Writing Bit by Bit

Well, I finally took Lucy Calkins' advice and adapted a 3rd grade lesson for 4th grade to teach bit by bit writing. She knows best, right?

I started by telling students that good writers try to slow their reader down so that they can experience the moment with them and they do that by telling every little action. I referred back to our lesson on Reporting vs. Storytelling to explain that those kinds of details get the reader to pay close attention to the action.

I read Come on, Rain! by Karen Hesse. It's a cute story, but I wanted to make sure we were reading for the right purpose. So before I started reading, I said, "I know when you usually listen to a story, you're talking about the characters, making predictions, and feeling the emotions of the story. Today, I want you to wear your writer's hat and listen for the craft moves the author takes. We're listening for how Karen Hesse helps slow us down and hear every action bit by bit." (Some of them even pantomimed putting on a new hat!)

I stopped first to point out some things I noticed that the author did as she wrote to help the reader see and feel the action. On the next page, I turned the book around so the students couldn't see the pictures and I asked them to close their eyes and imagine what I read. When they opened their eyes, I asked them to give me some examples of the storytelling elements Hesse had used to slow her reader down and tell the story bit by bit. This was a little difficult for them, but a lot of hands went up. They are motivated to learn and read like writers. This is definitely something I will do in the future.

When I finished Come on, Rain!, I showed them the novel I had been reading, Underground Airlines. I was planning this lesson in the back of my mind when I was reading this book at home and lo and behold, there on the first page was a perfect bit by bit paragraph. While the book itself is not appropriate for all ages, the paragraph was a perfect example of this lesson, so I read that to the class and had them imagine all the actions in their heads. It was a good way to connect a "kid's book" to their writing and on to a fully formed published novel.

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