TeachWrite NOLA

July 30, 2008

Letting the Writers Voice Come Through: Using Authentic Dialect in Writing

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Letting the Writers Voice Come Through: Using Authentic Dialect in Writing

“”You all hurry back. Do you hear me?” and “Y’all hurry back. Ya hear?”

Which one is more real, more natural sounding? Would you guess the second speaker is from the southern US? Sometimes there just isn’t any other way to say something than with the use of colloquialisms.”

~ Cameron Michaels


Working with students who have a range of dialects, teaching them to incorporate their language into their writing is sometimes a difficult task.  However, with the influx of text that has included a variety of cultures and dialects students are beginning to see their own voices represented in the books that they read.  This use of the authentic voice of their neighborhood dialects gives the student some credence to using their voice in their writing.  Weaving their authentic selves will put them more at ease at writing.

Stream of Curriculum:

In the third quarter, we write our personal narratives through the memoir format of Alphabiographies (an autobiography in alphabetical format).  Each chapter is written about an important event in their lives that made them who they are.  This is their autobiography, so I encourage them to use their own voice.  I want them to show who they really are and using their authentic dialect serves that purpose.  Students also need to be aware that dialect has a place in writing.  Writing in their own natural voice will not be understood in a “professional student” piece as in writing for testing, but when writing for themselves or for a fictional piece it serves its purpose.

Theoretical Foundations:

Tony Burton states, “Dialect in fiction can play a powerful part in creating the mood and tone of the story, setting the location, and establishing the relationships between the characters in the story.”  Using dialect in a piece of fiction makes a story more real and gives depth to the writing.

Lesson Directions:

Objective: Students will write a story including dialogue that is familiar to them.


  • Read excerpts from Patricia McKissack’s Scraps of Time 1960: Abby Takes a Stand, Patricia Polacco’s My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
  • Create a list of common phrases that you grew up hearing in your home.
  • Share your phrases with a partner.
  • Develop a piece including dialogue from your brainstorming, making sure to include rich vocabulary about setting to show instead of tell the location.

Optional Choices:

  • Do author studies of novels that use distinct dialect and write a comparison paper.
  • Give phrases selected from pieces of writing and have students try to figure out where the character is from.


Identify an audience for a specific writing assignment and select appropriate vocabulary,

details, and information to create a tone or set the mood and to affect or manipulate the intended audience (ELA‑2‑E2)


Burton, Tony.  “Writing Visual Dialect in Fiction.” Reflections’s Edge.



Podcasting: Turning Their Written Word Into Their Voice

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Podcasting: Turning Their Written Word Into Their Voice

“To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make.”

~Truman Capote

“All the fun is in how you say a thing.”

~Robert Frost


With the Web 2.0 age, we are increasingly asked to incorporate technology into our classrooms.  Students are so familiar with technology now that it has just become another method with which to teach.  Because of the engaging nature of technology students are more likely to be involved and focused on the project if the end result involves them being an interactive part rather than pasting something on a poster board and calling it a day.  Podcasting provides students with another medium for their work.  As Will Richardson, tech guru, states, “Our students are learning that their voices matter, that people are listening and responding, and that their ideas count.” (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, p. 129)

Stream of Curriculum:

My fourth grade students read Jerry Spinelli’s Loser as the first whole-class Literature Circle book.  The end-of-book project is to write an essay about bullying and how it makes them feel, either as the bully or the victim of bullying and what they believe the real reason behind bullying is.  Last year I decided to make this a more interactive lesson and add the podcasting dynamic.  After going through the writing process with their personal essays students were given the option to record their essays on Audacity for our class eBoard (http://dmurden.jppss.site.eboard.com) so that their parents and other students could hear them.  This year I will add the use of the website This I Believe (www.thisibelieve.org) to the project.  I will play related podcasts and provide written essays related to the theme of the Golden Rule.  The podcast will be a requirement, although publishing it on the site will still be voluntary, and I will add the podcasting rubric attached.  This is a three to four week Lit Circle project.  The podcasting portion will generally take approximately two weeks to go from pre-writing to podcasting.

Theoretical Foundations:

Will Richardson writes, “All of these technologies allow students and teachers to contribute their own ideas and work to the larger body of knowledge that is the Web.  Instead of simply handing in countless assignments to teachers to be read, graded, handed back, and most likely thrown away, we can now offer our students a totally new way of looking at the work they do.  It’s not meant to be discarded or stored in a folder somewhere; it’s meant to be added to the conversation and potentially used to teach others.” – Blogs Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (p 132)

Sara Kadjer, in the article “Plugging In: What Technology Brings to the English/Language Arts Classroom” states, “Students were hungry to complete interactive, engaging, tech-infused activities in class-and to extend our classroom community beyond the classroom walls through discussions and virtual correspondence with students around the globe.”

Lesson Directions:

Objective: Students will write an essay after reading Loser about the effects of bullying.  They will then create a podcast using their essays.


  • Read an excerpt from Loser (pg 106-107).
  • Brainstorm a list of the first things that come to your mind when you think of bullying and the Golden Rule.  (3 minutes)
  • Listen to a couple of podcasts from This I Believe on the same topic for examples.
  • Model your writing process with your students, thinking aloud as needed.  For your modeling, write as the age your students are.  Share your finished product.
  • Write your essay on bullying and/or the Golden Rule.  (15 minutes)
  • Record essays using Audacity software as individuals or pairs.
  • Listen to a few podcasts.  Share my class eBoard for podcasts my students made.

Optional Choices:

  • Using Flip video recorders, create Vodcasts (videocasts) and video students reading their essays.  Upload these to your class blog or eBoard.
  • Contribute your student essays to This I Believe.
  • Create a class book on bullying to share with younger students in the school.


Organize individual paragraphs with topic sentences, relevant elaboration, and concluding sentences (ELA‑2‑E1)

Identify an audience for a specific writing assignment and select appropriate vocabulary,

details, and information to create a tone or set the mood and to affect or manipulate the intended audience (ELA‑2‑E2)

Develop grade‑appropriate compositions by identifying and applying writing processes

  • publishing using available technology (ELA‑2‑E3)

Adjust pacing to suit purpose, audience, and setting when speaking (ELA‑4‑E1)

Adjust speaking content according to the needs of the audience (ELA‑4‑E5)

Deliver presentations that include the following:

  • information drawn from several sources and identification of the sources
  • effective introductions and conclusions
  • details, examples, anecdotes, or statistics that explain or clarify information
  • information selected to persuade or influence the audience (ELA‑4‑E4)


Kadjer, Sara.  “Plugging In: What Technology Brings to the English Language Arts Classroom.”

Voices from the Middle.  11.3 (2004): 6-9


Richardson, Will.  Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Today’s

Classrooms.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006.

Additional Resources:

ReadWriteThink.org Lesson: http://readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=1096

This I Believe: www.thisibelieve.org

Podcast Rubric: http://readwritethink.org/lesson_images/lesson1096/podcast_rubric.pdf

Dawn Murden’s Technology eBoard: http://www1.eboard.com/eboard/servlet/BoardServlet?&ACTION=TAB_SHOW&ACTION_ON=TAB&OBJECT_ID=374527&SITE_NAME=jppss&BOARD_NAME=DMurden&TAB_ID=374527&SESSION_ID=lyhrwjgjbyvs7084

Loser by Jerry Spinelli

Jerry Spinelli’s Website: http://www.jerryspinelli.com/newbery_002.htm

Audacity: www.audacity.sourceforge.net

Some easy, step-by-step direction for podcasting (they follow her plans for creating podcasting about disabilities but the nuts and bolts are there…. these are some of the easiest to follow directions I’ve seen out there!) http://readwritethink.org/lesson_images/lesson1096/creating.pdf

Websites for purchasing headphones with mics and USB ports:




Digital Recorders with USB connections:



July 25, 2008

Receiving the Piece: Peer Response in Writer’s Workshop

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Receiving the Piece: Peer Response in Writer’s Workshop

“Response to a first draft is the most important part of the writing process for young and developing writers.”
Marcia Freeman, Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide, p. 65

“Collaborative writing experiences turn non-writers into writers – a significant redefinition of the self.”
Karen Spear, Peer Response Groups in Action: Writing Together in Secondary Schools, p. 14

We write to be heard. We write to express ourselves, and we write for an audience. For young writers, the “hearing” part is vital in building confidence, developing craft skills, and learning how to become part of a community of writers. Marcia Freeman describes peer response as “engendering revision and a sense of authorship” (p. 65). As students “become” authors and share their work, they gain intimacy with the relationship between writing and reading. Literacy instruction is based on this dialogue between readers and writers. All students – kindergarten through college – have a voice and can partake in this dialogue. It’s up to teachers to guide these voices and show students how we can listen, discuss, and instruct one another.

Lucy Calkins writes “teacher-student and peer conferences…are at the heart of teaching writing” (p. 223). Conferencing is not just about the piece – it’s about helping a writer develop his or her repertoire of skills which can be applied to any piece of writing. Analytical and evaluative skills also develop through conferring with a peer. Students carefully listen, absorb, think, and provide evaluative feedback to the writer. Critical thinking is inherent in effective peer conferences.

Stream of Curriculum
Peer response (or conferencing) is considered an integral part of the writing process approach. Conferences usually follow the initial drafting stage. Often, a peer conference is the first feedback a young writer receives about his/her piece. Don Graves, noted writing teacher and researcher, developed a peer response method known as “receiving the piece.” In this approach, two or more students confer. The writer reads his/her piece aloud as the second student carefully listens. The listener then retells the piece to the author. This gives the writer a chance to correct any misunderstandings, as well as ensuring that the piece has been heard and “received.” The listener next asks a question about the piece, to which the writer responds. Then the listener makes a suggestion to help improve the piece. This step is crucial in helping the writer view his/her piece from the perspective of a reader, which can then lead to important evaluation and revision. The final step of the conference consists of the listener telling the writer what he/she liked about the piece. The students then switch roles.

The method of “receiving the piece” allows students to be heard. Students know they’ve been heard when their partner summarizes the writer’s piece. This simple act of retelling instantly boosts a student’s confidence and security level, which helps ensure that the writer will take the listener’s suggestions seriously. Asking questions is an effective strategy readers use to comprehend a text. Asking the writer a question about his/her piece automatically makes that text meaningful to the reader. This again bolsters the writer’s ownership and authority over the piece. The final component of receiving the piece – complimenting the writer and making a personal connection – teaches our students empathy and goodwill. Writers understand that a part of our inner selves are displayed through each word on the page, and to do so is a courageous act.

Reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills are all targeted during peer response. These important social skills transfer to other areas of the curriculum, as students collaborate on group science experiments or present an oral research project to their peers. Listening and responding skills will be used in every aspect of students’ lives – in and out of school and the writing world.

Theoretical Foundations
Writing research studies have shown that “it is at the point of response that young writers learn the most about how to write and how to effectively translate their ideas and information for the audience” (Spears, p. 135). Peer response is considered a standard part of any writing process classroom. As students become more adept at peer conferences, they will soon be able to conduct conferences with themselves, which “marks important growth in a child’s abilities as a writer” (Calkins, p. 237). Peer conferences help writers build craft skills, and more importantly, build awareness about their own writing abilities. Jack Wilde writes, “For many of us, it’s easier to recognize what works in the writing of others, since there is less ego involved. What this means is that students can learn more about parts of the craft of writing by responding to the writing of others than by handling response to their own writing” (2007). Evaluation – a higher order thinking skill – is developed and refined through this reflective experience.

Research also indicates that writers writing without reaction from others may forget to anticipate an audience for their piece (Hermann, 1989). Receiving response helps writers visualize and interact with an authentic reader, and thus makes the writer aware of who he/she is writing for. Peer conferences allow writers to experience an authentic reader other than a teacher. (Annenberg Media Learner).

Lesson Directions
Students will listen and summarize a classmate’s writing piece.
Students will ask a question about the piece and suggest revisions.
Students will apply suggested revisions in their writing.

1. Teacher reads Pink and Say by Patrica Polacco aloud to group and asks participants to think about the process of telling a story and listening to one another.
2. Participants fill out peer response survey. As a group, create a criteria list for characteristics of an effective peer conference.

Guided/Independent Practice
1. Teacher explains how to “receive the piece,” using a visual explaining each step of the process.
2. Teacher and student model receiving the piece.
3. Participants meet in pairs and respond to each other’s piece using the model as a guide.
4. Participants revise their piece independently.
5. Participants confer a second time, sharing revision changes and debriefing the process.

1. Author’s Chair/Read around
2. Questions, discussions, extensions.

Literature based on telling/listening to a story
Peer response survey
Receiving the Piece instructions (chart, PowerPoint, etc.)


1. Students take a rough draft home and conduct a homework response with a parent or adult. Conduct in a similar manner as classroom response conferences, but provide parents with a set of guidelines. Students and adult responder should also fill out a Homework Response form outlining compliments, suggestions, and other thoughts about the piece.
(Freeman, Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide, p. 72)

2. Provide students with a blank tape and a tape recorder. Show students how to use the tape recorder and have them record their piece on the tape. Students can reflect on their own piece, similar to receiving the piece, or exchange tapes with a classmate to receive input.
(Freeman, Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide, p. 73)

3. Group responses can also be helpful for students. Establish a reading and response group of three or four students and set up a weekly schedule. Students read each other’s pieces, make written or oral comments, and bring the revised piece back at the next scheduled meeting time. Keep these groups flexible. Sit in occasionally to check on student progress and evaluate comments.

4. Create a form for your students to use for each conference they have. The form could be organized into headings: “I like,” “I wonder,” “Questions,” and “Plan for Action.” The writer fills out the last heading at the end of the peer conference while ideas are still fresh.
(Lane, After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision, p. 109)


Annenberg Media Learner (online). “Conversations Among Writing Peers.” Accessed at http://www.learner.org/channel/workshops/writing35/session6/sec2p2.html?pop=yes&pid=2214#.

Calkins, L. (1994). The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Freeman, M. (2003). Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide. Gainesville, FL:
Maupin House Publishing.

Graves, D.H. (2003). Writing: Teachers & Children at Work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Graves, H.H. (1985). “All Children Can Write.” Accessed at http://www.ldonline.org/article/6204.

Hermann, A. (1989). “Teaching Writing with Peer Response Groups.” ERIC ED307616. Accessed at http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-9211/peer.htm.

Spear, K. (1993). Peer Response Groups in Action: Writing Together in Secondary Schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Wilde, J. (2007). “Peer Conferences: Strategies and Consequences.” Inside Writing Communities. Annenberg Media.

July 23, 2008

Modeling the Craft of Writing

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Modeling the Craft of Writing

“Young writers learn by imitating. Take advantage of this by modeling all the writing techniques you can.”
Marcia Freeman, Teaching the Youngest Writers: A Practical Guide

Through my own experience as a first grade teacher, I know that explicit directions are essential for students to understand and master objectives. Writing is no different. During writing workshop, I conduct mini-lessons and model target skills that augment what my students are currently writing. I have found that my students are more focused, creative, and willing to write once they know exactly what the expectations are for their writing and how they should proceed. Modeling allows students to see the teacher as a writer, which validates the struggles and endless revisions that all writers – teachers and students – must endure.

Children learn through imitation – from babies who mimic the words of their parents to toddlers who copy the actions of older siblings to our students who absorb their teacher’s words and mannerisms. Marcia Freeman writes, “Teachers of active writing communities take the time to model and periodically re-model everything: workshop procedures, writing-process components, writing mechanics, composing and literary skills, organization schemes, genre characteristics, self-evaluation.”(Teaching the Youngest Writers, p. 5)

Stream of Curriculum
Struggling readers especially benefit from teacher modeling. These students are often reluctant to write, inhibited by their own struggle with literacy. Patricia Cunningham says in Classrooms That Work, “Children who watch the teacher think aloud about what topics to write on and about what to say are much less apt to complain, ‘I ain’t got nothing to write about.’ Children who watch the teacher invent-spell some words and leave out some words, punctuation, capitalization, and so on have more than just our word for the fact that first drafts are never perfect.” (p. 105) It’s vitally important that teachers help struggling readers develop confidence in their abilities, and careful modeling can provide that.

Modeling needs to be carefully placed into the overall context of writing workshop. Mini-lessons and skills should be aligned with areas of weakness among students, but in a way that complements student progress. Lucy Calkins writes this about effective mini-lessons: “In mini-lessons, we teach into our students’ intentions.” Calkins is referring to selecting topics that fit into what students are presently working on, not presenting random skills in isolation. “The time to introduce dialogue is when students start to use dialogue in their stories,” (Freeman, Building a Writing Community, p. 7).

Theoretical Foundations
Many acclaimed writing teachers, such as Marcia Freeman and Lucy Calkins, emphasize the importance of modeling skills and strategies for young writers, especially emerging writers in kindergarten and first grade. Older writers benefit from seeing the work and techniques used by professional writers and teachers. As educators, we need to ensure that our students have all the tools and models necessary for them to develop as creative writers and literate beings.

Lesson Directions

Students will write predictions and construct engaging descriptions using graphic organizers.
Students will write using specific and engaging describing words.

1. Participants complete a prediction frame based solely on the title and cover of the book Owl Moon.
2. Teacher reads story aloud to group – listen for author’s use of specific and engaging describing words.
3. Participants complete prediction frame

Guided/Independent Practice
1. Teacher refers to author’s use of describing words in the story and asks volunteers to list powerful descriptions
2. Model using the attribute chart to write engaging, specific descriptions
3. Participants go outside and complete the chart (15 min.) (Attribute Field Trip)
4. Teacher models using powerful attributes in writing
5. Participants use their charts to write independently
6. Pair-share, if time allows
7. Revisions, if necessary/time allows

1. Author’s Chair
2. Questions, discussions, extensions.

Prediction frame
Good literature
Attributes chart
Materials for modeling (overhead projector, chalkboard, chart paper, easel, etc.)

1. Before you begin to use descriptive attributes as target skills, play I Spy with the class. Model as many different attributes as you can: I spy something red, I spy a circle, I spy something made of wood.
(Freeman, Teaching the Youngest Writers, p. 88)

2. Ask students to bring in a colorful item. Make a set of attribute cards appropriate for the children’s experience and background. Conduct a Show and Tell. Children tell about their objects, using as many attributes cards as they can. Or, play it as a game, with classmates holding up an attribute card and the player making up a sentence about the object using the attribute. For example, the color card is held up and the child with the object says, My toy car is blue.
(Freeman, Teaching the Youngest Writers, p. 89)

3. Divide the class into an even number of small groups. Pass out one artist postcard per small group. Ask students to describe their picture in exact physical detail, so that a blind person could imagine it. (Don’t let any group see the other groups’ cards). After each group writes a description of their picture, take away all the postcards and ask the groups to exchange descriptions. Then ask each member of the group to draw the picture of the postcard based on the description. When the drawings are done, pass out the postcards and compare them to the drawings. Re-read the descriptions and talk about what language was effective and what led them astray.
(Lane, After the End, p. 30)


Calkins, Lucy McCormick. 1994. The Art of Teaching Writing: New Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cunningham, Patricia and Richard L. Allington. 2003. Classrooms That Work: They Can ALL Read and Write. (3rd Edition). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Freeman, Marcia. 2003. Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide. (revised). Gainesville, FL: Maupin House Publishing, Inc.

Freeman, Marcia. 1998. Teaching the Youngest Writers: A Practical Guide. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House Publishing, Inc.

Lane, Barry. 1993. After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Yolen, Jane. 1987. Owl Moon. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Comics in the ESL Classroom (or any classroom)

Filed under: Demo Lesson — jessdbd4 @ 12:48 pm
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Here is a demo on using comics in the classroom.

Writing Humor into the ESL Classroom: Creating Comic Strips

“In second language education, teachers and students know the truth of the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. In fact, … the right picture at the right time may be worth several times that many words.”
Stephen Cary, Going Graphic: Comics At Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p. 23

Garfield, Charlie Brown, Blondie, Doonesbury, The Far Side… millions of Americans read these beloved comic strips daily on their morning commute or over a cup of coffee. Why? They’re funny. A simple reason, yet powerful enough to motivate and engage students who would rather do anything than read or write in school. For ESL students, the visual aspect of comics can be a non-threatening and easily understood way of building reading and writing skills. They also provide a familiar medium for many of these students. Many countries outside of the U.S. have high comic readership. Between 90 and 95 percent of literate Japanese read comics, and in Mexico, 70 percent of readers read comics. (Cary, 2004).

For ESL students struggling to adapt to American society and schools, comics can provide a humorous and familiar escape. They can also motivate students to become more skilled at reading and writing, especially if given the chance to interact with and create their own comics. Stephen Cary, author of Going Graphic: Comics At Work in the Multilingual Classroom, suggests that because most “comic conventions are universal across languages, conventions learned with first language comics makes reading comics in the second language easier” (p. 64). In teaching writing to ESL students, beginning with comics helps build confidence in writing and communicating in English. Writing comic strips can engage even the most reluctant and/or non-verbal learner.

Stream of Curriculum
Popular media such as movies, video games, cartoons, and comic books can serve as a frame of reference in thinking about narrative structure (Ranker, 2007). As students develop their own comics with specific story elements (characters, setting, conflict, resolution), they can incorporate these elements into other narrative forms, such as personal narratives or fiction stories. Comic strips also easily fit into the writing workshop model. Students can use graphic organizers to plan their comic strip – both written dialogue and captions as well as illustrations for each panel. When revising, students can literally cut their comic strips apart to add or delete panels. Teachers can use comics to teach mini-lessons on grammar, punctuation, or editing techniques. Comic strips also help students organize their writing logically, as most proceed in a chronological fashion.

Theoretical Foundations
Second language acquisition and proficiency is a complex process. Important factors in this process include the language learning environment, student’s age, cognitive development, home and school cultures, and proficiency in the native language, according to Suzanne Peregoy and Owen Boyle, authors of Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL (2005).  Teachers can combat these factors by incorporating an array of learning modalities in the classroom, especially through visual, verbal, and print cues. Peregoy and Boyle, among other researchers, support the use of scaffolding strategies to help ESL students organize thoughts (Gray & Fleischman, 2005). These strategies include teacher modeling, visuals/graphics, and hands-on learning – all of which are compatible with using comics in the classroom.

Lesson Directions

Students will identify narrative story elements in a graphic novel (characters, setting, problem, & solution).
Students will create their own narrative story elements using a graphic organizer and illustrations.
Students will write and illustrate a comic strip using narrative story elements.

1. Participants write and/or illustrate their favorite cartoons, cartoon characters, and/or comic strips. Participants then pair up and share their favorites.
2. Teacher reads comic aloud to group – listen for and identify the key narrative elements (characters, setting, problem, solution).

Guided/Independent Practice
1. Teacher and students discuss the key narrative elements and fill in a graphic organizer based on the comic. Teacher also reviews speech/thought bubbles and author’s use of different colored dialogue bubbles to distinguish between speakers.
2. Model using the graphic organizer to create a superhero character and story elements.
3. Participants use the fruits and vegetables to create superheroes and outline stories. Participants can use art materials to physically “create” superheroes (markers, glue, felt, eyes, pipe cleaners, etc.)
4. Teacher models using graphic organizer to create comic strip. Include and point out story elements.
5. Participants use their graphic organizers to write comic strips independently or with a partner.
6. Pair-share, if time allows
7. Revisions, if necessary/time allows. Show how to cut comic strip apart and add/delete panels.

1. Author’s Chair
2. Questions, discussions, extensions.

Favorite Comic frame
Narrative Story Elements frame
Graphic novel, comic strips, etc.
Large pictures of popular cartoon/comic characters (Spongebob, Dora the Explorer, Spiderman, etc.)
Oversized dialogue bubbles (different colors)
Fruits and vegetables
Name cards for fruits and vegetables
Art materials (markers, glue, felt, eyes, pipe cleaners, etc.)
Various comic strip panels
Materials for modeling (overhead projector, chalkboard, chart paper, easel, etc.)

1. Give a pair of students a wordless comic (or one with the speech bubbles deleted). Have students “script” the comic by adding speech bubbles that fit with the events in each panel. Students can also write descriptions for each panel or orally describe what is happening.
(Cary, Going Graphic: Comics At Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p. 81)

2. Students can take a comic strip and add a panel (or several). Students must write and illustrate what would happen next in the comic. Another option is a “class strip.” One student adds a panel and then passes it on to another student. The expanded comic strip circulates around the room with each student reading, writing, and drawing what would happen next.
(Cary, Going Graphic: Comics At Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p. 74)

3. In pairs or small groups, give students a comic strip with one panel missing (preferably in the middle). Students must read the remaining panels and discuss what they need to add to the comic strip for it to make sense. As they create these “replacement” panels, students need to pay attention to what comes before, after, and what makes sense. They also need to focus on their grammatical choices, making sure verb tenses and antecedents, for example, align with the remaining panels.
(Cary, Going Graphic: Comics At Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p. 88)

4. Comic Creator at http://www.readwritethink.org is an excellent interactive tool. Students can create and/or publish their comics. This site also offers several lessons based on the Comic Creator tool.


Cary, S. (2004). Going Graphic: Comics At Work in the Multilingual Classroom. Porthsmouth, NH:

Gray, T. & Fleischman, S. (2005). Successful strategies for English Language Learners. Educational
Leadership, 84-85.

Morse, S. (2008). Magic Pickle. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Peregoy, S.F. & Boyle, O. F. ( 2005). Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL. (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson
Education, Inc.

Ranker, J. (2007). Using Comic Books as Read-Alouds: Insights on Reading Instruction From an English as a
Second Language Classroom. The Reading Teacher, 61(4), 296-305.

Graphic Novels, Comics, Etc. For Use in the Classroom
∑ Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
∑ Sticky Burr by John Lechner
∑ Bone the Dragon Slayer series by Jeff Smith
∑ Nancy Drew graphic novels by Stefan Petrucha and Sarah Kinney

Additional Resources

Teaching With Comics
This site provides comic strip/panel templates, as well as lesson ideas and evaluation rubrics. Students can learn step-by-step how to sketch cartoon figures and backgrounds.

ESL and Archie Comics
Students can view an Archie comic while listening to a podcast of the comic being read aloud. Students can also listen to an explanation of the comic and learn definitions of key terms in the comic.

Everything ESL: Interactive Web Sites for ESL Students
Various literacy based sites with interactive games, read alouds, and books that can be downloaded.

Activities for Using Comic Strips
Ideas for incorporating comic strips into lessons.

Six Word Memoirs

Filed under: Demo Lesson — noladawn @ 12:41 pm
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Here is Ken’s Six Word Memoirs Demo!



July 22, 2008

Alphabiography: A Stepping Stone to Writing Memoir

Filed under: Demo Lesson — noladawn @ 8:55 pm
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Here is my demo from GNOWP 2007.

Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!



Alphabiography: A Stepping Stone to Writing Memoir

“Why do I write?  Perhaps in order not to go mad.  Or, on the contrary, to touch the bottom of madness.  Having survived by chance, I am duty-bound to give meaning to my survival.”

~Elie Wiesel

“Memoirs are the genre of our decade.”

~Lucy Calkins

“A memoir is not what happens, but the person to whom things happen.”

~Virginia Woolf


Children write best when they write what they know.  They know themselves the best of all.  So, when we ask children to write, we should ask them to write about what is comfortable, themselves and their lives.  The alphabiography format gives them a tool to focus their writing in a way that gives them some freedom to explore their lives through “life lessons.”  Since the alphabiography is a structured format for writing, the student has choice in what parts of their lives that they want to write about.  They can choose to write about what is safe to them in certain areas and explore deeper thought in others.  The life lessons at the end of each letter tie the alphabiography together.  In this matter, an alphabiography is like a memoir.  Instead of being a general biography/autobiography of the child’s life, the child is giving insight into how the decisions, actions, feelings, or thoughts associated with that particular letter made an impact on the child’s life.

Stream of Curriculum:

The concept of alphabiography is taken from author James Howe’s novel Totally Joe, so through read alouds and literature circles the students would read the novel to get an idea of the tone and voice that the alphabiography carries.  This would take a period of about three weeks.  Exposure to other memoirs would also occur through read alouds or through self-selection.  Some choices would include: Elie Wiesel’s Night, Walter Dean Myers’ Bad Boy, Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, Cynthia Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains and When the Relatives Came, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings.  After sharing excerpts from some of these memoirs, we would classify the tone and voice of the author, so as to determine who our audience would be.  Personal narratives would have been written earlier in the year, so we would distinguish between writing for different audiences.  Memoirs are a transition from the personal narrative.  Whereas a personal narrative tells about a timeline of a certain event; the memoir tells about the significance and importance of the events to the writer.

Theoretical Foundations:

Nancie Atwell states that, “Memoir is how writers look for the past and make sense of it.  We figure out who we are, who we have become, and what it means to us and to the lives of others: a memoir puts the events of a life in perspective for the writer and for those who read it.  It is a way to validate to others the events of our lives- our choices, perspectives, decisions, responses.” – In the Middle (p 372)

Lucy Calkins, in Living Between the Lines, says, “The purpose of (their) personal narratives has been to report the chronological details of an event.  But the purpose of memoir is to explore the significance of those events.” (p 166)

In the “NCTE Beliefs About the Teaching of Writing” from November 2004 it was stated that, “In any writing classroom, some of the writing is for others and some of the writing is for the writer.  Regardless of the age, ability, or experience of the writer, the use of writing to generate thought is still valuable; therefore, forms of writing such as personal narrative, journals, written reflections, observations, and writing-to-learn strategies are important.”


Organize individual paragraphs with topic sentences, relevant elaboration, and concluding sentences (ELA‑2‑E1)

Identify an audience for a specific writing assignment and select appropriate vocabulary,

details, and information to create a tone or set the mood and to affect or manipulate the intended audience (ELA‑2‑E2)

Develop grade‑appropriate compositions by identifying and applying writing processes, including the following:

  • selecting topic and form
  • prewriting (e.g., brainstorming, researching, raising questions, generating graphic organizers)
  • drafting
  • conferencing with peers and teachers
  • revising based on feedback and use of various tools (e.g., LEAP21 Writer’s Checklist, rubrics)
  • proofreading/editing
  • publishing using available technology (ELA‑2‑E3)

Use a variety of literary devices, including hyperbole and metaphor, in compositions (ELA‑2‑E5)

Write using standard English structure and usage, including:

  • using active and passive voices of verbs
  • avoiding writing with sentence fragments and run‑on sentences (ELA‑3‑E3)

Lesson Directions:

Objective: Students will create their own alphabiography mimicking the style of James Howe’s Totally Joe.  Students will develop and strengthen their tone and voice as writers through this activity.  The overall timeline of this activity is a nine week period from introduction to publishing.


Ä      Define alphabiography and contrast it to an autobiography.

Ä      Read the opening letter and first chapter of James Howe’s Totally Joe to set the mood.

Ä      Draft your letter to “your” teacher and brainstorm ideas for each letter of the alphabet to model to the students.  Remind them that the alphabiography should be in chronological order, so keep that in mind when brainstorming.

Ä      Model your writing process with your students, thinking aloud as needed.  For your modeling, write as the age your students are.  Share your finished product.

Ä      Have students write their first letter(s).  Students may write the letters in order or not, but they must keep in mind that the book should be chronological.  Once students have a clear focus of where their alphabiography is going, they can go back and write the letter to the teacher for the beginning.

Ä      They may choose to share at will.  Because these are personal stories, some students may have topics that are too personal to want to share with a large group.

Ä      Once the students have completed all 26 chapters, they can complete the publishing of their book.  This can occur in whichever fashion the student likes.  Some choose to simply staple the papers together; some make a scrapbook (including pictures and items,) some use illustrations.  The final product is completely up to them, it is their alphabiography.

Optional Choices:

Ä      Younger students could do a picture alphabiography- drawing a picture for each letter and writing just a few sentences about each item.

Ä      Some students have written Katrina remembrance books.

Ä      This could be used as a book report and written from the point of view of a character. (readwritethink.org)

Ä      After completion of the initial alphabiography, each short letter chapter could be expanded to create a full-blown memoir; leaving out the letters.

July 1, 2008

Welcome GNOWPers!

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You’ve asked for it, here it is.  A blog for you to post and receive lesson plans, ideas, catch up with, or just stalk each other….

So- get to it!

Muah! Dawn

French Quarter Writing Marathon

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Don’t forget, this Thursday, July 3rd is our annual FQ Writing Marathon.  Wear comfy shoes, sunscreen, and bring your favorite mode of writing.  See you at Cafe Du Monde!

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