On December 13th, I published the first five revision tips to try with your students. This week we'll focus on the last five revision tips. Since many people are celebrating holidays right now, many generous authors and illustrators have donated copies of books for you to start your own classroom's writer's workshop basket. Leave a comment before 2019 ends on this post, including the school you work at, to be entered to win these awesome books! Winner will be announced in the January third blogpost. Many thanks to Melissa Stewart, Sarah Brannen, April Jones Prince, Jamilah-Thompkins Bigelow, Kim Norman, Avi, Jessie Oliveros and Jeannine Atkins for their generosity!
Revision Tip Number Six:
Once students know about the magic rule of three, they'll start to notice it in most of the books they read. ReadWriteThink has a lesson plan about the magic rule of three here.
My favorite rule of three happens in Elana K. Arnold's Far From Fair. The main character, Odette, can't believe they're selling their house for a brown rv motorhome which she describes as, "Obnoxiously ugly, emabarassingly ugly, epically ugly." Pairing a different adjective with the word ugly three times makes readers feel Odette's despair. Many eleven-year-olds can relate to being embarassed by their family's home. Even some almost seventeen-year-olds, like mine, are too mortified to bring their friends home because they fear their abodes are too different from everyone elses. I digress. This first page is a powerful way to introduce students to the magic rule of three, and they will clamor for a chance to add this book to their book bag.
Fox by Margaret Wild is one of the Lucy Calkins' mentor texts. It has several magic rules of three, and it's also great for sensory details. Plus, if you use Calkins, hopefully it's a book you already have in hand!
I also already mentioned Avi's Poppy and Ereth. In addition to speaking in alliterative phrases, most of Ereth's phrases are also magic rules of three. Plus, they're hilarious. Reading a dialogue exchange between Poppy and Ereth is a great way to elevate the mood in the classroom.
Revision Tip Number Seven: Start in the Middle of the Action
Okay, I guess Fox is a great book, because you can use it for three of these revision tips. No wonder why Lucy Calkins picked it as a mentor text! If you're like me, you're read student narratives that spend five pages describing the character waking up, and one page of the rest of the action in list format. Fox is a great book to use as a model with students to show them that the action arc needs to start right away. Dog rescues Magpie, who has a charred wing, from a forest fire. But, she doesn't want his help because she'll never be able to fly again. Over time, Magpie and Dog develop a tender friendship that Fox later attempts to destroy.
Another book most upper elementary rooms probably have in hand is A Bridge to Terabithia. I know this is an old book(almost as old as me), but sometimes it's nice to use a book you already have so you can avoid a trip to the library or emptying one's purse for yet another book. It's also a great story. Plus, Katherine Paterson is my childhood hero. One day she was at An Unlikely Story, Jeff Kinney's bookstore, and I froze. One of my writer friends had to take me by the arm to meet her. I finally did, but I couldn't find my voice. I did shake her hand though. Anyway, I love the fact that it starts with a sound that leads to action. You can point the sound out as a way to start with a sound as well as an action hook.
Revision Tip Number Eight: Meaningful Dialogue
Too often student work lacks dialogue, or if it has dialogue, it's not meaningful. The dialogue reads something like this:
"How are you?"
"Good. How are you?"
You get the picture. Hopefully, any published novel has meaningful dialogue, but here are three of my favorites. Richard Peck is one of my favorite novelists. The last book he wrote before he died is The Best Man. He once said, "Nothing important was ever said sitting down," which is why he always wrote his dialogue standing up. Kids love to hear this because it reminds them that writing doesn't have to be done at a desk. It should be done wherever you can most connect to your emotions. You can watch the YouTube video below to hear him read a humorous dialogue exchange between Grandma Dowdel and housebound Aunt Madge, which is from his A Long Way from Chicago series.
Unlike the A Long Way from Chicago series, The Best Man is realistic, not historical, fiction. So, there are more entry points for today's fourth grade readers. The plot also centers around the main character's, Archer, realization that his uncle is gay.
Varian Johnson is another master of dialogue. The Parker Inheritance should be in every elementary school alongside Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game, as well as be incorporated into every Civil Rights unit. Although The Parker Inheritance focuses on race relations, one of the main character's is also dealing with her parents' divorce and the knowledge that her father has a boyfriend.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes takes a hard look at modern day racial injustice and implicit bias as well as race relations during the Civil Rights. This book has the most powerful last page I've ever read in my life. It's message is quite clear, it's up to each one of us, everyone who is living, to make the world a better place. Listen to Jewell Parker Rhodes talk about Ghost Boys below.
Revision Tip NumberNine: Vary Sentence Beginings
Challenge students to begin each sentence in a paragraph with a different word. Not only will it keep them busy, it nudges them to make some changes they might not otherwise make. In order to start each sentence with a different word, they may have to flip the sentence's subject and predicate. So, "I ran the brush through my hair," can become "The brush snagged each gnarled-up knot of hair on my head." Or they may have to take a complex sentence and split it into two separate sentences which could help them vary their sentence lengths.
Revision Tip Number Ten: Use Setting to Show Emotion
Remember to leave a comment below before 2019 ends to be entered into a drawing to win your own writer's workshop book basket. Happy Holidays everyone.
Writer's Workshop Book Basket
-Every teacher hears the dreaded, "I'm done. What do I do now?" Keeping a writer's workshop book basket full of books that students can peruse to get ideas for how to make their writing stronger, will help keep you sane, improve your student's writing and just might help your students find more books to add to their book bags for reader's workshop. Of course it helps to introduce each one of these tips in a mini lesson, before adding the books to your basket.
So what should you put in the book basket?
Revision Tip Number One: Alliteration
Alliteration is one form of figurative language that's relatively easy for students to grasp because they can hear and see the alliteration. So, this technique applies to your visual and your auditory learners.
It may not be snowy where you live, but last week twenty-five inches of snow fell here over a forty-eight hour period. Then, this week we were supposed to get a dusting and woke up to half a foot more of the white stuff. So, Ten on the Sled by Kim Norman and illustrated by Liza Woodruff is a fun book to pull out this time of year.
Ten different animals fall off the sled. Instead of using the word "fall" different times, Norman picks a vivid verb that starts with the same name as the animal falling off the sled using phrases like, "Walrus whirled off," and "Seal slipped off." It's easy to make a quick chart using alliterative phrases from this book.
If you're looking for a Friday Fun read, pull out Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black. Similar to Norman's Ten on the Sled, Chicken Cheeks has several different animal characters as well. But instead of highlighting how they fall off a sled, Black highlights their derrieres. Sometimes he uses alliterative phrases to highlight their rear ends such as the title, Chicken Cheeks, "penguin patootie," and "turkey tushie." Read this one right before the bell rings, because you won't be able to rein your students in afterwards.
Finally, don't forget to throw one of Avi's Poppy Books into the basket. Ereth is one of my all-time favorite children's literature characters and he speaks in alliterative phrases that will have kids laughing out loud.
Revision Tip Number Two: Similes
Similes are also a relatively easy figurative language concept to introduce to your students because they compare two unlike objects using the word "like" or "as." Of course some eager students will have to learn that the words "like" or "as" do not always denote similes. But still, it's a concept that students can grasp which helps them become more confident writers and readers.
You'll definitely want to have copies of Melissa Stewart and Sarah Brannen's Feathers: Not Just for Flying and Seashells: More Than a Home in your basket. Melissa Stewart uses similes to compare feathers to every day objects. She writes, "Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella... or protect sun like sunscreen." In Seashells: More Than a Home, Stewart writes, "Seashells can rise and sink like a submarine." Both of these books can do double duty in your animal science book basket as well because they both explain adaptations that animals have that help them survive in their environments.
I also have a copy of Quick as a Cricket by Audrey and Don Wood. In this book, the narrator compares herself to various animals. It's fun to have students write poems comparing themselves to ten different animals, and then have readers guess who wrote that poem.
Revision Tip Number Three: Metaphors
Metaphors are harder for students to grasp than alliteration and similes. But if you start with a simple, concrete metaphor, the idea that a kitten thinks the moon is a bowl of milk, students will warm up to the concept. So, pull out your copy of Kevin Henkes' Kitten's First Full Moon. Besides, the art is so yummy. It's guaranteed to make your class content.
Then, pull out your copy of Jessie Oliveros' The Remember Balloons and keep your box of tissues nearby. In this exquisite book, colored ballons are memories that the protagonist has to hold for his grandfather who is no longer able to hold onto his own memories.
Finally, head to your Civil Rights basket and grab Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter. Although this metaphor is hard to grasp because it's more complex than a bowl of milk or memories, Winter does an incredible job of comparing African Americans fight to vote to an uphill climb.
Revision Tip Number Four: Vivid Verbs
I touched on vivid verbs a bit back in the alliteration section when I talked about Ten on the Sled. That's because Kim Norman uses ten different synonyms for fall instead of using the verb fall ten times. Challenge your students not to use the same verb twice and see what happens.
April Jones Prince uses a multitude of verbs instead of using the words "roll" or "turn" over and over again in her book, What Do Wheels Do All Day? This book is less than one hundred words. If you find yourself with five extra minutes, this is a great way to make the best of the time.
Speaking of one hundred, my book 100 Bugs! A Counting Book doesn't use the word "fly" on each spread. Like Ten on the Sled, 100 Bugs! uses a different verb for fly on each page. Check it out!
Revision Tip Number Five: Sensory Details
Any good book worth its salt (I couldn't help myself!) is going to have sensory details, but here are three of my favorites.
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto and Ed Martinez is chock full of sensory details and is perfect for this time of year.
Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a kaleidoscope of colors and a joyous celebration of dressing up.
Finally, Jeannine Atkins' Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science is full of sensory details. Atkins uses poems to introduce scientists Maria Merian, Mary Anning and Maria Mitchell to readers. Since each poem is about a page, this is another book you can use during one of those quick five-minute chunks of time.
That's it for this week. Come on back on December twenty-third, or right before you go back to school, for more tips on how your students can revise their writing and books you can point to so you don't have to answer the question, "What do I do now?"
Happy Creating, Happy Teaching and Happy Holidays!
Some of you will recognize this post. I originally wrote it in May of 2018 for the Epic Eighteen blog. Since then, I've presented this topic at MRA and nErDcampNNE and nErDcampLI. Authors and teachers find it helpful, so I want to share it here. On December 13th and 23rd, I'll post the second half of the presentation which I've never blogged about before. It's geared toward educators. So looking forward to sharing it here with you!
10 drafts ago 100 Bugs! featured five damselfly species and five dragonfly species.
I’ve always loved dragonflies, and I was fascinated when I discovered damselflies were a different species than dragonflies. Why weren’t there any children’s books about the differences between the species? I thought I’d write one. My writing group convinced me more insect variety would make the story pop.
9 drafts ago 100 Bugs! featured cosmos instead of yarrow.
But farrow and yarrow sounds so much better than cosmos and yarrow! My writing group also pointed out that all the other rhymes really worked, but cosmos and farrow just didn’t, even if I really wanted it to. After all, I love fuschia and pale pink cosmos. There had to be a way to work them into this book. But since there aren’t any insects called gizmos, at least not that I know of, I had to weed out the cosmos and plant yarrow. Then, Suzanne Kaufman worked her magic!
8 drafts ago 100 Bugs! featured two dragonfly species, two damselfly species, two butterfly species, two bumblebee species, ladybugs and lightning bugs.
Walkingsticks, leafhoppers, spittlebugs and katydids weren’t in the picture. When Susan Dobinick, the original FSG editor who eventually acquired 100 Bugs!, first contacted me, she told me she wanted me to revise and include ten different insects. She also stipulated that I definitely had to include the bug all the kids liked, then she blanked on the name. Thank goodness “walkingstick” came to her before the end of the conversation because I had no idea what bug she was talking about. All of my favorite bugs were already in the book!
She also said she wanted scientific back matter for the ten different plants and the ten different insects. Finally, she acknowledged that I had a full-time teaching job and a family, but told me she needed the revision within a month’s time. Did I panic? Maybe a tiny bit, but becoming a published writer was a goal I’d been working toward for twelve years. I was willing to go to any length to do what needed to be done. So, I researched a couple of hours before work and a couple of hours after work each day. A month later there were ten different bugs, and back matter for all the insects and flowers.
7 drafts ago 100 Bugs! only featured a boy, not a girl.
But that changed when editor Janine O’Malley brought Suzanne Kaufman on board to illustrate the book. Not only did the boy gain the cutest little sister ever, he also scored a dog all in the same draft! Happy boy!
6 drafts ago 100 Bugs! started with the walkingstick spread.
It’s true. I swear it. I know it’s hard to believe that the super cute opening spread with the brother and sister in bed didn’t exist, but that’s the truth. Originally, the title page had the brother and sister leaving the house. The old title page resembled the current walkingstick spread. But Suzanne had already come up with the gorgeous sunrise and sunset end papers. So, Janine wanted the story to start with the kids waking up.
I reached out to Melissa Stewart, April Prince and Joannie Duris to help me brainstorm the verse. We sent emails back and forth, but nothing seemed quite right. So, I went to bed. When I rose with the sun the next morning, the phrase, “Explorers, explorers rising with the sun,” streamed into my head and a new beginning dawned.
5 drafts ago 100 Bugs! A Counting book ended with the lightning bug spread.
But that was before we started with the explorers in bed. The beginning has to hold the end of the book. So, I wrote the “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” spread so that Suzanne could showcase the explorers back in bed at the end of their day.
4 drafts ago 100 Bugs! didn’t include the brother and sister holding the book 100 Bugs! in their hands.
That was all Suzanne and Janine’s idea. That’s the best part about collaborating on a book with other people. Their ideas and modifications create a much better product than it would have been had they not been involved in the book.
3 drafts ago 100 Bugs! A Counting Book was titled 100 Bugs Out and About.
Yeah, my original title was playful, but it didn’t emphasize the mathematical concepts in the book enough. So, we tried some other titles that were way too mathematical: 100 Bugs! 10 Ways to Count to 10 or 100 Bugs! Counting by tens to 100 or 100 Bugs! 10 groups of 10. Finally, Janine and the marketing department suggested 100 Bugs! A Counting Book—an inviting, but not confusing name.
2 drafts ago 100 Bugs! counted by tens on each spread.
But that didn’t work because there was no way to illustrate all those bugs on each spread. So, I came up with the idea to create a single spread near the end of the book that would feature all 100 bugs! Janine liked the idea and passed it onto Suzanne.
The first draft of that spread didn’t work because it alternated between a line of illustrated bugs and a line of text counting by tens. It was hard to see the number of bugs growing. So, I put the spread up on a SMARTboard at school to see my teaching colleagues’, Kristin Milton, Pam Trefry and Teresa Zuckerman reactions. They looked as confused as I felt.
But, as always, they had a solution—move all the text to the left-hand side, the verso, and move all the insects to the right-hand side, the recto.
It was a great solution but how could I explain it to Janine and Suzanne? I decided to draw up a mock spread. I copied and pasted the counting by tens lines into one document, printed them and glued them down onto the left-hand side of a piece of graph paper. Then, to save time and because I’m not the world’s best artist to say the least, I used exes to represent the bugs in the array on the right-hand side of the book.
Then, I emailed it to Janine who emailed it to Suzanne. Somehow I hadn’t communicated clearly to Janine that the exes were supposed to represent fully drawn bugs. So, when I saw the new spread, it had all the text on the left-hand side and 100 exes on the right… oops!
I laughed out loud and explained what I had meant. The third time worked, and Suzanne created a gorgeous spread.
1 draft ago 100 Bugs! didn’t feature any perched damselflies.
What’s the big deal? Who cares, right? Well remember back in the beginning I told you that I wanted to write a book that distinguished between damselflies and dragonflies? Well, one of the easiest ways to tell them apart is to look at the wings of a perched dragonfly or damselfly. If they’re straight and open, you’re looking at a dragonfly. However, if they’re partially or completely closed, you’re looking at a damselfly. That’s the story of how one damselfly came to perch on the edge of the wishing well.
It’s also the story of how 100 Bugs! A Counting Book transformed from a manuscript in my computer to a book one can hold in her hands.
Chalk and Ink
Chalk and Ink is a biweekly podcast that publishes on Fridays throughout the school year. Learn how teachers who write and writers who teach combine craft moves to create outstanding products for their students and readers. Download Chalk and Ink wherever you get your favorite podcasts.