrawny, sick kitten.   

What I notice is that leads can pull us right into the story by including very precise details from the moment.  It looks like leads can also include the main character thinking in a way that touches on the heart of the story.  

Chart: Techniques for Writing Memorable Leads (pg 65)

Active Engagement:

Look at Howe's lead again as we reread it.  Get ready to to tell your partner one thing you noticed he did that you could try...

A quick share of findings and add observations to chart.  


 Remember, today I wanted to teach you that writers also rehearse for writing by trying out several different leads.  

Writers, when you go off to write today, try a few different leads:
  • dialogue
  • inner thinking
  • smallest details of the moment
  • precise character actions
Example Notebook Page of Leads

Share: Partners read your best lead  in your best storytelling voice.  Listen for how the writer grabs you and makes you want to hear the rest of the story.  

Choose the lead that you think would be best for setting you up to tell your story really, really well.  Does that mean you will need to write a couple more leads, to have more leads to choose from? Maybe you will.  Or maybe you may want to go back and reread 'Everything Will Be Okay' to see what other techniques you might try for starting a story.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Writing Workshop Session 6 (Personal Narrative)

Taking Stock ~ Pausing to Assess and Set Goals

Look at the Writing on Demand Personal Narrative you did at the beginning of this writing unit.

Compare your first personal narrative attempt to ones that you've been writing in recent entries.

How can you make your writing better?  By setting high goals for yourselves and then work like crazy to reach those goals.

Video on Goal Setting

 Today I want to teach you how helpful it is to pause at times and to reflect on the progress you've made as writers.  You can use a checklist to guide you as you look back on your writing and ask, "In what ways am I getting better?"  and "What is the next thing I can work on improving?"

Teach how to use the checklist
Pass out the Narrative Writing Checklist:

Use Checklist with the story: 
Look up and Watch the Show

Don't just say yes or no when using the checklist to assess a piece of writing.  Find specific places where you see the author doing that work and jot down what you see in the margin
(Day 2)
With a partner, work together using the checklist to read/assess one of your personal narrative drafts that have been written.

  • Be super supportive
  • Help your partner notice where good work happened in the draft

Now switch and read a draft from the other person's collection

Today make a goal based on what you've learned.
Will you...
  1. Go back and revise an old narrative?
  2. Start a new narrative with new goals fresh in your mind?
*Note - this is going to be your final opportunity to brainstorm and write personal narrative drafts ~ Next WW Session we will be picking one personal narrative as a seed idea that you will work on for the next couple of weeks.

Add to the poster:

How can you keep track of your writing goals?
*Make a dated T-Chart list - date on one side, what your goals are on the other
*Use multiple copies of the checklist - circle areas you want to improve upon, cross out areas you've worked on them.

Write a new 1.5 page narrative draft

Tonight's homework will be one last chance to write a drop-dead powerful story.  Use any of the strategies we've talked about for generating what to write about.  Remember to write about small moments!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Writing Workshop Session 5 (Personal Narrative)

Reading Closely to Learn From Other Authors


Apprentices are always trying to imagine the process behind the finished product.

Here is a metaphor to help illustrate this idea.

If you have ever seen my lunch, you would come to realize that I am a serious "foodie".  So, when I eat at a restaurant or a friend's house, I am in research mode!  The bubble above my head sounds something like this "Hmm...that's an interesting presentation for the salad.  It looks like the vegetables have been shaved with some kind micro-peeler to create these translucent ribbon shapes.  And would you look at this sprinkle of purple and red carrots? The colors contrast so nicely with the greens in the salad.  I am going to remember this technique."

I won't simply copy the dishes I admire, but rather bring some of the chef's method into my own cooking.  That chef will influence the taste and sight of my dishes.

This is what writers do--study other authors' published writing in the same way I study professional chef dishes--to learn the new tricks of the trade.

Today I want to teach you that writers read other authors' text not only to experience the character's story, but also to admire, study, and emulate the quality of writing.


When a story has deeply moved you or taken your breath away, this is your cue to pause and to study what the writer did that was so powerful.  

You should ask yourself:
  • What makes this writing so powerful and amazing?
  • How did the author make this?
*The goal is to bring all that you learn from your mentor text into your own writing*

We will read a story that not only has a compelling topic, but was also written with incredible craft.

The first time I read it, I just want you to experience the story.
Then, we will reread the story and study the parts that are especially powerful.

Read "Everything Will Be Okay" by James Howe aloud. 
(students follow along on their copy)

Now let's reread this next section and circle important parts as we go.

“Come on,” Paul says in his take-charge voice, “get that box now. Bring it on in here.”

He flicks on the light in the waiting room. “You’re coming in back with me,” he commands. “I’ll need your help.”

“What are you going to do?” I ask. I am holding the box tight against my chest. I feel Smoky moving around inside.

“What do you think?” he says. “You heard your mother. That kitten is sick, bad sick.” 

This section affects me as reader.  What do you think of Paul?  How about Jim?  How does the craftsmanship of this section get through to you?

The author uses dialogue in a way that lets you know that Paul is condescending and insensitive.  

Let me reread a bit of Paul's talk to you and you can see how his tone comes through in the dialogue

(Make your voice impatient and bossy)

         "Come on, get that box now.  Bring it in here." 

(Then, make your voice slightly more exasperated)

         "What do you think? You heard your mother."

It seems as though the author really thinks about the kind of person the character is, and then based on what he wants to reveal about the character, he makes the character talk in a particular way.  

(Make Chart) 

(Students make in writers notebook too)

Lessons from Mentor Narratives

  •  When characters talk, writers make them say the words and use the tone that show their personalities and hints at the bigger meaning of the moment

Active engagement: 

Let's continue to study more of "Everything Will be Okay".  As I read to you, I want you to try to listen like a reader and a writer, meaning that you should let this part of the story affect you.  You should follow up with asking "How can I do that in my writing?"  Jot down anything you notice onto your copy.

“She’s your mother, too.”
“Well, she happens to be right,” Paul tells me. “With an animal that far gone, you don’t have a choice. It’s got to be put to sleep.”
I think the tears I jam back into my body are going to kill me. I think if I don’t let them out they will kill me. But I won’t let them out. I won’t let Paul see.
“You do have a choice” is all I say. I hug the box for dear life and move to the door. Paul moves faster.
“Come on now” he says, gently taking hold of my arm, “be a man.” “I’m not a man,” I tell him. “I don’t want to be.”
“You’ve got to do what’s right. That kitten is half dead as it is.” “Then it’s half alive, too.”
He shakes his head. “You always have to one-up me, don’t you?” he says.
I don’t know what he means, but I do know that no matter what I say he is going to do what he wants to do.
A few minutes later, we are in the back room. The box is empty. Smoky is inside a big old pretzel can with a hose attached, clawing at the can’s sides as my brother pumps in the gas.
He is telling me it is good for me to watch this, it will toughen me up, help me be more of a
man. Then he starts to lecture me about different methods of putting animals out of their misery, but all I can hear is the scratching. And then the silence.
On your own, study this part closely to figure out what the author has done that you could try in your writing.  Then, share with your partner. 

Who would like to share their ideas with the group??
(add ideas to mentor narrative chart)

Lessons from Mentor Narratives

  • When characters talk, writers make them say the words and use the tone that show their personalities and hints at the bigger meaning of the moment
  • Writers explain why the characters act the way they do
  • Writers zoom in on the small, but powerful details that really capture big moments and feelings


Today we learned that when writers read the work of other authors, they first read to experience the story.  They then reread the text, asking themselves, "What did this author do that I could try in my writing?"  When you go off today, you want to read over "Everything Will Be Okay" and try to find new lessons that you can take away.  

I can't wait to see how you'll use some of the new techniques you've learned from studying a mentor text!


Start a new personal narrative (1 1/2 pages) and try to use a particular technique you just learned from your mentor text.