The Writing Workshop

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2 A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR The Writing Workshop Grade 7 Common Core Reading and Writing Workshop Lucy Calkins and Colleagues from The Reading and Writing Project HEINEMANN PORTSMOUTH, NH

3 An imprint of Heinemann 361 Hanover Street Portsmouth, NH Offices and agents throughout the world 2011 by Lucy Calkins All rights reserved. This material may be printed solely for individual, noncommercial use. Copyright notice and other proprietary notice must be included with any material printed. Reproduction of any material within this site for any commercial purpose is prohibited without written permission from the Publisher. Dedicated to Teachers is a trademark of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. ISBN-13: ISBN-10: EDITORS: Kate Montgomery and Teva Blair PRODUCTION: Patty Adams TYPESETTER: Publishers Design and Production Services, Inc. COVER AND INTERIOR DESIGNS: Jenny Jensen Greenleaf COVER PHOTOTOGRAPHY: Peter Cunningham,

4 Contents OVERVIEW OF THE YEAR FOR SEVENTH-GRADE WRITERS UNIT 1: Memoir UNIT 2: Realistic Fiction/Social Action Fiction UNIT 3: Informational Writing: Nonfiction Books UNIT 4: Research-Based Argument (Persuasive) Essays UNIT 5: Historical Fiction UNIT 6: Literary Essay: Analyzing Texts for Meaning, Craft, and Tone UNIT 7: Writing Prompted Essays for the NYS 2011 ELA Exam UNIT 8: Poetry UNIT 9: Independent Writing: Launching a Summer of Writing A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7, iii

5 Overview of the Year for Seventh-Grade Writers SEPTEMBER OCTOBER NOVEMBER DECEMBER JANUARY FEBRUARY/MARCH MARCH/APRIL MAY JUNE UNIT 1: Memoir UNIT 2: Realistic Fiction/Social Action Fiction UNIT 3: Informational Writing: Nonfiction Books UNIT 4: Research-Based Argument (Persuasive) Essays UNIT 5: Historical Fiction UNIT 6: Literary Essay: Analyzing Texts for Meaning, Craft, and Tone UNIT 7: Writing Prompted Essays for the NYS 2011 ELA Exam UNIT 8: Poetry UNIT 9: Independent Writing: Launching a Summer of Writing The calendar starts with this overview of essential structures and assessment tools. Following in the calendar is a complete description of each unit of study that we hope will prepare you to teach these units with grace and expertise. We have differentiated units across grades in middle school, so that while sixth grade, for instance, launches with Raising the Level of Personal Narrative, seventh grade moves to memoir, and eighth grade begins collecting toward application essays. Of course, as you assess and get to know your readers, you might decide that you and your grade level colleagues want to incorporate a writing unit from an alternate grade. You ll notice the influence of the Common Core State Standards on these A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

6 units of study kids will need repeated practice and expert instruction to reach these standards, so we ve thought carefully about the sequence of lessons and of units. Nevertheless, you ll need to base your curricular decisions on your assessment of your students, and we encourage you to adapt and modify. We do encourage you to make these decisions as a grade, so that the grade above you can depend on the instruction and writing growth generated through your choices. And you may, of course, invent your own units. We d love to hear your suggestions for variations! If you devise a new unit of study that you are willing to share with other teachers, please send it to us at: The narrative for each unit should give you enough information to plan ahead. It will recommend some touchstone texts, for instance, and it will help you foresee and have a deep understanding of the probable arcs of your teaching. At the end of the unit, you ll also find a new toolkit of teaching points for the unit. The teaching points fit within an overarching path, within which are some bends in the road basically the smaller parts of the unit. The teaching points sometimes refer to lessons in Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3 5. These lessons may be helpful to you in your planning. Of course, you ll want to adapt the stories you tell and your discourse to your adolescent audience. We also think you may find Katherine Bomer s Writing a Life, Roy Peter Clark s 50 Tools for Writers, and Tom Romano s Crafting Authentic Voice useful as you teach middle school writers. This year we revised the teaching points to be sure they address a middle school audience, and we have several new units as well. There are a couple of units that may be helpful to content area teachers. The information writing unit is easily taught in science and social studies as well as language arts. In addition, in seventh grade, there is a new unit on research-based argument essays, which is also easily adapted to science and social studies. This curricular calendar suggests one possible way of imagining the writing curriculum for middle school classrooms across a school. You will see that we suggest month-long units of study, and that the design of this suggested curriculum places a premium on supporting adolescents growing abilities to write narrative and expository pieces. This curricular calendar takes into account the New York State ELA exam, and the state s standards; if you teach in a different state, you will need to adjust this sequence of work according to your state s assessments. Remember that we present this calendar as one optional and suggested progression. We are aware that you and your colleagues may well make choices that are different than those we present here, and we welcome those choices. This yearlong course of study is part of a K 8 spiraling curriculum in which students receive instruction in narrative, expository, informational, poetic, and procedural writing across their school experience. This instruction enables students to work in each of these fundamental modes with increasing sophistication and decreasing reliance on scaffolds. For example, first graders write small moment stories by recalling an event and retelling it across their fingers, whereas third graders do similar work at a more advanced level when they make and revise time lines, asking What is the heart of my story? and elongating that section of the story. Fourth and fifth graders, however, may plot narratives against the graphic organizer of a story moun- A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

7 tain, with the goal of including two small moments (or scenes), and they revise the pieces so that beginnings and ends relate to what the story is really about. Stories by middle school students expand more globally, making statements about what matters in the world. In a similar manner, from kindergarten through eighth grade, students become progressively more capable of writing expository texts, until they can write college essays with grace and power. While the suggested curriculum varies according to grade level, supporting increasing sophistication and independence, it is also true that the essential skills of great writers remain consistent whether the writer is seven years old, seventeen, or seventy for that matter. All of us try again and again to write with focus, detail, grace, structure, clarity, insight, honesty, and increasing control of conventions, and all of us do so by rehearsing, planning, studying exemplary texts, drafting, rereading, revising, reimagining, and editing. There is nothing haphazard in this sequence of units of study for writing. On the other hand, nothing matters more in your teaching than your own personal investment in it. Modify this plan as you see fit so that you feel a sense of ownership over your teaching. We do encourage you, however, to work in sync with colleagues on your grade level so that your teaching can benefit from the group s cumulative knowledge. Ideally, this will mean that your grade level meetings can be useful occasions for swapping minilessons, lesson planning in ways that inform your teaching, assessing students work, and planning ways to respond to their needs. Writers Notebooks and Independent Writing Lives One of the crucial elements of the writing workshops described here is the writer s notebook. It s in the notebook that students will collect moments and experiment with writing craft. They ll rehearse stories, gather research, reflect, and make plans. You ll want to make sure that all your writers have notebooks that suit them as writers some prefer plain, some like to decorate, some like narrow lines, some prefer wide, some prefer a digital form. You can provide composition books, which are around 50 cents when purchased in bulk at most supply stores, or students can choose, find, or make the notebook that most makes them want to write. We just want them to write they should get to choose the surface/medium. Your writers will really develop in stamina, fluency, and skill when you conceive of the notebook as the place where we write a lot, we write often, and we use our newest skills. That is, tell your students that the notebook in October should look profoundly different than it did in September. All the writing craft we work on in drafting and revising in September, we incorporate on-the-run in our notebook entries in October, and from then on. So the notebook is the place where we are changing as a writer. It s also where we get the most volume of writing. Just as runners get better by running, and piano players by practicing, writing becomes easier the more we do it. Every professional writer says that it takes discipline, not just natural gifts, to write. So you ll want to decide how much you want your students to write, outside of school, and then A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

8 help students to meet these goals. If students have to write even ten or fifteen minutes a night, that s between one and two pages of writing. If they do that five days a week, that s ten to twenty pages a week, which is hundreds of pages across the school year. The student who has been held to this standard will be a profoundly different writer than one who only writes in class. You ll also want to decide what students write in the notebook. In class, they ll often be collecting toward a genre study, such as memoir, or realistic fiction, or essay. Sometimes they ll want to continue this work at home. Sometimes they ll want to experiment with craft lessons you ve taught, for homework. All this continuation work is good. It s also important, though, that students conceive of themselves as independent writers and decide what kind of writing they want to do in their notebooks and then do a lot of it. Encourage your students to continue writing anecdotes, vignettes from their lives, all year, so that they keep learning how to use writing to make sense of their lives, and get lots of practice in telling their own stories with purpose, craft, and power. You may find that some of your writers really want to experiment with fiction as well. You ll have secret graphic novelists, fantasy writers, gossip girls, narrative poets, and so on. Others will want to write nonfiction, including articles and books. If you do decide to open up their genre choices for their independent writing homework, you ll often get lots of writing volume. Here s the thing, though you also have to make some time in the curriculum for kids to come out of their notebooks and publish some of this independent writing. When writers know that they ll be able to publish some pages of their graphic novel (or the whole novel across the year), or scenes from their fantasy story, or a series of small books that are ghost stories, they write more, and they hold themselves to higher levels of craft. We do recommend, therefore, that you find some time to help students work on independent writing for homework. Teach some lessons on going on as a writer, and on pursuing the writing you re passionate about. Show them how to collaborate if they wish, and how to find mentor texts to raise their craft up. Give some time in class toward growing as an independent writer, and you ll find that your students have reasons to incorporate the craft and structure lessons they re learning in their genre studies. Then make some publishing opportunities, a few times a year. You can either publish all at the same time, or you can have a rotating schedule, and a publishing wall that students are in charge of. Hold your kids to high standards. Have your poets create anthologies, themed chapbooks, or poetic novels. Have your graphic novelists make versions of books that already exist, and originals. Have your fiction writers create series. Encourage them to write a lot; instill a sense that their independent writing lives matter. You may find Colleen Cruz s Independent Writing helpful as you plan independent writing as a strand of the curriculum. You may also want to meet with colleagues and decide on how much time you can protect for independent writing, how many publishing cycles you might offer, and what publishing celebrations you can organize. You ll get volume, engagement, independence, and trust from your adolescents. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

9 Assessment Who was it who said, We inspect what we respect? It will be important for you to assess your students growth in writing using a number of different lenses to notice what students can do. As part of this, we encourage you to start the year off by giving students Donald Bear s spelling inventory, and we describe this in the section below on conventions of written language. We also recommend you use the assessment tool that TCRWP has developed and piloted to track student growth in narrative writing, argument writing, and informational writing. These tools continue to be a work-in-progress. The newest versions are available on the TCRWP website, We invite you and your colleagues to tweak and alter the instrument to fit your purposes. We especially recognize that it would be helpful to add more levels so that growth in writing can become more apparent, and you are invited to work with your colleagues to do so and to share what you create with our organization! Whether you add your own levels or not, though, the tool will help you be accountable for supporting growth in writing, and it especially clarifies the pathways along which developing writers travel as they become proficient. It allows you to identify where a student is in a sequence of writing development, and to imagine realistic, doable next steps for each student. This will make your conferring much more valuable, and your teaching clearer. What began as an assessment tool has become an extraordinarily important teaching tool! That said, be aware that there are instances where we have seen the assessment tool make teaching less responsive to writers intentions. If, when using the tool, you approach a student in the midst of writing and bypass listening and responding to the student, looking only at the draft, and using only the narrative continuum as your resource, then the continuum will have made your teaching worse, not better. Conferring always needs to begin with a teacher pulling alongside a writer and asking, What are you working on as a writer? and What are you trying to do? and What are you planning to do next? Always, the teacher needs to help the writer reach toward his or her intentions. When we draw on all we know, not only about good writing, but also about how narrative or non-narrative writers tend to develop, the assessment tool can be a resource. It is absolutely crucial that your first assessments occur at the very start of your year, or even arrive already drafted in the spring of the prior year. Your students come to you with competencies and histories as writers, especially from their grade school experience. You cannot teach well unless you take the time to learn what they already know and can do. Then, too, if you capture and compare the data representing what students can do at the very start of the year with what emerges after a few months working with you, you will be in a good position to show parents and others all the ways in which students have grown as writers over the course of the year. In autumn parent-teacher conferences, you ll want to bring the writing a student did on the first day of school and contrast it with the writing the student did just before the conference. To do this, of course, it is crucial that you capture the before picture for comparison to the after. Adolescents strongly benefit from this type of reflection and self-evaluation of growth. Your students may bring a portfolio with them to the grade, or you may want to give a quick on-demand task in narrative writing so that you can see their independent A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

10 writing levels. When you look over students work, take note of whether they have been taught and are using rudimentary concepts. Look, for example, for evidence that students are writing focused narratives. You will want to see if they are writing structured pieces (for now this will usually mean chronological). Can these pieces be described as stories? That is, does the main character (the writer, in this instance) proceed through a plot-line of actions and reactions? Are students storytelling rather than summarizing and commenting on events? Are they using dialogue and details? Writing with consistent end punctuation? Developing their characters? Angling the story to highlight their focal point? Do they seem to care not only about what they write, but also about how they write it? Set up a folder system at the beginning of the year for each student that contains their on-demand pieces, published pieces, and other samples of their writing from each unit of study. This is important not only for ongoing assessment, developing a system where adolescents can reflect on their growth and reporting to families at report card time, but this is also important because some units of study (e.g., the revision study in June) will require students to draw from their previous work. Spelling, Mechanics, and Conventions in the Writing Curricular Calendar We recommend that you consider having teachers take fifteen minutes at the start of the year, and periodically throughout the year, to assess students growing control of spelling and language features. We recommend you do so by giving your whole class what amounts to a spelling inventory, asking them to spell each of twenty-five words. You may want to use the spelling inventory devised by Donald Bear and available on the TCRWP website. After giving the students the spelling inventory, you will need to count not the words correct but the features correct this can take a few minutes for each student, but the result will be that you can channel your whole-class spelling and vocabulary instruction so that your teaching is aligned to the main needs that you see across most of your class, and it will also help you differentiate that instruction for your struggling and strongest spellers. Meanwhile, you will also want to understand which conventions of written language your students use with automaticity when they write, and the easiest way to do this is to look at the on-demand piece of writing. For middle school students, ask yourself: Which students generally control ending punctuation and lower/uppercase letters and capitalization conventions? Which students tend to write in paragraphs? Which students include direct dialogue, and use quotation marks and other punctuation associated with dialogue? Which students generally control their verb tenses? Which students generally control subject-verb agreement so that the subjects and verbs are either plural or singular? A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

11 Which students control complex sentences and their internal punctuation? If you have students who do not use end punctuation in a roughly correct manner, do not write in paragraphs, seem to sprinkle uppercase letters randomly throughout their writing, or don t yet use quotation marks to set off direct dialogue, then you will want to embed instruction in all of these things into your first two units of study. If your students do all these things but are using confusing tenses and subject-verb agreement, then teach this more advanced work, and expect students command of it to progress more slowly. In either case, you will want to be sure that your students are not boxed into simple sentence structures when they write. You may have students whose sentences all seem to go like this: A subject did something (perhaps to someone or with something). I went to the park. I rode my bike. I got an ice cream. I came home. These students may feel in their bones that their writing lacks something, and they might try to solve the problem by linking the simple sentences with conjunctions, but that won t necessarily solve the problem. For example, I went to the park and I rode my bike and I got an ice cream... Teach these students that it helps to tell when, under what conditions, or with what thoughts in mind the subject did something. Then, sentences might now look like this: One sunny Saturday morning I went to the park. Because I wanted to have some fun, I rode my bike. After that, I got an ice cream. Then I came home. It can also help to tell how one did something and to tell about the receiver of the activity. I went to the park, the one down the road from me. I rode my bike quickly, round and round in circles. I got an ice cream, a double scoop of chocolate that melted all over me. For those of you wanting to understand syntactical complexity more, you may find it interesting to measure your students syntactic maturity in writing by looking at the average length (the number of words) in the grammatical sentences that your students construct. Hunt calls these the T-units (Hunt 1965). For instance, if a student writes: I went to the store. I bought some candy. I met Lisa, these are three independent T-units (or simple sentences) and each one is short, with just a few words. This is simple syntax. This would still be written in T-units of four or five words if the sentences were linked with the word and, because a T-unit is the term for a possible sentence, whether or not the writer punctuates it as such. On the other hand, the number of T-units would double if the sentence went like this: When I went to the store, I bought some candy before I met Lisa. Nowhere in that sentence is there a place where a period could have been added, so this is all one T-unit comprised of fourteen words. More complex syntax has more words within a T-unit. For example, the same sentence could contain yet more words per T-unit (and still be more complex): Yesterday I went to the store, where I bought some candy and met Lisa, who was glad to see me. Some writers who struggle with punctuation show some complicated syntax. It is important for teachers to realize that correctness is not the only goal. A writer s growing ability to write complex sentences (with many words per T-unit) should also be celebrated. Writers with complex syntax will make some errors, but these writers are still far more advanced than those who may use correct punctuation but rely only on simple sentences. For fourth graders, A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

12 the average length of a T-unit is eight words. Be pleased if your students are writing most of their sentences with this many or more T-units. Usually you will first teach mechanics during editing, after students have drafted and revised a piece and are preparing it for publication. But once you have taught a skill during editing say, the skill of dividing a piece into paragraphs then you need to hold students accountable for using that skill as they draft, or at least see that they are attempting to use it. For example, during the editing portion of unit one, you will probably need to teach all students to write in paragraph structure, teaching them some of the cues for narrative paragraphs such as when a new character enters, the time changes, or the setting changes. So then at the start of unit two, when students are collecting entries in their notebooks, you will want to act dumbfounded if you notice one student hasn t remembered that now he is the sort of writer who writes using paragraph indentations. Make a big fuss over this as a way to teach students that whatever they learn first during editing needs to become part of their ongoing repertoire, something they rely on all the time. Paragraphing and the punctuation involved in dialogue will fit naturally into narrative units of study. Writers who include lots of description will be more ready for clauses set off by commas. That is, students benefit most from instruction when it helps them to be more powerful as they work on projects they care about, rather than studying mechanics in isolation. One crucial point is that students will move through stages of using and confusing new constructs before they master them. This means that getting things slightly wrong can be a sign of growth. If we only fix students writing, or tell them to be correct, then they may revert to simpler vocabulary and sentence structure that they are sure they know how to punctuate. For instance, when students first start moving into past tense, they may not know all the forms of irregular verbs and they may confuse some. If we emphasize only accuracy, they will revert to present tense or to safe verbs they know. In the same way, they may not dare write longer sentences if they re not sure how to punctuate them. Common stages of development include unfamiliarity, familiarity and experimentation, using and confusing, mastery and control. In the third unit, teach students to recall these conventions as they turn to non-narrative writing. You may want to reteach ending punctuation, showing how it affects the tone of nonnarrative writing. You will want to reteach paragraph structure in non-narrative writing as well. Some of this can be small-group instruction. Always be teaching students to use all the conventions they have learned until now so they may be effective editors of their own and others writing, and write drafts that are more accurate in terms of conventions. When students are writing stories, this might be a good time for them to write and punctuate more complicated sentences, doing so in an effort to cue readers into how to read their writing with lots of mood and expressiveness. They will benefit if they have opportunities to pay attention to punctuation in reading, read-aloud, and shared reading. This fluency work, done in the guise of pursuing prosody, can help readers see more meaning in the text just because of the way it is read. If needed, you will want to form small groups around any convention that merits more attention. For example, in a small group you can help students who get confused distinguishing singular and plural pronouns, or between apostrophes for possessives and contractions. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

13 UNIT ONE Memoir SEPTEMBER September is a time of new beginnings, new dreams, new expectations for the year. Inherent in all of this is deep reflection. We enter our rooms wondering how this year will go and we fill our minds with the largest hopes we can muster. Our students are doing the same, looking at their social, academic, and personal lives both the ones they show the world and those they keep inside and when they walk into school on that first day they are no doubt dreaming of what is to come. It feels like a perfect opportunity to grab up this thread and weave it into our first unit, a study of memoir writing. In our increasingly busy and high-stakes lives as teachers sometimes we may be tempted to skip a unit like this, thinking that our students have experienced this sort of writing in prior years. Yet, it is essential that we lay the groundwork that will impact other forms of writing and give our students very quick success that fosters a productive, focused, and engaging workshop environment for the entire year. You may even wonder if writing from a personal perspective even matters. We cannot say more certainly: Yes it does. First, the skill of narrative writing is essential for our adolescents for the rest of their lives. It informs the way they not only write and read stories, but is a key ingredient in all non-narrative forms including persuasive essays, informational reports, and journalism. Quite frankly, it will impact all areas of their professional and social lives as well. From college entrance essays to job cover letters to on-the-job writing, a strong command of narrative elements makes your writing stand out and helps you communicate more effectively. The Common Core State Standards have set the expectation that students will develop stronger and stronger narrative writing skills from kindergarten A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

14 through twelfth grade; in all content areas students are expected to know how to use narrative elements within their non-narrative writing. Second, beyond test scores and data and standards, our adolescents need opportunities to write about their lives. It is a time of personal upheavals, emotional roller coasters, and shifting perspectives that dramatically change our students lives forever. Teachers who devote time each year to a study of narrative writing always report that they hear their students voices like never before, that they find the tone of their classroom often that of the school shifts in dramatic ways. Narrative writing is not just an expectation within national standards, it is a tool that quite literally changes lives. Have a Vision for the Entire Unit while Planning Let s start by clarifying to ourselves (and then to writers) the difference between personal narrative writing and memoir. In the former, writers write true stories, revise them as they bring out the story shape that is nascent in them, and as they think What s this story really about? they then bring that idea forward in the story. When working on memoir, writers are more apt to start with some big, important ideas that we want to explore and to communicate. The idea comes first, and then writers collect small moments around the idea. You ll probably want to lean on Memoir: The Art of Writing Well, the final book in Units of Study for Teaching Writing and a favorite example text. Katherine Bomer s book Writing a Life will also be an important resource for you. You will want to read some memoir and to choose a text or two as touchstones. We especially suggest the anthology, When I Was Your Age edited by Amy Ehrlich, passages from Knots on My Yo-Yo String by Jerry Spinelli, Going Where I m Coming From by Anne Mazer, and picture books such as We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past by Jacqueline Woodson. Since September tends to feel like a shorter month, aim for this study to be roughly three weeks, about fifteen days of teaching (if you are lucky enough to have the time, add in a few more days). You will spend the first two or three days collecting, while also establishing structures and rituals for your workshop for this year. You will teach your seventh graders to uncover topics and ideas that cut across their lives, and then to gather moments within them aligning with the Common Core Standards. You will then spend the next two or three days going back to those initial jottings and helping your students dig deeper into them, looking for meanings they had not yet considered. As the unit progresses, you will take your seventh graders to a place in writing that later this year you will study in reading how writers use precise and emblematic details and structures to develop the theme or point of view of their piece. By the middle of the second week, your students will have written fast-drafts and begun revising. You will help them recall what they already know about revision, teaching them that writing workshop this year is not about waiting for the teacher to dole out minilessons; instead, it is about relying on everything they have learned before to inform every time they sit down with a pen. In the final few days of the unit you will support students in editing (giving you a sense of where your word study needs to go this year) and be A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

15 sure to make time to celebrate their accomplishments as writers. If after analyzing your students on-demand writing samples, it appears that they lack a working knowledge of narrative writing (even at a basic level), then you may choose to forego this unit and instead look to the sixth-grade curricular calendar, Unit 1: Raising the Level of Personal Narrative Writing and Edging Toward Memoir as well as the Units of Study series books one and two. Develop the Structures and Rituals That Will Last the Year September is always a challenging month because we inevitably work toward two rather different goals: We want to establish well-managed, productive classrooms and we want to rally students to work with enthusiasm on projects of great importance. Don t linger for a moment before getting your students going. Remind them that every day they will each choose a strategy for generating writing, and they will each write several entries that reflect all they already know about writing zoomed-in, focused narratives. Be sure, too, that they carry their notebooks and write more entries at home. The Common Core Standards expect that starting in middle school students should be able to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting. Extrapolate that out to the amount of handwritten pages the average seventh grader would need to equal three typed pages, and we very quickly realize how essential it is to support our students in writing a great deal across the day. Expect the entries they write on the first day compared to the ones they write on, say, day five will already reflect dramatic improvements as you quickly rope students back into doing all that they learned during previous years but may have forgotten over the summer. By now, your students should know most systems and rituals in workshop, so you need not spend weeks and weeks establishing them. Your job is only to reclaim those as writerly and honorable, to rally writers to care about those structures and to understand that you care about them, and then to ratchet up the work writers do within those systems. If you are not clear about which rituals and structures you will need to put into place (some are discussed below), in addition talk with colleagues from previous grades and from your own grade, and read relevant pages of the Guidebook to Units of Study for Teaching Writing (2006). If you have systems in place that seem to work for the majority of your class but feel stumped when facing the challenges of particular writers, you might also turn to one of the titles in the Workshop Help Desk series, like Reviving Disengaged Writers, 5 8 by Christopher Lehman (Summer 2011). To institute the routines and structures that will allow writers to work with engagement and some independence, you ll want to quickly gather some information on the structures and routines they were accustomed to during the previous year that you can reinvigorate. Don t start from scratch and reteach what your writers have learned to do over a whole sequence of years! Maybe you ll want to convene the class and say, Can we talk about the structures that you already know for a writing workshop, ones we can just brush the dust off and get into right away, and can we talk about what our expectations will be for those structures? Then you could ask the class to quickly jot or turn A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

16 to a partner and describe things like, How did you use your writer s notebook last year? Students will presumably have come from different teachers, so there may be several responses in the air. However, they respond to whichever questions, reflect on how you can support them in going from good to great. For example, by now students should see their notebooks as indispensable tools for living writerly lives and as workbenches for experimenting with different strategies. If instead they previously viewed them as just another notebook to do schoolwork in, then this unit will not only help them learn how to use their notebook in your classroom, but will also help them hold a vision for why they will use their notebook this year. Certainly by the time students are in seventh grade, the writers notebooks need to travel between home and school, and students should be writing entries in them every night and every day. Using evenings as well as school time for gathering entries doubles the volume of writing that students do in their notebooks. You can expect that at the start of writing time, students reread their writing and think, What s the work I m going to do next? and then write a self-assignment box at the top of the page, record the strategy or goal they are working on, and then they get writing. The expectation that students will pause to think, What will I do today? nudges students to review the charts of strategies you post around the room (one will list Strategies for Generating Ideas, one will be Strategies for Revising, one will be Qualities of Good Narrative Writing...). The act of setting a goal for oneself is terribly important for writers who are not just filling up pages in writers notebooks, but who are consciously working toward improved writing. Then, too, you can expect that seventh graders can draw from a variety of suggested ways to work with a partner, deciding on some days to use partnership time as a time to say aloud what each writer plans to do next. Other times, partnership time can be a time for the reader not the writer to read aloud the writer s draft, allowing the writer to get some distance from it and develop some hunches about ways to improve it. Another time, partners can look between an early and a later draft, asking, Is this getting better or is it getting worse? and thinking about next steps. That is, by seventh grade, it will not take a lot of teaching for you to be able to let partnership time become a bit less under the thumb of the teacher, so that it is only some days when you tell partners how to share their writing, and other days you leave this choice to them. If you have a class that is newer to these rituals, or if you are new to teaching workshop yourself and want more specific suggestions for setting up these structures with your kids, please refer to the first unit of study in the sixth-grade writing curricular calendar for : Raising the Level of Personal Narrative and Edging toward Memoir. Use Performance Assessments to Set Writing Goals Because your students can carry on with at least some independence, you will be free to teach (rather than to run to answer every raised hand). The most powerful teaching that you do will comes in the form of providing crystal-clear feedback, showing stu- A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

17 dents what they are doing that is working, and showing them what they could do next that could take their writing up a whole new level. Research is clear that nothing a teacher can do has a greater effect than this combination giving students crystal-clear goals, opportunities for engaged work, and the feedback that includes compliments and a rallying cry for progress. To hold yourself and your students to this goal, it is critically important that you start the year by devoting a day to an on-demand writing assessment. You can make this on-demand writing feel celebratory. Give your students a chance to show off what they know about narrative writing. During writing, be sure you do not coach into what they are doing, reminding them to write with details or to focus. You want to see what they do in a hands-off situation, and frankly, you will want to be in a position to show great growth from this starting point. On the next day, you may decide to admire publicly how much they know by bringing in a chart in which you collect some of the qualities of good writing that you saw most students put into action. If many of them are entering the school year already knowing the importance of craft moves, such as writing with direct dialogue, or writing with details, then you can celebrate this and expect it, after this. You may want to give your students an opportunity to show their ondemand piece to a partner, pointing out what they did as writers. Within two days of being back in school they should be acting, thinking, and talking like writers. The job is not just to give this on-demand assessment, but also to take seriously the challenge of making sure that as the unit unfolds, the students work gets progressively better. That work, done on day one, can function as your bottom line, your starting gate. After students collect narrative entries for a few days (and we ll describe this work later in the write-up), you will want to ask students to look back at their on-demand piece and at the entries they have written since then. Are those entries dramatically better than the on-demand piece? (Frankly, all too often we have seen students writing go straight downhill, as if they tried hard on the first day when being assessed, and then worry only about filling the page and not about lifting the level of their writing.) If students work is not increasing in palpable ways, you will want to act shocked and say, This is unimaginable to me. It simply can t be! Go back and rewrite this entry, making it your very best! And after this, your writing needs to be getting steadily better as the year progresses. (Of course, no one s work is steadily better we all try things that don t work, and that is fine. But you do want students to understand that the goal in a writing workshop is to lift the level of one s writing.) Collecting: Writing to Discover Our Thinking, and Writing with Depth You ll probably want to tell writers that instead of writing about small seed ideas, we can begin by writing about the biggest topics of our lives the really big themes that we find ourselves coming back to over and over. Don Murray once said that most of us, as writers, have just two or three topics that we write about again and again. What are those topics for your students? Maybe, for one of them, it s the relationship with a A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

18 sibling, for another it s peer pressure, for a third it s a parent they feel incredibly close to or maybe one they don t. To help writers address topics such as these that matter to them, you ll probably want to read a few published memoirs to them, knowing that writing can serve, as Kafka writes, as an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us. The memoirs that you read to them will inspire your young writers to be brave enough to tackle important topics and to be honest. Literature calls us from our hiding places, helping us bring ourselves to the page. The importance of this can t be overemphasized. Of any quality of good writing, the one that matters most may be that elusive quality writers refer to as voice. A person writes with voice when that person allows the imprint of his or her personality to come through in his or her writing. Writers can then take that big important blob of an idea, and then brainstorm all that the idea contains the small moments, the turning points, the images that somehow capture it all. Writers can then begin to write around their blurb ideas. When students write around those big ideas, take them directly to all the powerful lessons they have already been taught about writing Small Moment personal narratives. They may find themselves so full of the bigness of their topics that they want to skim the surface, to list, to generalize. Help writers know that, as writer Richard Price one said, The bigger the topic, the smaller we write. To teach writers to write compelling narratives that illustrate their big ideas, you will need to teach them to zoom in on a tiny bit of time, dream the dream of that episode, almost enacting it as they write, and capturing the drama of the moment in such a way that a reader can feel as if he or she is experiencing the moment for the first time. If this is a moment about saying goodbye to a big brother before he goes off to college, and if the writer wants to show that it s hard to talk about things like missing each other, then perhaps the author would begin the story by having himself rehearsing in his mind the conversation he wanted to have with his big brother, then approaching the room where his brother was, trying to get up the courage to tackle the subject, and so on. So, you might start this unit by suggesting writers start with blurb ideas, or with the themes of their lives, and then you ll show writers how to generate Small Moment stories and other entries pertaining to those huge themes. Expect that students will be concerned about the line between truth and fiction. Frank McCourt, whose memoir Angela s Ashes was published in the U.S. as nonfiction and in Europe as fiction, often spoke about how what was important was that a writer told about true feelings, and that it felt true on the page. Writers inevitably won t remember, exactly, every line of dialogue. Let your kids know they may have felt that the day was dark and stormy because their emotions were dark and stormy. What s important is that your writers feel as if the stories they want to tell matter, and that they try to write them in such a way that they ll matter to the reader. They will, actually, learn to blend the art of fiction writing and personal narrative into just the art of narrative. You ll also want to remind writers that they are not just writing true stories, they are writing memoir. Everything about their stories, then, can work together to show readers whatever it is that the writer wants to show. You can draw on the narrative continuum to think about what it is that your writers seem able to do easily as story A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

19 writers, and to think about what is just beyond their current level, and what represents the next frontier. Of course, because students are writing memoir, they re going to need to gather more than one story. If this is a story about a writer s relationship with his father, it will probably contain several episodes that capture that relationship. Then, too, the writing will also need reflective bits think about the lead in Eleven, for example. To teach students to do this sort of writing, you ll want to teach them the saying, The words that came first were anybody s words I had to make them my own. Help writers aim to capture their very own specific truth. The conference at the start of Seeing Possibilities, a DVD full of video snippets, will help you and your students imagine the sort of work writers will be doing. One important thing to help writers realize is that through the process of collecting and writing around a seed idea or, as some call it, a blurb idea writers sense of what they want to say and show will change. Usually ideas about any one topic are complicated, so once a writer has written about one set of ideas on a topic, the writer can come back and revisit the topic, writing an entry that begins, On the other hand... In the end, some of the best writing will result from efforts to get our mental and emotional arms around the full breadth of a topic. Then, too, we teach students the wisdom of Eudora Welty s advice: Write what you don t know about what you know. Where are the mysteries, the questions, the feelings of angst for you in this beloved, close-to-home topic? As part of this work, you ll help writers realize that their ideas about a topic are complicated, and that thinking deeply and precisely is important. Drafting and Structuring Go Hand in Hand As students develop their seed idea, it will be crucial for them to ask themselves, What is it I really want to say? This is a memoir, so the draft will not be about the events alone. Instead, it will be about the person to whom those events happened. Students need to think, Who do I want to be in this writing? and What am I trying to say about myself in this piece? and What am I realizing about myself as I write this? and What do I want my readers to know about me? Once a writer has begun to determine what he or she is trying to say, it will be important to deliberately write in ways that highlight that meaning. You will probably want to teach your students to study the ways other writers have done this. Because students have responsibility for imagining a way to structure their memoir, they will read memoirs that other authors have written with a special attentiveness to structure. That is, in this unit you probably will not say, This is how your writing will be structured. Instead, writers use mentor texts, including examples from other students, as well as class examples, and of course, your own teacher-created mentor texts. Draw on samples of student writing from the TCRWP website and from the CD-ROM that accompanies Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3 5 as well. You ll want to invite students to study pieces that illustrate how writers often combine narrative as A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

20 well as essay structures into single pieces that defy easy labels. Eleven by Sandra Cisneros from Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories could be in that folder and don t worry if students have studied it before. We also recommend Not Enough Emilys by Jean Little from Hey, World, Here I Am and My Grandmother s Hair by Cynthia Rylant from the anthology Home. You may want to invite students to examine their texts for structure, boxing out sections that resemble the narratives they will have written all year and sections that resemble essays. You may also want to include some memoir poetry that students could look to for both inspiration and craft mentoring: although they won t be publishing poems, many narrative poets practice the art of paring down a story to its essential images and emotions, and your memoirists could learn a lot from these writers. Although writers can make calculated decisions to organize a text in one way or another, the actual process of writing is more passion-hot than critic-cold. Milton Meltzer, the great nonfiction writer for students, has said, In the writer who cares, there is a pressure of feelings which emerges in the rhythm of sentences, in the choice of details, in the color of the language. Sometimes the writer inserts reflection at the very beginning. (Who can ever forget Eleven, and that image of an onion?) Sometimes the writer inserts it at the end. (Think of Jerry Spinelli s Knots in My Yo-Yo String and how he comments on his own story at the end, telling the reader what it makes him think or feel.) This will be new work for your students, to actively plan for how their story will lead the reader toward and around ideas, and how they ll state those ideas. They don t have to know all this at the beginning, though you ll get them started writing a few small moments in their notebooks; then they ll reflect on some of the ideas in those moments and on the issues, themes, and ideas that often interest them as writers; and they ll focus on stories that show those ideas. Then you re off! When it comes time for students to actually go from collecting entries to constructing a draft outside the notebook, you ll want to help the writer explore some alternate structures. Memoir: The Art of Writing Well will be enormously helpful with this. A writer needs to ask, Will the piece contain one focused narrative? Two stories held together by reflection? Will there be a clearly stated idea, or will the story suggest a theme? Whatever the decision, the writer will probably lean on some of the writing he or she has already done, this time writing it so much better, and writing it outside the notebook. Sometimes young (and adult) writers find it helpful to take a few minutes to make a storyboard before starting to draft the memoir showing in each box what anecdote they ll tell, and where the bits of reflective writing will be. Others like a flowchart. And often, it s in the drafting that writers realize they need to pause and think about their structure. Sometimes, as writers write their memoir, they begin to clarify in their mind why an anecdote is so important, and what idea it is really showing. Then they can go back and insert reflection at the beginning of the piece. Or they can try waiting until the end and put reflection there. Have some familiar memoirs that you have marked up to show where the writer is telling a story, and where the writer is developing an idea or reflection. It s also helpful for your writers to talk to a partner, explaining what A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

21 they want to do in their draft, how they want to develop their memoir, and what structure and craft they ll use. If you are angling this unit to solidify your students independence and commitment to the writing process, this would be a good time to teach your students how to not only be the writer, but also the writing teacher. In other words, you can teach middle schoolers to confer with one another. You might want to hold a conference with one child in front of the class, giving the rest of the class the opportunity to notice and take notes on the kinds of questions you ask the writer. Help the students to generate a chart and see that we can ask ourselves the same questions we ask other writers. For example, just as a writing teacher might ask us about the last thing we tried to do in our piece and how that worked out, we can ask ourselves to reflect on the same question, studying our piece for insight into where we might go next. Revising Memoir You ll probably want to teach students how to revisit the most significant parts of their draft to elaborate on those parts. You might teach students to include telling details that can help convey thoughts. You ll certainly want to show how you emphasize the parts of the story that illuminate the central idea or theme. One significant craft move, which writers use to illuminate such themes, is the use of refrains. You can teach your students to reread their writing for powerful lines that are worth highlighting and to figure out where and how that line could be repeated again in the piece to make the most essential ideas stand out. Using a metaphor or comparison also adds beauty and craft to memoirs and can provide a means to capturing an idea or feeling that is too big or complicated for words. Your job will be to teach students that writing with metaphor is not about tacking on a comparison, but rather about allowing a strong metaphorical image to emerge from the writing that already exists. Another way to revise and elaborate is to incorporate more than one small moment, or to try the same small moment, this time angling it to show more than one idea. Sometimes you can show writers how to develop more than one emotion or feeling many good stories center on moments of complicated emotions. You can also show your writers how to experiment with different crafts to illuminate the underlying theme. If my theme is the trouble I have explaining myself to my mother, for instance, I could show this through dialogue. But I could also try it again, this time contrasting what happens in the dialogue with inner thinking. You may teach your students to consider whether a different small moment could illustrate this theme. They could go back to the notebook to try it out, or draft a new part and see how it fits with their overall draft. You may want to teach students during revision to read their own memoir drafts interpretively: to practice a kind of critical literacy on themselves. They might reread their draft asking themselves, Whose voices have I included in my storytelling? Whose have I not? Of course, we do not have access to other people s inner thinking about these key moments, but we can include in our own account questions about others reactions, or we can speculate as to other people s feelings. In writing about the time A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

22 a boy held my hand on a school trip when we were sitting on the bus together, although I still to this day don t know what he was thinking, I can ask in my writing, What was he thinking? Why was he doing this? Had he always liked me and never said anything? Was he just being mean and setting me up to be dumped? In this way, we can build our writing on some of the other people in our personal lives, if only through pausing to consider what they might have been thinking or feeling. You might also want to touch upon strategies for endings by studying mentor texts to see how writers reflect upon their experiences and provide closure. Writers can try several endings. Some of Jerry Spinelli s memoirs in Knots in My Yo-Yo String, for instance, end with reflection from a current perspective. Others hint at what happens next for the character which story will be next. Others end with a sort of cliffhanger, leaving it unclear whether the writer had learned his lesson or it would be repeated. Publishing and Celebrating Katherine Bomer has often called for more emphasis on celebration as a significant part of the writing process. She offers the idea of students writing their memoirs in large print, so they wallpaper corridors and ceilings as installation pieces. You may want to invite students to rehearse reading their pieces out loud, then tape them for a kind of This American Life podcast. They could sort them by theme and publish them in a few anthologies. They could sort them by topic and publish them in different places in the school, so there would be writing boards for pieces about families, others for memoirs that include pets and animals, others about our bodies, and so forth. Invite your students into the celebration decisions, and you may particularly encourage them to sort stories by theme if your students know ahead of time that their stories are sorted this way, it often helps them to develop that theme! One Possible Sequence of Teaching Points Seventh-Grade Memoir Your students are ready for this unit if they can write focused anecdotes, understand essential storytelling craft, and are fluent in finding moments in their life to write about. If any of that feels hard, you may want to turn to the sixth-grade launch, Raising the Level of Personal Narrative. You will want to look at the student work on the Units of Study in 3 5 Writing CD and on the Reading and Writing Project website ( for examples of student memoir. Throughout the unit of study, keep an eye on writing volume. Seventh graders should be writing about two pages a day in school. If you are giving homework, you might ask students to write for ten or fifteen minutes and then advise that this would be one to two pages as well. They ll only get better at writing by writing. They should all write with end punctuation and paragraphs, and with a variety of sentence structures. For those that don t, you ll want to convene small groups from the get-go and A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

23 teach into this work. If you look at their on-demand writing and assess what students can produce in a sitting, you ll use this as a baseline and plan instruction that will help their writing progress steadily from there. Especially near the end of the unit, as they are revising make sure they aren t just tinkering with a few words here or there. You may want to invite some students to write a second memoir. You may invite all students to keep rehearsing moments in their notebooks for homework. You may suggest that one way to revise is to try another draft, either putting together different moments or trying to look at more than one issue but not just holding on to old writing. As always, kids will follow your lead, so show them how you rethink and retry and experiment, and they ll do the same. The following resource, which offers one possible path for instruction, is based on the book Memoir: The Art of Writing Well, from the Units of Study for Teaching Writing, with additional teaching points for adolescent writers some of which are adapted from Katherine Bomer s Writing: A Life. As with all our units, we encourage you to build on and adapt this work to meet the specific needs of your kids. Part One: Developing and Collecting: Writing to Discover Our Thinking, and Writing with Depth Writers often begin by writing lots and lots of anecdotes Small Moment stories that capture the tensions in the writer s life, that show pivotal points and life themes. If we feel stuck for ideas, we rely on what we already know. One way to do this is by listing the strategies we ve learned for collecting small moments (first times, last times, important people, places, things, issues), list these strategies quickly in our notebook, and use one of them to quickly develop new topics to write about. Writers draw on everything we already know about good writing to better our entries. Writers need to ask ourselves if we are using action, incorporating dialogue, using descriptive details, and storytelling rather than summarizing. Writers know that often when an issue has been a defining force in our lives, we have more than one moment that illustrates it and so we write parallel moments. Sometimes, it s interesting to write a moment before we have learned a lesson, and another moment that shows change, or how we behave differently after we learn a lesson. Once we have collected anecdotes and vignettes, we look back over these to investigate patterns, or themes. We are on the lookout as well for emotions that keep recurring, or objects or relationships that preoccupy us. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

24 Expecting Depth from Our Writing. Writers don t just write to come up with new story ideas, they write to find depth in the ideas they ve already uncovered. One way to do this is by writing, as a famous memoirist once said, what you don t know about what you know. To do this, writers take a topic they know well and ask, What don t I know about what I know? and Where s the mystery in this topic? and then write to explore those questions. Reading Literature to Inspire Writing. When a writer wants to take a deep dive into his or her writing, one strategy that we use is to read (or listen) to literature and then write. We let the story wash over us, and then in the silence afterwards we write what we need to write. We don t write about the text; we write in the direction the text has pushed us. Choosing and Developing an Idea to Explore in Our Memoir. To choose the idea we ll commit to, often pursue some of these strategies: rereading entries with intention and value, marking small parts of writing that stand out, looking for connections and patterns, categorizing our most powerful writing into several possible themes, choosing one theme, and writing an entry that combines various images and ideas related to your topic. Writers use our notebooks to reflect as well, sometimes opening up to a fresh page and writing about why our idea matters to us, and when we first started to care about this issue or idea, and what we want to show in our writing. Part Two: Drafting and Structuring and Elaborating as We Draft Studying Memoir Structures. Writers structure our texts in lots of different ways. One way we learn to structure our texts is by reading texts other authors have written and by studying the structures they have used or made. We can then decide which structure feels best suited to our topic and make a writing plan for ourselves. Memoirs often move back and forth between storytelling and reflection, but they may intersperse reflection in between anecdotes, or bookend one anecdote with reflection. Some memoirs write one anecdote, others string together anecdotes. Being Our Own Teachers. Writers set our own goals and work on becoming more adept writers. A good writing teacher looks backward to look forward. He or she might ask questions about previous work and how it turned out, why a writer is trying certain things, what else they plan to try, and what plans the writer has for what they ll do next. The Internal and External Journey of a Story. When writers write a story they know there will be a sequence of actions that one thing will happen, then another A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

25 thing will happen, and another. Not only this, but there also needs to be parallel sequences of re-actions, of feelings and thoughts and dreams and fears that the main character (in memoir, that will be you) experiences. When writers tell the internal part of their story, they find that one way to do this is by adding internal thinking. But this isn t the only way! We can also reveal the internal story with specific actions that show how a character is feeling. Sometimes as we are drafting, we may step outside our narrative draft and write a poem or two on the same subject. We may incorporate these poems as prologues or epilogues in our memoirs, or we may use some of the lines, phrases, and literary language and devices in our memoir. Symbols and Details. Writers know that details in a memoir can say something about the kind of person we are, the kind of life we lead. We may find that an object becomes symbolic in our memoir, and we can repeat that object more than once in the story. Part Three: Revise to Bring Out Meaning and to Play with Structure Letting Our Pages Lead Our Revision. There is a special sort of reading writers do when they read their own writing. They do not skim over it as if they ve seen the draft a hundred times. Instead, they examine the draft in all its particulars, allowing the page to teach them how to write. Writers read our own drafts noting the component sections, asking, How is this draft almost-but-not-quite structured? Then we make revisions to bring forth and complete the structures. Metaphors and Meaning. Writers often take tiny details from their lives often something that could be very ordinary and we let that one detail represent the whole big message of our story or our memoir. Writers play with tone crafting anecdotes that vary in emotional mood or tone, and then thinking how we ll string those along in our draft. Often bringing our reader through different emotions makes the piece a kind of roller coaster for the reader. Writers know that memoirists sometimes invent the details that we can t remember and we write like storytellers, not like diary writers. That is, if it would be more symbolic for our shirt to be red, we may make it red. If it felt rainy but we can t remember the weather, the sky can be rainy! A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

26 Writers may play with structure. We may try a journey structure that starts with an anecdote showing the writer on the cusp of learning something big, and then finishes with an anecdote that shows an emotional journey or a journey of thought significant change. We might try a circular structure, which begins and ends with a repeated image or scene or line. We might try starting with anecdote and going to reflection, and then try starting with reflection and going to anecdote. Writers try more than one structure to see what will create the meaning and tone we seek. Part Four: Editing, Publishing, and Celebrating When we are thinking ahead to publishing, we may decide to publish our memoirs in thematic anthologies which means we may want to start imagining the themes of those anthologies and whose memoirs will go in which. We could also publish some anthologies by subject, or by era. That is, we might have one anthology called Learning to Be Strong: Tough Girl Memoirs, and another called Pets and Our Lives, and another called Before We Were Six. When writers edit our writing, we read it out loud to hear the sound of each word, to hear the rhythm of our sentences. Truman Capote wrote, To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is the inner music the words make. The sound of our words is powerful. Writers communicate with readers by choosing words that convey not only the content but also the mood, the tone, and the feelings that we want to convey. Mid-Workshop: Writers can play with ending punctuation as we write to bring out the tone in our writing, making our writing sound as we intended it to. Writers rely on partners to help them edit, putting one piece between the two of them and reading it, inch by inch, asking whether each sentence creates a clear image and moves the idea along. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

27 UNIT TWO Realistic Fiction/ Social Action Fiction OCTOBER This year, we suggest that we lean more on how fiction illuminates and takes a stance on urgent social issues that shape teens lives. Just as much as an essay or editorial, fiction can persuade readers of ideas, it can offer clear perspectives, and it can change our thinking. So we ve added some new teaching points to sharpen this focus. Carrying over from last year, we also suggest that you will want to build on everything you worked on and experienced last year and deepen your own knowledge of the realistic fiction unit. We suggest that you lean on the book Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions, from the Heinemann Units of Study series. Randy Bomer s Time for Meaning is an equally indispensable guidebook to thinking through fiction writing, for teachers and adolescents. You ll also find the grammar lessons in Mary Ehrenworth and Vicki Vinton s The Power of Grammar to be helpful for your students as they are revising and editing. You ll see that the teaching points for this unit have changed more than the write-up, so look closely at these for ideas and extensions for adolescent writers. In the write-up, we want to make sure that even your most inexperienced writers can tackle fiction, whereas in the teaching points, we want to offer new opportunities as well for your more experienced writers. Approaching this Unit with Clear Goals Our students are dying to write fiction, and their zeal is something to behold they are ready to invest heart and soul and eager to write more and work harder than before. Additionally, as the Common Core State Standards expects that students should build fluency with fiction in both reading and writing across all grade levels, this unit near A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

28 the start of the year helps you both assess your students current strengths and devise teaching that will push them farther along that trajectory. When planning this unit, you and your colleagues will want to help students write with higher volume throughout the writing process. Whereas your students personal narratives probably tended to be a page or two, their fiction stories will naturally tend to be four or five pages (this varies depending on grade level and experience). For young writers to create a world, bring characters to life, and let a drama unfold, they need to write with volume, fluency, and stamina. Because your students will be writing with terrific volume, it is crucial that you approach the unit planning to encourage writers to spend more time rehearsing. As part of this, you can show students how to spend more time using mentor short fiction to help them revise their first plans and initial efforts. It is also important for you to approach the unit knowing that you will be insisting upon much more dramatic, large-scale, and independent revision than your students have experienced prior to now. Rehearsal and large-scale revision are vital components to a unit on writing fiction. Before starting this unit, you and your colleagues will want to assess your students habits and abilities as writers. Look at the writing they ve most recently published and compare it to the narrative continuum, remembering that your teaching in this unit will be narrative writing in addition to fiction writing. Think about what it is your students can do and what they can almost do, and use the continuum to help imagine a pathway that could pay off for many of your writers. If you do not have access to the narrative writing continuum for K 8, you can find it at You will want to set whole-class goals at the start of the unit so that you approach this endeavor with a clear sense of what your students should know and be able to do at the end of the unit. Then, too, you will want to work with differentiated small groups of students who are at various places in their writing development, getting each working toward tailored, crystal-clear goals for the month. Because this is a unit that kids approach with tremendous energy, it provides you with gigantic opportunities to contribute to your students overall writing development. Teach Strategies and Tips for Generating Powerful Story Blurbs Even if your young writers have written realistic fiction in elementary school, many teachers may start the unit with a variation of Session I from Writing Fiction: Imagining Stories from Ordinary Moments only we ll spin these to look at moments of trouble. You may teach them that writers pay attention to the moments and issues in their lives, letting everything provoke in us ideas for stories that we could write. Then you ll show writers how to gather those story ideas in their writers notebooks. You might say, When I was young, I thought fiction writers dreamed at night and imagined makebelieve stories about castles and dragons. And of course, some do! But many fiction writers are concerned with the urgent social issues that shape our lives writers such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers, Angela Johnson, Judy Blume. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

29 These writers look at the cruelties and kindnesses that happen between people, and they make those into stories. They seek ideas in their neighborhoods, the places they know, the places they love, and those they don t. Walter Dean Myers got his inspiration for his books by thinking back to his childhood: Thinking back to boyhood days, I remember the bright sun on Harlem streets, the easy rhythms of black and brown bodies, the sound of students streaming in and out of red brick tenements. I remember playing basketball in Morningside Heights until it was too dark to see the basket and then climbing over the fence to go home... I write a lot about basketball, and I ve played basketball for years and years. I was in the army and I wrote Fallen Angels. I lived in Harlem and I write about Harlem. Session II of Writing Fiction, Stories We Wished Existed in the World is great for helping students glean ideas for fiction stories. Students might imagine writing about characters like themselves or about situations and troubles like those they experience daily. An example from the book tells of a student who had recently moved, and she made up a story about a girl who also had recently moved. Then she wrote about giving that girl a companion (a dog? a sister?), perhaps a companion the writer wished she d had. You may decide on the first day of the unit to capture some of the ideas from the previous year, perhaps sharing the plots of a couple of stories your students produced last year. If you don t have these examples, there are some available on our website and on the CD-ROM accompanying the Units of Study books. Tell students they can reread their notebooks to collect story ideas. Any one idea can spark scores of others, and it will be fun and easy for students to fill their notebooks with all kinds of musings about possible stories. You might demonstrate how you can start with a small moment, perhaps one you wrote about during the previous work on personal narratives, and use that experience to prompt a chain of thoughts. For example, you could say, When Joe called me names in the art room... maybe I could write a story about a boy who also gets called names, but like me he doesn t do anything about it...or maybe I could write a story about a boy who gets called names but gets the courage to stand up for himself and eventually...or maybe I could write a story about a boy who is a bully and discovers he is alienating himself...or maybe it could be about a girl who... Throughout the first few days of your unit, it is important to emphasize that students will be writing plans for how their stories might go and perhaps small scenes they are trying out, not the stories themselves. Some people call these plans story blurbs. A story blurb is a series of short statements, or jots, that tell a story. You can expect that some students will misunderstand and end up collecting mere lists of totally undeveloped story ideas, each a sentence or two in length only. If this happens, you ll want to demonstrate how to flesh out those undeveloped story blurbs. Using your own writing, you can tell them, When I first wrote, I wrote like this... (and show them a A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

30 one-sentence version of your own story blurb). Then, you can tell them how you returned to your single sentence to flesh it out. In your jottings about a possible story, you wrote a bit more about your character s traits and motivations, and how your characters felt, what they wanted, feared, or cared about. Explain that it was important to be specific. You could give an example like, My character wants to have a new best friend because her old best friend has moved away. She tries to make new friends by trying out for a soccer team because a lot of the kids in her class are also trying out. Another example could be, My character wants to go to summer camp, but she is scared to be away from her parents for a week. She tries to think of ways to overcome her fears by trying to do different things to not be scared. After collecting blurbs about possible stories that a writer could write, the writer will reread these and choose a seed idea (which in this unit will be called a story idea). Many teachers set a few constraints on writers, having learned what works best from previous years. You can choose whatever constraints make sense to you. Here are some possibilities: stories work best if the characters are approximately the same age as the writer (this prevents the getting-married, having-quintuplets stories); short stories work best if there are no more than two or three main characters (this lifts the level of the writing); stories work best if none of the names used (or characters developed) are students within the class; stories work best if they can be told within two scenes, three at the most, each involving not more than approximately an hour of time. Of course, that list is open to debate, and you will need to decide if these make sense for you and your classroom. Support Extensive Rehearsal: Revision Actually Begins as Writers Rehearse Story Blurbs and Character Development Your writers instincts will be to dive right into writing the story, doing so in ways that rush the plot. Your job will be to prolong rehearsal, helping your students understand that revision begins during rehearsal. And meanwhile, you ll need to have roller skates on so that you get around and confer with students ASAP. Front-end revisions are vastly preferable to revisions that come at the end! At the start, you will probably want to encourage your students to imagine various ways their stories might go before they become locked into any one plan. Use your own story idea (or the student s idea that you shared earlier) to show that now, the writer needs to do some thinking that proceeds a bit like this: I m thinking that I really want to show how mean the older sister can be in my story, so I might have the boy be at home so I can have that older sister do something mean. I don t know if he should have an argument with her or what. It could be an argument about something mean she did at school in front of his friends or, actually, maybe it could take place at school in the first place, with her doing that mean thing. That way I could be showing how important friends are, as well as how mean she can get... This thinking can actually be written in writers notebooks, helping students understand what it can mean to write as a way to grow ideas, writing what one has not yet thought. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

31 As you confer with students about their story ideas, you ll be conferring to develop their knowledge of how to write effective stories. Be sure to carry with you all that you know your writers learned during earlier writing units, and to show utter incomprehension if writers plans for their stories suggest they have forgotten all they know about zooming in on a small moment and telling it bit by bit. It is impossible to overemphasize the need to make sure that your writers draw on all they have already learned. As you catch glimpses of the stories your students are on the verge of writing, make sure those stories convey focused events, start with dialogue or a small action, and rely on storytelling rather than merely summarizing and commenting on the event. Everything they learned during personal narrative must be transferred to the fiction unit, only now they will write two scenes (or small moments) rather than just one, and they will need to use those two scenes to capture an entire story line (a character wants something, encounters trouble, finds a way to persevere or to learn or to grow). After generating story ideas and selecting one, rehearsal will continue, but now the rehearsal will be held within the constraints of a specific yet still-evolving story idea. Once writers have a story idea in mind, they can rehearse for that story idea by thinking about any one of several dimensions of a story. They could, for example, think next about the plot, about the setting, or about the characters. If your writers are especially advanced and already have a repertoire of ways to think about these elements, you could issue a generous invitation to them at this point, saying, Writers, you have a couple of days to rehearse for your stories. Let s recall all the ways you already know for rehearsing. Now I m going to tell you: You are the boss of your writing. You probably have a sense for which of these ways of proceeding is going to work especially well for you at this point, and you can go to it. I ll be coming around to help. Then you could, if you wished, convene a small group to work with the writers who elected to think first about, say, their characters (or their setting, or their plot). This write-up will proceed as if you are not at this point issuing that invitation, but teachers who are looking for ways to support independence and initiative and to lift the levels of writers work will find it is just a small and beautiful step forward to let kids muck about in rehearsal for three days, drawing on all the many tools and strategies they have learned in previous years. If your writers still benefit from being scaffolded, you might at this point suggest that usually writers rehearse for the stories by spending some time developing characters. That is, once writers have a general sense of a story idea, they can begin developing the character central to that idea. One way to do this is to generate a list of external and internal characteristics. Refer to page 27 in Writing Fiction for an extended explanation of this strategy. Be aware that just because you refer to this work as rehearsal, this does not mean that writers will not be writing. They will be! But the writing they produce will not yet be the actual story, written out beginning to end. It can be simply their thoughts about a character, or it can be little scenes that capture the character in the act of doing something that he or she will probably do within the eventual story. If the story involves an argument that takes place at the protagonist s locker, for example, the writer might develop the protagonist s character by writing a little scene that shows the character A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

32 opening her locker, shuffling past the... what? What is in there? The character is reaching into her locker to get the... what? The stuff that the writer puts into that locker will reveal the character. The way the character thinks and acts as she opens her locker will reveal her, too. One writer could take his character out for ice cream. With whom? Does he order a cone or a dish? What flavor? What if the service is slow how does he act? It will be important for you to plan not only your minilessons around ways to develop characters, but also the small-group work and conferring you will be apt to do. For example, when kids list attributes of a character, they may have trouble thinking about how those characteristics cohere into a unified portrait. You can anticipate, then, that you might need to pull a small group to remind kids that no individual aspect of a character exists in a vacuum. Instead, characters internal feelings and thoughts are affected by external traits (and vice versa). On a page of a student s notebook under the heading External Characteristics, a student might write overweight, and then jot down how this might have consequences on the character s self-perception. Maybe the character feels that he isn t worth being picked for a sports team, or that a classmate he likes won t want to be his friend, and in turn this will play into the struggles that the character undergoes. Maybe the character, in fact, doesn t get picked for a team because he projects that he s not athletic. Or maybe, in fact, the character doesn t muster the courage to befriend the classmate he likes because he imagines the classmate won t like him. Encourage students to think about the ways characters external and internal traits relate to each other, perhaps through a sequence of cause and effect, and help them think about ways these factors intertwine in the events of their lives. Then, too, in small groups and conferences you will want to help writers think about characters within the structure of stories this means, for example, that it will be important to think about a character s motivations, about what the character wishes for. You might help students think about what the character thinks he or she wants and what, in fact, the deeper motivations are for those wants. In Those Shoes, the main character wants the shoes that are accepted by the peer group but what the character really wants is friends. In the end, of course, the character does not get the shoes he wants, but he does get a friend. In Eve Bunting s Your Move, James and Isaac want many things to be safe in their neighborhood, to please their mother, to fit into the gang culture they encounter and to escape that gang culture. Middle school students experience complicated pressures, and the characters in their stories can help them think through those pressures and what s inside characters that helps them respond to these pressures. You don t want your students to invest too many days in the work of developing characters not because character development is not significant (it is!) but because it is important for the writer to think between plot, theme, and character. After what will probably be two days of work developing characters, you will probably want writers to put their thoughts about characters into their thoughts about the plot. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

33 Rehearsal That Incorporates Plot as Well as Characters, Including Work with Story Mountains, Storytelling Booklets, and Dramatic Enactments Story Mountains Many of us have, in previous years, suggested that students plan their stories by sketching them on story mountains. This graphic organizer is in many ways a natural choice because it channels students to think about their rising action, the story s turning point, and so forth. On the other hand, there have been some ways in which the graphic organizer has proved a bit confusing to students. First of all, sometimes students (and we, as teachers) have interpreted the story mountain, with its plotline of dots, as suggesting that the short story might contain, say, five scenes (or five small moments). One student wanted to tell about her best friend being adopted and moving away, then returning. The young writer plotted a story line that began with her and the friend meeting each other (first dot), and then becoming fast friends (next dot), and then a letter arriving saying her friend was moving away (next dot), and so on. Such a story plan for a three- to five-page story almost guarantees that the story will be summarized rather than dramatized. It may be more helpful to tell students that they can only use two scenes (or vignettes, or small moments) to capture the entire story (occasionally this can be three). So this time, the writer begins with a scene in which she walks to the mailbox, finds the letter saying her friend is being adopted, goes into the house to phone her, and in the midst of congratulating her breaks down in tears. Then the second scene might be a month later, when the narrator is alone and lonely, without her best friend who was adopted earlier, and something or other happens. Such a story could still be told using five or six dots on a time line, but those dots would represent a progression of micro-events (the mailbox, the return to the kitchen, the breaking down in tears) within just those two scenes. Another source of confusion has been the fact that a story mountain has an apex. Often a story is shaped more like an arc a character wants something and over the course of the narrative that motivation is somehow addressed. In the sequence of a story, there is not always one single turning-point moment. It is helpful to teach students that the story does need to show characters changing, so it would not work to simply write a story saying Bob got an ipod. Instead, if that is the starting idea, the writer needs to consider whether that statement represents the end of the story, in which case the writer still needs to create the other half, the change part, perhaps by starting the story: Bob did not have an ipod and he wanted one very much. Then the story could somehow end, Bob got an ipod. Alternatively, the story could begin with Bob, who has long wanted an ipod, getting one. If that is the start of the story rather than the end, then the story could perhaps end with Bob realizing that actually, his ipod might have been stolen from someone else, and he finally decides to give it back. That is, the story does need to be shaped like a bobby pin, with a change within it, a hairpin turn. This sort of development work is crucial. However, it is less crucial for a writer to worry about what the exact turning point of a story might be. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

34 Storytelling Booklets To teach your students alternate or additional story-planning techniques, you might teach them to tell their stories across the pages of a booklet (this borrows on work done in primary classrooms and has been extraordinarily powerful even in middle schools). You can start by teaching writers to simply fold a piece of paper in half (folding the top to the bottom), then fold again (left edge to touch the right edge). This will give them a simple four-page booklet. Writers can quickly make a line sketch on the first page of the booklet of the starting bit in their stories, jotting a word or two beside the sketches. Then, writers can turn the pages of the booklet, scrawling quick sketches of what happens second, third, and so on. It is critical that you encourage them to make quick work of the booklets. These are quick line sketches and a few words to prompt the writer as he/she is telling the story. If your students need a lot of support, it can help apprentice young writers to structure a successful piece of fiction by reminding them how many stories go. One way I know stories can go is my character will want something, but something gets in the way, so my character does something to tackle the trouble, and the story ends. There are many other ways that students might use sketching books to imagine how a story might unfurl. The important thing is that after making one set of quick sketches, capturing one possible progression, the writer must touch each page, storytelling the whole story of that page. And the writer must make multiple story booklets, trying out lots of alternate structures. When students tell the story to a partner, encourage them to use all they know to tell it as a story. The first page, for example, could sound like: Sam rushed into his apartment building. He leapt up the stairs two at a time. As he shoved the key in the lock, he took a deep breath. He opened the door. The lights were out. Maria, are you home? he shouted. Nothing. He was alone. He had time to hide her birthday present before she got home! As kids do this rehearsal, be sure to help them keep their stories brief. The important thing to stress is that students need to actually tell the story as a story, not as a summary. It can t be, On this page he comes home and goes in, looking for Maria. Earlier, we mentioned that it is also important for students to try on successive versions of the story. By now, they will have made a commitment to one story. But they need to understand that the one story could be told in countless different ways and the story itself will morph through this work. They might change the character, give their character a different problem, change the ending of the story, change the setting, add or remove a secondary character, stretch out an important part, make the problem get worse and worse, and so forth. As the writer imagines his or her story and tells it to a partner, the story will become stronger and the writer will learn about ways to incorporate both story structure and voice in an effective story. Dramatic Enactments If you notice that some students are struggling with oral storytelling or if you simply want to take this work further, you can gather a small group and encourage them to A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

35 role-play one another s stories. The writer is often the director, telling the actors how to move and what to do. You can then teach students that the instructions they gave as the director are the actions they tell in their story. Show them how their direction of Look at the box you re holding becomes Sam looked at the box in his hands in their writing. Have them then story-tell with one another in the small group, all of them storytelling the story they just role-played. As you do all of this, you ll be helping writers think through the blend of character and plot. One way to do this will be for them to imagine how the small-moment scenes they have planned for will actually be played out (see page 43 in Writing Fiction for more on this). You can encourage them to take any one scene or small moment from the story and write it, using all they know about narrative writing to capture that scene. Many teachers have found that before asking writers to imagine and write scenes that might, for example, show the character wanting something or encountering trouble or changing in some way, it helps to encourage students to first act out possible scenes, revising their dramatic renditions until they begin to feel like they are sort of working, then using the drama to scaffold writers as they write a scene or two. One way to approach this task is to suggest that instead of just telling what might happen on a page or two of a storytelling booklet, students can begin to show this if they can make quick, dramatic enactments. Show students how they can elicit the help of peers to play out a brief scene in which the writer becomes the narrator and tells a small bit of her imagined scene while two or three of her peers play it out. As kids do this, coach them on using what they already know from the storytelling work they tried earlier in the year, slowing down the action and telling it bit-by-bit, including not just action, but what the characters are thinking and saying. In subsequent quick tries, encourage writers to weave in what they are noticing: Oh, wow, when you tell that part again include what Michael was just doing He turned around slowly, raised his arm, and pointed right at me and tell him just what to do next. The key is to not turn these dramatic story-tells into long productions; instead, they should be multiple oneto two-minute tries in which the writer gets to audition and rehearse various traits and scenarios. Then, after just five intense minutes of work, the writer can grab his or her notebook and record new thinking. In classrooms where students have tried incorporating bits of drama into a fiction-writing piece, teachers have been astounded by writers who rushed back to their seats brimming with new thoughts! Rely on Mentor Texts to Help Students Envision the Sort of Thing They Want to Write This Sets Them Up to Later Use These Texts to Support Revision You will find that once kids have an idea for how their story will go, they will be chomping at the bit to not only get started, but to write the whole story. You won t want to hold them back but you will want to be sure that before they are out of the starting gate, you have shown them texts that resemble those you hope they will write. Before drafting begins, invite them to spend a bit of time studying a touchstone text or two. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

36 Try to find texts your students haven t yet read. The challenge is to remember that your students are writing very short stories. Most of the mentor texts you will find will be longer than what your students can write. Try to find texts that are centered around just two or, at the most, three small moments (or episodes). If the texts you use as mentors race through too many events, your students will do so as well, and their stories will very likely become summaries rather than stories. One way to approach a study of mentor texts is to first help your students learn to read like a writer. Teach them to find places in the text that move them and to name specifically what the author is doing, and then find other places in the text in which the author replicates that move. The author will have done a bit of craftsmanship to create an effect, and students can become strong in naming the effect, and they might decide they want to create the same effect at a particular place in their own text. It is important for students to learn the purpose for specific writing craft moves. As they discover still more new moves over time, they can jot on their story mountain or story booklet places in the draft where they might try that same move. You might also lean on student writing as mentor texts. Scores of teachers remark that the best resources for them have been the student writing samples from the CD- ROM, included in the series Units of Study for Teaching Writing (Heinemann 2006). Or perhaps you can use some of your past students writing, the entries from collecting or mini-booklets from planning. Use writing samples that represent different ability levels so that you are differentiating your instruction. Writing Leads and Revising Those Leads: Don t Let Them Write the Longest Drafts Ever Before Revising Pumped up with the language and structure of published stories, students will now definitely need to draft lots of leads, and to realize each of those leads actually sets up a different version of the same story. As you work with students on their leads, help them think about which scenes will be told and not told (and the latter is the harder challenge). You will want to hold many small-group conferences during this time, so you are seeing and pushing more students to get off to a strong start. You will need to help many students incorporate back-information into their story line (so that the story can stand on the shoulders of previous events). You ll above all work to be sure they are storytelling and not summarizing. For added support teaching into writing engaging leads, refer to page 99 of Writing Fiction. Continually ask yourself whether students are remembering all that you taught during the personal narrative work. If not, act dumbfounded: How can it be? Suggest students get one of their published pieces from Unit One and lay it beside them as they write more entries. Your published piece should remind you of what you can do as a writer, you might say. As soon as students start writing their leads, one lead will capture a student s imagination and he or she will begin writing a draft. Expect that a day in which you teach students to try different leads will become a day in which students settle on, and begin A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

37 to draft, their first drafts. By the end of that day, you will probably find that half or twothirds of your class is already a page into his or her draft of the final story. That is fine as it should be. The problem, however, is that very soon each student will have invested so much energy into this draft that you will find there is almost no stopping the student. I strongly encourage you to plan a minilesson in which you tell writers that when working on a big project such as these stories, it is vastly more efficient to revise at the start of the writing rather than at the end. Help writers draw a line under all they have already written and to essentially start again in a sense, they are revising their lead yet again, only this time the lead will have been a page or more in length. Use all you know to help writers lift the level of their work so the next draft is vastly better than the first. The revision you will be expecting is large scale. It involves writing draft one, draft two, draft three. And these revisions are not insertions of little codes into an existing draft. Crafting and Revising Stories: Developing the Heart, Considering Endings As your students work on drafting the story, you can teach them strategies that fiction writers rely upon to control time, to animate every scene with action and setting. To gain a deeper understanding of teaching setting, refer to page 115 of Writing Fiction. Page 133 unpacks the work of students writing and exploring a variety of ways they could end their story. It will be important for students to see that the plot of a story builds to a high point, and that their main characters make harder and harder climbs toward their goals. It is helpful to have students draft their stories across several pages, with the first two or three pages telling one Small Moment story, and the next two or three pages telling the story of a second scene. During this phase, remind students that in all narrative writing, we focus our pieces not only by narrowing the time frame in which we write, but also by deciding on the meaning we want to highlight across the story. We ask ourselves, What is this story really, really about? What do I want my reader to take away? and then we craft every part of our stories the beginning, the middle, the end to spotlight what it is we are especially trying to convey. A story about a boy who is learning to swim will unfold very differently if it s angled to be about a boy overcoming his fear of water, versus a boy whose goal it is to be an Olympic swimmer one day. Once writers have a sense of what they are trying to say and have begun drafting their two or three main scenes, we will then want to teach them to find and develop the section that they believe is the heart of the story. A minilesson on page 85 (Session VII) in Writing Fiction covers this in more detail. We will teach students to ask themselves, What is the heart of my story? and then scissor the draft apart, and tape a whole blank page into the section that had once contained an abbreviated version of that section of the story we determine is the heart. This time, when writers write that one section, they ll stretch it out so the key moment is almost a full page. If writers struggle to stretch out a scene, invite them to first dramatize it. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

38 You can also help writers revise by helping them develop tension in a story. You can teach students to increase a character s motivation and then, later, increase the obstacles the character must face. Writers might also revise by giving more details about time or place, and how those progress. We might teach them that between the two (or three) scenes, there is often a passage of time. For some writers, the transition between the two scenes might be carried off by a phrase such as Later that day..., whereas for other writers the work of showing the passage of time might be subtler. A writer could have the sun move across the sky, or a different meal being served: Dad pulled the chicken out of the oven and began slicing off pieces for everyone would be a subtle way to show the passage of time from an early morning scene. Oftentimes in student drafts, the character magically receives his or her fondest dream in the form of a solution that flies in out of nowhere like Superman. Likewise, usually when kids embark on a story, they plan for the main character to win the award, to be invited to the party, to find the missing item, and so forth. All you need to do is to ask kids whether life always turns out that way. Do people always win the awards? Do people always receive the wanted gift? When life doesn t turn out as we hoped, that s when people dig down inside and surprise and outgrow themselves. That s when the real inner action occurs. If teachers encourage kids to rethink pat, easy endings, those kids will not only learn about writing-to-discover, they will also learn that people grow through times of difficulty, and that whenever a door closes, often there is a window somewhere that remains open. With your help, students can see that the solutions writers find in fiction as in life are generally those that we find ourselves. For some students, the solutions tend to be more of an emotional realization than of a major surprise action. We could demonstrate, You know, right now in my story the problem is solved because Janelle s dad sees her crying and surprises her with a puppy, but it seems almost like Superman landed and saved the day! Janelle didn t really get the chance to do anything! Instead, maybe Janelle doesn t get a dog, but instead realizes that helping her neighbor, Ms. Johnson, take care of her dog gives her not just one friend, but two. Publishing Finally, at the conclusion of the unit, you ll want to create opportunities for your young writers to publish their writing! You may decide to invite students to publish their stories as picture books, in which case you now can give some time to studying picture books and the role of the images in capturing the tone of a page (when the pages are abstract), in illustrating a pivotal moment, and in extending the text. Or you may invite writers to sort their stories into some thematic short story anthologies, which will then be available in the classroom for read-aloud and independent reading. Definitely make time for authors to read their stories to younger audiences, peers, and families. Honor kids writing publicly and in lasting ways. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

39 One Possible Sequence of Teaching Points Realistic Fiction, Grades 6 and 7 The goals of this unit are to increase students engagement, volume, and stamina and to hone their narrative craft. Kids only get extraordinarily good at fiction writing with repeated practice so you ll want to co-plan with colleagues across grades, and decide which teaching points you ll repeat and which you ll introduce in which grade. You should see kids doing a lot of writing in class, and almost equal amounts at home, as they get excited about the stories they are writing. At the beginning of the unit, watch that you don t spend hours just planning or working on time lines you want your kids doing lots and lots of writing. In the same vein, at the tail end of the unit, watch that kids aren t simply tinkering as they do revision you want them writing whole sections of narrative that are new. You may find that fiction creates a crucial opportunity to teach grammar lessons, embedded in meaningful writing workshop structures. Take this work seriously and study what tenses you want to employ in the writing you do in front of your students, and they ll take it seriously as well. Show them how to punctuate dialogue accurately, how to use ellipses and parentheses and dashes with aplomb. They ll actually enjoy grammar while composing stories. One red flag that is worth noting sometimes young writers break away and begin inserting aliens and dragons into realistic fiction. Part of the goal of this unit is to teach adolescents that stories have moral power, and that writers can move an audience as effectively to think about social issues, through fiction, as they do through essays. So hold your kids to realistic fiction that tackles urgent social issues and then encourage independent writing projects that let them go in any direction they desire. You may be including fantasy or historical fiction units later in the year as well, so kids will have more opportunities for these genres. Some of the teaching points, below, are taken from Writing Fiction, from Units of Study in Teaching Writing. Others are taken from The Power of Grammar, and still others are new. Part One: Rehearsing Ideas for Realistic Fiction/Social Action Fiction Writers return to moments of trouble in our own lives. We get ideas for fiction, just as we get ideas for personal narratives and essays, by paying attention to the moments and issues in our own lives. Often it s exceptionally satisfying to rewrite these moments, taking other perspectives, or constructing alternate events and decisions. It s also very intriguing to write in third person and see how that shifts our perspective to an analytical storyteller, rather than a diary writer. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

40 Sometimes writers create walls, or graffiti boards, of the social issues that feel most urgent in our lives. Then we try composing one narrative moment that makes one (or more) of these moments visible. When we re done, we try another. We use the narrative craft we know to show, don t tell as we write, using dialogue, detail, inner thinking, and action to craft the story. Writers use what we know about writing personal narratives and memoir to come up with ideas for stories using lists, charts, and sketches, looking back over our notebooks, and so on. We also use what we know about talking to a partner, so we use our partners to rehearse moments, telling our partner to Picture this... and launching into a small moment of a story. When we feel like our head is full of words, we break off and begin writing. Fiction writers often rehearse our stories by writing blurbs (book jackets), by trying out time lines and story mountains, and by doing storytelling booklets or storyboards. We try out more than one version, and we try to choose one to commit to, based on one that we have a lot to say about, that we have a clear vision for, and that feels like it will fit a short story (not novel) form. By doing this, we should be able to figure out what story we are committing to, and the rest of our rehearsal moves will help us play with that story. Writers collect ideas for stories not only by finding bits of life or entries that could grow into whole stories, but also paying attention to the stories we wish existed in the world. Sometimes we get ideas for stories by thinking, How can I write a story for people like me, so we can see ourselves in books? Sometimes we think about stories we ve read, and we imagine parallel narratives that could go with them we adapt characteristics, settings, and issues from stories we are intrigued by. Writers conceive of characters who are transgressive who break through norms and boundaries and rules, and we try them out in story moments. Sometimes we have a character in our own lives that we base a story on. Just shifting into third person and giving that character a name (often with the same initial, since that, oddly, keeps the original character close to the author), and then zooming in on one moment of trouble in that character s life, may get us going. As we play with characters, we put them into narrative moments. Often it s provocative in a story to see what a character dreams about and desires. It s always interesting to learn about significant relationships. It s intriguing to see A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

41 the pressures that are put on characters, and how they respond. Sometimes it s interesting to see how characters have more than one problem. Part Two: Drafting and Elaborating Writers often think of a story as having three parts one part where we meet the characters and find out about the setting as well as hints of the problem, one part where the critical problem is faced and choices are made, and one part that shows change and/or resolution. Writers don t necessarily start drafting with part one, though we often begin by drafting the second part, to make sure we use our energy on the most critical moment of action, decision, and conflict. Then we ll write what comes before and what happens after. Writers try out tenses as we draft. We may try our first scene, for instance, in past tense and present tense, reading it aloud to a partner, and listening for the different tone. Once we decide on a tense, we pay attention to our verb forms to try to hold to the intended tense. Writers don t draft by rewriting our notebook entries. But we may return to our notebook to see if there were some interesting scenes that we want to weave into our draft. We also may return to our notebook to see what issue we really thought we were tackling in our story, and we ask ourselves: Is the heart of my story making a stance on this issue clear? As we draft our first scene, writers work on creating a setting that is a psychological state as well as a physical one. We create a mood by something as simple as the weather, and by small details that make a place seem happy or oppressive. We also look to each of our scenes with this lens, elaborating our settings so they create a certain atmosphere that shifts throughout the story. Writers try different leads for our stories. We start in different places, we write three versions of the same scene, we try different voices (first and third), or we start in various settings, to surprise ourselves as writers. Then we show our partner some of our leads and get feedback from a partner writer. Today I want to teach you that writers take our time with endings, weighing and considering, drafting and revising until we find one that fits. We know that a just-right ending will feel as if it is tailored exactly to fit our particular story. We know this ending will tie up loose ends, show character change, resolve the unresolved difficulties, and bring home the story s meaning. We try various endings until we have one we think is working. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

42 Just when we think we re done, because our stamina for new ideas may be running out, we may find that if we return to mentor texts, we are inspired with new craft. Writers study favorite parts of favorite stories, and we ask ourselves, How did the writer do that? Then we give it a try. Part Three: Getting Ready to Publish Fiction writers consider how we are going to publish, and that affects our final work. We may decide to publish our stories in thematic short story anthologies. If so, we probably want to start sorting our stories by possible themes before we even finish writing them. Sometimes naming the themes or issues helps us to reconsider our stories, asking ourselves: Does our story show this theme or issue as clearly as I want? If we are going to publish our short stories as picture books, we begin to ask ourselves: What role will the pictures play in my story? and we work on those images. Before we recopy our stories, we consider narrative paragraphs. We think about how paragraphs help the reader know that the setting is changing, or a new character is entering, or the mood is changing. Writers also use paragraphs for dramatic effect. We can also take a fresh look at our sentences, with the lens of short and long sentences, and when to use each. Series of short sentences often create a sense of tension, which is released with a longer, serial sentence. Sentences that include lists, especially lists with three parts (she had in her backpack the diary she always carried, the silver comb her mother had left her before dying, and the picture of Sam she had stolen from Sarah s dresser), are often rhythmic and satisfying. We look at mentor texts for sentences and groups of sentences we like; we study them with a partner, and we try them out. One final lens before we consider our story mostly finished is to think about missing scenes, transitions in time and place, and Does the story make sense? We may turn our story over to a writing partner or group, trading stories and just giving editorial feedback on where, as a reader, we could use a little clarity. Writers use what we know about editing to return to our drafts and fix up capitalization, beginning and ending punctuation, and the dialogue punctuation as we make a clean copy. We may also enlist a partner to read our story out loud to us, so we can listen together for missing words and fix up parts as we go. Writers know ourselves and our grammatical strengths and issues. We enlist editors to help us as we get near to publishing. If we are typing our stories, we A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

43 use the spell-check to help us out, and we still double-check spelling with a friend or mentor. In a community of writers, we help each other as we get ready to publish. Writers who are strong with grammar and spelling may offer to run an editing center. Artists may offer to make covers or illustrations for stories. Fast typists may type. Readers may look across stories to sort them for anthologies. Some may work on the celebration, arranging an author s night or a public reading. Publishing Anthologies: A Celebration (see page 187 in Writing Fiction) A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

44 UNIT THREE Informational Writing Nonfiction Books NOVEMBER Middle school students are actually thrilled to sit down and say, I can just write everything I know about... Consider how much of their lives, their conversations, are about having expertise: how some students wear the ins and outs of the fashion world on their sleeve, how knowing the most minute stats of every football player makes for a better fantasy league than their friends. Equally, we know our classrooms are filled with students who may slog through English Language Arts, but suddenly spring to life when they enter Social Studies or Science. If we come at informational writing with the expectation that our students want to know a lot about topics, and do know a lot about topics, our unit of study can take on a tremendous new life. The Common Core State Standards highlight the importance of informational, sometimes called explanatory, writing. They describe it as writing that is designed to examine a topic and convey information and ideas clearly. The Common Core State Standards differentiate between informational and opinion writing, suggesting that if the overall purpose of a text is to teach important information, then one idea will probably not dominate the entire text, nor will the driving structure of the writing be claim/evidence. Informational writing is often marked by topics and subtopics that are signaled with headings and subheadings, and with accompanying portals for information, including glossaries and text boxes or sidebars, and diagrams, charts, graphs, and other visuals. In the world of professional writing, however, information writing and persuasive writing sometimes appear to blend in some ways. That is, many awardwinning informational texts teach information while also aiming to subtly or not so subtly persuade readers to think certain ideas. These distinctions are important to keep in mind while designing your teaching for this unit. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

45 The fundamental thing to remember about informational writing is that the writer aims to teach readers about a topic. Just as we help students to think about information reading as a way of engaging in a course in which they are learning all about a topic, we need to help them think about information writing as engaging in a course in which they teach all about a topic. An informational writer s purpose, then, is to help readers become informed on a topic that feels very important to the writer. That s the kind of writing your students will tackle in this unit. It s the kind of writing that kids will encounter in much of their nonfiction reading, current event articles in published newspapers, and their social studies and science texts. It s also the kind of writing for which it is easy to find lots of accessible mentor texts. Because informational texts are usually composites of smaller texts/chapters, often written in different text structures and genres, any unit on informational writing is bound to stand on the shoulders of units in narrative, opinion, and procedural writing as well as on units in nonfiction reading. This unit aims to help students harness all they know about all of these kinds of writing, using all of this in the service of creating texts that teach readers. The unit has the specific added goal of teaching youngsters about qualities of good writing as these pertain to information texts. Students learn that focus is as important in information writing as it is in narrative writing. Students progress, with experience and instruction, from writing rather cursorily about very broad, generic topics toward being able to zoom in on more specific topics and therefore write with a greater density of relevant information. Eventually, experienced writers learn that they can focus not just on a smaller subject, but on a particular angle on (or aspect of) that subject. That is, for students writing a six- to seven-page book, usually those writing on the topic of tigers will be working with less sophistication than those writing on the topic of the Bengal tiger s hunting patterns. Students also learn to group their information into categories and, in time, into subcategories. With experience and instruction, students progress from grouping information into categories that appear to have been developed on the fly, based on the writer simply thinking, Hmmm, what else do I have to say? and then producing another chapter title, toward categories that are planned from the start and previewed early in the text, with the categories of information mirroring the logic of the text. That is, if the writer s goal is to compare the hunting habits of the Bengal tiger at different times of day, the text might be organized by time. Then, too, the unit supports writers growing ability to substantiate claims with information, and to elaborate on and analyze that information. Students come to learn that when information writing is explanatory, the information that is included tends to be facts that explain a process, and the informational text is anecdotal, the information is apt to include examples that are sometimes in the form of anecdote or vignette. In addition to teaching students to progress along this continuum, the unit channels students to work toward creating lively, voice-filled, engaging information books about topics of expertise. One of the rules of thumb in writing is that writers can only make readers engage in a topic if the writer is interested in that topic. The unit, then, assumes that students are writing about self-chosen topics of great individual interest. As an alternative way to teach this unit, you might call on a previous content area study. In classrooms that have brought to life units such as Early American Leaders A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

46 Teach Lessons in Leadership: The Making of a Nation, it might well be that students care and know about subtopics they ve studied within that unit, and can write with engagement and authority on a subtopic that falls under the purview of their social studies curriculum. However, if students are just embarking on a social studies unit and know only the barest outline about that topic, they would not be apt to write well on that topic. It is likely, then, that during this first nonfiction writing experience of the year, many students will write on topics of individual expertise. Teachers wanting to learn more about the information source for this unit should refer to the Common Core State Standards and the samples collected within their appendix, to the TCRWP s Continuum for Assessing Information Writing, and to the rich tradition of work in nonfiction writing done by leaders in the field of writing such as Don Murray, E. B. White, Roy Peter Clark, and William Zinsser. Getting Ready: Imagining the Texts That Writers Will Create and Choosing Touchstone Texts That Align with Nonfiction Reading It is crucial that you select captivating, well-written mentor texts to support your students in this work. Choose just a small number of texts that resemble those you hope your students will write in this unit, making the choice not by the topic of the texts, but rather with an eye to the structures within which you hope they will write. A book about great battles of WWII with clear sections, varying formats, and writing that seventh graders could potentially see themselves in would be more supportive than one about the economic causes of the Great Depression that is very complex and far different from the kinds of writing your students will do. You will want to consider whether to choose several mentor texts that are structured differently to expand students sense of options, or whether you want to channel students toward a particular structure so that you can provide more scaffolding by holding the class more closely together and ensuring that the text you write as an example matches the ones they write. When selecting texts, you will likely find that some texts are narrative nonfiction ones that take readers through a timeline within the life of someone or something (people, animals, plants, rivers, war events) whereas some will be expository informational texts organized in a variety of ways: ones that teach all about a topic, some that are procedural, others that are a composite of all of these and other kinds of structures. You ll need to decide which features you ll want to highlight in your minilessons, and make sure the touchstone texts you select illustrate those features. For example, given that you ll probably emphasize the importance of categorizing information, you ll probably want to find model texts that have clear subcategories. You may want to emphasize that informational writers write in sections or chapters, and you may want to use the very concrete example of writing that begins with a table of contents and is divided into chapters to illustrate this concept in which case you will need books that contain a table of contents. Whether that is important to you or not, you will almost certainly want to show writers that information pertaining to one subtopic falls under one heading and information pertaining to another subtopic falls under a second A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

47 heading, so you will select mentor texts that have headings and subheadings, if not chapters and a table of contents. The Common Core State Standards remind us that seventh graders information writing should not only convey information but should also offer some insights about and some analysis of that information. You ll likely want to highlight right away that writers integrate facts with opinions and ideas, in which case you ll select mentor texts that illustrate this clearly. You may also search for example texts that blend clear, straightforward informational writing with voice. If so, you ll look for books that engage the reader and sound as if the author is speaking straight to the reader, with sentences embedded among the factual information in which the author relates that information to something more personal. Once you ve chosen an example text or two, you re ready to begin. You ll want to provide a unit overview for your seventh graders. This will be easy to do because in the reading workshop, they will also be reading texts in which writers become teachers, laying out a course of study for readers. You might, therefore, say: The authors that you are reading are functioning like your teachers. Well, you too can become a teacher, writing in such a way that you teach other people about the topics on which you are an expert. Use Performance Assessments to Make Decisions about Your Teaching You will probably decide to launch the unit with an on-demand Informational Writing assessment. This means that on the day before the assessment, you could say to your students, Think of a topic that you ve studied or know. Tomorrow you will have an hour to write an informational (or all-about) text that teaches others interesting and important information and ideas about that topic. If you want to find and use information from a book or another outside source, you may bring that with you tomorrow. Please keep in mind that you ll have an hour to complete this. Then, the following day, provide them with one writing workshop s time, to show what they know about information writing. Many teachers find that after students do this informational writing, it can be helpful to give students a fast course on information writing and then allow them to spend a single day rewriting what they have written, from top to bottom, because this can allow you to assess what they know how to do without any instruction and what is easily within their grasp with just a few reminders. In any case, this on-demand writing will help you know where your students fall in a trajectory of writing development and help you set your sights on very clear next steps. You might refer to the Continuum of Information Writing on our website ( for support in this analysis. It will also help students realize that informational writing is well within their grasp, and not something that requires days and weeks of preparation. Most teachers of students who have done the on-demand assessment have been pleasantly surprised by how much students bring into this unit of study, and by the volume of writing students are able to produce in just one day s writing workshop. The work that students produce in the A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

48 on-demand situation becomes the baseline, and you can increase expectations as the unit progresses. Launching the Unit: Information Writers Try On Topics, Then Revise Those Topics with an Eye toward Greater Focus Your first goal will be to inspire your writers to regard information books as inspiring and compelling. You want to enter the unit with a class of adolescents who are dying to do this work. Show students some of your favorite published nonfiction books, including those you have selected as mentors, and tell them what you love about those books or let students browse and mark and talk about favorite pages and parts. Sometimes, kids will turn first to the illustrations or interesting text features. If so, you can explain that there is an art to writing books that entice a reader into learning a lot. Writers do sometimes include illustrations or text boxes or grabber-leads that are intended as ways to collar the reader and bring that reader s attention to the rest of the page. You can help your students, too, to go from those initially appealing sections to the rest of the page to the compelling anecdotes and descriptions that are as interesting, if not as eye-catching, as the passages. The -ology series and the Seymour Simon books in particular include a lot of vivid writing. One way to recruit young writers to write with intensity is to share a vision with them right from the start of what will happen to their published pieces. Are you making a library of books about the solar system that will grace the shelves of the science classroom, be available for all young scientists, and be read to a younger grade or to the students the following year? Are you adding to the nonfiction books you have available for independent reading in your classroom, so that students can find expert books on training for soccer, the history of the woolly mammoth, and how coyotes are beginning to live in cities!? One thing is for sure knowing that their books will be handled and read by other readers (not just read aloud to other readers, but that individual, interested readers will turn the pages themselves, lingering over the words and images) really increases students intensity, and thus their stamina and zeal for doing highlevel work. You may have on hand a few terrific informational books that kids have made in prior years if so, share them with students to inspire them. After teaching your writers that information books can be compelling, your next goal will be to teach them that one of the first things an informational writer does is to select a topic and to focus, narrowing it down to its most interesting aspects. Your goal will not be to help writers come up with a topic for their writing remember, always, that if you catch someone a fish, they eat for a day; if you teach them to fish, they eat for a lifetime. Your goal, then, at the very start of the unit, is to equip your students with a small repertoire of strategies they can use again and again in life whenever they want to select a topic for informational writing. You ll probably want students to explore several possible topics (this makes it more likely that they will settle upon a topic on which they have information and it gives you some time to cycle through the classroom, conferring with individuals to edge them toward topics in which they seem A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

49 especially knowledgeable and invested). Most teachers encourage writers to use their notebooks as a place for recording ideas for informational writing. Some teachers suggest it helps to think, If I had to teach a course to the other kids in the class, what might I teach? That question, for some children, can be a more supportive one than the more generic: What am I an expert in? Thinking, What would I teach this class? leads a writer to consider not only his or her expertise but also the interests of a likely audience. You could teach your students that some nonfiction writers try on ideas by writing potential back-of-the-book blurbs as a way to imagine how their books might go, and why those books would interest readers. As writers collect ideas in their writers notebooks, you ll want to make sure that rehearsal does not mean just writing a few words onto the page and calling it a day. You could suggest that writers record not just possible topics, but possible subtopics within each topic. Writers could go farther and think about subtopics within whatever subtopic interests them especially. Students will need conferences and small-group help to shift from writing about sharks to writing about great white sharks and then possibly to writing about great white sharks and their interactions with humans, and they might balk a bit at the idea of revising their topics. Keep in mind, however, that front-end revision during these early days will prove much more acceptable to students than later revisions that require them to discard many pages of work. Of course, some less proficient writers may have more success with broader topics great white sharks, not more focused than that and some more proficient writers may be able to handle a topic that is an idea, not just a subject (shark s eyes are very different than ours). Some teachers suggest writers engage in a bit of research to try on possible topics, and there may be some value in ascertaining whether there are any readily available and accessible texts on a topic. But remind your seventh graders that, in general, writers don t start from scratch. It would be much more of a challenge for someone to write a book about training for basketball if he or she doesn t play basketball or even watch it. For someone else, it would be a snap to get started with that he or she could imagine the whole book and could thus focus on learning to organize information and write well. You might be tempted to encourage your students to choose topics from the nonfiction books they are reading. One note of caution you will be just starting the nonfiction reading unit of study. The goal of this first part of the nonfiction reading unit is to support fluency and reading with stamina. It is only until later that the unit will support the reflection and note-taking work that students might use to support information writing. We strongly suggest that you steer your students toward topics of personal expertise so that they have a large body of knowledge on which to draw right away. These topics do not have to be personal in that they carry special meaning for your students; they just need to be topics that your students know a lot about. For example, students could write about a place they visit frequently on vacation. Or, they could write about their neighborhood in Brooklyn. Your students can do as much or as little research on topics as you are willing and able to support, but we do recommend that they have at least some information they can bring right away to the writing workshop. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

50 Once your writers have spent a session or two trying on topics, you can teach your writers to think about a focus, or perspective, for the piece. Perspective does not necessarily mean that children will be writing opinions. For example, the topic cheetahs are endangered suggests that the writer has a perspective or an angle on the topic and presumably the writer will forward this. Such a topic may seem at first to readers to be an opinion, making the text into opinion writing, but actually this is just the aspect of the topic that the writer has decided to highlight. To help your students make similar choices, each with his or her own individual topic, you ll probably want to help writers ask questions such as, What do I want to say to my readers? and What do I feel is important for someone to know and feel after reading my piece? Probably by the share session at the end of the fourth day, you ll want each student to have chosen his or her topic and, if necessary, to have revised the topic to make it more focused. The subject of soccer goalie or better yet, famous soccer goalies of the twentieth century will make for better writing than soccer. The less experienced writer, on the other hand, will have more success with broader, more general topics. Keep in mind that because the focus of this unit is on good writing not on research, you ll want to encourage students to choose subtopics or perspectives (as well as topics) on which they have expertise. Some of these topics emerge from nonfiction reading students have done, and sometimes students will want to choose different topics. In general, the more specific and focused your writers topics are, the more sophisticated their writing will be. Just as choosing a focused, zoomed-in small moment enables a personal narrative writer to write with greater specificity and elaboration, choosing a focused topic enables an information writer to do the same. Once writers have chosen a topic, you can move them toward planning the parts or categories for their topic. Teach your writers some of the different ways that writers plan for how their information texts will go. One way writers plan is to think of a table of contents for their work, determining the chapters that they could put in their book. Writers also might use boxes and bullets to plan, with their boxes containing topics and subtopics rather than claims (as in essay writing). If you have opportunities to do some small-group work to support this, writers will certainly profit from some closein feedback. You can help writers understand that when breaking a topic into parts, the parts need to cover the entire topic. One can t write a book on the United States and write just about four randomly selected states but one could write about Eastern, Southern, Western, and Central U.S. If that list of component parts of the U.S. included New York City in it, that would be odd, since usually component parts need to be of equal weight and parallel. It is helpful to teach students ways that information pieces are typically divided. For example, information writers often use parts, kinds, or times. If some of your students struggle to think of categories or subtopics, you could teach them in a small group that writers can always go back and revise their topics, perhaps making them broader. That is, perhaps their original topic choice is really a subtopic under a broader category about which they have more to say. Additionally, you ll want to coach writers into creating categories that feel parallel in weight. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

51 Part Two: Writers Gather a Variety of Information to Support Their Nonfiction Books In the same way that your writers gathered a variety of information in their notebooks to support their essay claims, they will gather a variety of information to support their information books. After a few days of collecting ideas in notebooks, you will want to shift your writers into gathering the information that will fill up the pages of their books. First, you will need to teach that writers gather information for their books and make decisions about how much and what kind of research they will need to conduct. You will want to remind your young writers of the importance of gathering a variety of information, and from more than one source. This is a good time to teach them to bring forward all they know from the nonfiction reading units about growing ideas through writing about a topic. You can teach your students different ways to collect in their notebooks: sometimes they might make bullet points of facts; sometimes they might write at length, growing some ideas about the facts they are collecting. They might keep a running list of difficult vocabulary words for a glossary. They might also make summaries of what they are reading and organize those summaries in different ways depending on what they are reading. If you have been following the content area units of study, your students will have a repertoire of strategies on which they can draw to use note-taking as a way to grow their thinking about a topic. Because the information will need to be sorted into categories and subcategories, you may want the research to be collected in folders, with one folder for each subtopic. In this case, encourage children to collect notes on single sheets of paper, stored in the appropriate folder. Help children avoid collecting hodgepodges of disparate information stuck together in gigantic blobs. You will need to decide whether you want part of this unit to include students doing short, focused, on-the-run research in which they locate and use print and online sources to supplement the information they already have. This probably should not become a unit where research overwhelms everything else, with students spending the majority of their time collecting rather than writing. Still, you will no doubt encourage writers to use sources to verify and extend their known information. For example, a writer creating an information book titled Great Artists of the Harlem Renaissance might not know the exact years in which some artists were born and might feel that such information would be useful. She could conduct an Internet search looking for this specific information. Encourage your students to use more than one source to support their writing. The amount of research your writers do will of course be dependent on the amount you feel able to support. A note here on tracking and citing sources: It is of course imperative that middle school students credit sources and avoid plagiarism. Teach your students right away that information writers keep a list of books and other sources they use as they research so they can later incorporate these sources into their draft. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

52 Part Three: Information Writers Draft the Pages of Books, Starting with Sections They Are Most Knowledgeable About At this point in the unit, your students will have a sense of the categories, or subtopics, they ll be covering in their information book, and along the way they will have been gathering information in their notebooks. You can teach your writers that one way to rehearse for drafting is to teach all they know about their topic to a partner, taking care to teach the information in subsections. Your writers will be accustomed to teaching each other information from the nonfiction reading units. In this session, a possible mid-workshop teaching point is to teach that information writing is intended for a specific purpose and audience, as the Common Core State Standards for informational writing suggest, and that the purpose of this kind of writing is often to teach others about a topic. Teach your writers to note areas where their information seems weak and to make a plan to shore up weak areas by finding out more about that particular subtopic. Focus your coaching during this session on students having adequate information for each subtopic, since this will be key when you are later teaching your students to elaborate well. Remind your students, perhaps in a mid-workshop teaching point or a share, that writers revise during all stages of the writing process, and as they collect information in categories they might also revise their subtopics. If they find they have too much information for one subtopic, they might consider breaking it into two. Conversely, if they don t have enough information for a subtopic, they will need to either collect more information or perhaps eliminate the subtopic altogether. After collecting information for a few days, your students will most likely be more than ready to put together the pieces of their essays and draft. You can teach your writers that as they begin planning for their drafts, it is important to look carefully at the texts that serve as mentors for this unit. You may highlight that texts containing different chapters, each of which takes up a different aspect of the topic, always include a table of contents. In one session, you could teach that information writers often start with the pages they are most fired up about. You could teach your students different ways to approach drafting these initial pages. Teach your seventh graders that when information writers draft, they keep in mind that they are writing to set readers up to be experts. Then, teach that information writers often draft one subsection at a time, keeping in mind everything they want to teach the reader about that particular subtopic. If you feel your writers have a solid understanding of nonfiction text structures, remind them to draw on all they know about different ways that nonfiction texts can be structured as they draft, choosing the structure that will best support the information they are trying to convey. In some cases, a compare/contrast structure may best support the information; in others, boxes and bullets; and in others, a narrative structure may work best. Nonfiction writers often use a variety of structures within subsections, especially as texts become more complicated. As an alternative, you could teach your writers that one possible way students could draft is by starting with more visual texts (labeled diagrams with captions). In middle A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

53 school, your students need to take a more sophisticated approach to text features. It isn t enough to just draft a page and think, What are some pictures that might go with this text? Middle school writers need to think, What is the best way to teach this information? In the following session (or tucked into this one if your writers are more experienced), teach your writers that information writers organize the information they have collected within each subsection in a way that best teaches the reader. Often an effective way to organize information is to move from the general to the specific, first giving big ideas that the reader needs to know about the topic and then moving to the smaller details, like interesting facts. This is an excellent time to draw on partnerships. Partners can work together to share sections of text and to ask each other, Did I answer all of your questions as a reader? Did I set you up to be an expert in this topic? Did I tell you enough in the beginning so that you could understand all of the parts at the end? Did you have any questions about specific ideas, parts, or even words after reading the whole section? You may want to collect other questions or prompts that partners can use to support each other and compile them on a chart with the questions listed here. During this stage of the writing process, it is often tempting to teach your students to draft the entire book from start to finish, starting with the introduction. We encourage you to resist this temptation! One reason is that the introduction and concluding sections of an information piece have a different format and purpose than the body sections. Your students will need you to teach right away into the format of the body sections, the parts of the piece that have a common structure and that will make up the bulk of the writing. Also, drafting an introduction before writing the sections of a book can limit the writer to stick closely to the shores of what he or she originally imagined in the introduction, which can lead to few revisions and potentially formulaic writing. It is important to leave room for your writers to make huge revisions to their original plans in their drafts. As they draft, you might pull some small groups and teach your writers to make a plan for the text features that will support each page, such as illustrations, diagrams, charts, and sidebar definitions. You ll want to keep an eye on volume during this session, reminding your writers to continue drafting body text along with planning text features, and to incorporate all they know about quality expository writing into their drafts. You ll want to refer to any of the charts you used during the essay unit that might support qualities of good information writing, for example, charts that support elaboration prompts, transition words, or kinds of evidence to include in essays. The Common Core State Standards remind us that, by seventh grade, students should be able to use multiple sources in their writing and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources. It is likely that your seventh graders have had some experience paraphrasing information to use in their own writing, but you ll want to assess for this as they draft, deciding whether to teach this skill in a whole-class minilesson or possibly in small groups. If your class struggles with paraphrasing, you can teach them to practice this skill in partnerships, first rereading their notes, then closing the notebook and saying the information in a few different ways. You can also teach A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

54 simple ways to cite sources during this drafting session. You can introduce to your students stems to use to connect pieces of information with sources, such as: According to..., In the says..., The author...teaches us that... Part Four: Information Writers Study Mentor Authors and Revise in Predictable Ways Plan to devote ample time to the revision portion of this unit. As in any unit of study, some, if not all, of your students will still be drafting as you begin your revision lessons. Writers can incorporate the revision strategies you teach right away into their drafts, remembering that writers continually revise; they don t wait until revision week to use all they are learning about information writing to review and rework what they have already written. There are many powerful revision moves that information writers can make that fall into predictable categories. Most of the powerful revision strategies for information writing fall into the categories of structure, elaboration, and craft. We encourage you to study the Continuum for Assessing Information Writing, as expectations for each of these categories are clearly outlined. Remind your students that good writing does not happen in isolation. We highly recommend that you and your students call once again on your study of mentor texts. The use of mentor texts will be particularly helpful when your writers are thinking of ways to elaborate each section with a variety of evidence and ways to support each section with text features, such as charts and diagrams. For a list of leveled information books to use as mentor texts, visit our website, and click on the resources tab at the top of the page. We also recommend that you use a demonstration text of your own information writing that you revise during minilessons and use when conferring with your writers. You can also use other students information writing as mentor texts. You and your students can study the information writing included in the Continuum for Assessing Information Writing as well as the information pieces written by students that are posted on our website. You might begin your revision work by teaching into elaboration strategies for information writing. It can be helpful during this time to angle your teaching and coaching toward teaching them the muscles that information writers need to develop explanatory writing, descriptive writing, idea-based writing, and anecdote writing. In one session, you might teach your writers to study mentor texts, taking note of the variety of information that information writers use to teach readers about subtopics. Teach your writers to include explanations of important ideas, using an explaining language and giving examples. Your writers can also include direct quotations from books or from people regarded as experts. You could create a chart with your students, highlighting types of details spotlighted in the Common Core State Standards, such as facts, definitions, concrete details, quotes, or examples related to the topic. In another session, you might teach your writers that information writers think about stories or anecdotes that help to explain or teach about a subtopic. For example, a student with the title of Great Artists of the Harlem Renaissance might decide to include a story about A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

55 Langston Hughes s childhood as part of a subcategory on the poet. During these sessions, you can focus your conferring on helping writers to synthesize and integrate information from a variety of sources (an easier task if your writers collected adequate information earlier in the unit). In another session, you could teach your writers to include not only information but some of their thinking about the information. The Common Core State Standards specify that information writers should not only select and organize content, but also analyze it. Writers can say more about their topic by including their own observations and ideas about what they are teaching. Writers could return to their notebooks to grow ideas, once again drawing on thought prompts such as This is important because... and This is connected to..., and then could think about where to add this thinking to their drafts. For example, after writing a fact about cheetahs such as, Cheetahs are endangered for several main reasons: they are losing their food sources, they are being hunted too much, they are losing their habitat, and their babies die easily. The writer could then go on to offer some opinions or commentary about this, such as, Two of those reasons are caused by humans, hunting and losing their habitat. People should stop hunting cheetahs and we should be careful to protect their habitats so they can survive. The Common Core State Standards highlight the importance of using domainspecific language, in other words, vocabulary and terms specific to the topic. Teach writers to be on the lookout for places to use and define vocabulary words that are connected to the topic that might be hard for readers to understand. The Common Core State Standards state that, by grade four and beyond, information writers should use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic. There are several different ways that information writers teach vocabulary to their readers. The most supportive way to teach a vocabulary word (and often information writers choose this method for very difficult, technical words) is to write the word in bold and to state its definition outside of the text. Often this is done in the margin of the page on which the word appears. Another way information writers can teach vocabulary is to include the word and its definition as part of the text. For example, a writer might say: The body of an octopus, called the mantle, helps it to breathe and swim. A less supportive way to teach vocabulary is to include words in the text without definitions, leading readers to use context clues. For example, The mantle of the octopus is connected to all eight of its legs and helps it to breathe and swim. Information writers are well served to keep in mind the old adage: a picture is worth a thousand words. The Common Core State Standards remind us that writers don t just teach information with text, they also teach information through formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia. These tools help readers to understand even more powerfully the information that the writer is teaching. Teach your writers that the text features in sophisticated information books like the ones they are creating serve a number of purposes. They teach us additional information about the subtopic; they are not just illustrations. You can support your students in this work by studying mentor texts with them to analyze how text features help us to teach additional information to our audience, such as how we teach important vocabulary through text boxes or glossaries, A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

56 how we use annotated diagrams to clarify explanations, and how we may think across the headings and subheadings or other text features on our pages to refine the journey we are taking our reader on. The -ology books will be particularly useful in supporting this work. You may offer the opportunity for students to include interactive elements, such as lift the flap features or foldout maps and diagrams, or exploded details and charts. These often add compelling visual features to informational texts and our kids need to improve their ability to synthesize and interpret these visual elements. Creating them as writers will only help them as readers. Remind your writers to also cite sources for visual elements they include, right in the text when information from a particular text or author helped them to create a text feature. You can also teach your information writers to revise with the lens of structure. In one session, you could teach that information writers make sure they have grouped information into categories, thinking about whether the information included in each section fits with the subtopic. You might also tuck into this session the reminder that information writers also think about the order of information within each category, thinking through whether they have organized the information in a way that best teaches the information to the reader. Even though you most likely taught this concept during the drafting stage, you most likely will want to support your writers in the organization of their information within each section during your one-on-one coaching. As part of this session, you could teach your writers that each section of an information text tends to have an introduction that previews for the reader what they are going to learn about in that section. The Common Core State Standards refer to this work as orienting the reader. For example, a section titled The Cheetah s Habitat might start by saying, There are many factors that are causing the cheetah s habitat to become smaller. This introduction to the section tells the reader that they will be learning about not just the cheetah s habitat but also ways that it is being destroyed. The Common Core State Standards lay out the importance of including introductory and concluding sections that are connected to the main topic, that reflect the most important information and ideas from the piece. Teach your writers to revise the introductory sections to their books, asking questions such as, What do I want to teach readers at the beginning of my book? How can I draw in the reader right from the start? How can I give the reader an overview, an introduction, to my topic? Does my beginning set the reader up to become an expert in this topic? Teach your writers strategies for revising their conclusions as well. A conclusion should not only sum up the important information, it should also leave readers with some big ideas. Your fifth graders will have had plenty of experience using information in order to persuade. You could teach your students to use those same muscles here to compose a concluding section that is meant to convince the world of something the writer strongly believes about the topic. Teach your writers that a powerful kind of concluding section in an information book is structured like an essay, with a thesis and some examples. For example, a student writing about monarch butterflies might write a concluding section with a thesis-like statement such as, Monarch butterflies are very important to plants. Then, the writer could go on to give examples of different types of plants that monarch butterflies help to pollinate. Another writer, writing about A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

57 great white sharks, might begin with a thesis that is a call to action to readers, such as, Many kinds of sharks are endangered, and none more so than the great white. It is our responsibility to protect this amazing animal. Plan to teach your students craft moves that information writers make. Teach them to use transition words to move from detail to detail and to connect subtopics to the main topic. The Common Core State Standards suggest particular transition words at each grade level that will be excellent additions to your transition words strategy charts. Teach students to use transition words such as another, for example, also, because; and as they become more sophisticated in their writing, teach them to use transitions such as in contrast, especially, furthermore, and moreover. Additionally, depending on the skill level of your students, you can teach them some strategies to write with greater description and verve. You can teach them to embed imagery, anecdotes, and/or small scenes to paint a picture in the reader s mind. You ll want to make sure you have strong writing partnerships going as students draft and revise. In addition to holding each other accountable to the strategies you ll be teaching, partners can support each other by playing the parts of students and teachers, taking turns teaching each other about their topic section by section and asking questions when the information isn t clear or fully developed. Particularly because the topics will be ones of personal expertise, writers may tend to gloss over important background information. Partners can help each other to identify places that need more support and clarification. These places might include discussions of important concepts or places where difficult vocabulary is used. You ll certainly want to create a strategy chart to support this partner work. Part Five: Editing, Publishing, and Celebrating In teaching editing, tell children that their texts are going to teach important information to their readers and thus need to be clear and accurate. How can the reader learn about the topic if the writer s words are misspelled? In editing nonfiction books, teach children that the resources from which they got their information are great sources for correcting spelling of content-specific vocabulary. Remind them to bring forward all they know about conventions to this genre. By seventh grade, your writers should have a firm grasp of many of the conventions of standard English as outlined in the Common Core Standards. Coach your writers in particular with conventions that show up often in information writing, such as commas to offset definitions and as part of a series, parentheses and dashes to offset parenthetical information, and italicizing of titles. Then get ready to publish! You and your students should be tremendously proud of the independence and effort they have shown, and of the breadth of their expertise and their prowess as writers. Celebrate these achievements by giving your writers a chance to teach others what they have learned. You might do this in a grade-wide celebration, or by sharing with another grade or with parents. You might encourage your writers to present their work orally. You might teach them to make presentation boards and captions, and to practice presenting their work. Or, you might encourage them to A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

58 share visually. You could create a gallery of the finished books and invite others to come for a visit. The Common Core State Standards recommend using technology tools as part of the publishing process. In tech-savvy classrooms, you might suggest that your writers publish electronically, perhaps in the form of PowerPoint or even as a blog or wiki. Sites such as and are free hosting platforms that will also serve to teach your students some online formatting skills. You can set your students permissions on these sites to protect their privacy. Informational Writing: Nonfiction Books Teachers, before embarking on this unit and deciding on the trajectory you will follow, you will need to assess your students and to study what it is they need to know. You can use an on-demand writing assessment to better understand your students level of competency with information writing. Of course, your assessment will be ongoing, not just at the start of this unit, but at many points along the way, and you will use what you learn through studying your students work to inform how you progress through the work outlined in the unit. The teaching points offered here are but one suggested way that the unit could go. The ultimate pathway will be based on observations you make of your students and assessments of their work. Here are some further insights about expectations during each bend in the road of this unit and how to plan to meet the needs of your individual learners. In Part One of the unit, the goal is for students to generate a great deal of notebook entries, first trying out topics of individual expertise and then eventually choosing a seed idea and rehearsing for a draft. Study your students writing for evidence of strategy use and for volume. The goal is that students write productively and move from entry to entry with independence, and that they use a variety of strategies, such as writing possible back-of-the-book blurbs or making lists of possible chapters for their books. You may have some writers who are reluctant to generate more than one or two possible topics. Support these students in reaching further for possible topic choices. If your students are slow to generate ideas, you may want to spend more time teaching strategies for choosing topics of expertise either in small-group or whole-class sessions. If students are not writing with fluency and volume, you may decide to use a timer and to call out voice-overs such as: By now your hand should be flying down the page. By now you should have written half a page. You may need to gather a small group to sheepdog them into writing more quickly, and do some diagnostic work to understand what is slowing them down. Then, you will turn your teaching toward helping your writers choose a seed idea for their books. It is important that they have a variety of topics from which to choose. If students struggle to choose a topic, they may need one-on-one coaching during this time. In the second part of the unit, you will be supporting students as they collect research and information to support their information books. In addition to choosing and possibly further focusing a topic, it is crucial at this point that your students have A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

59 a strong sense of the subcategories that will fill the pages of their books. Toward the end of this part, your students should have not only a high volume of information but also a variety of information such as quotes, anecdotes, statistics, and the like to support each subcategory. If your students information seems week, you may need to spend more time in this part teaching into note-taking and research before moving on to drafting. Keep an eye on ways that your students are tracking sources that they use as they research. You may need to help some of your writers to come up with organizational strategies to use as they take notes. Help them to paraphrase and avoid plagiarism while also holding on to main ideas and details. In the third part of the unit, your students will be drafting their information books and may need a different level of support than what is outlined in this unit, depending on their competence with expository writing. If your students have more or less an internalized sense of how expository writing goes, your progression through the unit will likely closely parallel what is outlined in the teaching points below. It is likely that your sixth graders will feel comfortable drafting fairly quickly and cycling back and forth between drafting and revising. Some of your students may benefit from additional support in small groups. Keep a particular eye during this part on which students need further support with paraphrasing and citing sources. The way you progress through the fourth part of this unit will very much depend on what you observe in your students drafts. We recommend that you once again call on the Continuum for Information Writing as a tool with which to study drafts. Study the work with the lenses of structure, elaboration, and craft, deciding which lessons are the most crucial within each of those categories, and teach those right away. During all parts of the unit, and particularly this one, you will want to ensure that your teaching supports students independence. Your teaching will support revision, but your writers may move from drafting sections to revision and back to drafting. As they work, study your students for evidence that they are using a repertoire of strategies and that they are making choices about what to work on next. As you head into the final part of this unit, take note of how you can support your students in being effective editors for themselves. Your students will likely be using high-level vocabulary and some may need additional spelling support, perhaps in small groups. Notice common punctuation errors and teach into these, possibly through mid-workshop teaching points or minilessons as needed. One Possible Sequence of Teaching Points Part One: Launching the Unit: Information Writers Try On Topics, Then Revise Those Topics with an Eye toward Greater Focus Session I: Today I want to teach you that writers of informational books study published writing, imagining the books they will create and paying close attention to ways that published authors entice readers to learn about a topic. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

60 Session II: Today I want to teach you that information writers grow potential topic ideas in their notebooks, thinking, If I had to teach a course to the other kids in the class, what would I teach? Session III: Today I want to teach you that some information writers write potential back-of-the-book blurbs, imagining how their books might go and why those books would interest readers. Session IV: Today I want to teach you that information writers try on possible topics, choosing one that they feel they could teach really well. They revise these topics right away, deciding whether to focus a topic further in order to write with greater specificity. Session V: Today I want to teach you that information writers make a plan for how their books could go. One way they do this is by creating a table of contents for their work, determining the chapters that could go in their books. Part Two: Writers Gather a Variety of Information to Support Their Nonfiction Books Session VI: Today I want to teach you that information writers gather the information that will fill up the pages of their books. Along the way, they make decisions about how much and what kind of research to conduct. They collect these ideas in notebooks, taking care to collect a variety of information and information from more than one source. Session VII: Today I want to teach you that information writers record not just facts, but ideas. They can use thought prompts to say more about pieces of information that they collect. Part Three: Writers Draft the Pages of Books, Starting with Sections They Are Most Eager to Write Session VIII: Today I want to teach you that one way information writers rehearse for drafting is to teach all they know about their topic to a partner. They take note of places where they need to collect more information and make a plan to find out more about that particular subtopic. Session IX: Today I want to teach you that information writers often start by drafting the pages they are most fired up to write. As they draft, they keep in mind that they are setting up their readers to be experts. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

61 Session X: Today I want to teach you that information writers organize the information they have collected within each subsection in a way that best teaches the reader. One way writers do this is by saying big or general ideas that the reader needs to know about the subtopic first, before getting to the smaller details. Session XI: Today I want to teach you that information writers make a plan for the text features that will support each page, such as illustrations, diagrams, charts, and sidebar definitions. Session XII: Today I want to teach you that information writers support their writing with other sources, putting information into their own words, and citing carefully to let readers know where the information came from. Part Four: Information Writers Study Mentor Authors and Revise in Predictable Ways Session XIII: Information writers study mentor texts, taking note of all of the different kinds of information that writers use to teach readers about subtopics. Information writers often include explanations of important ideas, quotes from experts, facts, definitions, and other examples related to the subtopic. Session XIV: Today I want to teach you that information writers include not only information, but some of their own thinking about the information. Information writers might return to their notebooks to grow ideas, drawing on thought prompts such as This is important because... and This is connected to... in order to say more. Session XV: Today I want to teach you that information writers stay on the lookout for places where they might need to define vocabulary words connected to the topic that might be hard for readers to understand. Writers keep in mind common ways that information writers teach important words and decide which way will be best for each word. Session XVI: Today I want to teach you that information writers don t just teach information with words, they teach information with illustrations, charts, diagrams, and other tools that might help the reader to understand. They make sure these text features do important work; they are there to teach more information, not just to be pretty illustrations. Writers can study mentor texts to get tips on how to create and revise these text features. Session XVII: Today I want to teach you that information writers zoom in to study the structure of each subsection. They make sure that the information is in A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

62 the right section, that is, that each detail fits with the subtopic. Writers also zoom in on paragraphs within each subsection, thinking about whether the information in each paragraph fits together. Another way that writers study the structure of each subsection is to make sure they start with a sentence or two that tell the reader what they will be learning about. Session XVIII: Today I want to teach you that writers revise the introduction of their information books, thinking about how they can set their readers up to be experts in the topic and how they can draw readers in right from the start. Session XIX: Today I want to teach you that information writers revise their concluding section, taking care to sum up the important information and also leave readers with some big ideas. A powerful kind of concluding section in an information book is structured like an essay, with a thesis and some examples. Session XX: Today I want to teach you that information writers use transition words to move from detail to detail and to connect subtopics to the main topic. Part Five: Editing, Publishing, and Celebrating Session XXI: Today I want to teach you that information writers edit carefully, taking care to make sure spelling and punctuation are accurate so that readers can best learn the information. Writers might use published resources to make sure vocabulary words are spelled correctly. Session XXII: Today I want to teach you that information writers celebrate all of the hard work they have done by getting ready to share with others the books they have created. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

63 UNIT FOUR Research-Based Argument (Persuasive) Essays DECEMBER Watch the news on any given night: if you turn to MSNBC you ll hear the story of an event, told from one slant. Turn to Fox News and you ll hear the same story, told from another. This is not just a reflection of journalism today (sad as it may be); it reveals to us that knowledge, all knowledge, is always made by hand. Nonfiction texts are simply someone s perspective on the truth. They are written by individuals and each individual has a perspective, and when writing, those individuals will inevitably put their slants on a topic onto the page. A very gifted writer can sway you without you even realizing it. To be thoughtful consumers of information, our students need to become more adept at paying attention to the ways writers make and support claims. One incredibly effective way to do this is to have them practice this work as writers first. In this unit of study, you ll teach your students to write essays in which they stake a claim, support that claim with research, and evaluate and cite the research they use. It s an ambitious kind of writing that is closely matched to the Common Core State Standards, and we think it s well within your students reach when matched with a reading unit of study in nonfiction research. We imagine that kids are working in small research groups, gathering and evaluating resources on high-interest topics from dolphins to black holes to electric cars (more about building these text sets with your students is written up in Unit Four, Nonfiction Research ). They ll bring this research to writing workshop, where you ll teach them strategies for evaluating facts and information, for constructing hypotheses or claims, and for crafting compelling essays that forward these claims convincingly. This unit builds on work we assume that students have done with personal and persuasive essays in sixth grade. The sixth-grade unit of study in those genres, and the books Breathing Life into Essays and Literary Essays, both from Units of Study for Teaching A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

64 Writing 3 5, may be helpful to you, if your students need to first become familiar with the essentials of essay writing before they undertake research essays. This unit of study is aligned with reading workshop, and we imagine that students will be writing on topics of their own choice, using texts they gather together. You could also adapt this unit so that kids learn to write research-based argument essays in social studies and science, using texts from a unit of study in those classes. In the following write-up, we demonstrate using a text set on sharks but you could demonstrate using any text set you have or want to make in your classroom for your nonfiction reading unit. Nuclear power, childhood obesity, teen prodigies, teen disappearances, the space program any topic that sparks an interest with your students, and for which you have a few texts that offer various perspectives on the topic will do. Or you may have some shark texts, but not those we reference fine also. The text set that we refer to below includes Seymour Simon s Sharks, the DK Reader by Cathy Dubowski, and Shark Attack and Surprising Sharks by Nicola Davies. Online sites include, if you d like to access them, and wnet/nature/episodes/sharkland/interactive-anatomy-the-great-whites-weapons/4093/. Choose a topic that you or your class already has a passion for, or that you happen to have some good books on, or that some of your writers might also like to research, or one that leads easily into argument. Don t, perhaps, choose a topic such as snails unless you want to look not only at their habitats and habits, but also whether we should be eating them. That is, insert a text or two into your text set, and into the text sets your students gather around, that make it feasible to actually uncover different claims or interpretations that authors make. Use Performance Assessments to Plan Your Unit of Study You may want to give your students a performance assessment beforehand so that you can hone your instruction to what they already know how to do, and what they ll need extra practice with as well. TCRWP has available a performance assessment that provides students with a few texts on the same subject, and asks them to gather and evaluate information and then draft a persuasive essay staking a claim and supporting it with evidence from the texts. The first thing you ll want to look for is your kids ability to write the bare-bones of essays, as in writing with a thesis and showing evidence in supporting, logical paragraphs. If they struggle with the structure of essays, you ll probably want to forego this unit and turn instead to the personal essay unit, which is described in our sixth-grade curricular calendars. You may also want to tease out, if students have difficulty with the task, whether their difficulty lies in the level of the nonfiction texts and their reading skills, or in their writing skills. Keep an eye on what evidence your students cite. If you notice that they only cite evidence from the easier texts, you ll know that they struggle to read grade level nonfiction texts. If your students show evidence of prior instruction with essay but struggle to accurately and persuasively reference textual research, that s to be expected. You should see measurable improvement after this unit. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

65 Part One: Gathering and Responding to Facts and Information In the first stage of your students research, they ll be reading their text sets during reading workshop. There, they probably won t take substantial notes, because you ll want them to get a lot of reading done. They may mark up the texts, they may jot Postits, they may jot pages they want to return to. Now, during writing workshop, they ll have a chance to return to these texts, and their first step will be to organize some notes. To collect materials that will go on to inform their argument essays, you ll want to teach writers to take notes like a researcher would. We don t just scribble random facts, we make sure our notes are careful and precise because they will be an important reference for later writing, you ll teach, in order to stress at the very outset that these notes are not an end in themselves but critical tools for future use. Like all tools, these notes will need to be customized by their user. One student might decide to take notes using simple boxes and bullets on small note cards, while another reader might make elaborate sketch-notes on large loose sheets. One reader might unpeel Post-its from texts he has read and stick them into a notebook to jot longer off each Post-it, while another makes time lines and T-charts. Or, preferably, students will be doing all of these things at different times! Your teaching in this part needs to remind writers of their repertoire of note-taking strategies (hopefully drawing on techniques they ve learned in science and social studies as well) in ways that allow them to choose which strategy makes the most sense to use for a particular text and kind of information. To begin teaching various note-taking strategies (if you have not already taught these) you might start kids off on the simple boxes-and-bullets format. You might teach them to mentally or, if resources allow this, physically mark up a text, selecting various topic sentences to box and then underlining and numbering the sentences (or clauses) that serve as bullets for each box. Teach students to make boxes and bullets within single paragraphs and also within larger (multiparagraph) swaths of text. You ll also want to remind readers that boxes and bullets are effective ways to take notes off expository texts. But when it comes to notes on narrative nonfiction, they ll probably want to switch to timelines. You might also choose to teach some graphic organizers that are particularly suited to specific kinds of note-taking. For example, a T-chart is effective for comparing and contrasting items. Similarly, the pros and cons of something might also be listed on a T-chart. Also, where there are more than two categories to compare and contrast, teach researchers to draw more columns until they have a table and teach them how to organize columns and rows so that all the information they record might be summarized, visually appraised, and efficiently accessed later. It is important to teach researchers to paraphrase during the note-taking process. Urge them to summarize ideas from the text to record and discourage the practice of lifting lengthy portions of texts to copy verbatim. Notes are short, quick, efficient, you ll want to teach. Note-taking should free us to see more in texts, and pick the most important or interesting parts, not bog us down with copying long parts of the text who wants to read that when we can just read the text itself? Wherever you lift a thought from a text, write it out in your own words if you can, and keep it short. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

66 You certainly won t want to wait long before stressing that research notes do not merely record information from books, that a researcher s note-making process incorporates actively responding to all this information that we re recording. For example, as they jot boxes and bullets, students may also add asterisks to a bullet that outranks the others in importance or circle a bullet that feels controversial and jot further thoughts on why it is so. You might say, When we read, we have questions, we react to facts, we compare what we re reading now with something else we ve read before and in reading workshop, we ve been marking those spots with Post-its. A researcher values these Post-its because these can be used as trail-starters for deeper thinking. You might demonstrate how a response Post-it might be stretched by unpeeling a sample Post-it jotted by a student or by you (in preparation for this demonstration) and share it aloud with your students. While reading about the great white s life cycle, I stuck a Post-it next to this part in my book that says this creature is becoming endangered in the wild because of pollution, invasion of its habitat, and excessive fishing. On my Post-it, I wrote, The great white needs help. I later unpeeled this Post-it and stuck it on a chart paper as I demonstrated how I might elaborate this briefly captured thought. I then wrote out: The great white needs our help. Because it is carnivorous, I imagined that it was tough. Now, I m thinking, it is endangered like other tough-sounding animals that humans have endangered, like the Bengal tiger, the snow leopard, the black panther. Calling students attention to what I had done, I said, See how my Postits help me make notes that respond to what I m reading? Make certain that kids see note-taking as a flexible process. Teach them to experiment with various ways of recording ideas. For example, they can take two note-taking strategies, such as notes and timelines, and merge them into sketching a timeline, or in place of boxes and bullets they can make small idea clusters, with the box in the center and the bullets sticking out like spokes from within this. Wherever you see a child creating notes that record and respond to information in new and creative ways, share these with the rest of the class, asking the author of these notes to explain. Part Two: Evaluating and Interpreting Information and Perspective As kids notes on a topic grow, ask them to hold these together in a folder or notebook. Clarify, at this stage, that these folders will play a crucial part later in the unit, that students ought to save all their notes and Post-its in them, that they must make folder entries provocative and original, responding to the details about their topic that they re encountering in the various texts. As researchers are reading and taking notes, they ll often begin to see that different authors take different positions, or sides, of a topic. Or sometimes, a single part of a topic is disputed. For instance, no one disputes that great white sharks can be dangerous. But it is disputed whether they are our natural enemy, and what should be done about their potential danger. Do we try to hunt them down? Do we change human interactions to limit the danger? In this part of the unit, you ll show kids how to narrow down their topic to the part that is disputed, and to begin to recognize when authors dis- A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

67 agree about a subject. Sometimes these disagreements lie in the details, the nuances of nonfiction texts. So just as we ask readers to read fiction for fine nuances, we ll ask kids to read nonfiction with that same attention to detail, tone, and perspective. One way to teach adolescent readers to read not only for facts, but to consider the perspectives of authors, is to send them back to their texts, thinking about the sides of a subject. You might say, When we know a topic well enough (when we ve read enough about it), we can see all its sides. We can then ask, Are there two ways to look at this topic? For example, one way to look at snails is as pests that destroy crops. Another way to look at snails is as valuable food, rich in protein. Or, one way to look at King Tut is as a rich and powerful boy king. Another way to look at King Tut is as victim of greater powers who was possibly murdered. Or you can teach children to ask, Does this topic have two faces? In our notes, we will want to record the many faces of a topic, you ll want to suggest. Urge your students to make notes that contrast the different sides or faces of a topic, using icons and sketches or T-charts. Another lesson to consider from the reading workshop is that various authors can have different positions while writing about one topic. In the reading workshop, you re teaching students to ask questions such as, What is this author trying to make me feel about the topic? Why is the author trying to make me feel this? During reading, you re also teaching them to read illustrations, to ask: What subtle messages are the pictures conveying? An illustration of a chest-banging gorilla with bared teeth will evoke different feelings than a photo of a gorilla strung pitifully on a bamboo pole or a photo of a severed gorilla hand next to bottles of beer in the bushmeat market. In the writing workshop, you can extend this teaching by showing students how researchers make notes on different sources. When researchers take notes, we don t just record what one book says. We take our pens and record what one books says versus what another book says. We may jot the name of the text, author, and date of publication, and then record the angle that one book presents on a topic versus another. You might show kids how to construct a simple graphic organizer to create notes that record comparative angles presented in different texts like this: Title Author Publication Date What Is This Book Making Me Feel About the Topic (or About Some Element of This Topic?) How Does the Author Manage to Make Me Feel This Way? (Through Illustrations? Examples and Anecdotes? Choice of Words?) Yet another way to push your writers to create notes that will help them see their topic as multidimensional is to urge them to think, How might different groups of people see this topic? You might demonstrate this on a large chart. Imagine that my topic is forests, you might say, writing the word Forests in the center of the chart and circling A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

68 it. I d want to think of all the different groups associated with this topic. I d ask, Who lives in forests? Who benefits from cutting down trees in forests? Who buys the wood? Who worries about the trees being cut down? Is there anyone replanting the forests? Draw a spoke radiating out of the circled word on your chart, and at the end of each spoke write out one of the various categories of people associated with forests, such as, environmentalists, loggers and timber businessmen, carpenters, paper and furniture consumers, local residents, and nesting animals. Teach students to jot notes recording the perspective of each of these groups; for example, timber tradesmen might think of profits while environmentalists worry about the trickle-down hazards of deforestation. Teach them also to analyze and jot which of these perspectives is represented in a text. You might also teach: Researchers consider the two faces of a topic to ask ourselves, What is my stance, my position on this? We don t just pick any old stance to call our own; we look over our notes and all we ve read about the topic to find a stance with the most compelling reasons or evidence to believe in. We can jot our own stance in the margins of our notes. Another lesson that kids may have learned in science, but that you can reteach here, is that research-writers return to our prior jottings, or data, and begin to systematize these, looking for when authors don t even agree on facts or agree on which facts are important. We might think about what the most important facts seem to be, and we create categories that let us cite the facts and which authors agree with these facts. For instance, when we go back to our shark texts, one category that jumps out immediately is shark attacks. So we might jot those down now, citing an author such as Dubowski, who gives a lot of information. Then if we go to a different author we ll find different information. So I might begin to organize some notes, and students can add to them as the active engagement of the lesson (just show them a page of one of the texts) so they look like: Shark Attacks Facts Thirty species of sharks attack humans. What s the one word that most makes you think of a giant maneating killer? SHARK! Source Davies, Surprising Sharks Rodney Fox is attacked by a great white shark off the coast of Australia. He has 462 stitches. Lester Stillwell and Stanley Fisher are killed by a bull shark in a freshwater creek in NJ. Dubowski, Shark Attack A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

69 Then we may go to another text and see what we find there. Each time, we ll demonstrate how we cite the text so that we not only record the information, we know who said what. You may notice that we included some direct quotes in our notes. If your students know how to quote a text directly already, then you might mention that you are sometimes struck by powerful lines, and you quote them. If they haven t, you might save this teaching for a separate lesson. You may do the same with how you remind them to list the page number, when you find a quotation. If they are already doing this, then put the page number. If they are not, then don t either, and later you can make a big deal of how you have to go back and find the page again, if you decide to use the quote in your essay. Then in your next lesson, you can teach your research-writers that researchers, as we gather facts, begin to notice patterns and anomalies, or breaks in the patterns. One way we do this is to look over a group of facts, such as our category of shark attacks, and we analyze which authors include the same facts and which include different ones. Demonstrate that you notice, for instance, that some of the same true stories are recounted in one book but not another. You might notice, as well, how the statistics that the authors quote are not the same. Then during the active engagement of your lesson, you might let students work on a new category of information that seems important. If you have prepared your categories of notes, with author citations already, then during the lesson you not only show your students how to analyze data, you may also suggest, and may name as well, that when we finish gathering one category of information we gather another and analyze that. The Common Core State Standards emphasize that by the end of seventh grade, readers should be able to determine two or more central ideas of an informational text, so they should be used to reading texts for more than one idea. When we analyze data, we don t only analyze the facts included in texts. We also analyze authors stance, or tone, on a topic. You ve already taught your students to look closely at the illustrations in parts of their texts here you can teach kids to analyze the overall tone of a text, and thus to infer something about the author s bias. You might teach your researchers that we ask ourselves: What do these authors want me to feel about this topic and how do they get me to feel this way by the images and stories they include? And what might that imply about the author s potential bias? In your lesson, return to your texts and compare authors stance probably by looking at the images and stories again, and listing adjectives to describe the mood or tone of the writing, and then next to those descriptive, emotional words, the facts that create that feeling. In the texts that we demonstrate on, for instance, it jumps out that Dubowski includes mostly frightening images of sharks (all teeth and blood), whereas Simon includes natural, rather peaceful images. The language of the stories included varies across the texts to support this different tone as well, with Dubowski s stories supporting how brutal and frightening sharks can be and Simon s how magical they are. In this lesson, you ll demonstrate, thus, how we reevaluate our research for the tone or stance authors offer on a topic, and we compare and contrast two authors who have clearly different stances. You might make a T-chart with different stances (sharks as brutal and terrifying versus sharks as natural) and list the authors and the part of the text that A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

70 demonstrate this stance, underneath each column of the chart. And then, as a midworkshop teaching point, you can show how you ll pick up your pen and begin to write what your analysis is making you think about, maybe this time writing before partner talk, and then sharing those more developed observations during partner talk. For instance, here you ll probably write in the air to quickly demonstrate that people seem to feel very differently about sharks, and get others to feel differently about sharks, by the pictures they show and the stories they tell. You might also teach your writers that sometimes a single author offers varied perspectives on a subject. Writers, therefore, are alert to when parts of a text instill different emotions and thus suggest contradictory stances. Fox s site instills different emotions, for instance, with some of his text and images supporting a tone of peaceful naturalness, and some supporting the brutal fear aspect of shark diving. It s important to make sure you make a big deal of recording which text you are evaluating where the information comes from. A lot of students are used to recording information, but less used to citing that information. Also be sure, after talking about what you notice as you analyze your data, that you pick up your pen to record your thoughts, and give your students time to analyze, talk, and write. You can vary whether they talk and then write, or whether they write and then talk, so that they get used to using partner conversation as rehearsal for writing, and writing as rehearsal for conversation. Either way, hold your students to substantiating their opinions with evidence, and with citing evidence by giving the text or the author, so they keep distinguishing the sources of their thinking. An optional lesson in here might be to return to texts and study whose point of view is included and valued. The Common Core State Standards expect that seventhand eighth-grade writers acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, so this feels like important work for students that are ready for it. For instance, the Dubowski text is told exclusively from the point of view of humans who are attacked. The Davies and Simon texts offer the perspective of sharks as well, and how they interact with their undersea world. Part Three: Rehearsing, Substantiating, and Debating Claims to Build Our Essays Around Next, you may decide to teach your writers that just as partway through a story we begin to ask ourselves, What is this story starting to be about? and come up with multiple possible ideas and meanings, so as researchers we begin to ask ourselves: What are some of the big issues and ideas that are starting to seem important here? as a way to develop some claims. A word here about the difference between opinions and claims : For scientific purposes, we ll often use the word opinion to state an idea the researcher has, which is not necessarily backed up by clear and valid research. So, for instance, we came to our study with an opinion on whether sharks were dangerous. You could call this opinion a kind of working, or preliminary, hypothesis. We had a working hypothesis, which we then investigated. Now we have done some research, A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

71 and we are ready to make a claim to show that our hypothesis, for instance, was proven or disproved, or has changed into a different hypothesis based on our research. A claim is something we can back up by clear evidence. The Common Core State Standards also call a claim an argument. At this point, you may want to nudge your researchers into looking at their folders of notes and information through the eyes of an essayist, teaching them to unearth a claim that may be written longer about. When we look through our folders with the eyes of an essayist, we can expect to find two kinds of things, you will teach. First, of course, we will find information about our topic facts that come straight out and tell us something about this topic that we can t really argue over. For example, King Tut was an Egyptian boy king or Arctic seals need blubber to stay warm or Gorillas are mammals. There is no disputing each of these statements each book on King Tut or Arctic animals or gorillas has repeated this information over and over again. But there s something else we can expect to find in our notes as well. The second thing that our notes will contain (or help us come up with) are claims about a topic something that one can argue about and provide evidence for. For example, King Tut may have been king but his life couldn t have been happy, or Arctic seals may fear Orca whales but they ought to fear humans even more or great whites ought to be protected. A note: Some students will probably need more help to distinguish between undisputed facts and arguable claims, especially if they are new to this work. You will want to provide plenty of examples of each category, teaching that an undisputed fact about a topic doesn t have two sides to it and no one can deny it; it is commonly accepted and generally well-known information. On the other hand, an arguable claim has two sides. Both sides might have several reasons to support them, but one side will probably have more reasons or more compelling reasons and this is the side we will try to write an essay from. Also, you ll likely find that many students folders contain only semideveloped claims or no claim that is clearly arguable from two sides. In this case, you might ask your researchers to specifically revisit the notes they took while examining the two faces of a topic and pick the one that feels more compelling to build a claim from. You may then offer a lesson that demonstrates how writers consider a big question or claim that one of the texts makes, one that is clearly disputed, such as the claim that sharks are not, in fact, that dangerous to humans, which is Simon s claim, and which is supported by some of the texts and disputed by the stance of the other texts. To show how we may sift through our notes for facts that best support one of our claims, you might first jot a boxes-and-bullets structure, with a claim and then evidence and be sure to cite that evidence: Sharks are not that dangerous to humans. They rarely attack humans (fewer than one hundred attacks worldwide per year), according to Simon. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

72 Even if they do attack, after a bite or two they swim away, according to Simon. Many shark attacks are not fatal (only about six per year), according to Davies. Most sharks cannot hurt humans (only three species are really dangerous), according to Dubowski. Sharks are fascinating creatures, according to Simon. Teach kids that each bullet point is either an example, a reason, or a proof that the claim is true and valid. Then, give your students time to look over their notes to come up with bulleted evidence for their claim. You might want to teach citation, and then let them rehearse and debate this thinking with a partner. Coach into partnerships, by teaching them to determine whether the evidence actually matches and supports the claim, and if it is convincing. You will find that many times your students will need to cross off some evidence and add others. As in the case above, where you might model how when you look back on your outline, you realize that Sharks are fascinating creatures does not necessarily prove they are not dangerous, and you can either cross that piece of evidence off the list or rewrite it to show exactly what you are trying to say. You might decide to teach also that sometimes this work causes us to reexamine the claim itself, qualifying it a bit or rewriting it entirely. Give your students time to look over these notes and insights so far, and to revise some of these as tentative claims, evidence, and citations, and then let them rehearse and debate this thinking with a partner. For extra coaching, it can be helpful to teach students to use certain prompts to develop a claim: Although some authors may actually be argued that... Some people such as...feel that... In reality, however,... Despite...I want to argue that... While it may be true that...the real point to consider is that... Even though most people don t see...i want to suggest... A point that has been disputed Upon research, it seems clear, though, that... Probably the next day, you ll want students to turn their attention to refuting the counterclaim, one that is pretty much the opposite side of our argument. Students will already be familiar with the counterclaim to their argument because their thesis statements contain this counterclaim to begin with. So, for instance, we may demonstrate that we can go back through our notes to find some points that support the counterclaim. Explain from the start that we do this only so that we may poke holes in them A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

73 or to show why they aren t good enough. Be warned that a fair number of students actually write supporting evidence for their counterclaims with as much conviction as they do for their claim defeating the purpose of the argument essay. From the outset, explain that the job of an argument essay is to up one side and down the other. Of course, downing the other side necessitates exploring this other side thoroughly, so we can convince the reader why evidence for the counterclaim is just not compelling enough. To start, have students write out the counterclaim (box) and then revisit their notes to list the evidence (bullets) that seems to support it: Some people feel that sharks are bloodthirsty predators. About thirty species of sharks are known to attack humans. Three species are very deadly (great white, bull, tiger). Some species can kill you in fresh water as well as salt. Humans recount being traumatized as well as injured. We have to make cages to keep them out in order to dive safely. Immediately then, you will want to explicitly teach your essayists how they might discredit or disprove this evidence for the counterclaim. There are several ways that writers disprove a counterclaim. One way is to say that this evidence for the counterclaim is not always true, that it is random or that it only represents a minority of cases, and hence cannot be considered a standard or a universal truth. Another way to disprove the evidence for a counterclaim is to show that it is incomplete, that further study shows a truer picture. Yet another way to refute a counterclaim is to state the evidence for it and then explain why this evidence is misleading in light of other evidence that the essayist has researched. For example: Counterclaim: Some people feel that sharks are bloodthirsty predators. Evidence: About thirty species of sharks are known to attack humans. Discrediting this evidence by providing other evidence: However, there are a total of more than kinds of sharks! That means for the thirty species that may have attacked humans, there are at least 320 others that haven t! Yet we lump all sharks into this bloodthirsty image. Show students that they will sometimes need to go back to their notes to gather more facts or examples that specifically discredit the counterclaim evidence. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

74 So far, you ve been showing your writers how to assert, substantiate, and debate claims that the authors they ve been reading have made. But your researchers have also undoubtedly been exploring some original ideas that aren t exact restatements of ones that authors made. So you ll also want to demonstrate that writers try out an assertion or claim that is original, or at least not so clearly appropriated from one of the authors. We may not know yet if we have enough evidence for it, but we can always go back to our texts to seek more. The only way we ll know is to try it out, which we know we can do by making a boxes-and-bullets list, rehearsing with a partner, and getting feedback from that partner about how convincing our claim and evidence are. This is also a good time to teach writers a partner lesson on how to give feedback. Teach them that we use our partners to rehearse and debate claims and to give each other feedback on how valid and compelling our claims seem. You might teach partners to listen for these qualities in their partner s rehearsal of different sides of arguments the preponderance of evidence, and the writer s seeming passion for that side. For instance, you may demonstrate by rehearsing that sharks are dangerous; your body language and tone of voice might show a certain intensity, and your examples may be compelling. But then rehearse that sharks are not that dangerous, and make your body language and tone of voice even more intense and passionate. In other words, show partners how to really help each other discover which ideas or claims are beginning to stir them up, since writers want to work with topics they come to care about deeply. You may extend this lesson with a mid-workshop teaching point where you show partners that sometimes the research-writer s tone of voice and body language show passion, but their evidence isn t as compelling for that side as for the other side of the argument and thus in response to partner feedback, the researcher may want to return to his or her texts and gather more evidence. Now that your essayists have a claim, some evidence for this claim, a counterclaim and some evidence or logic to discredit this counterclaim, you ll want to push them into actually drafting their essay. Urge them to use the first paragraph to assert their topic, and paragraphs 2, 3, and/or 4 to present elaborated evidence for their claim. Then, in the following two to three paragraphs, they might introduce and shoot down the counterclaim. Another possible structure is to assert a topic in paragraph one and cite the major research they ll be referencing. Then acknowledge the counterclaim in paragraphs 2 and 3, being sure to shoot it down along the way. Then give even more evidence, citing supporters, to prove your claim, in paragraphs 4 and 5. At this point, you can decide whether you want your students to do fast drafts of a few of their ideas or of only one. The advantage of doing a few is that they get repeated practice. Either way, teach your students that writers often look over our boxes and bullets, and recall our partner conversations, and we choose a claim that we feel we can support with substantial evidence. Then we write a fast draft in which we state the claim, and using transitions, we write how our research backs up this claim. You may find a chart with some transitional phrases helpful, so either dig out one you made before and remind student of it, or make a quick one, such as: A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

75 One example, another example Also, in addition Moreover Nevertheless, in spite of On the one hand...nevertheless, on the other hand... You might say to your writers: In your fast draft, don t worry about the accuracy of how you punctuate or cite quotations, or whether you have sorted the sequence of material so that it is the most compelling order possible, or any of the finer nuances. Just try out your idea by writing long about it, using what you know about essay structure already. You and your students will have an opportunity next to work on revision to make your writing more compelling the draft is just the entry to the revision party. If some of your students write more than one draft, they can either go and revise more than one, or they can read over their drafts to see which one they feel most emotionally attached to and eager to make utterly convincing. Part Four: Revising to Be More Compelling and Convincing There is an art to composing compelling arguments, and it s an art your students will enjoy. Imagine how this will help you! you might explain, with a twinge of comical hyperbole. Think how you ll be able to persuade parents and friends and defeat siblings. Imagine how utterly convincing you ll be as you explain why children should be allowed to play video war-games, or why the family should get a dog, or why your followers should support solar power! Our job is to recruit our kids into the revision festival. They ll only work as hard as we want them to if they feel inspired by the potential strength of this essay, and of the universal usefulness of these rhetorical powers. A note: The following revision strategies are high-level argument revision. If, as you look at kids fast drafts, you worry about their ability to group information, to state a clear thesis, and to organize their essay with paragraph structure, then you ll want to draw on the revision work your students did in the previous unit on information writing and remind them to bring forward all they know about ways to structure, elaborate, and craft expository writing. In the information-writing unit of study (and in previous essay units, such as personal essay), the revision work mainly supported expository structure and best ways to organize information or evidence to fully support a topic or claim. There are a variety of potential elaboration and revision lessons, and you ll want to look at your students drafts and decide which of these they are ready for and which are highest leverage for them. One essential lesson is that writers sort the potential evidence to try to choose the most powerful bits, and we play with the sequence of this evidence, seeking the most compelling order of evidence to share with our readers. One way to do this work is to put our evidence on slips of paper, or to cut up the parts of our rough draft, and then move the pieces around. We can show our partner A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

76 our evidence, and debate or rehearse our writing with our partner. Sometimes we try putting one piece of evidence first, and then try a different one, and we see how that affects our reader s journey through the facts and information. Sometimes we may also return to our research to see if there is more evidence that is even more compelling, and we take seriously the attempt to order and reorder our evidence. Sometimes we may go for the most provocative evidence first, to lure our reader in. Sometimes we may go for the most commonly quoted, least-disputed evidence last, to leave our reader with a compelling sense of being convinced. If we write our essay, for instance, to substantiate the claim that Sharks are often misunderstood, we may consider whether we want to start with how the attack on Lester Stilwell in Matawan Creek, NJ, led people to think that we are in danger from sharks even in fresh water, or if we want to start with the statistic that a person is more likely to be hit by a car or struck by lightning than bitten by a shark. We may consider whether we want to end with the statistic about being hit by a car, or if we want to end with statistics about shark populations disappearing. The main thing is that there is no right or wrong way what s important is that writers learn to take these choices seriously and to spend some time considering the effect these switches may have on their writing and their reader. Many of our writers are highly skilled at narrative writing, and this is an essential tool of persuasive writing as well. Simply read a newspaper article or journal and you ll see how nonfiction writers interest and persuade their audience through specific anecdotes and how they know how to gain sympathy for their ideas through the perspectives they represent. If you decide to teach your writers that essayists often employ anecdotes as our most compelling evidence, there are two kinds of anecdotes, or small moments, you may want to demonstrate. The first is the straightforward historical, or true, anecdote. When writing these true anecdotes, the writer still may choose whose perspective to represent. In our essay on sharks, we might decide to start with an anecdote about Rodney Fox s attack that we read about in Dubowski s book and on Fox s website but we might retell that anecdote so the shark s perspective is honored, beginning it like this: Hot sun lit up the surface of the sea, where a single fin tore through the waves. It was the fin of a predator, who had finally sighted his prey fish, bleeding, waiting to be snapped up. But when the great white snapped at the fish, he got more than he bargained for the fish were attached to a diving line, and a man was attached to that. Furious, the great white snapped, tore, dove. Strange tastes filled his mouth the taste of rubber, and metal, and human flesh. He abandoned this prey, which was not what he sought. Invite your writers to use their narrative powers, zooming in on the most critical moment of an anecdote, which is usually the moment of greatest trouble, to get their reader s attention and then invite them also to hone their representation of characters so that the perspective offered will create sympathy for their claim. You may decide to teach the invented anecdote which is where the writer uses the knowledge we gained through our research, and we invite our reader to imagine, A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

77 for one moment, what it would be like to inhabit the same skin as our subject. So an invented anecdote might sound like: Picture this: you swim through the waves, fin cutting like a knife as you seek your prey. Your powers of electro-reception let you feel the signals from any living creature around you. But some creatures you ve never seen before. Today, for instance, you see a creature that looks like a seal. It swims strongly, it smells like flesh. It seems like prey. You have not eaten in days, for your territory has been filled with the sound of motors, and the fish you usually eat have diminished, and you have been driven in your hunger closer to shore than you would normally swim. You decide to try this new prey. That may be what it feels like to be a great white these days. For there is almost no place they can go, to be free of humans. The great sea has become smaller for them. When they do attack humans, it may be that they have been driven to this extreme, by how humans have treated them. Invented anecdotes allow the writer to convey the imagined perspective of other creatures, of those whose voices have not been represented. The art of it is to stay small, to bring the reader into your anecdote as a persuasive move, to make the anecdote be accurate to your research (how sharks hunt, what has happened to them), and then to lead your reader back to your idea. Another possible revision lesson would be to teach your writers about the power of quoting powerful lines from their texts. You might say, for instance: Sometimes, writers, we look back over our notes and we see that we jotted down a line or two that seem to have very powerful words. That is, it s not just information, it s that the writer seems to have conveyed this information with words we actually want to quote, because they are so persuasive. I see, in my notes, for instance, that Seymour Simon called sharks fascinating creatures, and I like that description, it seems pretty persuasive. When I go back to the book to look again at that quote, I think I ll use the whole sentence in my essay: When you know the truth about sharks, you ll begin to see them as the fascinating creatures they are, instead of the monsters of myth (Simon, p. 7). You might go on to explain that usually we ll go back to the text, find the quote again, and see if we want to use just a line or two, or if there were any more words we should scoop up. Unless your students are adept at quotation from repeated practice with literary essays, they may also need some instruction in how to use transitions such as according to Simon, author of Sharks, When you know the truth about... or Seymour Simon argues that sharks are misunderstood. In fact, he says: When you know the truth... Those simple phrases, such as he or she states, argues, writes, claims, says, asserts, reveals, demonstrates, are probably new to your writers, and you may want to make a teaching chart to support this new work. We ll also make sure that, as we quote, we demonstrate double-checking to make sure we have quoted the words accurately, and double-checking the page number, if there is one, so we can give a reference. A note here about references: It s important to teach students that when we use information, ideas, or words from our research, we need to provide references that s called citing. In the world of open-source material, A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

78 there is some confusion even on the part of adults about copyright and intellectual property. You may want to teach them parenthetical citation, which is where you list the author and page number inside of parentheses or you list the website address. If you quote from two texts by the same author, then it s: (author, date, page number). The parentheses go after the quote; the punctuation goes after the parentheses. The writer also provides a list of references at the end. What matters is that students realize that when they do research, they are responsible to the authors of that research, and they also want to be able to reference specific authors in their arguments. If you are interested in doing some vocabulary work with your writers, there are two interesting writing strategies that you might demonstrate as revision. One is that our writing will have a more authoritative tone if we employ technical vocabulary what the Common Core State Standards call domain-language, and what we might call the jargon or lingo of experts. So, if we say that sharks have retractable jaws that allow them to tear at and swallow their prey, that shows a higher level of expertise than if we say that sharks have jack-in-the-box jaws or cool jaws. If we do include high-level technical vocabulary in our writing, then we also have a responsibility to our reader to explain that vocabulary, unless we are writing for an equally expert audience. You may teach your writers, then, that writers often explain new terms with the use of a second sentence, or with parentheses, or by setting off the explanation with commas. For instance, if we write that sharks locate prey through their sense of electroreception, we should then explain that electroreception is the ability to pick up electrical signals from other living animals. It might look like: Sharks zoom in on their prey, in part through their phenomenal powers of electroreception. Electroreception is the power to pick up electrical signals from other animals. Sharks zoom in on their prey, in part through their phenomenal powers of electroreception (the power to pick up electrical signals from other animals). Sharks zoom in on their prey, in part through their phenomenal powers of electroreception, the power to pick up electrical signals from other animals. Your writers have undoubtedly been picking up a wide range of higher-level vocabulary in their research. If you teach them to use and explain that vocabulary, they re more likely both to retain it, and to be alert for those cues as they read harder nonfiction. Another vocabulary lesson, though, may focus on connotations the emotions that are associated with certain words. You may, for instance, teach your students that as writers we can look over the words we have used to describe our subject, and make sure that the emotions these words call to mind are, in fact, the emotions we want recognizing that words do often pull up emotional responses. For instance, if my essay is on how sharks are dangerous, I may describe these creatures as magnificent, powerful, and menacing. But if my essay wants to convey that they are not dangerous, I may describe them as magnificent, powerful, and magical. Menacing and magical call to A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

79 mind different emotions. Strong and fierce convey different feelings. The idea is that language is nuanced, and that we want to carefully consider alternatives, trying out a few different words, perhaps looking back at what language the authors of our research used, and perhaps trying some descriptions out on our partner to see what response they evoke. As your students near the end of this unit and have taken some time to revise, you will then turn their attention to introductions and conclusions. When approaching all non-narrative writing, we generally suggest that you wait to teach these later, instead of sooner. How do you know how to start or end a piece until you know what makes up the middle? This is the time to return to mentor texts that you have been studying across the unit, look to see the various ways that nonfiction authors begin and end their books there are just as many as there are topics! Some that you might see often include: Narrative introductions that attempt to illustrate major concepts of the informational piece this happens in a lot of social studies and science textbooks Introductions that are a note from the author the National Geographic Investigates series has quite a few of these, where the author writes a bit about what they find fascinating about the topic and why they chose to write Introductions that are graphically supported, like timelines or maps with explanations Introductions that describe the structure of the book or article, giving short summaries of each As with any strategy, help your students see possibilities and then allow them to experiment and choose the ones that best fit their piece. Do the same then with conclusions to books and articles, studying what authors do and giving your writers a chance to try some out. Will they end their writing with an In the Future or Next Steps section that is forward looking? Or will they end looking backward, at the role their topic played in the world or changing history? Publish in Ways That Celebrate Knowledge As you plan for your writing publication and celebration, consider ways that allow your students to celebrate not just their writing and their point of view. One way of celebrating that you may consider is to set your students up in an expert seminar or knowledge fair. This is similar to a college or career fair, where schools or businesses set up tables all in the same room and participants walk from table to table, learning about their topics. Your students or groups could bring their final written pieces and place them on a table, perhaps create some visuals or bring in artifacts, and then invite students from other grades, teachers, parents, or any other guests to walk the room and visit your student experts. Or, to celebrate the work that kids have A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

80 accomplished in this month, you might decide to create a website or blog where the class s essays are published. Research-Based Argument Essays This unit is intended for students who have already written personal and persuasive essays such as those described in the sixth-grade unit on essays. Chances are, your students have also learned to write fast drafts of essays as part of their preparation for state tests. One way to assess your writers readiness for this unit, then, is to look over prior essays to see how they hold up in terms of structure and focus. Or, you can give a quick on-demand task, inviting students to write an essay in which they stake a claim and back it up with some evidence writing about any topic they are expert on. We also have available a performance assessment that gives students a few texts and invites them to read these texts and then write an argument essay. If you give this task before and after this unit, you should see major improvement in kids abilities to cite evidence, analyze authors perspectives, and support nuanced claims. Along the way, you ll want to keep an eye first on students note-taking. Check to make sure they have systems for keeping track of their notes. And look within the notes, to make sure some students aren t just jotting random facts. If they are, you may need to linger longer in Part One of the unit, which teaches some note-taking systems. Then watch to make sure students are writing responses to their notes, so that by the time they come to writing their essays, they have already been rehearsing claims and backing up their opinions. You ll notice in the revision section that we return to some of the narrative work of prior units. In an essay, writers often include anecdotes to instill sympathy for their point of view. These anecdotes, though, need to be concise and angled, so look for your writers to hone their narrative craft within idea-based essays. If you teach this unit of study in English/Language Arts, you may, at the end, then want to give the unit to social studies or science, so that students get an opportunity to write research-based argument essays in other disciplines as well. It takes repeated practice for adolescent writers to get really good at this crucial skill. Part One: Gathering and Responding to Facts and Information Essayists take research notes in precise, thoughtful ways because we expect to use these notes later when we begin drafting an essay on this topic. We record the most important information about a topic and also some of our questions and responses to this information. Often, at the end of a work period, we take a few minutes to write our thinking about what seems important so far, about a topic. Researchers notes don t look the same even when we re making notes from the exact same texts. Each one of us is an author of our own notes, so we can make A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

81 choices about whether we want to make sketch-notes or lists, timelines or webs, idea clusters or Post-it charts, tables or Venn diagrams. When we make notes for our future use, researchers don t just use one way we make a choice about the most efficient and effective way to write our notes. Whenever we take notes, we try to protect time to think about those notes, taking a few minutes to write about how our research is changing our thinking, or about important claims that authors make, and why those feel important. While making notes, researchers discover that a specific note-making format often works best in a certain situation. For example, if the text is expository, it makes sense to use boxes and bullets to record it; if it is narrative, it makes more sense to make a time line. If we re comparing and contrasting or listing pros and cons, we might make a T-chart. If we re comparing three or more categories, we may make a table with three or more columns. Researchers make note-making efficient by choosing the best way to record a particular kind of information. While making notes, researchers try to paraphrase and shorten text, using our own words where we can. Sometimes, though, we do quote the text, especially if we are struck by an author s language and where we do lift a quote, we make sure to use quotation marks and cite the source. As we take notes, we make sure to include our own ideas, feelings, and questions alongside the information that we re recording. We do this because we know that when we use these notes to write essays, our opinions will be as important as the information we re gleaning from texts. We ll want to back up those opinions, so it s often helpful to write our opinions near the notes and research that inspire our thinking. Researchers treat our notes as valuable tools. We store and organize these notes efficiently; we constantly revisit and categorize old notes as we add new ones. We take care to keep them in a folder or notebook or digital source from which we may easily access them when we need to. Part Two: Evaluating and Interpreting Information and Authors Perspectives As we become more expert on a topic, we begin see all its sides. We can then ask, Are there two ways to look at this topic? For example, one way to look at snails is as pests that destroy crops. Another way to look at snails is as valuable food, rich in protein. In our notes, we can record and compare both these faces, or sides, of our topic, revisiting the text to collect examples for each. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

82 Sometimes we begin to realize that part of a topic is more disputed, and we zoom in on that aspect of our research. So, for instance, it might not be disputed that sharks can be dangerous, but it is disputed what we should do about that danger. That nuclear power can be efficient might be agreed upon, but the safety issues related to nuclear power (one part of a topic) are highly controversial. So researchers sometimes narrow down the potential topic of their research and essays to one part of a topic. As we note different perspectives on a topic, we also note which authors support which perspectives. Later, in our essays, we want to provide not just information or sides; we want to show who supports which sides. So we re alert to authors, and to organizations, that support certain sides or offer certain perspectives. A way to uncover two sides of a topic is to note that various authors can have different positions while writing about it. We ask questions such as, What is this author trying to make me feel about the topic? Why is the author trying to make me feel this? In our notes, we note and compare the feelings that different texts evoke and we list the craft choices or illustration details of each text that contribute to making us feel this way. Another way that researchers cover the many faces of a topic is to think, How might different groups of people see this topic? How are different groups of people affected by this topic? For example, if our topic is forests, the different groups associated with this topic would include environmentalists, timber businessmen, carpenters, consumers, local residents, and nesting animals. In our notes, we try to think and jot how each of these groups might see certain elements about this topic differently. Researchers develop our own stances on topics. We consider the two faces of a topic to ask ourselves, What is my stance, my position on this? We don t just pick any old stance to call our own; we look over our notes and all we ve read about the topic to find a stance with the most compelling reasons or evidence to believe in, and we list these. Then we write our ideas about our own stance, and what evidence leads us to this stance. As researchers gather lots of notes and jottings, we also go back into them and develop systems that help us to analyze this data for patterns. We might, for instance, reorganize our notes to show which authors present which facts. Then we might jot some thinking about how these facts support one side of a claim. We also notice anomalies, or breaks in patterns. We may notice that authors include contradictory facts or statistics. We can then begin to research authors A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

83 potential biases. We may find that we want to do some research on our authors! Looking at which groups or organizations authors belong to can be intriguing, and we might sort out which texts arise,.org,.edu, sites as well, and think about the implications of our sources. As always, as we do this analysis, we ll want to write our thinking down, because later in our essays we may discuss authors potential biases and how they contradict each other. Part Three: Rehearsing, Substantiating, and Debating Claims to Build Our Essays Around Once researchers have enough notes on a topic to compare and contrast its different faces and issues, we start to ask, What are some of the big issues and ideas that are important to write more about? To do this, we first look through our notes to separate undisputed facts about this topic from arguable claims. Then we may do some talking and writing about the various claims that we ve recognized, and which ones seem the most fascinating to us, and why. One way to find a strong arguable claim for our topic is to look across our notes to study the many faces of our topic that we ve recorded, or the different feelings that writers have tried to inspire for this topic, or the perspective of different people on this topic. We pick the most compelling of these and try to jot more arguments in its favor. When possible arguments about a topic begin to occur to us, essayists capture these in a claim or thesis statement. One way to write the thesis statement (claim) of an argument essay is to start by stating something that an opposite side might say but then add what we would like to argue instead. For example: Although some people may actually be argued that... Essayists try out several possible claims and rehearse those with a partner, writing the essay in the air, sort of giving a speech about it. Then we try a second idea or claim. Once we know the argument that we want to forward, essayists look back at all our notes to come up with a list of reasons or examples that may serve as evidence of our argument. We jot each of these down and elaborate them further to form different possible paragraphs for the essay. We may elaborate them by: x inserting anecdotes as evidence x quoting experts and describing their expertise x including statistics and an analysis of the implications of these statistics A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

84 Essayists also look at the possible evidence to support the opposite side s argument. We jot all possible evidence that may support the counterclaim, adding a transition like Nevertheless, But, However, Despite this... to refute each argument, showing that it is inaccurate/incomplete/not representative of all situations/ deficient in some other way. In this way, essayists develop a paragraph or two in which we acknowledge and discredit the counterclaim. Essayists write at least one fast draft, and sometimes a few drafts of possible essays. As we do so, we use what we know about the structure and form of essays, to have a first paragraph that stakes our claim and perhaps says what research we ll be citing. Then we may acknowledge and discredit the counterclaim, and then strongly prove our claim, in the following paragraphs. An alternate structure is to prove our claim first, and then acknowledge and discredit the counterclaim. Essayists write a fast draft using the skills that come to hand we use our notes but usually don t return to our texts we can do that in revision. Part Four: Revising to Be More Compelling and Convincing Essayists know that there are many ways to revise essays to make them more compelling and convincing. We call to mind prior craft lessons and apply those to our writing. We may share ideas with a partner and show each other how we incorporate meaningful elaboration and revision. If we are stuck for ideas, we might study mentor texts, thinking about how authors have made their arguments compelling and convincing. One way to make our essays more persuasive is to reconsider and revise the order in which we present the reader with information. We wonder what to put first, what to present next, and what to reveal at the end. Essayists sometimes insert an anecdote (narrative writing) into our essays to create a powerful impact on the reader by providing an example of something compelling about our topic. We may, therefore, insert a true story as an example, or evidence, to support our claim. As we craft this anecdote, we call on our narrative craft. We also angle the story so that it is concise, and usually simply one moment often what would be the greatest moment of tension or trouble. Another form of anecdote that essayists sometimes employ is the invented anecdote, which often begins: Picture this... or Imagine this... and then offers a vivid image that stirs up the reader s sympathies for our implicit point of view. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

85 Sometimes essayists paraphrase and cite portions from texts. When we do this, we use our own words to summarize a point in the book. Then we provide some analysis and explanation as to why this research is significant. We cite a reference, even when we paraphrase. At other times, we quote directly from the text, in which case we use quotation marks.we make sure to cite the book and author that we re referring to. We often quote when we think that an author s language is worth repeating, because it is so compelling (or if it is in the counterclaim part, because it seems offensive or ludicrous). Essayists write like an insider to a topic by using technical vocabulary. This establishes our authority and expertise. We stay on the lookout for places where we might need to define vocabulary words that are connected to the topic that might be hard for readers to understand. Writers keep in mind common ways that information writers teach important words and decide which way will be best for each term. We also consider our audience and make decisions about their level of vocabulary expertise. Writers consider the connotations of words as well how words such as fierce and deadly create a different image than strong and efficient. Magnificent and menacing conveys a different tone than magnificent and magical. We make sure that our connotations support the tone and claim we are making. Essayists revise the introduction of our information books, thinking about how we can set readers up to be experts in the topic and how we can draw readers in right from the start. We often return to mentor texts to see how authors have introduced a topic to a reader. Essayists work on our conclusions. Often we look over our essay and pause to really think: What new thinking has this led me to? Or we consider making a plea for change in the world. Or we share what seem like the most significant personal applications of our claim. Or we try to state the biggest potential implications, now and in the future, of our claim. Writers share their writing by posting it on blogs, collecting it in anthologies, posting it on websites, and hosting symposia. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

86 UNIT FIVE Historical Fiction JANUARY This version of the unit offers more higher-level writing lessons than the sixthgrade version, though some essentials are the same. Your seventh-grade writers by now have written narratives often. It benefits writers enormously to have an opportunity to return to a genre, working once again in that genre only this time with greater control, using strategies learned earlier with greater finesse. When writers work more than once in a genre, they can progress from doing as they re told toward using all they know to accomplish their own big goals. It also gives students additional opportunities to meet the Common Core State Standards expectations, which suggest that students need to have increasing control of narrative writing while also being more equipped to analyze authors craft and structure as readers of narratives. The more students return to narrative genres, the more they will understand craft and their own means of control, such as building tension, establishing and developing internal conflicts, and using domain-specific language. Be sure to look at the fiction stories your students wrote during the earlier fiction unit and do an on-demand assessment so that you approach the unit with a clear sense for what your students have mastered and what they need to learn to do. Although your students will be a diverse group, with some having more and some less skill as writers, you ll probably find also that there are some things many of them have learned to do, and other things they haven t yet. Because students will be willing to work with great zeal on the work of this unit, the unit represents a terrific opportunity for skill development. Last year teacher after teacher who taught this unit glowed about the high levels of engagement and productivity they saw among their writers. They also saw enormous jumps in their students craft and independence. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

87 For many teachers, the unit also offers a nice parallel to a reading unit on historical fiction. If your students are reading historical fiction as well as writing it, which we will assume in this write-up, then this provides you with a wonderful opportunity to teach your students that writers read texts that others have written with the lens of being a writer. As writers, students can read with an awareness of the craft moves that an author has made, and can even try some of these craft moves in their own writing. For example, the students might note that an author has inserted historical objects, clothing, and inventions into a historical fiction text, and so some students decide to do the same in their writing. Then too, readers can be taught to notice moments when they have strong emotional responses to their books and to study what the author has done to make those moments matter. During writing, students can try to create their own such moments. Of course, this will mean that writers need to read with the eyes of insiders, attending to not only being moved, but also the craft choices the writer used to affect them. By partnering this writing unit with the same genre in their reading work, you can provide students many opportunities to carry strengths from one discipline to another. The fact that students are writing as well as reading historical fiction will make them far more astute readers, and this, in turn, will enrich their book club conversations and help them to look across texts with the lens of how writers develop themes, characters, and settings. This, of course, is an important goal in the Common Core State Standards. Teachers, as you think about what your goals will be for the unit, think also about how you can help your students care about the unit too. It is always important to launch a unit by rallying students around the big work that they ll be doing in a unit. You ll need to decide how to market this unit to your students. In one class, a teacher might say, You all have done some amazing reading this year, and some amazing writing. This time, we re going to put those two kinds of work together. You ll be reading historical fiction, which is a particularly passionate, exciting kind of storytelling, and you ll be writing historical fiction, and you ll be able to try out, in your own writing, all the cool things that you see authors doing in the books you are reading. Another teacher may decide to market the unit differently. Historical fiction lends itself to figuring out the relationship between characters and the place. In realistic fiction, the setting might be a school and the author assumes you know what the school is like, but in historical fiction, the author creates the place and you need to think hard about the relationship between the place and the characters. This unit will help you write and read with a more careful eye to the ways setting is used in stories. You will use all you know about good writing to help readers live in the world of that setting. In yet another class a teacher might say, This year we have been thinking so much about the ways we can make our voices heard. We ve learned that narrative writing can help us tell stories about moments that matter and essay writing can help us tell about ideas we think need to be shared. During this unit in historical fiction, we ll tell stories of people who made their voices heard in the past. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

88 Before the Unit Begins: Making Decisions about How Students Will Learn about a Time Period There is one aspect of historical fiction that involves some special attention. It is essential that the writer knows about the historical period in which his or her story will be set. You can decide whether you want your students to prioritize this historical research or just gesture toward doing a bit of it. If you decide that you want to use the invitation to write historical fiction as a way to lure students into an active, invested study of a particular time and place in history, you will probably structure your social studies curriculum work so that your class studies a historical era and then all of them set their historical fiction stories within that one era. Students will be more engaged and alert learners of history if they know they ll be synthesizing and applying their knowledge of history to their own historical fiction stories, so be sure to tell them at the outset about this project aligning with the Common Core State Standards. Be sure, too, that you allow them to learn about the historical era through film and photographs and stories as well as through expository texts, since it will be important for them to develop images of the time and place that they can draw upon as they create stories set in that historical context. Of course, if students are studying an era in social studies, this means that during the reading workshop they can read historical fiction that may not necessarily be set in that historical context but supports the writing work simply because the texts that students read are examples of the genre they ll write. Of course, it would be amazing if students could be studying one era in social studies and in the reading workshop, and could then write a story set within that era, but many teachers do not have multiple copies of enough historical fiction books set in a particular time say, the Civil War for the whole class to read only books couched in that setting. In order to keep kids in books during the reading workshop, there needs to be enough books for the Level M readers to read at least ten books in the month, and the level R/S/T readers to read at least four books in the month and if readers are working in book clubs, that means the class needs multiple copies of all those books. Most teachers find that during the reading workshop, they do not want to confine all students to reading about just one particular era but want instead to make use of all the multiple copies of wonderful historical fiction novels they have on hand. It s possible, however, that you don t really have access to a separate social studies time. Another option, then, is to lean on your read-aloud work and minilessons during the reading workshop to provide students with knowledge of a historical era in which to set their stories. This means selecting a time and place in history for all your read-alouds during the unit, and asking students to situate their historical fiction stories in that same era. If, for instance, you decide that although during the reading workshop, different clubs will be reading multiple copies of the full range of historical fiction books, all your read-alouds could still focus on a topic such as the civil rights movement. Our website has lists compiled by teachers throughout the country of much-loved genre-specific titles. For example, if you ve decided to focus on civil rights and to ask students to set their historical fiction stories A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

89 within this context, you might put together a read-aloud collection of Goin Someplace Special (McKissack), The Other Side (Woodson), Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins (Weatherford), and The Bat Boy and His Violin (Curtis). If you choose this second option, you ll want to not only situate all your read-aloud work within the one selected era, but also to read aloud some relevant nonfiction material related in content and theme to the time period. Finding that nonfiction materials were slim, some teachers who tried this option in the past gathered folders of articles and photos from the time period, then created one-page fact sheets on important people, issues, places, and events during various periods for students to use as supplemental materials. If you have assessed your students in previous units to be the sort of writers and researchers that can navigate and synthesize various nonfiction sources, and you have a lot of sources on many time periods available, and your students have time to read independently and deeply, then you may give your students this opportunity to choose any time period in which they are passionately interested, gather their own resources, and collaborate in studies of a time period. Often, this choice yields very high engagement, though you may experience a range of historical accuracy (and inaccuracy), since it s very hard for you to support all your researchers. One way or another, then, your students will need to do at least some and perhaps a lot of research about the era in which their stories will be set. That research can be transformed because of the fact that they are researching as writers of historical fiction. Teachers, read ahead to the upcoming description of the first days of the historical fiction writing unit, and think about how the spirit of that work can be brought into whatever research your students do outside of the writing workshop as well. You can vitalize that research by linking it to the job of writing historical fiction. Launching the Historical Fiction Writing Workshop: Rehearsal Involves Collecting, Selecting Among, and Developing Story Ideas When the historical fiction unit begins within your writing workshop, you ll want to help students do the work that fiction writers always need to do. Look back on the book Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions by Calkins & Cruz for minilesson ideas and to remind yourself of how fiction writers immerse themselves in a writing project. The important thing to keep in mind is that fiction writers don t begin this work by beginning their stories. Far from it! They instead begin the work by rehearsing for the stories. Rehearsal involves thinking about lots of possible story ideas, generating possible stories, and then, once one has the gist of an idea, thinking deeply about the setting, the characters, and the various ways the story might spin out. When writing a story that is set in a historical era, the need for rehearsal is amplified. The question that a historical fiction writer needs to ask is not just, What would make a great story? but also, What might have occurred within that time and place that might make a great story? Many teachers find that the best way to start this unit is to teach historical fiction writers to merge the work of dreaming up story ideas with the work of researching the historical era in alignment with the Common Core State Standards. For at least a few A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

90 days at the start of the unit (if not for longer periods of time prior to the writing unit beginning), students can learn about the historical era from the perspective of someone who wants to create a story set in this time and place. This means that they need to read about the era, thinking, What possible story ideas are hidden here? Of course, students will need to learn facts about the time and place and about whatever issue or aspect of life especially catches their attention, but the search for facts will be peripheral and the more important work will be to think deeply about what it was like for people to live through these events, to live in that time and that place. Writers will read, writing notebooks in hand, asking, What was going on during this time period that might be worth writing about? This means reading responsively, letting even the littlest facts spark empathy and imagination and envisionment. When Laurie Halse Anderson worked on her historical fiction book Fever 1793, centering around slave ownership in the North during the American Revolution, she stumbled upon the fact that Benjamin Franklin owned slaves. This shocked her and led her down a path of study that ultimately ended up in her book. A pivotal moment for her was seeing a sculpture at the New York Historical Society of a man and woman running for freedom. That image, tied in with all her accumulated facts, led her to hear her main character s voice for the first time. You may use videos just as you have often used read-aloud books. These videos can be short clips of historical documentaries, such as Ken Burns s New York, or clips of historical fiction pieces such as those from The American Girl series. These visuals can help students get a great sense of historical time periods as well as lead a fiction writer to jot story ideas. You might show your class that a fiction writer s notebook includes lots of little story ideas blurbs about how possible stories could go. In follow-up minilessons you might also teach students that writers of historical fiction can try to collect and study information about not just the events of the period, but also the details of daily life, personal and social issues, inventions, and even important places. Continue to remind them to pause and ask, What stories do you think are hidden here? As students study, they jot facts, write longer entries about what they imagine and envision, make sketches, and even paste photographs into their notebooks. Their research will reflect a need to know about a whole range of topics fashions, modes of transportation, schools, gender roles, and events. A common mantra you may come back to again and again is, What stories do you think are hidden here? Of course, as students collect story ideas in their writers notebooks, they ll draw on not only their knowledge of the era but also their knowledge of the genre. They ll draw on the work they will have done in the reading workshop when they ve read historical fiction. All of the reading work that they do will have ramifications for the writing work that you help them to do. For example, Sessions IV and V of the book supporting reading historical fiction (Tackling Complex Texts: Historical Fiction in Book Clubs) highlight the fact that readers of historical fiction need to construct two time lines in their minds as they read. They need to construct a time line of the historical events that are going on that affect the story, and they need to construct a story of the main character s plotline. And here is the important thing that the reading unit of study book spotlights: readers of historical fiction books will notice that the historical time line A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

91 intersects with a character s time line. Events happen in history, and the protagonist reacts to those events. If you have taught minilessons to your readers in which you channel them to read historical fiction with an eye toward the two intersecting time lines, then you may well suggest that writers of historical fiction can time line the events that are underway in an era, and think about the storylines that might intersect with the historical time line. You can teach your historical fiction writers to not only collect ideas for stories, but also to test out those ideas by drawing on all they know about the era and about the genre. To test a story idea against knowledge of the era, a writer might reread his or her entries and ask, Does this make sense for the time period? Does it ring true? What is a different way it could go? For example, a student may have jotted in her notebook that she could write a story about a boy in the Civil War who wants to spend time with his older brother but he is working all the time, so they drive together to Florida on vacation. After asking herself if the story makes sense for the period and rings true, the writer could revise the story blurb to say, I could write a story about a boy in the Civil War who wants to spend time with his older brother but their family is divided and he is on the Confederate side, so... Help students to think even about little details such as naming the character with a time-appropriate name and thinking about period-based motivations. Some writers will seem to be more wedded to historical facts than to story ideas. You might remind these writers that they are first and foremost story writers. You could say, Writers, when I collect ideas for historical fiction writing, I want to make sure that I am still writing about people and issues that feel true to me. Remember that when we wrote realistic fiction, we learned that we can take the real struggles of our own lives and give those struggles to a character. You can still do that when writing historical fiction. You could then show your students that for you, one of the biggest challenges to this day is, say, getting along with your older brother. You could teach students that people in history struggled with the same issues, and we can think about how those struggles may have looked, if set in another time and place: Okay, so now let me see....i want to set my story in the Revolutionary War and I want to make it a story about a boy who gets into an argument with his brother. Oh, I know, I learned that young boys weren t supposed to go to war but some lied about their age and got in anyway, so maybe this boy wants to fight, but his older brother knows the one boy is too young. Maybe they have an argument and... After a day of collecting story blurbs, writers begin to settle upon a story idea (one that imagines a character with some motivations, who gets involved in an action/ problem/struggle) and then it will be important for writers to do the work of making their protagonists become more real. Students can return to strategies they remember from past years realistic fiction experiences and create a quick entry about their character s internal and external characteristics. They might want to get to know their character more by thinking about their character s motivations and obstacles. You might also coach students to try writing a single everyday scene in their notebooks that brings their character and their story line to life. The scene would likely be an everyday scene the challenge will be for the historical fiction writer to live in the shoes A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

92 of his or her character while that character is having supper with family or traveling to school in the morning. This work of writing a quick scene can help students comprehend the way in which they ll be writing a story that is like every other fiction story they have ever written, and the way in which this story writing puts extra demands on them. Meanwhile, the scene allows you to assess whether your students are remembering the instruction from previous narrative units about writing in a scene the importance of dialogue and small actions, of writing the external and the internal story, of making movies in one s mind and storytelling rather than summarizing. You will probably look across these trial scenes and make some choices about the whole-class minilessons you need to teach and about the small group as well. Students will then need to be guided to choose a story idea that they will want to take all the way through the writing process toward publication. This is an important time to have your eyes everywhere. Many students will be drawn to writing novelsized stories, which will almost inevitably lead to a lot of summarizing and not a lot of small moment development. Help them realize that the story they write needs to revolve around two or, at most, three small moments. It will then be important for students to settle upon a tool that can help them plan out and story-tell the progression in their stories. One method for doing this involves using blank story booklets, made from folded copy paper or loose leaf. Writers can be encouraged to sketch a micro-sequence of events that might constitute their story across the four (only!) pages of their booklets, then to touch each page and narrate that moment to themselves or to a partner. The power of these booklets is that they are fun to make, and therefore it is easy for students to make half a dozen story booklets, with each representing yet another possible way that the story could unfold. An alternate way to rehearse for a story involves writers making a double time line with one time line showing the historical struggle of the era and one showing the protagonist s personal struggle. Your students might look back to their own book club books and to read-alouds to see various ways stories can begin, some with a historical struggle, and some with personal tensions. Explain that in some historical fiction, the big problem a character faces is, in fact, the historical struggle, such as slavery in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, or enlistment in the army in My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier. In others, the struggle is a more personal one, as in Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia McLachlan, such as learning to love someone, or adjusting to a family change, with the historical setting functioning really as a backdrop. As students rehearse for the stories they will be drafting soon, the reading-writing connections will be coming at them from all sides, because during reading time as well as during writing time, you ll mention that whatever students notice in the books they are reading should affect their work in the books they are writing. Many of your reading minilessons minilessons such as those in Session I ( Constructing the Sense of Another Time ), Session VII ( Scrutinizing, Not Skipping, Descriptions ), Session IX ( Making Significance ), and Session XV ( Seeing Power in Its Many Forms ) from Tackling Complex Texts: Historical Fiction in Book Clubs will have important implications for writers of historical fiction. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

93 Drafting and Revision: Crafting a Compelling Historical Fiction Story Once students have experimented with ways their stories could go and have set a draft plan, they will begin drafting. Students may plan to write each of the two or three scenes from their booklets on a new sheet or two of loose leaf. As they prepare to draft, teach your students that historical fiction writers set the scene, letting the reader know, through the details they include, when and where this story takes place. Invite clubs to reread the opening scene from their historical fiction mentor texts, noticing how one author might have explicitly stated the date while also including period-specific details, like in The Babe and I, while another author might bring readers into a scene through a character s actions and then layer in period details, like in The Bat Boy and His Violin. Show your students how to use these same strategies in their own writing. It is predictable that later your students will need to revise for historical accuracy, so you may write your draft so that it will end up needing this revision too. You might say, Oops, in my story Polly wrote a letter that only took two days to arrive! But this book about the colonies said that everything took days and days to travel from state to state, so I ll have to change that detail in my story. Although historical accuracy will be important in the long run, when your students are starting their stories, by far the most important thing for you to stress will be the importance of storytelling rather than summarizing. As students move from working on their lead to writing their draft, one of the minilessons you ll probably teach will revolve around helping them to handle shifts of time in their stories. One part of the challenge will be that some stories require a bit of background information, more than what can be told in sequential order. Students whose stories fall into this category will need to be able to convey the events that have already happened through the use of backstories and flashbacks. In a back story, the character often describes something that already happened: I had a brother once, named John, but he fell down a well, and my parents were never the same after that. Whereas a flashback brings the reader right to the earlier time: When my mother handed baby Thomas to me and I had him in my arms, I remembered the night, six months earlier, when I had been trying to get to sleep, and I suddenly heard a sharp cry. I knew right away it was baby Thomas and I knew something was wrong. Even if your students don t master this craft, studying and trying it, will expand their writing terrain, and help their reading. If you gather your students drafts and think about the teaching that their drafts require, you will probably find that many of your young writers have tended toward the melodramatic. Characters will be getting killed in battle, or suffering horrific injuries, or rising up like superheroes to defeat the enemy. You can decide whether to let the melodrama remain or whether to teach them to revise for believability. A good place to practice this revision is in the scene where the main character faces a crisis, choice, or problem. This is where you can teach them to make their character believable, flawed, or complicated, by basing their character on people they know or their own observations and self-reflections. You might model this by saying, Maybe instead of making my character defeat the British soldiers all by himself, I should think about what could really A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

94 happen in life. Usually when things get better in our school, it is not just one person who changed everything. When working with your strongest writers, you can help them make sure that their characters are complex and changeable. You might coach them to return to their original double time lines to see if the internal change they were originally imagining for their main character is in fact playing out and if it might help to develop the complexity of the character as well as their character arc. Through the entire writing process, encourage students to sometimes bring their drafts to book club discussions. Students can trade drafts and place Post-its on each other s writing with their inferences and interpretations. The club can then discuss these texts as readers (not as a writing response group), giving the writer a window into what readers are truly taking away from their drafts! Finally, you can teach your students that historical fiction stories can end without having to resolve the historical struggle true, one character could potentially work to overcome and might even have great influence within a particular struggle, but usually one character, especially a fictitious character, will most likely not defeat the entire British army, give women the right to vote, or solve the stock market crisis. As students tend to critique how satisfying the ending was at the completion of their book club books, you can teach them to consider whether their own story lines were tied up or not and how to leave the ending satisfying, while still historically accurate. This is a time, once again, to be wary of the Superman-type endings. We might coach a student who is considering an ending like this, So maybe in the end Jason can be so worried about his brother that he tells Abraham Lincoln that he needs to free the slaves..., and we might suggest that he instead consider something the character discovers about himself or about his brother that was hiding there all along. He might try out something like, Maybe Jason learns that while he cannot change what happens to his brother, Jason will still always remember his brother as the one who believed in him. Or maybe... Historical fiction often has more of a sense of being unsettled or lacking resolution than other fictions, perhaps because it so closely resembles true historical events. Often these stories, such as Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti, are about bearing witness. In the story you write, you can show your students how, as you think hard about revising your final scene, you can decide whether your story will be one that celebrates overcoming adversity or that bravely bears witness to suffering in order to call humanity to learn from the past and take action in the future. Editing and Publishing: Preparing the Historical Fiction Story for Readers In the final days of the unit, you will make decisions about what types of editing lessons your students need as both a whole class and in small groups. Historical fiction, and really any sort of narrative writing, is a perfect opportunity to study how the syntax of the narrator can often be different than those of the characters; even each character s might be different. Catching Up on Conventions (Francois and Zonana) has A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

95 a powerful section about teaching students code-switching how different contexts require different forms of grammar or punctuation. Or writers could also really benefit from the sentence-apprenticeship work from The Power of Grammar (Ehrenworth) where students can lift mentor sentences from historical fiction books they are reading and try out the syntax and punctuation in their own writing aligning with the Common Core State Standards. This is also a time to remind your writers that they already know a great deal about ways to edit their pieces. This might mean revisiting editing checklists or charts you have gathered across the year and teach your writers that they can read their pieces slowly, look through one lens at a time (more sophisticated writers could probably hold on to several) as they reread, stopping at each sentence to ask themselves, Did I correctly in this sentence? For example, historical fiction writers could pay attention to words they chose to use to describe objects, places, or people, and then edit for word choice, researching to see if there are more historically specific ways to name them. Or they might consider how punctuation changes the sound of characters voices short and choppy, long-winded, excitable. They may look for verb tense, checking that they are maintaining that consistently, either using past tense throughout to indicate the historical nature of the events they are describing, or perhaps using present tense to help the reader feel as if they are running right alongside the protagonist. Students will then publish their stories. Some teachers suggest that students pair their narrative with some of the historical artifacts they collected during the first week of the unit, including a few graphics or photographs with their story. At the end of the unit you will be amazed how far your students (and you) have come in this study. Historical fiction is not a simple genre, yet through your support and guidance your students will have not only learned to write within this genre, to read within it, but also to have better control and understanding of narrative craft and structure in general. You will no doubt wish to celebrate their accomplishments in grand, public ways. An obvious choice might be to have students dress up as a character from their story during your celebration, perhaps even talking as if they are in the time period as they talk with one another, or perhaps having groups work together to act out brief moments from a few student stories. Word Study to Support Writing Workshop As mentioned earlier in this write-up, this is a good time for kids to develop some domain-specific vocabulary, or expert vocabulary. Mysteries are full of words such as perpetrator, investigator, red herring, etc. Fantasy often has archaic or slightly quaint words such as saddlebags, abode, etc. And historical fiction will be full of historical terms such as hearth, homestead, pinafore. Your writers can create individual and shared word banks of the domain language they are collecting as they read, and they can weave these into their writing. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

96 One Possible Sequence of Historical Fiction Teaching Points Before the unit begins, you will likely want to spend some time helping your students develop understanding of the genre. Some teachers begin their reading unit with historical fiction book clubs a week or so before their writing unit to help their writers have the sound of the genre in their ears. Others use short texts in Read Aloud to support this. Another option might be to have book clubs use picture books or short stories (like The Babe and I or The Bat Boy and His Violin) during the week before this unit. A quick and effective addition might be to show brief movie or television clips in the genre. The decision for how and how much to expose your students to the genre before launching the writing depends strongly on your students and your resources. You will also likely find it invaluable to start the unit with a quick on-demand writing assessment that will help you make teaching decisions about the unit in general. This might go one of two ways: if you want to use this unit as a way to further develop students narrative writing ability, then you might start the unit with an on-demand of realistic fiction, especially since your students have not written fiction since last year. You might say, I d like to see how much you know about writing fiction. Would you write a short fiction small moment, or scene, during our writing time today? If instead you want this unit to push their narrative writing, but particularly if you want to know what they already know about historical fiction and are ready to learn, you might start with developing their understanding of the genre first, and after they are introduced to the genre you might have them write an on-demand historical fiction. After the pieces are collected you can use them to help tailor the unit so that you are not reteaching topics students have already mastered and are spending time on topics where more instruction is needed. Clearly, the decisions for which teaching points you ultimately choose will be dictated by your assessments of your students need and what they need to learn most in order to advance as writers. If you feel that your students are really struggling with narrative writing in general, or you feel less than secure in your own mastery of the genre, you might opt to refer to the sixth-grade version of this unit, which is more streamlined and leans heavily on the book Writing Fiction, or you might opt for a return to the personal narrative or realistic fiction unit. This unit begins with a few possible ways to collect ideas for historical fiction, with an emphasis on meaning and significance, connected to the time period. The second part of the unit builds on the connection to the time period and historical accuracy while guiding students through developing their story ideas and characters with both their imagination and quick research. The third part combines drafting and revising spending less time on drafting and blurring the line between drafting and revision. One important consideration for this part is that more sophisticated writers need not wait until revision to raise the level of their writing. You can flip any teaching points from prior years from revision up into drafting (or perhaps even developing). For example, as they write on draft paper (or in notebooks while developing) they can pay careful attention to how their leads help their reader connect quickly with the time period and struggles. Work like this does not need to wait. We imagine you will add A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

97 to this part with those kinds of let s get to it early, because I know you can teaching points. The last part focuses on editing and publishing and relies heavily on your knowledge of what your students need and are ready for in the world of conventions. Part One: Collecting Ideas for Historical Fiction: Finding Stories That Are Both Personal and Historical (Note: This initial research portion of the unit will probably last a few days, drawing upon strategies from prior reading and writing units.) Historical fiction writers become researchers and learn as much as they can about a time period that interests them, all the while asking themselves, What stories are hidden here? They might collect writing in their notebooks about daily life and personal issues, time lines of actual events, and photographs and images from that period. They might follow this jotting by exploring possible characters or plots that could exist in what they have learned. x Tip: Teachers found that using a time period or periods that they already studied in social studies greatly supported their students work. We might even suggest revisiting texts they have already read, now with a new vision toward story creation. You might show them in your lesson how you jot what you are learning ( Sometimes even young boys had to sell things like newspapers during the Depression to help their families ) and then use what you know about fiction to gather some characters and/or plots ( Maybe a boy, Zachary, who steals his friend s newspapers... ). Historical fiction writers can collect possible story ideas by starting in many different ways. Today I want to teach you that another way you could collect possible story ideas is by first using strategies that already work well for you. Writers can look back through their notebooks and at charts and consider starting with character or plot, and using strategies they know well. x Tip: Some of your writers will collect directly into the genre using past strategies. Others may benefit from collecting a realistic fiction like blurb and then going back and revising it to match the time period. As historical fiction writers develop characters for their stories, they consider how the time period and plot intersect with the character s internal and external traits. They craft their characters by considering what issues exist during the time period and then asking themselves, What kinds of traits could add tension during this time period? As they jot, they mark things that they might need to later go back and fact-check. For example, during the Great Depression many people felt nervous and uncertain about the future. Maybe a character who is almost always positive and hopeful would run into challenges. Maybe on the inside that character...and on the outside they... A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

98 Part Two: Developing Your Story: Shaping Historically True Characters and Plots Historical fiction writers consider the struggles and motivations of their character, considering both those that are personal and those that come from the historical period. As writers develop these, they consider and even revise the traits they have been developing, to make sure their characters are realistic. Historical fiction writers take great care to develop clear and historically accurate settings for their stories. They consider how locations affect characters and plot points. They try out their characters in many different places as they think about how their stories might go differently in each. They can look back to illustrations or photographs from the time period and imagine how their characters might act within them. Historical fiction writers can use a variety of ways they already know to plot out their stories. They make multiple quick drafts, using story mountains, booklets, or storyboards. x Tip: Your writers will benefit from considering other sophisticated ways to add into their plans. Writers may try two time lines, both a personal and a historical, to notice ways the two intersect. They might develop secondary characters internal thinking and actions along the plot. They could even develop minimountains within each scene, the rise and fall of each scene. Historical fiction writers continue researching alongside their writing, and before committing to a draft they are careful to check historical accuracy. They look at both their entire draft plan and the specific details they have been developing and ask questions like, Does this feel true to the time period? Do I know a more specific way to describe this [piece of clothing, item in the house, person s name, etc. ]? Part Three: Drafting and Revision: Crafting a Compelling Historical Fiction Story Historical fiction writers look back over artifacts they collected and notes they took, trying to live in their minds the time period, experience the events of each scene, and then draft while walking in the character s shoes. As they write, they consider ways to use period language to describe small, unique details. Historical fiction writers can look again to published books to consider ways to revise their writing. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

99 x Tip: Teachers found that using a time period or periods that they already studied in social studies greatly supported their students work. Others, who felt their nonfiction collections were not broad and supportive enough, simply had their students work in historical fiction book clubs to study a time period or periods. We might even suggest revisiting texts they have already read, now with a new view toward story creation. You might show them in your lesson how you jot what you are learning ( Sometimes even young boys had to sell things like newspapers during the Depression to help their families ) and then use what you know about fiction to immediately gather some quick thinking about characters and/or plots ( Maybe a boy, Zachary, who steals his friend s newspapers... ). Historical fiction writers are careful to revise their endings, making certain they are the kinds of endings their stories deserve. They know that there are different ways the character s story can end, but that the historical context needs to remain true that usually the historical issue is not fully resolved. Sometimes at the end of a historical fiction story we see how characters are affected, or affect, the struggle. They might be a silent witness or perhaps they take some sort of small action. Or perhaps they might be a victim and learn something about themselves through their struggle. Part Four: Trying Some of the Craft We See in Our Mentor Texts Trying Our Hands at Symbolism. Writers and readers, many of us have been fascinated by the symbolism that we see in our novels. We ve lingered over the Star of David in Number the Stars, for instance, theorizing about what it means now you could go back and look, as writers, at every place in the novel where that object appears, and you could talk with your club about how Lois Lowry inserts that object and helps the reader build meaning around it. You might also consider the title of your story, and try out some titles that may have symbolic meanings for your reader. Layering Essential Details About Time and Place in Our Opening Scenes. Writers and readers, this is a good time to revisit the opening scenes of our novels. Today I want to teach you that writers look closely at how other writers give clues about when and where their stories take place. Some writers, for instance, give headings: Boston, Others include details that help the reader picture the place details about transportation, about housing, about technology, about food, about clothes, help the reader locate the setting. Sometimes the writer can have the narrator simply tell the reader, as the narrator in The Butterfly and the narrator in Rose Blanche do they say that they live in small towns in France and Germany, and that a war is on. Writers, you can try several different opening A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

100 scenes for your story, and then read them to your club members or writing partner, and get some feedback from your fellow readers. Creating Settings with Emotional Atmospheres, or Moods. Writers and readers, you ve noticed that sometimes in the novels or picture books you are reading, you ll find two scenes that happen in the same location, but the mood is different. In Rose Blanche, for instance, in almost every scene, the mood or atmosphere of the town changes. The writer makes the weather get darker not because it is actually darker, but because things feel darker to Rose. Annemarie, in Number the Stars, begins to find her own town a little frightening, as does the narrator in The Butterfly. We too can experiment with creating an emotional atmosphere as well as giving physical details about the setting. One of the easiest ways to alter an emotional atmosphere is to use the weather the sun shines and the birds chirp when you want the mood to be happy and carefree. The sky darkens, the clouds get gloomy, the wind whistles when you want it to feel ominous. Writers Insert Backstories and Flashbacks to Give Extra Information. Writers and readers, today I want to teach you that when you want to refer to historical events that happened before the central moments of your story, you don t have to write a long novel! Writers insert flashbacks, or they insert what we call a back story, by having one character ask a question, and another character tells a little story, or gives a little history. For instance, in Number the Stars, the reader learns about how King Christian rides Jubilee through the town, when Annemarie s father tells her this story. You can do this too; you can insert small narratives into your story little summaries of important events that will help your reader understand the history surrounding your story. Part Five: Editing and Publishing: Preparing the Historical Fiction Story for Readers Historical fiction writers can read their writing aloud, noting how words, punctuation, and other structures help to set the mood, tone, and content of their pieces. One way to do this might be to pay close attention to the ways characters talk, giving each their own rhythm and style, and using punctuation to create this sound. Historical fiction writers carefully reread their writing, looking for the words they chose to use to describe objects, places, or people, and then look back to their research to see if there are more historically specific ways to name them. x Tip: Of course, this is your opportunity to instead infuse instruction that matches your class, in syntax or punctuation or spelling, etc. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

101 Historical fiction writers publish and celebrate in ways that help their readers best get lost in the worlds they created. Sometimes they might include illustrations or photographs within their writing, or they might even enact parts of their story, trying to speak just as people from that time period would. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

102 UNIT SIX Literary Essay Analyzing Texts for Meaning, Craft, and Tone FEBRUARY/MARCH Much as there are things about our own life stories that we can learn only from the systematic study of our dreams, there are things about the human condition that we can learn only from a systematic study of literature. ELIF BATUMAN (from Why Criticism Matters: From the Critical Impulse, the Growth of Literature ) This unit is newly written this year and offers a variety of structures for literary essays you may want to confer with colleagues across grades to decide what kinds of analysis and structures you ll offer each grade. Another way to think about differentiation, though, is to think about which writers in each class are ready for more complex thinking and writing craft. Regardless, increasingly we ve come to think that middle school students will benefit from writing literary essays each year to develop their analytical skills as well as their skills at argument writing. Middle school students are poised for more analytical, academic work both as readers and as writers about reading. It s worth pausing for a moment to consider multiple rationales for this work so that your invitation to students around more sophisticated, critical reading and more elaborated, text-oriented writing is broad enough to convince the multitude of adolescents in your classrooms. We, their teachers, know this work is important: for the sake of our kids futures in school, we must teach them to read closely and to write coherently about the ideas, the themes, the implications of the texts they are reading. The Common Core State Standards call for this work over and over again: not only in the standards for opinion writing, but also in the standards for speaking and listening, A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

103 in the research standards, and even, to some extent, in the informational writing standards. In short, this task, writing about reading, could be seen as the gold standard of the CCSS partly because the ability to reflect on ideas we have from our reading (of fiction and nonfiction) is essential to college and career achievement. But there are reasons to read critically that cut deeper than the current standards movement: We want to be the kind of people, you might say to your students, who don t just see the surface of things. We don t want to take others for granted; we don t want to believe everything that advertisers or even reporters tell us. But this kind of work takes practice: it s not always easy to find a deeper meaning. Writing is one of the best ways we have to push our thinking to new levels. And when we write about reading, when we push ourselves to articulate an idea from a text, and to be precise about it, when we map out how that idea begins and grows throughout a book, that s often when we come to new thinking. In this unit, we re going to practice using writing to think clearly and deeply about reading. You might also make connections to the earlier personal and persuasive essays: Just as we used the essay form to tackle complex ideas about our lives and the world, we can use the essay to make sense of literature. And a deep understanding of literature will also help us think differently about ourselves and our world. Toward these ends, we recommend that you introduce your students to a variety of literary essay structures: a claim followed by multiple supports from one text; a claim followed by multiple supports from more than one text; and a claim followed by support from a text and support from personal experience, a structure that has been prompted for on the SAT, and, explicitly or implicitly, in many college application essays. For seventh and eighth graders, you may also want to teach from the third part of this write-up, which describes essays that bridge fiction and nonfiction, either through pairing fiction with nonfiction around a same theme or time period (a structure favored by the New York State ELA exam for the past several years), or by incorporating secondary criticism into a literary essay (a critical lens essay as it is referred to in New York State Regents curriculum), or by including an analysis of historical or cultural context. Note that although this unit will certainly build muscles that will serve students well in a testing environment, you will still have a chance to teach kids to write prompted, timed reading responses during the test prep unit that follows this one. So the point here is not to practice taking a test; it is to help students understand the crucial moves that ensure more coherent, insightful literary essays such as they may write in high school and beyond, and to develop the analytical muscles that will help them in any argument writing. The unit is strategically placed to support the synthesis and critical reading skills that they will be developing simultaneously in a reading workshop unit on interpretation and that are so crucial to higher-level comprehension of fiction; it will also give students significant opportunities to develop and practice the skills needed to write extended essays. We will recommend a likely path for each grade, but you will need to assess your students and decide what will make sense for them, specifically. For example, if you teach seventh grade, but most of your students did not receive a passing grade on last year s New York State ELA and you know from analyzing the test results that the writing on the test really held them back; or if in an on-demand setting A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

104 they demonstrate that they need support with basic essay skills, you may decide to follow only the first and second parts of this write-up and spend more time coaching your writers in the art of quickly organizing a plan and executing it with accuracy. However, if you have a small group of sixth graders who are reading above grade level and can easily spin out a coherent, accountable, five-paragraph thesis-driven essay, you will want to turn sooner to Part Two and teach them to mine more than one text for traces of author s craft. The Common Core have shined a spotlight on evidence-gathering and crafting in expository writing: middle school standards for opinion writing expect students to do more than find relevant evidence for a claim about a text; by seventh and eighth grade, the CCSS ask students to analyze the development of a theme and to be able to demonstrate this reading skill through writing. This implies that the writers must be able to discuss not just what a piece of text evidence demonstrates, but how it does so. While these appear in the CCSS document as mere line items, deep and sustained teaching and learning have to take place for these practices to truly sink in and for students to be able to demonstrate them successfully. This unit, with a focus on finding multiple sources of evidence to back up interpretive statements, gives you a chance to lift the level of the work students do in the heart of their essays, in the body paragraphs, and will allow for more extensive writing about reading during writing workshop, thereby not stealing precious reading time from reading workshop. Note that if you want to really help students truly understand the challenge and the rewards of writing about reading, it s important that at some point they have a chance to write about a text they have read themselves that is squarely within their independent reading level. When writing about whole-class texts, especially if those texts are not within an essayist s independent reading level, that essayist will tend to be over-reliant on class interpretations and teacher interpretations. This might not seem so bad, because these interpretations are probably justified and strong; the problem is that if the writer does not fully understand the leap from text to interpretation and is only repeating a leap someone else has made, the resulting essay is likely to be thin on elaboration: the writer will simply not have the insights that make for strong argument. Since this unit offers opportunities for several essay cycles, you might think about how to make sure all students, at some point, are writing about a text they ve chosen and can read well. The Plan of the Unit In the first part of this unit, you will invite your students to develop, hone, and support a claim about one text. The claims that your students craft will undoubtedly connect to Post-its, readers notebook work, and club talk that is happening concurrently in reading workshop. But in writing workshop, you will show them how to stretch an idea about a text and try it out many different ways. Right away, you will want to emphasize revision of body paragraphs. You may say to your students, I know that you know how to write the text says, but in this unit, we re going to try a lot of different ways to point back to the text in our writing, so A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

105 we re not stuck and so we can make it sound more natural. If you are choosing to teach this middle school version of literary essay, your students should already have a solid sense of how an essay goes (and you will have taught into this earlier in the year during the personal, persuasive, or research essay unit), so only a couple of days need be spent on developing a thesis and rough outline. In the second part of this unit, you will teach students to build an argument that cuts across more than one text. This will match up with instruction and club talk in reading workshop, since students will be engaged in thinking, jotting, and talking about more than the book: finding places where texts are similar, and also digging deeper to think about how two books that ostensibly advance the same theme actually do so in different ways. You will teach possible structures for comparison and give students the opportunity to practice quick drafting and multiple revisions. If you are teaching sixth or seventh grade, this may be where you spend the most time. You may, in fact, choose to have your students try out a few different essays quickly at the start of this part to practice different structures, then revise across those essays as you teach them techniques for bringing in clear evidence from more than one source. You will also teach them how to look for different kinds of evidence, and how sometimes we can move back and forth between ideas and anecdotes from the stories and ideas and anecdotes about our own lives as a way to show the significance of a literary theme. The CCSS rightly point to the importance of multimedia literacy, and ask that we prepare our students to notice that the medium in which a text is delivered matters to the experience of that text. You may therefore decide in this part to ask students to write about the differences between the book version of a chapter or scene and the film version or dramatized version of the same scene. A final part in this unit, mostly intended for seventh- and eighth-grade students, introduces secondary criticism and other source material outside of the text itself: these outside sources can contribute to an essayist s treatment of a work of literature. You might teach students how to integrate and analyze a quote from another critic; how to discuss historical details, or bring in a nonfiction text or texts to contextualize or compare a novel s setting and therefore its treatment of a theme; or how to use the conventions of a given genre as backdrop for a literary analysis. These tasks match the CCSS expectations for seventh and eighth graders and preview the Regents-level and AP work that will be expected of them in high school. Now let s take a closer look at the likely progression of these cycles. On-Demand Assessment to Determine Where to Focus This Year s Literary Essay Work Teachers, before you embark on this unit, you will want to assess your students and reflect on which pathway will be most suited to your students, and which components of literary essay you will need to make the most of in your teaching. As with most writing units, you will want to begin this work on literary essay by finding out what A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

106 students can do when working within this genre. To do this, you will probably give an on-demand essay prompt that asks them to take forty minutes and, within that amount of time, to write a quick literary essay about a familiar read-aloud text. You might say something like, We ve read and talked about On the Bridge a lot. Right now, I want you to write a literary essay in which you tell readers an idea that you have about On the Bridge and then show evidence that supports the idea, drawing on details from the text. Be sure you have multiple copies of the assigned text so that students can hold copies in their hands and illustrate their capacity and tendency to cite specific evidence. When you look at your students essays, the Opinion/Argument Writing Continuum, developed by TCRWP, may help you understand your students levels of proficiency and the pathway they can travel to progress toward increasing levels of proficiency. This continuum is aligned to the Common Core State Standards in Opinion Writing, so it may help you chart your students progress toward those standards. (There are also exemplar texts in the appendix of the Common Core and you ll want to calibrate against them as well, although they are not on-demand texts produced without adult input.) Of course, you can use the Common Core and the TCRWP continuum to look not only at goals that some external evaluator might set, but also at the next steps that your students need to take. If their essays match the Common Core descriptors and exemplars for fifth graders, for example, then you ll need to aim for them to write like the Level 8 exemplar...just don t settle for that level of achievement! Part One: Writing Literary Essays That Explore a Theme or a Character in a Single Text Generating Ideas from Reading: Developing Compelling and Supportable Claims about Literature It will be crucial that you find ways to bring the energy of reading workshop into writing workshop this month. You will want to draw on the passion, the commitment, the obsession that our young readers develop for the characters and worlds of their reading lives as the fuel to jumpstart literary essays. Don t even put your books away, you might say as a transition from reading into writing time. We re going to need them today and this whole month for our writing work. By this time in the year, and in their reading lives, your students have learned that we can use literature to think about important truths in the world. Whether you re teaching an interpretation unit concurrently or not, you will want to remind students that texts offer more than one meaning. You might spend a few minutes the first day reprising ideas from a whole-class conversation about a read-aloud as a way to punctuate this point. In the very short story Carrots by Adam Bagdasarian, you might say, You had really different ideas even though you all heard the same story. Some of you said this taught us that we have to remember that grown-ups are not always so grown up; some of you said this was about how grown-ups ask too much of kids; and A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

107 some of you said it s really about how kids will forgive anything. There s no right answer here all of these ideas can be connected back to the same short story. You will then teach students to try out an idea that they ve had, either about a readaloud text or a book they ve read independently, and to try writing that idea in a number of different ways, writing a longer piece off of it as well to find what s inside it. They should be used to this kind of work from earlier essay units, and most students will be coming to you chock-full of ideas from reading workshop: you may just need to put up a chart or table-tents with thought prompts such as This makes me realize... I m still wondering... On the other hand... and most kids should be ready to go. (See the write-up for sixth-grade personal/persuasive essay for a detailed discussion of this kind of writing-to-learn work.) It s likely, though (actually, it s certainly the case!), that some students will stare blankly at you and plead, But I have no ideas about my reading. In this case, you ll need to offer some fruitful ways to come up with good ideas. Some of this might be reprising your reading workshop lessons, but you ll want to put a new spin on them in hope that they ll have more traction in a new setting. We can trust that the pivotal moments in stories are places to revisit and ask, What does this moment really mean? What is it teaching the character or me? You can also teach students that when we re writing about reading, we think about likely themes that we ve encountered before and ask, What does this book have to say about...? Some likely themes in adolescent literature are: growing up, the individual versus the group, trying to be good in a flawed world... You can go back to some of your reading charts to find these core themes and use them to help scaffold kids thinking. We have found that character-based ideas tend to be more accessible and more easily supported, so if your class, or a small group of students, is in need of extra support in interpretation or in finding accountable text evidence, you may choose to angle the work toward character-based ideas, such as Katniss, the heroine of The Hunger Games, values her family s well-being more than her own. In reading workshop, however, you will most likely be lifting the level of interpretation toward naming and tracing themes in a text: a theme would emerge not just from a single character s arc, but across characters and the other story elements as well (setting and plot). A themebased claim about The Hunger Games might read, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, teaches us that self-sacrifice has the power to right wrongs in the world. You will also want to point out, perhaps in a mid-workshop, that some ideas only emerge at the end of the story (this is especially true in shorter texts). In that case, it will be impossible to provide evidence from across the text to support that claim. For example, if, in the story Carrots, our idea is Kids forgive the people they love, we are in trouble that idea doesn t show up until the very end, when the narrator is reflecting on his father s apology. At the beginning of the story, when the narrator is recalling his father s unprovoked outburst at dinner, he does not sound forgiving at all; in fact, he s incensed. So we might have to modify our thesis to: At first, it seemed that Carrots was just another story about how unfair adults are to children, but by the end of the story, we learn that, in fact, children can forgive almost anything if they are loved. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

108 Moving Quickly to Crafting Thesis Statements That Set Up a Clear Essay Structure You will then, after only a couple of days spent writing longer pieces off of these ideas, move to help students craft more concise thesis statements: thesis statements that will lead to clear, well-structured essays. So really, in the thesis work, you will be setting up all the rest of the essay work, since the thesis is, as we say of any initial writing idea, the seed that contains hidden within it the whole of the fully developed essay. You ll want to give your students a vision of a couple of different ways that one-text essays might go; this may help them to find a thesis statement. Once they see the possible templates, it s more likely that they can figure out a way to craft a thesis that will snap into place inside one of these structures. Some possible bare-bones structures for a thesis-driven essay drawing on one text, and examples of how that might go (note that these need elaboration in the body paragraphs) are: An idea Support from one text Another support from that text A third support from the same text Two-part idea (beginning and ending of the story): At first, it seemed that Carrots was just another story about how unfair adults are to children, but by the end of the story, we learn that, in fact, children can forgive almost anything if they are loved. In the beginning, this story seems to be about how unfair adults are. The narrator is furious about his father s outburst. By the end of the story, we learn that children can forgive almost anything if they are loved. The narrator forgives his father because the father shows love for his son. Character interpretation across a text: Katniss, the heroine of The Hunger Games, values doing what s right more than her own well-being. When she steps in for her sister in the lottery When she puts the flowers around Rue, clearly defying the Capitol, to show allegiance to Rue When she is willing to eat the berries, to literally put an end to her own life to stop the Games Idea with examples across the text: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, teaches us that self-sacrifice has the power to right wrongs in the world. Katniss teaches us that self-sacrifice can right wrongs. Peeta teaches us that self-sacrifice can right wrongs. Gale teaches us that self-sacrifice can right wrongs. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

109 It will be important to not merely show examples like this of these already-formed outlines, but to demonstrate in front of the students how you have to tug at a thesis statement a bit to make it really work with the evidence you have in mind. Even if it was very easy (for you!) to list off a few parallel examples, know that this is exactly what trips up our students. Making it feel like magic won t have the traction of modeling getting into trouble and then out of it again. Because of this, you will not be able to cover all these structures in a single lesson: save the angle on character interpretation, for example, for a small group. You might also introduce, perhaps in a mid-workshop, or in a share at the end of the first thesis day, the powerful structure of a thesis statement that advances a theme, then supports it with one paragraph of text evidence and one paragraph that shows how the writer too has experienced this theme. This gives an opportunity to remind students why we read: to be pricked by the experiences of the characters and affected by the issues and ideas to such a degree that we carry those thoughts over into our own lives. For some lovely examples of essays that take up this call (though not all using the same structure we will recommend here), see the contest winners from the Library of Congress Letters about Literature project at Possible structure for an idea that cuts across one text and the writer s experience is: Idea about one text A moment from the text that evokes this idea A moment from the essayist s life that also evokes this same idea Carrots by Adam Bagdasarian teaches us that children have a hard time understanding adults. The narrator in Carrots can t understand why his father explodes at the dinner table. I remember the time when my mother stormed out because of an argument about the dishes. It didn t make any sense to me. For a day or perhaps two, then, you will support the students in developing thesis statements along with a set of bullet points that will grow into topic sentences. You will want to teach into selecting a strong thesis, one that the writer cares about and that is accountable to text evidence that reaches across the story. If some or all of your students are writing about a short story, you may need to coach into two-part thesis statements: a beginning of the book/ending of the book thesis, as described above ( At first I thought... but at the end I realized or In the beginning of the story... but by the end of the story... ) or a problem/solution thesis that also covers the start and end of the story: At first, the narrator in Carrots can t see past his own anger, but by the end he realizes that his father s love makes up for the occasional betrayals. With these kinds of thesis statements, you may have to work with kids to make sure they are not simply retelling what happened at the beginning and the end; that they are in fact making an interpretation, either about a character or about the theme of the story. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

110 Developing Body Paragraphs: Using Topic Sentences and Mining the Text for Relevant Evidence to Build Quick First Drafts This will begin the most critical work of this unit. You will want to tighten your wholeclass teaching as much as possible during these next days, since the most important instruction will be the more personalized, targeted work of conferences and small groups. Your students will have very different kinds of thesis statements and will likely be drawing from different texts to find support. The big goal now is to support them in bringing evidence from the text, in the form of angled retellings of select scenes, paraphrased sections, and direct citations from the text. You will teach them that writers try out different pieces of textual evidence, asking themselves, Does this really get at the idea that I m writing about? If it takes too much defending, if it doesn t pop out as truly connected, it s best not to use it. Partner work can take a bigger role here, as partners can try out their ideas and evidence on each other, whether they are writing about the same text or whether they ve even read the same text. In some ways, a partner new to a text is a perfect audience for this, because you will want students imagining such a person reading their essays and still understanding their argument. Teach partners to not be afraid to say, I m not sure I see how this fits. Can you say more about why this scene shows how Katniss puts her own needs aside? The key will be to move from talk quickly back to writing, as partners jot down the words they used to justify their evidence, or go back to the drawing board to find a more fitting example. If your students are writing about novels, especially longer ones, a likely smallgroup lesson will be prioritization: there will be hundreds of pages of text to choose from, and it will be easy to get bogged down looking for appropriate quotes or passages, and to either choose way too many examples or to give up and pick at random. Teach them that writers go back to places they marked with Post-it notes, to places their book club lingered on: those are the scenes that are going to yield the richest material. By this point, students will have cobbled together body paragraphs that begin with a topic sentence that is really a placeholder to make sure that the thesis is carrying through. Katniss values doing the right thing over her own well-being when she takes Prim s place at the reaping. This exact repetition of the thesis in the topic sentence will be revised later, but for now it helps the writer remember what to make of the evidence. When this essayist retells this pivotal scene, she can then analyze this evidence and connect it back to the topic sentence, thereby connecting it to the thesis. You will want to chart some productive ways to analyze or elaborate on evidence, moving beyond This shows that.... Other possible transitions include: This demonstrates... From this scene, we can infer that.... The reader of this scene understands that... This work is then repeated: you will expect and require students to develop at least two supporting body paragraphs, which may incorporate one extended text example in the form of an angled retelling or a citation with explanation, or which may include several examples in a listed, paraphrased format. You will want students to try for a A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

111 variety of kinds of evidence to practice the different methods. If you notice students lagging, having written just one text example on a half-sheet of paper and now feeling done, quickly intervene: I know that as seventh graders you re capable of writing a whole page in five or six minutes. Check your work and set a goal for how many half-pages of evidence you re going to have in the last fifteen minutes of writing workshop time. Since some students may be working on essays that point to the text and their own lives, you will want to model how that structure plays out. The search for evidence in this case is one that crosses the text and the essayist s own experience. This actually previews the compare-contrast work of the next part, since the writer must find parallel evidence from two separate sources. Which story from this character s life best demonstrates this idea? And which moment from my own life also shows this? The writer will then devote one paragraph to an anecdote from the story or book, and one paragraph to an anecdote from his or her life. In each case, you will remind them of all they know about narrative writing to write the small stories in these paragraphs in a zoomed-in way, bringing out details that go with the controlling idea of the essay. My mother slammed the dishes down, jarring me out of my TV haze. What was she so mad about? A minute later, I heard the front door slam. She had walked out, without a word. What could possibly have made her so angry? Dialogue, inner thinking, small actions: all of these should be at your students fingertips and should return here to stretch the moment: in this case emphasizing my childish surprise at grown-up rage. In retelling the moment from Carrots, I can decide to either quote the passage directly or rewrite it myself, playing up the confusion on the part of the narrator. You could choose to spend longer in this part, moving now to deeper revision lessons that are written up after the compare-contrast essay. But it might prove helpful to move ahead now so that you are sure to get to this next structure. Then students will have at least two essay drafts to work from during revision. Part Two: Writing across Texts to Explore the Different Treatment of Similar Themes Looking for Themes That Cut across Texts and Quickly Making Plans for Essays In reading workshop by now, your students have moved to talking across texts: taking the issues and themes that they noticed in their first book-club books and migrating them over into conversations about new texts. You have been teaching them to analyze differences in texts and to explore how those differences affect possible meanings. In writing workshop, then, it makes sense to introduce the comparative essay an essay in which writers will take on a theme that emerges from more than one text but to explore in writing how that theme is treated differently by different authors, or in different stories. Some likely kinds of differences might be: differences in tone (one A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

112 is darker than another), differences in implications (one advocates for change, while another seems resigned to things as they are), difference in intended audience (one might seem geared to a younger age group). You re aiming for students to say more than These books are both about growing up, since practically every instance of young adult literature will incorporate that theme; instead, you ll be pushing for students to say: The Hunger Games and Thirteen Reasons Why offer different interpretations of what it means to grow up. Suzanne Collins, in The Hunger Games, suggests that to grow up, we must learn to sometimes sacrifice our own wishes. Jay Asher, in Thirteen Reasons Why, leaves us with the idea that growing up means realizing how much our actions affect others. You may decide at this point in the unit to introduce cross-medium work as well. The CCSS expect students to be able to discuss the differences in the presentation of a text: the print version versus the film version or the print version versus the stage version. This means paying attention as a reader and an audience member and noticing not just where editing decisions have been made (although which scenes are stretched and which are shrunk or even cut does matter), but also how the different possibilities of, say, film, change the tone or impact of a scene. When there s a soundtrack, for example, we get a lot more emotional direction than when we re reading a silent page. Because you have so little time with students, we recommend that for the purpose of trying out this work, you might choose a scene or two from a story or novel, and pair that with the film version of those same scenes. So you might work with a chapter from Harry Potter, and then show just that same scene as it plays out in the film. An essay built around this could follow any of the structures listed below, but using the film or stage version of a same scene as a second text to compare and contrast to the print version. Because many of these ideas will be rehearsed and developed in reading workshop, and because writers have already developed thematic thinking in the earlier part of this unit, you will not need to spend much time on generating ideas. You will instead move quickly to helping students plan for essays that compare and contrast, introducing some new structures. Some possible bare-bones structures for a thesis-driven essay drawing on more than one text, and examples of how that might go (note that these need elaboration in the body paragraphs!): An idea How one text approaches this idea How a different text approaches this idea in a different way Carrots and My Side of the Story by Adam Bagdasarian both teach us that children have a hard time understanding adults. Carrots teaches But My Side of the Story teaches A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

113 An idea How two texts treat this idea in similar ways How the same two texts treat this idea in different ways Carrots and My Side of the Story by Adam Bagdasarian both teach us that children have a hard time understanding adults. These two stories teach a similar lesson. But these two stories differ in important ways. An idea Support from more than one text How the writer s experience supports this same idea, in similar and/or different ways Carrots and My Side of the Story by Adam Bagdasarian both teach us that children have a hard time understanding adults. Adam Bagdasarian s stories teach us that it s hard for children to understand adults. I can remember having a hard time understanding the adults in my life. Mining Evidence from More Than One Text: Developing Coherent Body Paragraphs in Comparative Essays Here you will revisit the work of development from the first part: reminding students to search for those parts in the story that best reflect the theme or lesson that is the focus of the essay. But here there will be new teaching: how to line up evidence from more than one text in interesting ways. Depending on the structure of the essay, students may gather all the relevant evidence from one text into one paragraph, then the evidence from a second text into another paragraph. Or the writers may try grouping similar elements from both texts into one paragraph, and contrasting elements into a second paragraph. You will want to prompt your writers to try out both of these structures, either with the same thesis or with different thesis statements. Then you will get to work, again reserving much workshop time for coaching on a small scale or individual basis. You will want to teach writers that it s important, just as they were considering how relevant the evidence was in their one-text essay, to now consider just how well the evidence they re finding fits, not just with the overarching thesis, but with the evidence from the other text. In your demonstration teaching, be sure to model finding examples from two texts that don t really pop out the same theme, or that are similar in just the most tangential, plot-oriented kind of way; then show how to roll up your sleeves and dig back into the texts, trusting there will be a better match-up somewhere. You ll also want to demonstrate the flip side of this: searching for scenes that show how two texts have a different take on the same theme, but don t just have a completely different plotline with no connection whatsoever. Elaboration will be even more important here, if that s possible, because writers will be navigating more than one text, possibly, in a single paragraph. Simple strategies for A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

114 clear citation, transitions between texts, and reminders of how to elaborate on evidence will be key. As your writers sift through evidence, you may want to teach them that their thesis statements may shift. The process of finding evidence should be a reflective one, and upon closer analysis of two texts, an essayist s understanding of how those texts connect and differ will likely change. So if a first-draft thesis statement was simply: Feed by M. T. Anderson and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins both teach us that it s hard to be yourself in a world of media. Upon digging into these books more carefully, an essayist might decide that one or the other of these books has a more hopeful tone, and add that to the thesis. Revising for Coherence, Flow, and Effect The lessons here will be ones that you return to in future parts: they are revision lessons that aim to support students in crafting essays that make sense, that read smoothly, and that make an impact on the reader. You will want to teach students that once they have a first draft something that is probably something of a Frankenstein, a bare-bones thesis introduction followed by body paragraphs that are still mostly stitched-together examples and explanations they know their work has just begun. Now is the time to reread and to ask: What s missing? Where is there a hole in my argument? Where is there a piece of evidence that just doesn t fit? And then they rewrite to fill the holes and to get rid of the irrelevant passages. Remind them that essayists pace for suspense in retelling a scene (from the text or from their lives), that we can say what the character didn t do as a way to pop out what she did do: When Katniss heard Prim s name called out at the reaping, she didn t think, Thank goodness it s not me. She didn t say, Oh, Prim, I m so sorry for you. She didn t start to plan how life would be without her sister. Other people would have had these reactions; but Katniss, without a moment s hesitation, instead said, I volunteer. For seventh and eighth graders, and advanced sixth graders, you will explain how essayists comment not just on the story itself, but on how the author has told the story. This lifts the level of cognitive work significantly, and moves it to grade-level reading and writing standards according to the Common Core. Angled retelling can still remain the focus of a body paragraph, but instead of merely pointing back to the thesis statement with This shows that Katniss does what s right even when it means sacrificing herself, the writer might take another sentence to discuss the author s craft in this same scene. Some craft considerations include: the author s use of a narrator s point of view to draw the reader in; the author s pacing of a scene to build suspense; the word choice of an author to pack a punch. So after an angled retelling, such as the one above, the essayist might add: A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

115 Suzanne Collins stretches out this scene, which takes no more than a few seconds, by letting us see Prim through Katniss s eyes. As Collins describes Prim walking with stiff, small steps up toward the stage, we feel the pain of a sister. And Katniss s bold, self-sacrificing move makes sense. Teach students that writers, instead of using the singular first-person pronoun I in academic writing, might instead use the more inclusive we to refer to any reader of the text. You might also do small-group work around the use of tense in essays: present tense is often a good choice, since it can then remain consistent across discussion of author s moves and the claims of the essayist: Suzanne Collins stretches out this scene...katniss s move makes sense. Moving between original writing and citations, however, becomes tricky students will not master this in middle school! But you can at least teach them to try to be consistent, and not get dragged into the tense of a citation, as in the following example: In Feed, by M. T. Anderson, the first line sets up a sarcastic tone that will continue throughout the novel. We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck. This was the first sign that the narrator was going to have an edge. Essayists consider counter-arguments, and you will certainly want to offer this structure to your students. This will be more successful with some claims than others, so it may be that you wait for this lesson until students have a couple of different essays going and can choose one where this strategy will make sense. We can try a paragraph in which we give some thought to the possibility that our claim is not, in fact, a justified interpretation. Some sentence starters for this are: Others might claim that... or... Some people might argue that... or... Another possible interpretation is... Writers play out this alternate argument in a paragraph, but in a last sentence, turn back to their driving interpretation. Introductions and conclusions serve similar purposes: reaching out to the reader and having an impact. Remind students of hooks or lead strategies that they already know from narrative and expository writing: here they will have the choice of whether to dive right into an idea or theme that is compelling, or to start with a particularly vivid retelling from the story to set the scene. In conclusions, writers reflect on why the theme of this story or book is important and the ways in which people could live differently because of it. For seventh and especially eighth graders, we recommend that you spend some time during revision teaching your writers how to incorporate discussions of literary elements into their essays. The books that they are reading, if they are reading near or at grade-level texts, are definitely featuring literary elements such as symbolism, foreshadowing, repetition, and multiple perspectives. It s important that, as commentators on this literature, we are noting these moves and describing how they contribute to the themes and character development that make the books so powerful. The key point for essayists, as with all work with evidence, will be in unpacking the author s language and making meaning out of the technique. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

116 It s not enough to say, in a body paragraph, Suzanne Collins uses the mockingjay as a symbol of rebellion. This shows that The Hunger Games is a story of rebellion. This does none of the important work of connecting the image of a mockingjay to a concept like rebellion. This is an excellent time to remind students that the readers of their essays may or may not know the texts at hand: someone new to The Hunger Games will have no idea what a mockingjay even is without help from the essayist. Students can spend time practicing retelling just enough to explain the context of an important symbol or motif, then writing to explain how it connects back to a theme. The rhetorical question is another revision technique that you may introduce. To begin an explanation of a particular passage or literary device, the writer might ask and answer a question: Why does Langston Hughes repeat the word large in the opening sentence to the story Thank You, Ma am? Why not use a different word? Hughes does this to make sure the reader doesn t miss this about Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones. A Final Possible Part for Seventh and Eighth Grade, or Advanced Readers and Writers: Using Outside Sources within a Literary Essay For this final part, you might wish to teach your students how to incorporate outside information into their essays. Common Core descriptions of argument writing at late middle school and high school levels call for an increased authority to a writer s argument. Increasingly, as students get older and enter more academic and professional environments, they will need to base their arguments not merely on their own authority, but with reference to other, established authorities on the subject; they will also need to demonstrate that they understand that their argument does not take place in a vacuum, but is situated among other, related opinions on the same subject. In literary essays, this can take a couple of forms: a writer can refer to other literary critics by citing those writers and either agreeing with or talking back to their claims; or a writer might bring in historical context or a nonfiction text on a similar theme or time period to be able to show how a literary work either fits or doesn t fit with what others know and have said about a topic or time period. Possible structures for an essay like this are: Idea Context (nonfiction text or literary criticism) Evidence from the literary text Implications or conclusions In The Hunger Games President Snow evolves as a Quaddafi-like figure. Both leaders are ruthless, longlasting, and hard to displace. History of Quaddafi s dictatorship, especially the qualities of being ruthless, long-lasting, and hard to displace Evidence of Snow being like Quaddafi Implications that Snow is not implausible, but that there are dictators now whose people suffer daily. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

117 Whatever the source material that is brought in, you will want to revisit revision strategies for analyzing this evidence and connecting it back to the controlling thesis statement, whether the literary criticism or historical context supports or contradicts that thesis. If it is contradictory, the writer will have work to do to justify the thesis in light of this. Editing and Publishing Essays You will want to remind students of editing work they have done in past units of study. Bring out old editing checklists so that students can use these with partners to make appropriate changes. Citation will present ongoing difficulties: as you teach more sophisticated ways of bringing in text evidence, students will have trouble incorporating the text gracefully. You will want to have plenty of examples up in the room, and perhaps even a citation cheat sheet that has several models that students can keep in their folders. Some rules for citation that are important are: how to indent a longer passage to set it off from the rest of the text (if students are writing by hand, they can still get used to practicing this); how to embed a citation within a sentence, using ellipses to indicate text that has been left out; preserving the tense of a passage; reminders that punctuation comes inside the quotation marks....of course there are others as well. If you are teaching students to incorporate outside sources, or even if you know they will only be citing the literary texts that are under discussion in their work, you may want to take this opportunity to teach them how to create a bibliography, or a workscited page. If students are drafting and revising on the computer and you have Internet access for your class, talk to your school librarian or technology teacher to see if your school subscribes to NoodleTools. This is an easy online way to create accurate MLA or Chicago-style bibliographies. You may of course also teach students these conventions the old-school way, through your own modeling and with the help of the Chicago Manual of Style or other guidebook that students can access. Either way, the important thing will be to show kids where you re finding the information about these conventions, so that they can return to these resources when you re not with them in the future. Students should decide which essay they want to take to publication. For celebration of these works, you may decide to have students present in small groups: essayists may present their work to other readers, perhaps their own book club or perhaps other book clubs. Either way, discussion of the thesis statement and the evidence presented should be a natural outgrowth of both the interpretation unit and this unit of study in writing. One Possible Sequence of Teaching Points As you get ready for this unit, it will make a lot of sense to collaborate with colleagues across grades to decide which parts and options you might teach in which grades. For instance, you may reserve the option of teaching students to include literary criticism or historical context, or cultural comparisons, for your older students, and you may A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

118 decide that only your sixth graders need the first option of learning to write a boxes and bullets literary essay on a single text. Another way to think about differentiation, though, is also to think about individual readers and writers progression along a learning pathway. If your students have written coherent personal and persuasive essays in sixth grade, you should find that simple essay structure is not an issue, and that you can focus here on how to come up with ideas about literature, and how to find supporting evidence for these ideas, in the books they are reading. The reading unit on interpretation, which matches this unit in sixth grade, should help those skills. Keep an eye on writing volume during this unit. The essential thinking about their books, and quick jotting of ideas, should be happening in reading workshop. That means in writing workshop kids should be writing long they should be writing at least a page in each period, and sometimes two pages. If you notice students staring into space, or tinkering with a few lines of an essay, or making complicated Venn diagrams instead of writing paragraphs, investigate whether they have a thesis they can actually prove. They may need help devising theses that are provable across texts. Some students may also benefit from drafting more than one idea, so that they ll always have plenty to write about. Or, you may suggest that they try more than one structure, trying out an essay that compares an idea in their lives to one they see in literature, and an essay that moves across two fiction texts, and/or perhaps an essay that moves across fiction and nonfiction. In any case, make sure kids are writing a lot! They need repeated practice, and lots of pages flowing from their pen, to develop fluency. A note! There are more teaching points in each part than you would probably teach. Some of these might be right for mid-workshop teaching points, or for small-group work. As you observe your students, looking over their shoulders, collecting their notebooks, and listening to partner conversations, you ll have a sense of which lessons are crucial for your writers, which might be extra scaffolds, and which might be extensions. You ll also find multiple suggestions for small-group work in the write-up above. Part One: Writing Literary Essays That Explore a Theme or a Character in a Single Text We know that we ll do our best writing about stories that have meant a lot to us. So we often begin by sorting through favorite novels, picture books, and short stories, talking, thinking, and writing about which stories we ve enjoyed the most, and what we ve loved about these stories. We may return to childhood favorites, and other times we are eager to explore a newer, harder text, and use writing to make sense of our thinking about it. As we construct possible ideas we want to explore in essays, we should remember that literary essayists often write about characters about the lessons they learn, about how they change, about what they teach us. We also sometimes A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

119 write about important ideas, issues, or lessons we learn from stories, and the parts of the story that suggested that lesson. As we come up with ideas, if a community of writers charts those ideas, we ll often see that some ideas are true in different stories they are themes and writers can adapt and appropriate ideas from each other. As we rehearse ideas about characters, lessons, issues, or themes, we may also write about moments in our lives when we have learned a similar lesson or about incidents that illustrate the same idea, issue, or theme. We may use these moments later in our essay. We know that stories have more than one meaning. We use our notebooks to explore ideas we have about the stories we love. We jot down an idea, we look back over our Post-its or notebook pages, we flip through the text, and we gather moments in the story that support our idea. Often we retell those moments in our notebooks, doing an angled retelling, or quoting an important part and then summarizing the part of the story we excerpted it from. As writers, we often sort through the moments we have gathered, and we think about which moments from the story most make our idea visible. Sometimes we refine or change our idea as we look at these moments. Sometimes we discard some moments from the story. Sometimes we go back to the text to seek new evidence. All this work we can do by talking to a partner as well we use our partner to rehearse ideas. Sometimes it helps if partners decide to write about a text both partners have read, so we can help each other gather evidence. As we try out our ideas, there are some prompts that may help us write more about our ideas, such as: x This makes me realize... x I still wonder... x On the other hand... x Another way to say this might be... x This reminds me of, in my life, a moment when... We may often try rehearsing a few ideas, either about the same stories, or different ideas about different stories and we do this by jotting our ideas and then listing, retelling, and analyzing the pivotal moments in the story that support our idea. As we look at our ideas and evidence, we keep asking ourselves: What does this moment really teach the character, or the reader? We also may ask: What does this book have to say about...? A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

120 Sometimes, if we find ourselves stuck in supporting our idea, we may have an idea that was only true at the end of the story, and we may need to revise our idea if we are to find multiple moments in a story as evidence. We may modify our idea to at first it seems like...but then... As we go to draft our essays, we use what we know about essay structure, often following the simple structure of x Claim or idea Support from one place in the text Support from another place in the text Support from a third place in the text x Reflection/Insight/Realization Another structure that we might enjoy writing in is the literary essay structure in which we compare a moment in a story to a moment in our life, to support an idea that feels true in the story and our life. To do that, we may draft in this structure: x Claim or idea A moment from the text that evokes this idea A moment from our life that evokes this idea x Reflection/Insight/Realization Once we have a draft in hand, we do some revision. One revision strategy literary essayists employ is to reconsider the evidence, asking Does this really get to the idea I m writing about? Other revision strategies include: x Repeating our thesis statement as part of the topic sentence for our body paragraphs, to make sure our idea carries through our essay. Sometimes we find ourselves shifting to a variant of our idea, or a slightly different idea, so reinserting the thesis holds us to the original idea. We can always shift the language of the topic sentence, but using the same phrase for the thesis part can be helpful. x Using what we know about narrative writing to retell parts of the story with vivid detail. x Describing the story in such a way that it makes the reader want to read that story. We are passionate about the significance of the story. x We may use our conclusion to return to our life, and suggest the implications for the lessons or ideas from the story in making changes in our own lives. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

121 x We may consider some grammar moves, such as checking our verb tenses. Usually in literary essays we state ideas in present tense and quote the text in past tense. We also make sure we have quoted accurately, and we check the punctuation of our quotes. When we cite, short stories are usually in quotes, and book titles are usually underlined or italicized. We usually give the page number in parentheses after a quote or reference. Part Two: Writing across Texts to Explore the Different Treatment of Similar Themes Sometimes we compare texts. Often we begin by recalling and talking about texts we have most loved, and thinking about similarities in these texts. The characters may be similar, or the texts make certain issues visible, or they may suggest similar themes. It s often helpful for a community of writers to chart the texts they have in common, and some of their themes and important characters. These tools help us to recall favorite and important literature. We then write long about themes, issues, and ideas that matter to us across a couple of texts. As soon as we have an idea that is true in more than one text, we begin to explore how different authors interpret that idea. For instance, rather than saying The Hunger Games and Thirteen Reasons Why are both about growing up, we might say, The Hunger Games and Thirteen Reasons Why offer different interpretations of what it means to grow up. Suzanne Collins, in The Hunger Games, suggests that to grow up, we must learn to sometimes sacrifice our own wishes. Jay Asher, in Thirteen Reasons Why, leaves us with the idea that growing up means realizing how much our actions affect others. As we link texts thematically, we focus on analyzing their differences. Often that means returning to the texts and really thinking about what s different about them, including differences in time and place, in characters traits and changes, and in the way that characters encounter similar issues or make a theme visible. Each of these differences affects our understanding of the text. Literary essayists, therefore, are nuanced readers and writers, and once we have an overarching similarity that unites two texts, we spend a lot of time as writers analyzing what s different about the stories, and how those differences matter to the stories meanings. Literary essayists know that it s often helpful to know something about how we may structure our essay, so that we know whether we re collecting and rehearsing all the potential parts. We may, therefore, want to consider these structures: x Idea/Thesis How one text evokes this idea How a different text evokes this idea in a different way A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

122 x Reflection/Realization/Insight or x Idea/Thesis How two texts are similar in their treatment of this idea How the texts are different in their treatment x Reflection/Realization/Insight or x Idea/Thesis Support from more than one text How the writer s experience supports this idea in similar and different ways x Reflection/Realization/Insight As we rehearse and then begin drafting our essays, we know to use our full repertoire, or toolkit of strategies, including: x drafting in essay structure x really returning to texts to mine them for the best evidence x quoting and paraphrasing and incorporating vivid details x making sure to analyze the text evidence we include x using transitions to move our reader along coherently x using citation to reference texts accurately As we look over our essays, sometimes we realize that we need to reconsider our structure. Perhaps we have more support for a different structure. Or, we may need to reconsider our thesis and revise it to match our evidence more closely. We may need to return to the text, for more or sharper evidence. We often study our essays with a partner, especially one who has read the same texts, asking: Where are there holes in my argument? and What other evidence might I include? and Where could I say more about why and how my evidence is compelling am I analyzing my evidence enough? We may also revise for compelling craft. We may, for instance: x pace for suspense in retelling a scene. x say what a character didn t do, as a comparison, and highlight the significance of what he or she did do. x comment not just on what happens in the story, but on how the author has told the story. We might discuss the narrator s point of view, or contrasting points A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

123 of view, or the pacing to build suspense, or indelible images, or symbolism, or repetition, or embedded discourse. x revise to use the more inclusive we instead of I in an essay, or to include the reader instead of I. We may try to include a counter-argument, such as others might think... but... or before reading these stories, one might think... but afterwards, a conclusion we may draw is... Part Three: Using Outside Sources within a Literary Essay Literary essayists sometimes expand their topics by studying literary criticism on a text. We might look up what others have said or written about a text, and then either fit our idea into a tradition of thought or show how our idea is different from what is traditionally said and written about a text. To find literary criticism, we might search online, we might peruse curricular supports such as Spark notes, or we might research the author. Another way to incorporate literary criticism is to discuss a critical lens, or school of thought. We might, for instance, offer a feminist interpretation of a text. Sometimes we may want to quote a particular critic, and use that quote as a critical lens. Some interpretive lenses from literary and critical theories include looking at: x representation who is included, who is invisible, what representations are stereotypical or partial x power who has it, how it shifts x narrative trajectory how the story fits common-sense or traditional storylines x discourse It s also interesting to research historical context for a text. Is the text a commentary on a certain historical era or social or political movement, for instance? Essayists often compare a historical era that is described in a text. Or sometimes a text feels like it is relevant to, or even a commentary on, contemporary events, and we want to do some nonfiction research. We might, for instance, research bystander apathy in relation to The Lottery or The Hunger Games. Or we might research stoning, or reality television. We might compare a contemporary character, movement, event, or discourse to that depicted in a text or texts. We may research the author as a way to have more insight into a text. Sometimes the author s biography feels relevant to our ideas about a text and we may explore that biography in our essay, making comparisons to the text. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

124 When we compare how a text reflects a historical or contemporary or biographical event, we compare differences as well. Essayists know that as we decide to research and discuss the historical, biographical, critical, or cultural context for a text, or if we bring in nonfiction comparisons, we still need to make sure our essay is exploring an idea we feel is significant about a text, and that we turn to the context as one means of establishing authority, demonstrating our expertise, giving the reader more insight into the background of the text, or suggesting possible implications of the text. That is, we still need to write an analysis of the text, and we allude to our research throughout our analysis or as part of our introduction or conclusion. As always, it s helpful to think about structure as we collect and draft. A possible structure for essays like this include: x Idea/thesis Context historical, critical, biographical Evidence from the literary text, with analysis x Implications and conclusions we may draw A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

125 UNIT SEVEN Writing Prompted Essays for the NYS 2011 ELA Exam MARCH/APRIL The Tasks and the Rubric for the Writing Portion of the Test This unit is based on the most up-to-date information we have on 2011 tests, including the information on the rubrics that have been published so far on the NYS website, our knowledge of the shifts in the test over the last year, and hints about the possible influence of the Common Core State Standards. The ELA exam is a moving target, since each year the test will be somewhat like last year s test, but will also have some new material and challenges that are impossible to predict. Then, too, the help that will be best for one group of students is not the same as the help that will be best for another group. For many reasons, then, this document poses some alternatives and sets you up to make some choices, but leaves many decisions in your hands. Although there are many things that we can never know about preparing for this portion of the ELA, there are some essential skills that we know will definitely help students do well with the writing portion of the ELA. Even the writing portion of the test is a reading test the writing tasks are in response to reading. So helping students be able to read more demanding texts more quickly will help them achieve on this portion of the ELA. The work you and your colleagues have done to support volume, comprehension, and stamina will all pay off. Students will need to read and write for at least sixty minutes straight. Then, too, your students abilities to write quickly, with fluency, inside of text structures, using paragraphs and transitions that match the chosen text structure, will pay off, as will their abilities to write with specific detailed information. For the writing tasks, fourth- to eighth-grade students will be expected to read two texts, answer some short responses about each, and then write an essay that answers a specific question A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

126 or series of questions, providing detailed evidence from both texts to support the answer. Assuming they can read the texts and the prompt, their primary challenge will be to design and write an orderly essay, brimming with appropriate details from the text, and to do so in the remaining time, which will usually be under thirty minutes. The information published by the New York State website notes that this year, the ELA rubric emphasizes four elements: meaning, development, organization, and language use. Meaning is how well the response exhibits solid understanding, interpretation, and analysis of the texts related to the task. Of course, part of this also involves discerning the meaning of the prompt the question! Development revolves around the extent to which the student supports his or her writing with lots of specific, accurate, and relevant evidence from the text. Although there is evidence to show that length does matter in test writing, a high score in development rests on much more than how much information is given. In higher-level responses, information is related to the task, and is clearly drawn from the texts (not from writers own experiences). Organization refers to clear, well-ordered writing, in which the writer groups related ideas, or sequences his or her material if the text is a narrative. Language use should not be confused with writing mechanics. This element is more about vocabulary and effective sentence structure than about spelling, punctuation, and capitalization the latter three are not on this year s writing rubric but are instead addressed through some multiple-choice questions. Last year, in 2010, grades 4, 6, and 8 were given two texts to read and asked to answer a question that referred to both texts. Each grade had a literary text and a nonfiction text, as will be given to grades 4, 6, 7, and 8 in 2011 (according to the state website). Grade 5 is being described as receiving two texts, and most people seem to think that with the Social Studies test sidelined, the two texts will be informational. Last year s test exam questions were: Grade 4: Imagine if the girl in Butterfly House had found a tadpole instead of a butterfly. What would the girl have done to take care of a tadpole? Do you think it would be more interesting to take care of a tadpole or a butterfly? Use details from both passages (the story and article) to support your answer. Grade 6: Think about the difficulties faced by gold miners in Gold Fever and A Gold Miner s Tale. Write an essay in which you discuss the hardships of life as a gold miner or gold rusher. Use details from both the article and the poem to support your answer. Grade 8: The authors of Rufus and The Gift of Reason are both affected by the animals they write about. How does the author of Rufus change the way he thinks about Rufus? How does the author of The Gift of Reason change the way he thinks about animals? Which author seems more moved by his experience? Use details from both passages (the narrative and the informational text) to support your answer. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

127 When thinking about how to teach students in ways that help them develop the muscles that will be useful for the full array of questions they may encounter, we could not arrive at one suggested pathway that we recommend all of you take in your test prep work. If you work with a class of students who struggle tremendously to write anything in the allotted time, and your students are apt to be derailed easily, and if you are also late approaching the writing part of test prep and need to go for the quickest pathway, you might (especially if you teach fourth grade and up, but at any grade level) opt for this path: teach your students to read the entire question and the bullets, then to read the texts with the questions/prompts in mind, underlining relevant parts and thinking about how they ll respond to each of the questions or follow each of the commands. Then teach them that they will probably write a separate paragraph for each question/ command, copying or paraphrasing relevant parts of the two texts into their paragraphs. This instructional pathway would mean that you downplay all emphasis on structuring an essay response, and instead teach students as if they are almost doing three short-answer responses, one to each part of the question/prompt. If the question/prompt ends up having only one part to it and seems to essentially ask for a longer, more developed essay about that one question/prompt, the students who received the instruction described above will not have the structuring skills necessary to structure a coherent, orderly essay. You could teach those students to write about that one question as it pertains to one text, then indent and do the same thing as it pertains to the second text; that would provide at least some structure. So far, from what we have seen, the sixth to eighth graders are often expected to organize a more coherent essay than this would set them up to do (we do not know about the fifth graders). Usually the work that fifth graders have been asked to do is such that this method might be sufficient to achieve a proficient score. You will need to make a decision about this yourself. We are, as always, trying to teach toward the test and teach the qualities of strong writing so we want to harness this unit so that students continue their work at writing quick, structured, coherent essays. The pathway we tend to recommend if most of your students are more capable and flexible writers is the one described in some detail in this document. Before embarking on that discussion, let me say that we will discuss the simply answer each part of the question option in more detail later because, actually, there is a way in which every student needs to do just this, and the final portion of this unit emphasizes ways to help all students make sure they are doing so. The last part of the unit helps all students learn to read through the whole question and to answer all parts of the question or follow all steps in the prompt. But the unit has been designed so that fairly successful writers will, by the time they are practicing this work, have learned a small collection of ways to structure essays and will, then, be able to note that some questions require them to structure a whole essay, using one of the structures they will have been taught. This knowledge will help students to read the passages with an eye toward the sort of information they ll want to draw upon when they are writing. Sometimes, one of the questions/bullets will call for compare-and-contrast writing, and the final bullet will call A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

128 for an argument (between whatever has been compared and contrasted). The bullets could call for a different combination of text types as well. If you decide to teach students simply to read the question and answer it, then there will be a huge chunk of this document that will not be especially relevant to you. You will probably want to read the document in any case, however, since it will demystify some of the ways for students to do well. Four Useful Structures You Might Teach to Match These Prompts The prompts on the ELA have channeled students to write texts (or parts of text) that are structured in one or more of these ways: A. Boxes and Bullets (or you could call this Claim and Supports or Informational/Thematic) (Ex. Write about the challenges of being a gold rusher drawing on two texts. ) (Ex. Write about how people who are different can still be friends drawing on two texts that both teach this. ) B. Argument (Ex. Which would you rather have as a pet a frog or a butterfly? ) (Which author seems more moved by his or her experience?) C. Compare and contrast (Ex.... tell how the dogs are alike and different. ) D. Simply answering the questions in order, or responding to the parts of the prompt, in the order in which the questions are asked or the prompts are given Structure A: Boxes and Bullets Whether students are asked to write about the challenges miners face or about a single theme friendship that is advanced in two different texts, if the prompt suggests the student state a generalization and then draw on both texts in order to support that generalization (claim or idea), then students are being asked to write in the structure that most of them have come to think of as boxes and bullets. In such an essay, the writer first states the one general idea. Then, usually in the next paragraph, the writer provides evidence to support one part of the general idea. In the next part of the essay (perhaps the second body paragraph), the writer provides evidence to support another part of the general idea. So the writer might start the essay by writing, Gold miners during the Gold Rush faced many difficulties, and then start the next paragraph (the first body paragraph) with the topic sentence, In such and such a text, the miners faced challenges from the land. For example,...the second body paragraph could start, Not only did the miners face challenges from the land, they also faced challenges from... In such and such text, for example... The claim a box): (this might be in an opening paragraph, or just an opening sentence in A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

129 Supporting evidence from one text (There needs to be a topic sentence setting this up.) Supporting evidence from the other text (There needs to be a topic sentence setting this up, referencing the claim.) Conclusion: restates the original claim and provides added insight Structure B: Supporting an Argument Point/Counterpoint Quite often, students are asked to take a side and to supply evidence arguing for the merits of that side. These essays should generally follow a structure in which the writer announces his or her position and then uses evidence from one text to support his or her side of the argument. Then, usually in another paragraph, the writer essentially puts down the other side by mentioning that the evidence from the second text is not as strong or as persuasive. Picture this structure as: Structure B (for argument): 1. Introduction: Take a side, announce your position. 2. Body paragraph one: Argue for your side or position by using evidence from one text. 3. Body paragraph two: Say why the evidence for the other side isn t as good, giving details from the other text. 4. Conclusion: Restate your original position, pointing out that you have just proved this position. Provide added insight. Recently, for example, fourth graders were asked to decide whether it would be more interesting to take care of a tadpole or a butterfly. (It would be more interesting to take care of a tadpole than a butterfly. The girl in Butterfly House would have loved the chance to take care of a tadpole... Although the girl in Butterfly House enjoys taking care of a butterfly, she would have enjoyed tadpoles even more. Butterflies don t.../butterflies don t...) Many students may need help with this kind of essay, and especially with supporting their argument while acknowledging details from the other side. Structure C: Compare/Contrast When asked to compare and contrast, the writer doesn t actually even need to make a thesis beyond stating that x and y are somewhat similar and somewhat different. Then the essay might go as follows: Structure C (for compare/contrast): 1. Introduction (X and y are somewhat the same, but mostly different or vice versa.) A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

130 2. Body paragraph one: Describe similarities giving details from texts 1 and Body paragraph two: Describe the differences giving details from texts 1 and Conclusion: Give additional insight. This should not be that hard for students once they ve tackled argument, though a typical issue in the past is that students have written all about similarities or all about differences, rather than balancing attention between similarities and differences. Structure D: Simply Answer the Questions, or Parts of the Prompt, Point-by-Point Writers should also know that another good option is to simply answer the questions or respond to the parts of the prompt, in a point-by-point fashion, following the given order, usually writing one paragraph for each question or part of a prompt. This option is an important one for novice or struggling writers especially, because this is probably the easiest way for these writers to ensure that they answer all parts of the question/prompt (something they are at great risk of not doing) and to do so with some semblance of organization. This is also a great option for skilled writers who need to be flexible in the face of unexpected types of questions and prompts, because if none of the other structures are jumping to mind, then shoehorning an answer into one of the aforementioned categories can make the writer feel insecure, and the writer can lose his or her sense of control and agency. It is possible to get by following this method, but to do so, the writer needs to write with some assurance and power, and that s only possible if he or she knows this is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed and if the writer uses evidence from both texts (which the parts of the question may not immediately lead the writer to do). The writer needs to learn that throughout the essay, he or she needs to cite specific evidence from the test. Methods for doing this will be discussed throughout this document teach these methods to this writer! Also, this writer should learn how to create the illusion of a structured essay with some of the conventions for an opening and a closing paragraph. Structure D (for prompts that are multifaceted or don t lend themselves to Structures A, B, or C): 1. Introduction 2. Body paragraph one: Answer the first question using evidence from text 1 and/or Body paragraph two: Answer the second question using evidence from text 1 and/or Optional body paragraph three: If the prompt has three parts, answer the third question using evidence from text 1 and/or Conclusion: Provide a closing thought or a final insight. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

131 Gathering Materials For students to write about two texts, they will need to read tests. The general plan of this unit will be that students will write a new essay every other day or so, writing in response to a new question. Presumably some of the questions will be the ELA questions, but you can easily use those as patterns and write some more questions off those texts. So, for example, you could take the two texts used for the fourth-grade butterfly/tadpole question (or one of those and one new text) and generate questions that will channel students to write all three kinds of essays, as well as hybrid-kinds, on those same two texts. Then on Day One of each of the cycles, you can channel students to revisit those texts to help them learn to write a boxes-and-bullets flash-essay, an argument, a compare-and-contrast flash-essay, and an essay that (say) answers the questions in the order in which they were asked and does so by incorporating a mini boxes-and-bullets essay and then an argument. Of course, you will need a different set of paired texts for the second essay, but again, you can return to the same two passages for all four cycles of work. Sometimes, of course, you can t figure out how to ask one of these kinds of questions with those exact texts, so you could alter one of the texts for one question. But in general, we recommend that for the first four cycles of work on writing structured essays quickly, using lots of evidence from the text, you save time by having students reread familiar texts. When selecting passages to use, we strongly recommend that early in this work, you choose passages that will be easy for most of your students to read. So if you have a whole class of strugglers and teach sixth grade, we recommend you do the three cycles of work using the texts from the fourth-grade ELA. Then, once your students have learned the essay-writing work, add in the reading-hard-texts-and-writingessays-off-them spin. But if you try to bring in that spin from the start, the kids will be struggling on every front at the same time. Of course, another option is to decide that not all kids need to practice on the same texts. After the first day of the week, which is a shared experience on familiar texts, you could have groups work on different texts with prompts that are similar but different, because they are linked to easier and harder passages. Or you might simplify some of your texts so you have more than one version in the room. You will need to find texts to use you can gather the samples from Book 3 of the grades 4, 6, and 8 tests from the past few years. If your school purchased test prep books, you can harvest texts from those books as well. In addition, the texts on the NYC social studies website are helpful informational texts, as are the short texts in Stephanie Harvey s Comprehension Toolkit. Keep in mind that we expect the texts this year to be closer to two pages in length, perhaps three for the older middle school grades, rather than 3/4 to one page. For grades 4, 6, 7, and 8, the state says that it will pair a literary text (could be a narrative or poem) with an informational text (could be narrative or non-narrative nonfiction). For grade 5, as mentioned earlier, we only know that they ll pair two texts. You can use text pairings from any grade to help your students practice. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

132 Throughout this unit there will be certain methods and structures you rely on to teach your children. Some, like writing partnerships, are structures that already exist in your classrooms and that will be reimagined for the purposes of test preparation. Others, like writing essays in the air, may be familiar from the literary essay unit. Others still, like quick drafts and on-the-run revision, may be new to you and your children. Overview of the Unit In the following section we will lay out several possible ways this unit might go. Ultimately, you ll need to make a decision about the overall level and experience of your writers. Here are the possibilities we re recommending: For Classes Containing Mostly Proficient Essay Writers in Upper Elementary and Middle School Grades Cycle 1: Teach Structure A, Idea-Based Essays (four days) Cycle 2: Teach Structure B, Argumentative Essays (four days) Cycle 3: Teach Structure C, briefly, Compare-and-Contrast Essays (two days) Cycle 4: Teach Structure D, Aligning Your Essay Structure to the Prompts (four days) Cycle 5: Teach Students to Learn to Read the Question Ultra-Carefully, to Set Up and Start Their Essays, Incorporating Multiple Structures into Essays That Call for This (four days) Day One Day Two Day Three Day Four Shared Experience/ Fast-Draft #1 Minilesson/Partner Work/Revise Draft #1 to focus on paragraphs, transitions, citing from both texts. Shared Experience or Partner Work/Fast-Draft #2 Less Partner Support, Revising Draft #2 to focus on elaboration and citing the text. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

133 Day One Day Two Day Three Day Four Together the class works on reading one essay prompt, reviewing two familiar texts with that prompt in mind, then writing in the air the first two paragraphs of that essay. As the above happens, you may record a few key sentences of the wholeclass version on chart paper. After minutes of a shared writing-in-the-air experience, send students off from the meeting area to write the entire essay, fast and furious, from beginning to end. They may not actually all complete the entire essay, but most can. The structure of the writing that the class will tackle with this shared experience is the launch, whether students are writing a boxes-andbullets essay or a compare-and-contrast one. Prior to this minilesson, the teacher will have written a draft that resembles the drafts many students produced on Day One. The teacher will then teach writers how he or she goes about revising the draft, doing this in a way that sets students up to revise for 3 4 important and realistic goals. Partners support each other to make similar revisions on their own essays, presumably revising to write in paragraphs, using transition words, and citing evidence. You will confer with partners as they rehearse and with individual writers as they write. At the end of the workshop, students plan what they will do differently, because of this revision work, the next time they have the chance to write an essay (tomorrow!). The day will probably begin with students being given a new but similar prompt, one that asks them to revisit one of the texts from Day One and a new second text. The class works together for a much shorter time, so students receive much less hand-holding in order to set up and plan for the second essay. Again, the shared experience is followed by time for students to work independently, writing a flash-draft essay, hopefully incorporating all they have learned so far about essays (including what they learned from Day One and Day Two) into this Essay #2. Whereas during the first piece of writing you will have taught into the structure of the essay, the paragraphs and transitions, as students work on this second essay, you may want to help them focus more on how to cite evidence from the text. As writers draft individually, you meet with small groups of writers who need similar help. At the end of the workshop, partners show each other their drafts and note places where they included all you have taught so far. Homework: Independent Writing As on Day Two, the teacher will come to Day Four having written a draft that resembles the drafts many of the students have written. This time, the problems that the teacher will illustrate in his or her draft will probably revolve around citations. The teacher will again revise, this time showing students how to bring more of the exact words from the texts into the essays, and showing how to contextualize the references within the text, etc. You will confer with individuals as they write, or pull small groups to coach them. Finally, partners talk about their essays, noting ways they could do work that is similar to whatever the teacher has demonstrated. Individuals then revise their writing. At the end of the workshop, students review what they have now learned to do on their first-draft essays. For homework, they write one more essay, this time reading the question/ prompt, marking up the texts (at least one of which will be the same text that they have used earlier in the week) and then writing the essay entirely on their own. (continues) A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

134 Day One Day Two Day Three Day Four Alternately, this writing could be done in school on Day Five, in which case you will be able to observe and take notes as writers prepare to write their essays, and as they write, noting how they manage time, how they plan their essay, how they mine the texts for evidence, and how they carry forward the strategies you have taught. For Writers Who Are Ready to Learn More than One Essay Structure but Who Also Need a Great Deal of Practice and a Safety Net of Simply Answering the Questions in Order Note for Weeks One and Two: Teach Structures A, B, and C in three-day minicycles, with students writing an essay based on one structure (say, A) on Day One, doing all the revision work that is now divided across Days Two and Four, and then writing another essay, using all that they have learned through the scaffolds and revisions on Day Three. The Day Three essay might be supported with the teacher reminding writers of things to do, or writers listing with a partner what they will do, but essentially it is not scaffolded. That last essay can, of course, be revised for homework, if the teacher chooses. Weeks Three and Four: Teach Structure D, Aligning Your Essay Structure to the Prompts, which will include work on incorporating multiple structures into one essay, extra practice around organizing paragraphs, citing evidence and elaboration. Week Five: Teach students to develop flexibility and fluency. For Struggling Writers or Those without Prior Essay Experience If you teach a class of students who, by and large, are struggling writers, and if you want to give them some survival tools for this essay, you may decide to simply teach them to answer the questions, in order, using evidence from each text across their response. This means that, within the five weeks, your teaching will focus less on the structure of their written responses and more on the basic elements of a prompted essay. This includes answering all parts of the question, paragraphing, gathering evi- A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

135 dence from a text and incorporating evidence into an essay, and writing an introduction and a conclusion. This does not mean you will leave your stronger writers in the dust. As mentioned above, it is possible to teach children to write powerfully and fluently within this structure by teaching them to vary sentence structure, elaborate on their evidence, and make thematic connections. If you choose this path, all your writing-related test prep will focus around Structure D. The Shared Experience That Will Be Day One for Each Cycle Later in this write-up, we will propose several possible paths this unit might take. Regardless of the path you choose, the weeks will follow a predictable structure that incorporates principles that will also be important in the test prep you do in the reading workshop. You will help students move from scaffolded, shared experiences to partner work and eventually to complete independence. You will help them progress from doing this work with easier texts to ELA-level texts. You will help them progress from doing work that you have told them how to do, with the work being similar for a few days in a row, toward deciding on their own how to do the work, drawing on the repertoire of ways of working that you will have taught. You will teach kids to read or reread the passages keeping in mind the question and the genre in which they will write; to mark up the parts of the passages they expect to draw upon when they write; to plan really quickly; and to write quick drafts using paragraphs, transition words, and references to the text. You will teach them to revise that essay once the next day to incorporate whatever new thing the teacher highlights, and then repeatedly over the upcoming days as the teacher teaches yet new things and those new things get brought into each writer s packet of draft essays. Obviously this means that each reader needs a copy of the texts. You will begin each part with a shared experience, where the class comes together on the rug for an extended meeting time. Those of you who attended our day on interpretation and literary essays can rely on the work that we did with you that day when we showed you how to help students collaborate around speaking in essay and writing an essay in the air in preparation for writing a flash-draft. For those of you who did not attend that emergency workshop on writing literary essays, this is how we recommend you start each cycle of structure work. Make sure the class has already read the texts that you will use in the shared experience. These can be familiar texts, or just ones you have read aloud earlier. Remember, these texts can be reused on Day One of each cycle if you and your colleagues write questions that channel students to write about the same two texts using all kinds of structures. Although the class will generally know the passages they ll be using, you will want to teach them that before writing an essay, they read the question/prompt and think, So what sorts of stuff am I looking for as I read? So if the prompt asks students to talk about the challenges miners faced in the two situations described in the articles, you will coach students to generate a task for themselves such as, I m going to quickly read/skim these texts to help me find examples of the ways that miners struggle. Then A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

136 the students read the texts and mark them up with that prompt in mind. Later, the students will reread these same texts to argue that one mining situation is more challenging than another, and they will see how helpful it is to read texts with the kind of essay to write in mind. For the purposes of the test, you ll be teaching students that in the opening statement, they need to restate the test prompt into a claim. They ll do this a bit differently for each structure, and we will help you (and in turn, them) understand the different demands of the different structures. However the claim will go, you will coach all members of the class to each come up with a starting sentence for an essay that he or she could write, and to say that starting sentence aloud to write it in the air to a partner. You ll find yourself saying things like, So, we know the question is asking us to address whether the miners struggled or not, and we know for now our answer should be very general later we will tell reasons or give examples. So what might our claim sound like? Hmm... and then, Let s reread the prompt because we can usually take some of those words into our claim. Then, Say how you would write a first-sentence... write it in the air to your partner. Then you can draw on what a partnership said, helping students understand your logic as you write the opening claim in the air for what will become the class essay. When citing evidence to support whatever the essay says, coach students to look back on the places they have marked in the text and not just rely on their memories. ( So we want to prove that a butterfly would make a much better pet. Let s look back at the story and the article and look at the places we already marked that show what we are arguing and we ve decided that for our class essay, we are arguing that a butterfly would make a great pet, so I ll find evidence for that, but you need to find evidence for whatever you are arguing. ) As with the literary essay unit, the goal of this work will be to help students participate in saying an essay, and to do so in ways that help them do each part of the essay-generating work with a lot of support, but ultimately, to do it on their own not just to watch someone else do it. You can t spend more than fifteen or twenty minutes on the shared experience because you need to save time for all students to write an entire essay, which they can do in twenty minutes or so. This means that as a class, you will write in the air the first two paragraphs of the essay together, moving back and forth between partner talk and you calling on a partner and adding that contribution to what becomes the class s inthe-air draft. You will record a few key sentences on chart paper and then send students off to write a fast-draft of the entire essay, from the beginning you rehearsed to the end. The shared writing activity will take about twenty minutes, with a little less time for students to then write the essay on their own. Day Two: On Moving toward Independence and Harnessing the Power of Partners After Day One you ll want to take home your students drafts and assess these for problems, imagining the possibilities for both your whole-class teaching and small- A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

137 group work. There are a few possibilities for how you begin the next days. You will probably teach kids a minilesson in which you use the essay draft of your own (the one you wrote that has all the problems that are rampant in the class) to demonstrate for the students the revision strategies you ve decided to highlight, showing them how you reread your draft for these two or three things, and revise accordingly. A second option is to do another version of the shared experience from Day One, only this time asking kids to co-author revisions to the one draft you have put forward. They write in the air how they would revise that one draft, and you harvest a student s suggestion and show the class how you would do that work. Regardless of which one you choose, you will want to teach the most fundamental and accessible work first, the harder work later. We assume that your first lessons will probably revolve around paragraphs and transition words. You ll want to set out the tape and scissors, the colored pencils or pens, and teach students to revise their pieces quickly, actually marking up and scissoring apart the original draft. Your goal here is not for students to learn to revise their ELA essays, since they will not have time for that on the test, but instead to learn new ways to build the muscles for the revision they ll have to do on the test day, eventually learning to do each of these single revision strategies with automaticity. By Weeks Two and Three you can expect that paragraphs and transition words will show up in most of your students first drafts, and you can focus on more sophisticated strategies for revision. You may find it helpful to revisit the writing Units of Study book on essay for ideas about the qualities writers might include in introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions. Partners will be an important part of the work on these days. On revision days (Days Two and Four if you are following the five-day cycle below), partners will help each other get ready to write by discussing and planning for the revisions they ll make to their own pieces. After the revision work is done, you ll most likely have partners meet up again to check in and hold each other accountable. On the second fast-drafting day of each cycle which will always be Day Three you will probably use partners to preview the essay prompt together, then to read side-by-side with the prompt in mind, making a decision about what one will say in the essay and marking up relevant passages. Then the partners may convene briefly to share their individual plans and the relevant passages they ve marked, helping each other decide which among the marked passages seems most relevant before going off to draft on their own. Regardless of whether you are doing a three-day cycle or a five-day cycle, the days will involve partnership work, at least two fast-drafts, and revision work that will often involve revising not just the current draft but also going back to revisit all the essays in each student s growing packet of essay drafts. So students will have a fast-growing stack of essay drafts and you ll want to teach them to go back to these whenever the new revision work might relate to those earlier drafts. That is, after learning that they can revise to add a conclusion, writers may go back to previous essays and write conclusions for all of them. This gives students more practice with writing conclusions and also helps them to see that the work they are learning to do can be tweaked to work in lots of different essays. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

138 Throughout this unit, we emphasize teaching kids to read, rehearse, and write an entire quick draft, all in one period. You can also have students do this work at home, but do not extend the work on one essay so that they write part in school and finish it at home. Students need to become faster at writing, and we now have scores of classrooms in which teachers did the literary essay work we have taught, and agree that actually an entire class of fourth-grade students can produce a one-page literary essay in fifteen minutes. (Okay, sure, there are two who only write 3/4 of a page, but almost the entire class can do this.) You do need to talk up writing fast and furious, and to sheepdog the kids. Your hands should be flying down the page. Go! Go! Write fast and furious. Only five minutes left to get to the bottom of the page and onto the next page. A lot of kids are actually comforted by knowing they are only writing for fifteen minutes. And so they get right to it and get a lot done. Use homework time as an opportunity to give kids extra practice with fast-drafting, sending them home with a prompt and asking them to time themselves and to write a quick essay in the time you allot. Kids will ultimately need to preview the essay prompt, read the passages, answer the short-answer questions, plan their essay, and write it, all in one sitting. If your students have been writing literary essays, you may find that you can skip Part One of the unit, and begin right at Part Two. You may also decide that your students don t need the final part that learning to write structured essays is enough practice to get ready for the ELA. As always, either do a quick on-demand assessment to help you guide your teaching, or look closely at students first flash-drafts, and you ll be able to see which teaching points you may need to linger on, and which you may be able to move more swiftly through. If your students need extra support with structured essay format, you might want to turn to the sixth-grade unit on personal and persuasive essays to prop them up. One Possible Sequence of Teaching Points As you approach this unit, it will be important for you to read the entire write-up, not just the teaching points below, because ultimately kids learn through the work they do, not the words out of your mouth. So the really important thing in a unit of study is that you have created opportunities for kids to engage in work that matters. The unit writeup can help you issue the wide generous invitation that rallies kids not only to work with heart and soul, but to also engage in deliberate practice, trying to get better at specific skills the unit aims to highlight. But in the end, a good portion of your teaching will revolve around the responsive instruction you provide as you move kids along trajectories of skill development. This part of your teaching relies on you assessing your students often not in big fancy ways, but by watching the work they do and seeing their work as feedback on your teaching. If you have taught something and only a handful of kids are able to do that work to good effect, then you ll want to decide whether that skill was essential, whether you want to reteach it in a new way, or A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

139 whether you want to detour around it. You ll want to become accustomed to finetuning your teaching through an attentiveness to student work, because the work your students do is not just showing you what they can do or can t do, it is also showing you what you can do. From this attentiveness to student work and from your own persistence in reaching students, one way or another, and your inventiveness in response to what they do, you ll find that your teaching itself becomes a course of study for you as well as for your students. Part One: From Speaking in Essays to Writing a Boxes-and-Bullets Essay Session I: Writers can use the boxes-and-bullets structure we know well to answer some ELA questions. On this first day, you won t have a traditional minilesson. Instead, you ll lead your whole class in the shared writing experience described above. To keep the shared experience short, you will not write the class essay on chart paper, but you may write a few key sentences. You may want a chart to scaffold the work. It could look something like this: Boxes-and-Bullets Essay The claim The claim. (This may refer to the two texts or may just be general.) (Teachers, the writers need not cite the reasons for the claim the bullets in this thesis statement. That might be a later development for most writers, which we teach in a later part.) For example, in name of one text or, according to shows that (the first bullet of your essay outline) Paraphrase the text. This part shows...(this is optional for now if you are just introducing essays. If you taught this skill in lit essay or personal, revisit it now.) Also...(the second reason). An example can be found in name of the second text. Paraphrase the text. Then finish the paragraph with This part shows... This makes me realize...because... A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

140 Gold miners faced many hardships. For example, according to Gold Fever, the men left their families far behind when they went to search for gold. Prospectors came from as far as Oregon to the north, the Hawaiian Islands to the west, and Mexico and Chile to the south. This part of the article shows how far men were from their families, because the Gold Rush was mostly in California. You could give more details and examples. Also, another example of how gold miners faced hardships is, they didn t always find gold. The poem A Gold Miner s Tale says, The gold I found? Just enough to get by. I gave up when my claim went dry. This stanza shows that not all gold miners found gold. This information makes me realize that mining for gold was not all marvelous. It was hard to leave your family so far behind. And you might not even find gold. Maybe it s even better to have a regular job! x Tip: Teachers, if you d like to rewrite the essay prompt from last year s fourthgrade exam, you might rewrite it so it asks: Write an essay in which you discuss how creatures change as they grow. Be sure to include details about the butterfly and the frog. Teachers, just a tip make sure students get a chance to preview the prompt before they reread the texts. We want to begin the habit of having students, in the essay section, preview the essay question so that as they read, they are alert to details that might support their answer. They can even write their thesis or topic on the top of the passages. You can keep using the same passages, but rewrite the prompt, across these cycles, so that students don t spend so much time reading but instead focus on mining the texts for evidence, on answering the questions, and on structuring a coherent response. Session II: Writers chunk our essays into paragraphs and transitions when we write. When making a boxes-and-bullets essay, it often works to start the body paragraph by writing something like, One example of... or Another example of.... As we transition our reader to each example, the transition starts what becomes the topic sentence for the new paragraph. If we forget to do this important work when we write, we can do it through revision but really it is best to do this as one writes. You ll want a chart up of useful transitions into topic sentences of new paragraphs, such as: One example...another example... For instance...another instance... A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

141 You may want to give additional instruction to some of your fluent writers, and you could teach those writers to add a second bit of example from each text, and to transition to this second piece of example using a transition such as Also or Later in the text... or Furthermore... or In addition... You can also show those students that it is helpful to not only cite the evidence but to unpack it by writing This shows... and then showing how the evidence links to the claim. This work also helps students to quote more text details to support their thesis. x Tip: You will certainly need to teach writers to choose evidence that feels obvious, that hits you over the head. Some writers find evidence that actually does not make the point. You ll have your students revise their first flash-draft. They can mark and/or cut up their original essay. Hold them to making sure, with their partner, that each writer has inserted the transitions of One example of (state the idea) and Another example of (say the idea again). If you want to also hold all your students to unpacking that evidence (which is more advanced and not necessary, but a good thing), then you can ask partners to double-check that after their evidence, before the next paragraph begins, they say, This part shows... At the end of the period, partners can make writing plans for what they ll do next time on their flash-drafts so that they do not need to do this work as a revision, but can do it right from the start. x Tip: Often kids become adept at these transitions when they write in the air, or rehearse their essays, but when they go to write the actual essays, they do not repeat their original idea at the start of each body paragraph. Ask them to return to the actual words of their original idea at the start of each body paragraph. So they will not write, Another example of this is when... but rather, Another example of the ways that miners struggle... Coach them to repeat the claim instead of referring to it with the word this. Otherwise, we find that gradually, writers forget what the idea really is, and it begins to change, unintentionally, and the essay no longer holds together. Hold students to repeating the stem, or the big idea they are writing about, for every topic sentence. x Tip: You will probably find that the second body paragraph is where writers struggle the most. To write this second body paragraph, a writer needs to back up, return to the claim, and make a second start, midway into the essay. Some writers seem to instead want to just carry on, without being specific anymore! So watch this. Session III: Writers learn what job they will be doing by reading and thinking about the prompt, the question, before reading or rereading the texts; and then when we read, we do so with pen in hand, using this as a time to get ready to write. Teachers, first of all, remember that if you are speeding through this work, you will draw on Session IV as well as Session II today. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

142 Teachers, your teaching point might be something like this, Writers read the question first and think, What is the job I need to do when I read (or reread) the texts? What am I looking for? Then writers read as a way to get ready to write an essay. Writers who are making a boxes-and-bullets essay know what the claim will be before reading very much, and will mark up the evidence and star the best evidence. Teachers, you ll need two new texts or a new combination of texts. If you were to use Oliver Button Is a Sissy, you might combine it with an article on Little League dads dads who aggressively support sports or on kid dancers, and then the kids can write essays in which they claim that Lots of dads seem to want their boys to be good at sports, or Young dancers learn to work hard. If you use new texts, make sure they re accessible, so that kids can focus on practicing the writing skills. A bit of the way into this workshop, you can coach kids to be sure they are skipping lines between paragraphs; and you can ask them to underline their transition phrases; or you can set them up to stop and share with a partner, asking partners to help each other check that they are writing in paragraphs, using transition words, repeating the claim in each topic sentence, and so forth. Session IV: Details make a world of difference not just when writing stories but also when writing ELA essays and the cool thing is, the details are right there before our eyes, in the two texts we have been asked to mine. Writers not only mark up those texts, we also actually bring some of those words into our writing. We go for details but only for relevant ones. Teachers, you will need to decide what the new work is that relates to bringing evidence from the text to the essay. You may simply want to teach writers to find the actual parts of a text that they want to talk about, thinking, Is this part a more obvious example? Is that part more obvious? and then choosing the most obvious example. You may want to simply be sure students are borrowing a few key words from the text, in ways that do not require quoting but that some students think is not legitimate. Then again, you may want to teach your students to actually quote evidence from a text. To do this, you first bring the reader to a specific part of the text, often using the phrase In the first (or end) part of the text. Then students quote a sentence from the text, using the language of the author. Then if you like, you can teach students to think about the quoted passage, perhaps setting this up by writing, This shows...because...or It is important to notice that... You ll model inserting more textual reference into the first paragraph of one class essay and then the students can either take a moment to revise essay one in the air with a partner (show them two parts of the text you are considering bringing into the essay one relevant and one completely off base), or they can sit in on the minilesson, helping each other return to the texts to mine them for text details that will fit into their current drafts, underlining, circling those parts, and writing in the air to practice how they will bring them into the essay. Of course, writers will now have two drafts A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

143 going, and they can work on bringing text evidence into both those drafts. In the midworkshop, you may need to show writers how to go from mentioning one bit of evidence to mentioning a second bit, using a transitional phrase such as More evidence for this can be found later in the story when... Writers can also try out different possible transitions and decide which one works best for them. At the end of the period, partners can again make plans for how, in their next essay, they ll not only use paragraphs and transitions, they ll also insert detailed text evidence by inserting quotes, and (if they learned this) explaining where a quote comes from and how it supports their idea. x Tip: Often students have included specific details in their short responses. Then, almost as if they feel they can t repeat those details, they neglect to use them in their essays. Remind them that the details they used in their short responses are often the same ones they want to use in their essays. Send them back to their graphic organizers and short answers to find useful details. x Tip: Partners can also be used to debate and defend the best choice of relevant evidence. One issue that young writers have, predictably, is that they struggle sometimes to choose evidence that really supports their ideas. This is good partner work debating and defending their evidence, making choices about which examples best support their ideas, ranking their evidence from most persuasive and detailed to least. x Tip: When students mark up their texts, be sure they star what they regard as their best evidence. Be alert to anyone who underlines whole paragraphs they may be struggling to match evidence to idea. Session V: Writers review all they have learned and write an essay, all on their own. If there is time, writers work in larger groups to review what others have done, checking off items from a list of Must do s. Teachers, this last day could be done at home. Part Two: Speaking and Writing Argument Essays, in a Point- Counterpoint Structure Sessions VI and VII: Taking a side of an argument, gathering evidence to support our argument, and showing that the evidence is less for the other side This kind of essay is tricky. You will introduce, or recall if it s not new, the kind of essay where you take a side of an argument, and then compare evidence from two A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

144 texts. That is, the two texts offer different information or different perspectives, and your claim will value one over the other. The fourth- and eighth-grade ELA prompts from 2010, given above, follow this format. You will want to go back to the shared writing experience, described earlier in a lot of detail, only because this kind of writing is tricky. You may want to do two days of a shared writing experience. That is, you may decide to add a first day to this cycle, in which you get kids to practice this kind of writing about topics and texts that are exceedingly simple, thus inducting them into the norms of this kind of writing before working with somewhat complex texts. You could ask them then to support a claim that one animal is an easier pet than another, drawing on two very simple texts. Teach them to read the two texts, which may be five lines long each, looking for their side and starring evidence from the texts (not from life experiences). Then show them that in this kind of writing, the essay might go something like this: Choosing a pet is always hard. I want to argue that puppies are better pets than goldfish. The X text supports my argument that puppies are better pets than goldfish. For example, this text says, Puppies can... This shows...the text also says that puppies... You will probably, in this simplest of examples, stick to the one text in this paragraph. Then in your second body paragraph, you ll usually go to the other text, but make some comparisons back to the first, to support your claim: On the other hand, some will argue that goldfish are easier than puppies. As says, goldfish... (What does the text say about how easy they are?) Although some might argue that goldfish are easier pets than puppies, I disagree. (And then explain why, using article 1 to combat article 2.) Then on Day Two of this cycle, you could do this work using ELA texts and ELA-like prompts. Try to use the exact same texts that you used in the previous weeks, but with new prompts, if they fit. The fourth- and eighth-grade prompts from 2010, listed at the start of this document, are for this kind of point-counterpoint essay. If you want to make prompts for the texts you started your first week with, simply gather with colleagues and rewrite the prompt. For instance, if we changed the sixth-grade prompt from 2010, we could rewrite it as: Imagine you are going to join in the Gold Rush. Would it be better to mine for gold or to sell things to miners? Use details from both texts to support your answer. Be sure to explicitly tell kids that this day will not be a usual minilesson, that instead the class will work together to write in the air a second kind of essay; this time, the essay will be an argument. The shared experience will need to support the first and also sec- A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

145 ond body paragraphs (in the boxes-and-bullet essay, you probably only worked together on the first body paragraph). The reason that you will need to do the third body paragraph is that this is the really tricky part of this essay. You may, actually, want to do a shared experience around reading the texts with the new prompt in mind and the new kind of essay you will write in mind, looking for what side you will take and marking relevant passages, starring the most relevant. Coach students to realize that they will take a side of an argument and then support that side with evidence drawn from the texts (only). For a start, you may simply ask students to read, plan for, and eventually write the part of their essay that uses references from one text to support the side they take. Then, you might help writers set up that essay and write the starting sentence and first body paragraph, having them first work in the air (sitting on the rug) and then write on their own, fast and furious. Next, you could reconvene the writers to work on the hardest part of this essay, the second body paragraph, where they show how the other side is not a good one, again citing the text but this time to claim that it is less persuasive than the other. That is, almost always in an argument, the writer is expected to show that the evidence is less for the other side (the evidence from the second text). This is often called a point-counterpoint argument, where we make our point, and then acknowledge and defeat the counterpoint. In small groups, you can provide extra support, perhaps drawing on examples from life so kids get repeated practice making counterpoint arguments. After arguing that chocolates are better than cookies because chocolates are chewy and sweet, the essayist needs to acknowledge that yes, some could say that cookies can be sweet, but... they re not as chewy. So, chocolates are better. You can point out that this example shows how the writer argued for chocolates, showed that the writer is aware that cookies are a contender, and then returned to the original point. You can give kids practice with multiple real-life examples: Are trains better than airplanes? Is soccer or basketball more fun to watch? As students get started on their flash-drafts, be sure to remind them that as they work on a new structure, a new kind of essay, they will continue to draw upon a lot that they learned about writing essays, including especially writing with a clear structure, transitions, and evidence. Once kids have rehearsed an idea together, gathered evidence to support it, and planned what they ll say as their counterpoint, have them do flash-drafts. Remind them to carry forward what they know about essay format: paragraphs, transitions, paraphrasing, quotations. Because this kind of essay is harder, you may find some slippage in these skills. Once again, you ll want to pull some small groups together to regroup around these skills. Tip: One thing to coach students in explicitly, and to be alert to, is: Even though it sounds like the test wants our opinion, it really wants us to just make a claim and use evidence from the texts we read. The test doesn t want to know about our own puppies or kittens, or how we re allergic to cats! It is interested in how we analyze and use the evidence given in the texts! So the first thing is to make a claim that means tak- A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

146 ing a side and stating it clearly. Then, we can use our speaking in essay prompts, only we ll change One example... and Another example to On the one hand... on the other hand or to X is better because... whereas y is not because... Another tip: Some students will lose their original idea when they start addressing the counterpoint. Make sure they don t wander into saying cookies actually are as good as chocolate, or that goldfish and puppies are both easy. On the test, they need to pick a side and stick to it! Session VIII: Revising for an introduction that cites the texts In this lesson, you ll teach kids to cite, or reference, the actual texts, so that it s clear their essay is based on text evidence and not on prior knowledge or personal opinion. Often, it s helpful to get to the texts right away in the introduction. Sometimes, we may need to wait until we write our body paragraphs. So your teaching point might go: Writers, one of the tricks of writing a text-based essay is to cite the texts in our introduction. That s when we mention the title and possibly the author of the texts we are including. We may do this more than once in our essay, because we may have to wait for our body paragraphs to really get to our second text. If you use the sample from the fourth-grade text last year, your essay might begin, for instance: It would be more interesting to take care of a tadpole than a butterfly. For instance, if the girl in Butterfly House by Eve Bunting had found a tadpole instead of a butterfly, she would have seen many more changes. The article From Frog to Tadpole shows how tadpoles change. If you rewrote the sixth-grade prompt as suggested above for this structure, then your essay might begin: If I went to join the miners in the Gold Rush, I would rather sell things to the miners than try to actually search for gold. While the PBS website, Gold Fever, says that some miners became very rich, the poem A Gold Miner s Tale by Bobbi Katz makes it clear that many miners didn t get rich so it was better to sell them things! x Tip: Teach your writers to compare how they have spelled the authors names, and the actual titles, with how the test does! You might show them how to underline the title or put it in quotes. You ve probably done this in literary essay, but it s helpful to revisit it now it can help readers know that the kids are definitely writing a text-based essay. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

147 Session IX: Using our full repertoire as essayists, including a planned introduction, clear transitions and paragraphs, and a conclusion that sums things up Have on hand a chart of transitions into the topic sentences for this kind of argument essay, such as: It s clear that...because... Even though... And a chart of transitions into the conclusion: And so... In conclusion... For Middle School or Advanced Writers, transitions might also include: Whereas... Hence... Therefore... For Middle School or Advanced Writers, transitions into evidence might include: According to... As the article/poem/story says... As so and so says in his or her story/article... On this day, partners will help each other rehearse another essay, from two texts and a prompt that you provide. You re looking for students to do the same work you did in Sessions VI, VII, and VIII, with increased autonomy, so they need to answer the question by clearly stating a claim. They need to gather evidence from one text to support their claim. They need to then show how the evidence for the other side, probably from the other text, is less strong. As they rehearse their essays by speaking in essay, listen for their use of transitions and coach them to use the transitions that are on the chart. Then students should write a flash-draft, with partners helping each other check for transitions and paragraphs. Session X: They can do another essay for homework, using all they know. You may want them to rehearse with a partner, or you may assess how they do totally independently. Part Three: Teaching Compare/Contrast Essays After teaching the argument essays, these compare/contrast essays should be a breeze. In fact, you may want to keep inserting some of the argument prompts across this A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

148 week, so that kids get continued practice with them. You ll have a sense of how they are doing with the different structures, and whether they are becoming flexible, resilient, quick writers of fluent essays or whether they are becoming a bit overwhelmed and you want to keep going with one part. It would not be that hard to make the compare/contrast simply a modified version of the argument essay, for instance. You could simply say that you describe both the similarities and differences between two subjects, and either in the intro or conclusion the writer may say whether they are more similar or more different. Session XI: Planning, rehearsing, and fast-drafting a compare/contrast essay Some teachers have found it helpful to teach kids to make a quick T-chart as a way to plan compare/contrast essays. Decide ahead of time if you want to do this, and then be prepared to model a T-chart as a method for sorting the similarities and differences between two subjects. You may want to teach kids to sort the items on their chart, from most significant to least, or most clearly the same to less clear. Then you ll show kids how to circle the items on the chart that are the same for x and y they ll describe those in their first body paragraph, which will describe similarities. The rest they ll list in their next body paragraph, which will describe differences. This kind of organization is only one way to structure an essay, of course it s just an easy way to get most of your kids into this structure. So, a T-chart for butterflies and tadpoles might look like the one shown below: Butterflies Start as larvae Turn into cocoons Hatch Fly away Tadpoles Start as eggs Turn into spawn Grow heads and tails Come out of eggs Feed on their eggs Swim Grow gills and grow Grow legs! Lose gills Grow front legs Turn into frogs! A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

149 Probably, you ll want to start this part again with a shared writing experience, rather than a minilesson. So you ll gather kids around you again, and explain that there is one more structure for an essay that they may find useful, and that it s called compare/contrast. Tell them they ll know when the prompt asks them to write a compare/contrast essay because it will use the words similar and different, or similarities and differences, or the same and different, or What s in common? and What s different? For instance, if the prompt asks students to explain how puppies and kittens are similar and different, then they know they are being asked to write a compare/contrast. The thesis is always: X and y are somewhat the same and somewhat different. Or, X and y have many similarities and differences. Or, X and y are partly the same and partly different. You may want a transition chart up that leads into the two topic sentences and the two closing sentences for each body paragraph. It might look like this: Examples of how x and y are similar include... This shows how x and y are similar. Examples of how x and y are different include... This shows how x and y are different. And/or: On the one hand, x and y are similar because... This shows how x and y are similar. On the other hand, x and y are different because... This shows how x and y are different. If you need examples of prompts and texts for compare/contrast essays, you can use the same texts you ve already used, but make a new prompt for those texts. Then kids don t have to read fresh texts on this busy day. They can reread with the lens of compare/contrast. For the rest of the week, you may look at the prompts and texts for old tests on the NYSED website, or you may write new prompts for familiar texts. For example, if you use the fourth-grade prompt from 2010, or the sixth-grade prompt from 2010, but turn each into a compare/contrast essay, you might rewrite these to read: Write an essay in which you compare how a larva becomes a butterfly and how a tadpole becomes a frog. What s the same about how they grow and change? What s different? Write an essay in which you compare what it s like to be a successful miner and what it s like to be an unsuccessful miner. What experiences do they have in common? What makes them different? You ll send your kids off, then, to finish rehearsing with a partner and to write a fastdraft. Watch for how they write a clear thesis, and how they describe both similarities and differences. Typical trouble arises when kids describe only the similarities or only the differences. Watch as well for how they are carrying forward your prior teaching A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

150 the expectation that they ll write topic sentences, that they ll paragraph, that they ll use text details by quoting the texts directly. x Tip: Remind students to read the prompt, always, before reading or rereading the passages! Session XII: Using what we know about revision to improve our fast-draft essays In this session, you may want a chart that has Qualities of Strong Essays up, which includes: Introduction states a thesis in one sentence. Includes the authors and titles of the two texts if that s appropriate (it has to make sense!). Body Paragraph One supports the thesis and uses evidence from at least one text. Begins with a transitional topic sentence such as One example of... and closes with This shows... Includes specific text details! Might quote the text exactly. Body Paragraph Two supports the thesis and uses evidence from the other text. Begins with a topic sentence with transition, such as Another example of... or In addition, another example of... or On the other hand... Includes specific text details! Conclusion restates the thesis. Begins with a transition such as And so... or In conclusion... Might mention one or both of the authors or titles again. You ll give students an opportunity to meet with a partner to see what revisions they could make to improve their essays. After they have revised, have them meet with a partner again to compare revisions and to plan how they could raise the quality of their first-draft writing next time. Session XIII: Rehearsing with a partner, planning our essay, and recalling what we know about strong essays, to quickly get a highquality draft going In this session, you ll give students another opportunity to try a compare/contrast essay, only this time instead of rehearsing as a whole class, they ll read the texts alone, rehearse their essay with a partner, go off to write, and then remind each other of essay qualities they want to include as possible on-the-run revision. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

151 Part Four: Teaching Kids to Answer the Questions in the Order They Appear (Or the Parts of the Prompt) Session XIV: Sometimes writers are flummoxed by a complicated test prompt, and the easiest way to write a response is simply to answer all the parts, in order! In this session, you ll show students how sometimes we can t always predict exactly how the test writers will write the questions or prompts, which means that sometimes we re a bit flummoxed by them, and we re not sure how to structure our response. When this happens, a really good safety net, a kind of fallback, is to simply take each question that is asked (or each part of the prompt) and write one paragraph that directly answers, and fully answers, that part or question. We may be able to add in an introduction or conclusion but we may simply go in parts, answering each part as we go, and that will be sufficient. For instance, let s return to the fourth-grade prompt from 2010: Imagine if the girl in Butterfly House had found a tadpole instead of a butterfly. What would the girl have done to take care of the tadpole? Do you think it s more interesting to take care of a butterfly or a tadpole? One way you can show your writers how to do this work is to simply do everything the test writers say. So first, they should imagine the girl in Butterfly House. Once they ve got her in their minds, they should picture that she has found a tadpole! You might imagine this out loud: Okay, so I m imagining that the young girl from Butterfly House has found a tadpole. She s a kind girl, and her grandfather helped her to raise the butterfly. So I m imagining he will help her to raise the tadpole...okay, I can imagine this! She has a tadpole! Then, move to the second part: Next, it says, What would the girl have done to take care of the tadpole? Well, here s where I should write about how the girl would take care of the tadpole, and I should list what a tadpole needs and how to take care of one I can find that in the article about tadpoles. So I ll do that now, I ll write a paragraph about tadpoles. You ll want to do some shared writing with the kids, about tadpoles, at this point. It might look like: To take care of a tadpole, the girl from Butterfly House would have to find a container that would hold water, because tadpoles start in the water. Then she would have to find food for the tadpoles, because once they come out of their eggs, they need to eat! Part of the container would have to be out of the water, because as the tadpoles become frogs, they need to breathe air. And they need to keep eating lots of bugs and worms! A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

152 Then you can have them predict what the next paragraph will be, and hopefully they ll say how butterflies or tadpoles are more interesting! They can rehearse that paragraph with a partner. Then they can go off to write this essay, which is essentially two paragraphs. The second paragraph might look like: It would be more interesting to take care of a tadpole than a butterfly because tadpoles change more as they become frogs than butterflies do. The tadpole is swimming around, growing legs, losing his gills, eating lots of stuff, and then getting out of the water and beginning to breathe! He is moving all the time, changing right in front of your eyes. The butterfly, on the other hand, only has one change. It goes into the cocoon, and then it comes out a butterfly and flies away. It would be a lot more interesting to watch a tadpole growing legs than to stare at a cocoon. x Tip: We re not worrying about introductions at this point we re really concerned mostly that the kids answer the questions. It might be useful to have the kids point to each question and literally put their fingers on the question marks, noticing that there are two. That means they ll have two paragraphs. It s not that paragraphs are magical either it s just an easy check that they answer both parts. You might rewrite the prompt then, so it has three parts: Imagine if the girl in Butterfly House had found a tadpole instead of a butterfly. What would the girl have done to take care of the tadpole? How do tadpoles change as they become frogs? Do you think it s more interesting to take care of a butterfly or a tadpole? Then you can coach your students, or a small group, as they plan the three paragraphs or parts of this essay. If you change the mining prompt, it might become: Imagine that you have gone to look for gold during the Gold Rush. What hardships might you face? What good things might come from your search? Do you think it was worth it to search for gold during the Gold Rush? Session XV: When we answer the questions, we re careful to use evidence from more than one text. Teachers, one possible danger of telling kids to just answer the question is that they might not include any evidence from one of the texts because the specific parts of the prompt won t lead them to this crucial work. Some fourth graders, for instance, wrote a lot about tadpoles, but never quoted or used any evidence from the Butterfly House text, thus making it impossible for them to receive a three or four. Your teaching point might be: Writers, as we look at the questions we ll be answering, we can go back to the texts and put a star in the margin, or underline or circle the parts of the texts we re going to use as evidence for each question. Here s a trick! We have to use some evidence from both texts. So we need to try to make sure we ve A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

153 starred something in each text. Let s try the tadpole and butterfly again, and this time I m going to show you how I underline or star evidence in each text. first part is about how the girl would take care of a tadpole. I ve starred a lot of information about tadpoles from the article. But I haven t used any information from Butterfly House. Hmm...that might be okay, but only if I m going to use some information in the next part. Let s see... maybe, though, I can find something. Maybe I can use this part, here, where her grandfather helps her. I could say that the girl would have a lot to do, but her grandfather would probably help her the way he does in Butterfly House. Do you see how I double-checked to see if I could use evidence from both texts? Also, one paragraph might be easy to answer using one text, and the next might be easy to answer using the second text. Let s try that now. Then you can go on, either as a shared writing experience or letting partners rehearse by starring or underlining their evidence and sharing how they ll get to evidence from both texts. x Tip: Some emergent writers get very confused when the test asks their opinion. They consider their own life, and begin to write about how they had a fish once, which was even more interesting than a butterfly, and a dog is even better, and they ve always wanted a dog. Keep alert for this issue. You may need to pull a small group to teach them, nicely, that the test doesn t care about their personal lives it wants them to use evidence from the texts. Sessions XVI and XVII: Even when we simply answer the questions or parts of the prompts, we can include a conclusion (and maybe an introduction). Teachers, if your writers are very emergent, you may want to skip this and simply give students practice in answering the questions. You can rewrite old prompts so they have more than one part, so they can practice. The goal is for students to become adept at simply moving through, doing part by part. Assuming this work goes well, you can teach this lesson on how to add a conclusion at the end (and possibly an introduction). For a conclusion, simply teach the kids that writers can add a conclusion that gives one insight gained from the texts, or one observation. For instance, a simple conclusion might say: It seems like tadpoles would be a lot harder to care for than butterflies. But either would be fun! I d love to have a pet and I would take good care of it like this girl does. (intro) To take care of a tadpole, the girl from Butterfly House would have to find a container that would hold water, because tadpoles start in the water. Then she would have to find food for the tadpoles, because once they come out of their eggs, they need to eat! A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

154 A slightly more sophisticated example might be: It seems like tadpoles would be a lot harder to care for than butterflies. But either would be fun! Butterfly House and From Tadpole to Frog make me want to raise a pet. I d love to have a pet and I would take good care of it like this girl does. Maybe I could even ask my grandfather to help me. x Tip: Remember what we just said, above, about how the test doesn t want details from the kids personal lives. It s true that making a connection or giving an insight in the conclusion is one way to get credit for making connections, being insightful, or discussing the texts. So if you are teaching this work to all your writers, your stronger writers can write these quick, related-to-the-text conclusions. You may choose to not teach this lesson to some writers, for fear they will use it as an excuse to abandon the text and return to the essay they want to write, about why they want a dog. If you decide to teach students that they can include an introduction, especially if you are teaching this work to all your students, not only your more struggling writers, then you can show them how they may include a simple introduction, usually that just says, Texts x and y teach a lot about... They may mention the genre, and may mention the authors for stronger writers. Then they need to go right into the first part of their essay, answering question one. For instance: The article From Tadpole to Frog and the memoir Butterfly House by Eve Bunting teach a lot about how tadpoles become frogs and larvae become butterflies. To take care of a tadpole, the girl from Butterfly House would have to find a container that would hold water, because tadpoles start in the water. Then she would have to find food for the tadpoles, because once they come out of their eggs, they need to eat! Session XVIII: Some essays call for more than one structure for instance, we may have to take a side, and compare/contrast. Teachers, it s possible that the test will throw some curveballs at the kids. They may have to argue a side, and then compare/contrast as part of that argument. They may have to teach information, but compare/contrast. You can decide if you simply want to tell the kids this, or practice, perhaps even with the kids rewriting some of the prompts so that writers are asked to write with more than one structure. For instance: Write an essay in which you discuss how children can raise butterflies and tadpoles. What s different about these two? There s no way to predict exactly what the test prompts might be. We want our kids, therefore, to be resilient writers who realize they have many writing muscles, and who A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

155 are ready to argue a side, compare/contrast, and teach information all using evidence from texts they read. Part Five: Additional Tips and Nuanced Revision Teachers, we ve given you some possible tips and revision strategies here. You ll need to decide whether your kids need more time with any of the structures above and/or if you want to mix/match them this week. You ll certainly want to make sure that the kids are answering the questions, in full, and that they are using evidence from both texts. Possible Session: Test-takers understand the rubric and can use a modified form of it to plan our revisions and next steps as writers. Teachers, we don t have an exact copy of the rubric for next year, but we do have the ones from last year, and we know the test says the kids will be assessed on meaning, development, organization, and language use. You might make a simple rubric for the kids that has some of these as a possible revision checklist for them, in kid language, and that holds to what you know they have to do to do well. Perhaps: Did I answer all the questions or parts of the prompts? Have I used evidence from both texts? Is it clear I ve used evidence from both texts because I quoted, or said, For example, in text x it says... or According to text x...? Have I stayed away from my own life and used details from the text as evidence? (I may make a connection to my life in my conclusion.) Have I mentioned the title, and perhaps genre or author, of the texts? Do I have a brief introduction and conclusion? Have I made a connection across the texts, or an insight, in my conclusion? Have I made my handwriting as neat as possible, thinking of my reader? Have I checked my spelling so that it is as accurate as possible? Have I included paragraphs so it s easy to make sense of my writing? (These last are not on a mechanics rubric this year. There s no reason to hold your kids to a lower standard of writing, though, than you would normally hold them accountable to. Also, because grading is subjective, it can be hard to give kids credit if it s really hard to even read their writing.) For language use, as in vocabulary, we re unsure about including it in a rubric. Sometimes, when we teach literary language as test prep rather than across a student s development as a reader and writer, the student inserts words in a distracting fashion on the test essay. The article is sparkling, even when it is about the death of a dog, A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

156 for instance. Use your judgment. If you ve been coaching literary or writerly language all along, go ahead. You may not want to spring it on them now just as part of the rubric and test prep, since there is so much to do that is so crucial. Kids who have read a lot will use those words in their writing, in time. x Tip: You want to assess your students autonomy with essay qualities and their rate. Start having kids jot their start and finish time on their papers. Using kid-friendly language, develop a rubric that helps kids assess their own drafts and figure out next steps for improvement. Possible Session: Paraphrasing text details (versus quoting) In this session, you ll revisit the art of paraphrasing. When kids include text details without actually quoting, there are two ways they often go astray. One is that they are not accurate. The text says that kittens only need a little dry food, and they ll write that kittens don t need any dry food. The other way they go astray is that, intending to retell part of the text, they slip into retelling the whole text, and pretty soon, they ve lost their focus on evidence and are now just retelling for a long time. You ll want to show this trouble by demonstrating how easy it is to slip into. Then show your students, for now, how to use a partner to underline and circle the actual details in the text you intend to include, and then to compare afterward what you wrote in your essay to what was in the text. Also show them how to practice an angled retelling of part of a text, trying to say it in two to three lines: In one part of the article, for example, it tells how miners suffered from exposure and cold. It was very snowy and windy in Alaska, where lots of miners were digging. Some could lose fingers and toes! Then begin to keep going, but have a partner stop you after three sentences. Of course, partners can carry forward the practice of debating and defending what the best text details are for their essay, as well. Tip: Watch and listen and read over your students drafts to see how successful kids are with paraphrasing versus quoting. Some essays seem to call for writers to list details rather than quote. But sometimes, it s better for students to quote because then the detail is more obviously text-based. To make this clear even if they are paraphrasing, be sure they insert the phrase, According to the text... Some Other Sessions for Differentiation You ll especially want to differentiate for students that you are trying to move from a 1 to a 2 or a 2 to a 3. For these students, you ll have to keep practicing just answering the questions. Chances are the text levels will be hard as well for these students, so you ll have to keep their morale up and show them how to try to answer the question even if they don t understand every word of the text. Some possible lessons, for large or small groups, might include those that follow. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

157 Extensions for Strong Writers Previewing the essay prompt and making conclusions about what kind of essay is being asked for, and thus how they ll likely structure their essay. Planning our text evidence so we can insert a forecasting sentence in our introduction that describes our upcoming parts and evidence. For example: There are three ways that miners faced challenges during the Gold Rush. They faced physical, psychological, and emotional challenges. Or, Miners during the Gold Rush were cold, competitive, and lonely. Incorporating literary language and punctuation. Miners during the Gold Rush faced significant challenges. They were cold... they were competitive... and they were lonely. Making connections and insights in the conclusion by making a connection to the world, another text, or our lives, or by describing a lesson the texts teach us. And also, mining was hard. I used to think that digging for gold would be glorious, but it feels as hard as any other job maybe harder! Or, These two texts show that gold doesn t necessarily bring happiness it may bring hardship. Some transitions for starting these connections and insights might include: x I used to think..., but now... x This makes me realize... x This reminds me of... x These texts teach that... x These texts demonstrate that... x A lesson I learned from these texts is that... Incorporating higher-order comparative transitions such as therefore, in spite of, despite, whereas, nevertheless. Scaffolds for Writers Who Struggle Putting aside a planned structure and simply writing essays in which the writer answers the questions, in the order in which they are posed, trying to write a new paragraph for each question and answer for each part of the answer. Circling or starring at least three places across the two texts where we ll include specific evidence, and checking that we have circled or starred something in each text. Keeping an eye on time and having a predictable time by which we want to have finished reading the texts. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

158 Revisiting the short-answer responses to incorporate these details in our essay. x Tip: For writers of any category, it s helpful to remind students that these tests are all about being smart test-takers. Students should often take the side of the argument that they can actually prove. They should try for the simple response with clear evidence rather than the super-complicated idea that wanders. Another tip: Remind test-takers that the test is not interested in their own life details, and they won t have the opportunity to use details from their lives as evidence to support their ideas. At most, they can turn to their own lives in their conclusions, to make a connection or insight. If they go to their lives before then, they may never come out. Just answer the questions, using evidence from the texts. Questions from Prior ELA Exams Example Questions: Thematic and Informational Boxes and Bullets Fourth Grade 2009 The Swan in Swan Song and Jerry in After the Error both get into trouble because of the way they behave. How does Swan s behavior get her into trouble? How does Jerry s behavior get him into trouble? Explain what you can learn from the results of their behavior. Fourth Grade 2006 In the story The Stolen Moon, the bear and the Moon want the moon for different reasons. Explain what each character wants and why. How does the information from the Sun and the Moon show that it is impossible for the characters to get what they want? Fifth Grade 2011 In 1625, the Dutch founded New Amsterdam, later called New York City. The Dutch controlled New Amsterdam for about forty years, but they influenced culture in New York for centuries. An important leader of New Amsterdam was Peter Stuyvesant. Write about the ways Peter Stuyvesant improved life for the Dutch town of New Amsterdam. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

159 Sixth Grade 2010 Think about the difficulties faced by gold miners in Gold Fever and Gold Miners Tale. Write an essay in which you discuss the hardships of life as a gold miner or a gold rusher. Think about how Thinking Like Edison and The Keyboard Fits Like a Glove both describe different types of inventions. Write an article in which you tell how reading these articles might encourage a reader to become an inventor. Argument Point/Counterpoint Fourth Grade 2010 Imagine if the girl in the Butterfly House had found a tadpole instead of a butterfly. What would the girl have done to take care of the tadpole? Do you think it is more interesting to take care of a butterfly or a tadpole? Sixth Grade 2009 The main characters in Climbin Ryan and Natalya s Happy Hugged Hens helped other people in different ways. Would you prefer to help the way Ryan does or the way Natalya does? Sixth Grade 2007 The authors of Home Afloat and Living at the Bottom of the World both live unusual lives. Write an essay in which you explain which lifestyle you would prefer and why. Eighth Grade 2010 The authors of Rufus and The Gift of Reason are both affected by the animals they write about. How does the author of Rufus change the way he or she thinks about Rufus? How does the author of The Gift of Reason change the way he thinks of animals? Which author seems more moved by the experience? A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

160 Eighth Grade 2007 Write an essay in which you describe the benefits of a car that can run on air, or the benefits of a clothes washer or a clothes dryer. In this essay include your opinion of which invention might have a greater impact on people s lives and why. Compare and Contrast Fourth Grade 2008 The passage What Kind of Jobs Can Dogs Do? names three dogs that were heroes. Think about York in the story Well Done York. Choose one of the dogs in the story and tell how the dog and York were alike. Then tell how the dog and York were different. Sixth Grade 2008 Pilots Harriet Quimby and Bessie Coleman were both brave women who faced many challenges. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the challenges that each faced. Eighth Grade 2009 Bill Watterson in Drawing Calvin and Hobbes and Roald Dahl in Lucky Break discuss their approaches to their work. Write an essay in which you discuss the similarities and differences between the work habits of Watterson and Dahl. Eighth Grade 2006 Adam Grimm and Michael Schuman used their creative abilities for different purposes. Write an essay in which you explain the difference in the boys motives for using their creative abilities. Then describe how each boy s creativity led to success. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

161 UNIT EIGHT Poetry MAY If you turn the pages of your students writing notebooks, you may spot poems scribbled in the margins. Some students may have an independent poetry life, where they collect poems in the back of their notebook. We take this energy, these secret lives of poets, and use it as fuel to reprise a stand-alone unit of poetry. These secret poets, and all your latent poets, will creep or fly out of their cocoons with an invitation back into a poetry unit. We anticipate many classrooms bursting into life by giving students the opportunity to write poetry. This spark occurs, perhaps, because so many young writers, if given the chance, would and can easily write poems. Poets can look into their world and see the value of poetry. Where music, poetry slams, and peer approval for the cleverest word rhyme are valued in an adolescent s daily life, engagement is certain. We can build on this natural enthusiasm and pair it with classroom methods and activities, like choral reading. The unit culminates as a poet would by collecting a bundle of their best work to share your young poets can cull their best pieces and create a chapbook, or personal or class anthology, and put them on display or organize a reading. The Common Core State Standards weave poetry throughout various reading standards and suggest poems within the sample text list, but we were as surprised as you to see that poetry was not written as its own writing standard. Luckily, we have had conversations with writers of the Common Core and were able to raise this very question, Where s poetry? Sue Pimental, the lead writer of the literacy Common Core State Standards, explained to us that at one point in time the team was considering poetry writing as part of the document, but in the end felt concerned the genre would be squashed by putting specific expectations on it. She directed us to the language of the Standards introduction (page 6) to assure us that poetry does have a rightful place A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

162 and that not including it was out of concern for preserving the genre and not a comment on its importance: While the Standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers. The aim of the Standards is to articulate the fundamentals, not to set out an exhaustive list or a set of restrictions that limits what can be taught beyond what is specified herein. Clearly, the more our students write and read across genres, the stronger their ability to think critically about them. And beyond the standards, no teacher of writing can ignore the power that opening our students to the writing of poetry provides. A few texts will help you imagine many ways to teach students to write poetry. You may want: A Note Slipped Under the Door: Teaching from Poems We Love, by Nick Flynn and Shirley McPhillips; Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, by Georgia Heard; Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises, by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford; Knock at a Star: A Child s Introduction to Poetry, by X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy; Looking to Write: Students Writing Through the Visual Arts, by Mary Ehrenworth; and Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in Tiny Packages, by Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parsons. You ll also want some good collections of poetry written by adolescents to inspire your students. Some teachers have valued You Hear Me? (this book has graphic content please check with your administrator) and Things I Have to Tell You (again, please check), both edited by Betsy Franco, and Paint Me Like I Am, edited by WritersCorps. You ll want collections of contemporary poems as well, including perhaps Poetry 180, a collection of poems for high school students, edited by Billy Collins; and Honey I Love, by Eloise Greenfield; This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort, edited by Georgia Heard; and Walter Dean Myers s Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices. You also will want collections of Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni and Billy Collins and Lucille Clifton and Mary Oliver, and canonical poets such as Robert Frost and Walt Whitman. If you are seeking other poetry resources, you may want to explore the Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization it includes a children s poetry section, including children s poet laureates. Again, we have a more extensive list for poetry resources on our website, and we welcome your suggestions for must-read titles. A unit of study on writing poetry can teach young writers to read and write with an ear appreciating the pace and rhythm of words, and to care not only about their topics, but also about the way they write about those topics. Poetry can teach adolescents to deliberately craft language, trying things on the page with purpose, hoping to create special effects. Poetry can encourage students to see the world with fresh eyes to describe exactly what they see and hear and feel. For instance, a young poet may see an empty plastic bag clinging to a bare tree, and remark, That bag is lonely. Writers discover the beauty of figurative language not in a fixed or rote way, but rather in an experiential way. We do this by experiencing the world around us. Poetry helps teach young writers that a small craft move can create a big impact. And if adolescents experiment with this in their writing, imagine what they can pick up on in their reading! A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

163 Through a unit of study on poetry, students become meaning-makers, both inside their own writing and with the texts they read. You ll probably plan on your students taking a day or two to read poetry and to collect seed ideas for poems, and then they ll be out of the starting gate, taking little sparks of inspiration, and, from those sparks, creating poems. Some writers will work all day on one longer, more developed poem; others will write five poems in their first day of writing poetry. Either way, imagine your students collecting a portfolio of poems they revisit later, so that if you teach a minilesson on endings it could be that half the class decides, that day, to reread and rework the endings on a dozen poems, while others start new poems, or work on white space across their texts, or write their way to an ending just one on that day. From the start of this unit, it will help to think about what it is your students will produce at the end. Most teachers suggest students each create an anthology of poems, somehow organized in a cohesive way, which may include poems by published authors and by each other. It can help to suggest students choose a topic and then write and collect poems that circle that topic. You may decide that at the end of your unit, you ll want to celebrate poetry with a performance. Gathering Materials: Living with Poetry As you start, you might say a word or two about the way this week will look a little different, and what great gifts come from looking closely at poems. You might say how it will pay huge dividends for the other areas of our reading lives. You might explain how you, as a reader of poetry, look at books and even look at the world in a different, grander way after sitting briefly with a poem. You probably will not need to take much more time than that, since students at this point most likely will not need more elaboration on kinds of poetry or poetry s difference from prose. You ll want to set the stage for poetry, creating an environment where children read, hear, and speak poetry. Seeing, reciting, and sharing poems gets children excited to write poetry and it ratchets up their writing to a higher level, as they pay attention to the craft of poets. Perhaps you will make baskets of poems and place them around the room so that children can read poetry during free moments across the day. You may create poetry-reading corners in your classroom library, and poetry-writing centers. Certainly you will want to display books of poetry and favorite poems in your classroom library. Because you will want to devote writing time mostly to writing, it will be important to send poetry home, just to get a bit more time in reading poems. Stress the importance that poetry plays in our conversations with others; poetry naturally sparks conversations with others. Ask students to read and talk about a poem with a family member or friend, to perhaps talk about the feelings the poem evokes or about images the poem creates in his or her mind s eye. It is so important to give your students poems they absolutely love stars to which they want to hitch themselves. Adolescents will love a poem especially if they have lived their way into it. Consider orchestrating the class to perform choral readings of A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

164 a few poems perhaps reading those poems in different ways, trying to interpret them through the process. This is one concrete way to let poetry become a spoken word, a spoken art form, where students listen to the ways poetry evolves over multiple readings. As the unit unfolds, you may suggest children go on a search for the poems that speak to them especially, for poems they can lay alongside their own work so they can include a few selected published poems in their own anthologies. When a young writer has found a poem that speaks to the poem she is writing, she might bring the published poem as well as her draft to a conversation with her partner. Partners cannot only talk about poems they can also read them together, performing them chorally. They can do this with their own rough drafts of poems and also with poems they find in books Paul Fleischman s Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices or Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices can help children develop ideas for how they might read their own poetry. In addition to giving students poems they ll absolutely love, you ll want to give them an awareness that the poems were written with purpose, by authors who were deliberately trying to create certain effects. This will help your adolescents try to create their own deliberate effects as they write. During the first two days on the unit when writers are simply immersing themselves in poetry, and later, when you and your students return to poems to study how they re written, be sure to help students ask, Why might the writer have written it this way? and What is it in the poem that makes me feel this way? Some teachers jot these observations onto a chart, one perhaps titled Poets Sometimes... If your students notice that a poet compares two things in a new or surprising way, or if they notice a poet writes in other languages, those sorts of observations can go onto such a chart. This helps students see the intention behind what poets try to do with their words. Teach Writers Strategies for Generating Poems Of course, you want children to be reading poems as poets, so the most important thing you can do is to get them writing. Imagine that by the third day of your writing workshop, they ll be writing up a storm, some writing one poem, some writing several poems. This doesn t mean they aren t also still reading poetry poems will be woven into minilessons, into partner time, and you may suggest students always keep a poem by their side as they write. But they ll be reading poetry as insiders, as writers of it. When teaching kids strategies for generating poems, you ll want to remind them that they can come to school as they are, ready to write. Life itself can be a source of poetry. Writing homework on that first day of your workshop may be not to just read poems, but to live poems, to see that poems hide in the corners of their everyday lives. You will probably want to remind students that they can find significance in the ordinary details of their lives, gathering entries and images and lists that might later be turned into publishable texts. You may teach them to look carefully at everyday objects and pay close attention to their surprising beauty. You may also teach students that poets also find poems in writing we ve done already in our notebooks full of narrative entries, and essay thought patches. They can look inward and outward, focusing A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

165 on the worm on the sidewalk, the vibration of their cell phone, or the place in their heart that is filled by their family dog. You may teach them that they can look for: moments of trouble or surprising beauty, thoughts that seem urgent and universal, images that are surprising or particularly clear, language that is vivid and engaging. You may emphasize free-verse poetry as an easy way to get started. Teach students to aim first for meaning, and for finding a way to describe what matters with words that will make the reader see the world in a new way. Through these mentor poems and kids own lives, you might also teach children what poems do. Poems often tell a story. You might teach writers to reread their writing notebooks to find small moment jottings that could be rewritten as a poem. Poems also often share feelings. You might encourage writers to begin writing with moments and memories of strong feeling, whether it be pride, regret, joy, loss. Many poems are the study of an individual poems help us understand people. You might teach students to begin a poem about a specific person who is important to them. Some poems send messages about social issues and the injustices of the world. Adolescents can write poems about issues of fairness, bullying, belonging. Of course, the loftier the idea of a poem, the more the poem needs to be grounded in something tangible, such as an image, a moment, a person. As soon as students begin to write poems, you will want to teach into that writing, lifting the quality of their drafts and inviting them to revise, revise, revise. There is no particular sequence to the various things you ll highlight, and the important thing is that your students collect a repertoire of things to think about as they write poems, and draw on all of these, repeatedly, as they draft and revise and revise and revise poem after poem. One thing to teach poets is that it helps to read drafts of poems out loud. There is a difference in sound and meaning between fry and sizzle, shine and sparkle, cry and weep. Ideally, children will hear how the right choice of words can make a poem funny or wistful or sad. You might go back to one of our own mentor texts that you read aloud and look again with your class at how long vowel sounds can have a very different effect than short, choppy, hard consonant sounds. They might also revise for the sounds of their poems by looking again at the choices they are making with repetition and punctuation, both of which can change the way lines and stanzas sound. Students can try to create sounds in their poem to further express their thoughts and feelings. The sound in a poem is created not only by word choice but also by layout on the paper and although it may seem odd to focus on this early, seize the moment to make children aware of the fact that poems look different on the page. Young poets will learn to think about where to break a line so that the sound, rhythm, and look of each line achieves the overall tone and meaning that the poet wishes to convey. They can explore ways that poets use the white space around the words to pause, take a breath, and make something stand out from all the other words. We can think about how the length of the poem and the size and style of the font connect to the ideas, images, or stories in the text. For example, if we write a long poem about a small object, we let the reader know that we think there s more to this object than meets the eye. All of this, of course, can be captured in the Poets Sometimes... chart in your room. This is a A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

166 good time to start layering in more academic vocabulary for reading, writing, and thinking about poetry. For example, if on the chart one of your students had said, Poets sometimes create a pattern with rhyming words, you might explain to the class how poets have a word for that technique; they call it creating a rhyme scheme. You might then add the word lines next to the kid-friendly phrase on the chart. Some vocabulary you might introduce into your discussions might include: Line breaks Poets may use line breaks to create a visual and rhythmic pause or to place a slight emphasis on the last word in a line. Poets may try breaking the lines in different places, reading poems out loud or to a partner and deciding where pauses would be appropriate and which words are worth emphasizing at the ends of lines. Stanza breaks These are the chapters, section markers, or paragraph breaks of poems; they signal that some kind of change has taken place. Poets may try out different stanza breaks, always thinking about the purpose the break is serving. Different kinds of changes to consider; a shift in an idea, a new voice speaking, time passing, or a new image. Form/rhyme scheme After poets have tried a formal structure, they might push themselves to use the form in ways that support what they are really trying to say. For example, in poems with patterns of repetition, writers make sure that the words or lines they choose to repeat are significant to the core images and ideas in the poem. As a revision, poets can try different words or lines until the most appropriate ones are discovered. Similarly, rhyming words catch attention. So if young writers are working on rhyme scheme, you may teach them to try out many possible rhymes until they are sure the words they ve chosen are worth the extra attention they will get. Shape Poets can write poems whose shape matches either an idea or an image that they are conveying. Concrete poems literally take the shape of their subjects; other poems take on a metaphorical shape by moving down the page in ways that suggest a kind of movement, a form in nature, or a physical structure. White space Poets may use the blank space on the page to support ideas or images in the poem: the space on the page can be a metaphorical setting for the poem. If there is a lot of white space left on the page, it might suggest a setting of emptiness or silence; if the words are crowded onto the page, the poem might suggest a setting of chaos or noise. Alliteration Poets can write phrases or whole lines that use the same starting sound as a way to call attention to that phrase or line. Poets think about the tone of the poem in the relevant section and choose starting sounds that match that tone. Hard sounds might indicate a harsh or unforgiving setting (The car crashed, careening in crazy curlicues); soft sounds might indicate a soothing or comforting feeling (The sea sighed, sifting across the sand). A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

167 Onomatopoeia Poets choose words that sound like what they mean. Poets search for the perfect word for an action or description by trying out many verbs and adjectives and by searching for words that have a double-edged meaning (The roach scuttled across the floor). As a community, the class might publicly display onomatopoeic words that were discovered when reading and students might try them in their work. Simile, Metaphor, Imagery Poets choose simile and metaphor when they want to compare two things in surprising, unconventional ways. Poets can write images the same way they created the images in other units of study, through envisioning. In poetry, however, often an image or metaphor undergirds a poem and is central to its implicit meaning or the residue that lingers when the poem is finished. As students revise their poems, one of the things you ll help them to realize is that writing is more like playing in clay than inscribing in marble. It is important for writers to try out many different versions of their poems, in part because they can then become accustomed to thinking, What effect does this craft move make? That one? Poets make changes to better express what they most want to convey to the reader. Ideally you can help writers see that the act of revision brings new and more powerful ideas. What poets want to say may change or evolve as they experiment with the way they are saying it. Once students have many beginnings and first tries of poems in their notebooks, we teach them to commit to some of these, and to draft and revise. Of course, you can let writers know that when they are revising, when they are trying other ways to say something, they can draw upon strategies poets through the ages have used. For example, poets find it helpful to try to convey meaning through metaphor. You can find a metaphor in a poem. Say you take Mother to Son by Langston Hughes. This poem can help you show students that poets don t just compare things that most people think of as similar poets often try out really surprising comparisons. For instance, examine what Hughes wrote: Life for me ain t been no crystal stair. It s had tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up, and places with no carpet on the floor Bare. Help students learn how to create mind pictures by placing an ordinary thing up next to something it s never been compared to before (life and crystal stair): The sky is big and limitless, like the first day of school. Of course, any part of a poem can be reconsidered. For instance, the title of a poem can be reconsidered, too. A writer can often enhance the meaning of a poem by setting readers up to expect one thing and then taking the poem in a totally new direction. If the poem is called Family and then it is an observation of a pile of worms, that title will have added a whole new layer to the poem! What if it was, instead, called, Rainy Days, Garden Helpers, Before the Flowers. In the same way, you can teach writers to explore possible endings for their poems. Teach them that the last moments of a poem are like a gift to your reader, how they usually leave a last special image or often contain the poet s big idea or comment about everything else they wrote about, and how this can be surprising or beautiful A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

168 or moving. Just as in narrative and essay writing, young poets will want to try out multiple ways that their endings could go. Preparing to Publish: Making Poems Public and Carrying Lessons Forward to Other Kinds of Writing As the unit approaches celebration, you may invite your poets to make choices about how they will share their poems with others. In some classrooms, this takes the form of decorating and posting poems in public places, throughout the school and the neighborhood. You can also create opportunities for students to read and perform poems, both by student-written and published mentor poems. These performances can occur not only in the classroom but also in the larger community. In other classrooms, you might mail individual poems to people who would truly benefit to hear them, or be grateful for receiving them. In still other rooms, as suggested earlier, it can take the form of poetry anthologies. These anthologies might involve students looking across their different poems and considering how some of them might fit together. Some poets look across common themes. Young writers might notice that many of their poems are about family, or about feeling proud, or about an important place. Partners are very helpful during this phase of the writing process. Questions to ask a writer to help him or her choose poems to publish include: Which of your poems do you like the best? Why? What are some different ways you could group your poems together? What kind of poetry writing did you enjoy the most? Which images do you love? As poets assemble their anthologies, they might also decide to include the mentor poems they used or other published poems that fit within the same theme. This might also be a good opportunity to invite children to carry some big discoveries about themselves as writers into different genres. A writer might go back to an entry from, say, September or October that fits with the same theme, and revise that entry, considering not only the meaning but also the sound of their sentences. An excerpt of this could find its way into their anthology. In addition to students publishing anthologies, you may want to consider incorporating a performance aspect to your celebration, where students pick a poem they have written and a favorite mentor poem to memorize and perform during the celebration. Poetry is multi-sensory; create a celebration that reflects the many dimensions of poetry. Regardless of how students choose to publish, we remember that the secret of poetry is the heart. Poets write from the heart. They teach us to look at the world differently. They help us to celebrate small beauties. They inspire us to be outraged over A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

169 injustices great and small. And so, in this unit, we always hold a focus on the work that poets do in the world, the way that poets love the world through words, the way poets sustain us in hard times, the way poets express outrage and grief and joy. Carrying Craft from Poetry into Our Writing Lives I went to the school of poetry in order to learn to write prose. Grace Paley We d like to suggest that as you teach your students ways to write poetry, you also consider how to transfer what your students discover about their own voices as writers into other forms. For instance, you might find yourself saying things like, Wow, now that you know that as a poet you can use punctuation to change how a line sounds, do you realize that you can do that in essays and stories, too? You will probably encourage some students to flip back into their notebooks to earlier entries and try this out quickly, to get a feel for how their craft choices are growing and developing. And as you think about their final products, which in many classrooms become poetry anthologies, you might even suggest to students that they include excerpts from other kinds of writing ones that they have revisited or newly created, showing off what they have learned through writing poetry or that they use their poetic sensibility to continue revising in other genres. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

170 UNIT NINE Independent Writing Launching a Summer of Writing JUNE Independent writing projects have the power to imbue a classroom with energy and excitement, and can be just the thing a reluctant writer needs to fall in love with writing. We know that volume and choice in writing are necessary for our students growth, and this unit offers a unique opportunity to broaden choice for our students while teaching them to truly own the writing process, creating an independence that they will cherish and that will serve them well as writers for years to come. The Common Core State Standards expect that students can adapt their writing to their audience by choosing words, information, structures, and formats that conform to the conventions of the discipline in which they are writing. A study of independent writing supports our students in becoming even more skilled and fluent in writing across genres. Nothing could be more important as the school year comes to a close, and with this in mind we hope to develop our students summer writing lives. The idea of independent writing can make teachers anxious, since it can be difficult to imagine thirty students working in different genres and in different places of the writing cycle all at the same time. While the chaos that this image can bring to mind can be a deterrent to trying this unit, rest assured that there are structures you can put in place that may make this unit one of the most rewarding, for both you and your students. It is helpful to remember that independent writing does not equal writing with thoughtless abandon or foregoing all that has been learned about writing throughout the year. Independence doesn t mean you get to do whatever you want, says Carl Anderson. It means you get to do what writers do. This means thinking through ideas in generating and rehearsing, planning, drafting, revising, editing, and A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

171 publishing. In this unit, then, you need to teach students to make careful choices about genre and topic and to go through the writing process on their own. You will often want to refer to what writers do, since using that language will help ground them throughout the process. Some teachers limit their students project ideas to the ones the class has studied so far: personal narrative, essay, persuasive writing, and so on. Other teachers decide that students can choose from any genre, from cookbooks to graphic novellas, as long there are mentor texts to support the students choice. There is an energy that comes with opening up the choice in this way that can tap into an intrinsic motivation in your students. Either way, you will just want to decide which way you will go ahead of time. You will see that just as the students have lots of choice in this unit, you too will have lots of choice along the way as you determine the course of the unit. Decide How You Will Begin the Unit To kick off the unit, there are different ways you can begin. You will want to begin with a minilesson that will get your whole class started on collecting ideas for their projects. One option is to have students start with genres. They could brainstorm all the different genres they know, including ones they have written across the year, as well as others (if you are going that route). You can encourage them to think about the genres of books they love reading best, as well as other genres that may not come as quickly to mind, such as how-to pamphlets for video games or illustrated cookbooks. After determining a genre they wish to explore, they can then consider topics. Alternately, students can begin by considering topics, or their writing territories, and consider different genres from there. You may also want to encourage them to think about upcoming occasions, such as birthdays or graduations, and choose to write something for that purpose. Remember, too, that the teacher is editor in this unit you can give thumbs up or down to a project idea. Once they have considered genres and topics, you will need to teach into independence in the writing process. Because you will not want to say, Today is the day you will pick your seed idea, you will need to incorporate ways for students to monitor their progress independently. You may want to pull out old charts so that students can remind themselves what they know about generating and rehearsing ideas. In this way they can choose the strategies that best suit their genre as they get started. The use of mentor texts is crucial to the success of an independent publishing unit, and you will want to get mentor texts into students hands early on in the unit. You will likely need to teach your students both how to choose a mentor text and how to use one. Colleen Cruz s Independent Writing is a helpful resource for this unit, and the chapter on using mentor texts is free to the public on Heinemann s website Going there will help you consider how to structure the mentor text work. Once students have chosen genres, topics, and have mentor texts to support their work, you will need to teach kids how writers structure their time as they work toward A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

172 a deadline. Some teachers give a due date for final drafts; some also give other guidelines, such as requiring two drafts. This could be minilesson work that informs all of your students writing, or you could decide to do this in conferences or small groups, allowing you to differentiate according to your different students needs. Whatever you choose, you will want to decide how you will keep the students working productively throughout the unit. Giving students a blank calendar on which they can plot the course of their writing cycle has been helpful to many teachers. If you are giving your students a final due date (or if they are coming up with that themselves), one option is to have them plot that date on the calendar first and work backwards from there. Students can determine (on their own or with your support in conferences or small groups) how many days they will devote to rehearsing, drafting, revising, and editing. Some students may decide they need, say, two days for rehearsing while others may decide they need more. You will just want to make sure that they include the different steps along the way, while leaving it up to them to determine how long different steps will take. Support Interdependence between Your Writers You will find that the need for interdependence will be at an all-time high in this unit. You will want to teach students how to be sounding boards for each other s writing ideas. This will mean helping each other to see the positives, as well as the areas where things might need to be refined. You might also find that partners can serve as an invaluable accountability source. No one keeps a student on track quite like another student. Another way to capitalize on students working with their peers (a collaboration that most certainly supports independence) is to create a bulletin board in your classroom for Help Wanted and Help Offered. That way, students can post areas in which they would like help from their peers and areas in which they consider themselves expert. That is, one student may post her name on the Help Offered board as an expert editor, another as an illustrator, another as a speller or expert on developing characters. You may also find it generative to have students form clubs with other students who are writing within similar genres. There are several minilessons you may want to consider, picking the ones that feel most important to the needs of your students and considering the time you have for the unit itself. When planning their pieces, students should think about the significance of their topic; perhaps the theme, what they want to say, the point they are trying to make, or what they wish to communicate. Additionally, a minilesson on considering what the final product will look like, and one on how to know when you are done, may help in the final stages of the unit. Just as in any unit of study, you will want to give your students an opportunity to celebrate their published pieces. If other classes across your grade are publishing independent projects, you may wish to collaborate with those teachers and have a A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

173 publishing celebration that invites students to see the work of students in other classes. You may wish to have students decide where in the school or outside of the school their published pieces belong and help them to make that happen. The students will surely be proud of the writing they do in this unit, so celebrating their work, their independence, and growth as writers will surely be rewarding. A CURRICULAR PLAN FOR THE WRITING WORKSHOP, GRADE 7,

174 ADDITIONAL WRITING RESOURCES BY Lucy Calkins and Colleagues from the Readingand Writing Project Units of Study for Primary Writing provides easy access to the magic of Lucy and her colleagues teaching by presenting minute-by-minute, live-from-the-classroom coaching as they show you how to take children from oral and pictorial story telling into fluent writing. Grades K 2 / / 2003/9books+1CD-ROM/$ Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3 5 offers crystal-clear advice on how to lead strong, efficient writing workshops in upperelementary classrooms. Organized within a carefully crafted spiraling curriculum, these six sequential units of study help you teach narrative and expository writing with increasing power and intimacy. Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades / 2006/7books+1CD-ROM/ $ SPECIAL OFFER: Calkins Units of Study Bundle / Units of Study K 2 + Units of Study 3 5 / $ value for $ Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3 5 chronicles the teaching moves and language Lucy and her colleagues use to teach their students how to read with increasing engagement and sophistication. Born out of a community of practice, this series provides a rigorous and responsive course of study for students and powerful and empowering professional development for teachers. Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades / 2010/9books+2DVDs +1CD-ROM/$ Units of Study for Teaching Reading Trade Book Pack / 2010 / 8 Trade Books / $60.00 SPECIAL OFFER: Units of Study for Teaching Reading Bundle / 2010 / UoS +Trade Pack / $ SAVE $30.00 To learn more, visit



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