An Open Letter to…

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We’re finishing out the 2017-2018 school year by writing open letters to fictional characters.  Some of us are writing in order to pay tribute, and others of us are writing to (constructively?) criticize.

Regardless of our take on the subject, we all agreed that a strong open letter has several characteristics:

  • a clear controlling idea is presented in the introductory paragraph
  • supporting points are made in the body of the letter, and those points are then elaborated with relevant details AND commentary
  • the controlling idea is echoed in the conclusion, perhaps accompanied by an appeal to action
  • the letter writer’s VOICE is engaging and authentic
  • the letter has an appeal to a wider audience

Many students enhanced their letters with GIFS and other images.  We learned in our digital citizenship lessons that Fair Use laws can protect the use of copyrighted images as long as those images are used in conjunction with critique of a product.

As you enjoy the following open letters, feel free to share your own opinions in the comments!

Esha’s open letter to Severus Snape

Joseph’s open letter to Leo Valdez

Sanaya’s open letter to Indiana Jones

Daniel L’s open letter to C-3PO

Kate’s open letter to Bella Swan

Kayley’s open letter to Wonder Woman

Austin’s open letter to Shrek

 

 

Image credit:  Wikimedia Commons CC0
J’accuse” is an influential open letter written by Émile Zola in 1898 over the Dreyfus Affair.

Learning from Mentor Texts

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Mentors teach and inspire us.  They set examples for us to follow, and we benefit from their guidance.

The same is true of mentor texts.  These are pieces of writing that we read and analyze so that we can figure out what the writer is doing that is so effective.  What moves does the writer make to set a scene, create a mood, or sketch a character?  Once we’ve figured that out, we can try those same moves in our own writing.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

In some of our blog posts this week, you’ll notice us giving credit to Suzanne Collins and Gayle Forman for inspiring our writing.  The following passages were lifted from the first chapters of The Hunger Games and If I Stay:

     Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower.  He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
      Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.

                                                Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

      You wouldn’t expect the radio to work afterward. But it does.
   
 The car is eviscerated. The impact of a four-ton pickup truck going sixty miles an hour plowing straight into the passenger side had the force of an atom bomb. It tore off the doors, sent the front-side passenger seat through the driver’s-side window. It flipped the chassis, bouncing it across the road and ripped the engine apart as if it were no stronger than a spiderweb. It tossed wheels and hubcaps deep into the forest. It ignited bits of the gas tank, so that now tiny flames lap at the wet road.
    And there was so much noise. A symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees. Then it went quiet, except for this: Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3, still playing. The car radio somehow still is attached to a battery and so Beethoven is broadcasting into the once-again tranquil February morning.

                                                          Gayle Forman, If I Stay

What do YOU see in these passages?  What are the writers doing to help you hear, feel, see and understand what is being described?  We’re learning to recognize and name writer’s craft, and we’re starting to apply our new understanding in our own writing.

For examples of student work inspired by the above mentors, see Carly’s blog post, William’s blog post, and Tristan’s blog post.

For an example of student work inspired by our use of Beowulf: A New Telling as a mentor text, see Erin’s blog post and Julia’s blog post.

 

Read Any Good Leads Lately?

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When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.  My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.  She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.  Of course, she did. This was the day of the reaping.

                                                            –Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

 

The writer of an article, essay, story or book begins with a lead to draw the reader in–to make the reader want to read more.  Suzanne Collins opened her book with a lead that gave us information about the setting:  it was the day of the reaping, apparently a day that poor families had cause to dread.

In the comment section of this post, share an interesting lead to an article, essay, story or book you’ve read recently.  Be sure to include the author’s name and the title of the work.  See the first few comments for examples.  Try not to repeat a lead that has already been given.

 

 

Image Credit:  The Hunger Games, Scholastic Press, 2008

First Lines

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First lines, first sentences, first pages–the beginnings of books are important. An intriguing cover may entice us to open a book, but it is the engaging text that makes us want to keep reading.

Below are some first lines of famous books, along with their cover art.  For more examples and links back to sources, click here

In the comments, add your own example of a great first line!  Include the title and author’s name.

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fl5fl3fl10fl1fl4

fl11fl8fl9

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author! Author!

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We’ve been talking about what we like in the books we are reading.  What does the author do to make the book good?  What choices has he or she made that are really effective in making us want to read more?

Here are some of the thoughts shared by students:

 

Mikaela on Caragh M. O’Brien (The Vault of Dreamers):
“I like how the author makes you ask questions.  It makes you want to finish the book before it eats you alive!  And she makes you review the questions later to see if you were thinking logically.”

Reda on Heather Anastasiu (Glitch):
She knows how to end a chapter with a cliffhanger.  With other authors, they seem to make me angry and aggravate me to the point where I want to stop reading, but this author makes it so that I need to know what’s on the other side of that page.”

Tori on Dawn Metcalfe (Luminous): 
“This author has created a story that is unique to all others.  It doesn’t have a very generic plotline, such as one with an obvious antagonist.  This, I think, is an important part of a good story because it creates that tension.  My book keeps taking sharp turns that make the ending harder and harder to guess.”

Niko on J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets):
“Unlike most authors, she expands her universe and keeps a good story at the same time!”

 

 

Layna on Kelly Bingham (Shark Girl):
“I like how the author writes the book in letter form.  I feel like books that are made up of letters are unique because it is a whole different style of writing.  Letters are shorter so there are more stopping points, while in other books there are chapters that are 20 pages long and you sometimes have to stop in a middle of a chapter!”

Madeleine J on Agatha Christie (The Hollow):
“I love this author’s work because she knows how people think and you never can guess who the murderer is.  I also love her work because there is so much of it, and she always gives an extensive background on the people involved.”

 

David S on Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl:  The Last Guardian):
“I like Colfer’s work because he always has a riveting and suspenseful plot.  He never fails to merge suspense and humor, so I always find myself smiling or on the edge of my seat.”

Mia on Suzanne Collins (Mockingjay):
“I like that the author elaborates and is very descriptive.  She is very specific about the words she chooses to use in her sentences.  She uses very big words that have even bigger meanings, along with some I have never heard before.”


 

Book Cover Images: Scholastic Reading Club Online. Scholastic, Inc., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

Crafting with Imagery

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Students were asked to reflect on poetry they had recently created.

Q: Think about a significant image in one of the poems you have been working on. Quote the line(s) in the space below, then elaborate on the meaning that imagery brings to your poem. What do you want your reader to feel?

We are making the connection between our crafting choices and the resulting experiences of our readers. 

Awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voice Through Punctuation

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In our study of mentor texts (most recently, the prologue to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, the thirty-fourth chapter of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and James Ramsey Ullman’s “A Boy and a Man” from our Prentice-Hall literature textbook), we’ve paid attention to how the authors have used punctuation to bring out the emotion of what is happening on the page.  Hyphenated adjectives can add voice, dashes can add a sense of immediacy and urgency, colons can add dramatic emphasis, and ellipses can show hesitation or doubt.  Of course, these aren’t the only uses for these punctuation marks.  We’ve been playing with them in our writing over the past few weeks to see what more they can do for us.

Here are examples from student work that I collected in my classroom about six or seven years ago. These sentences were all taken from personal narratives written in response to the prompt “write about a moment you’ll always remember.”

Hyphenated Adjective

We weren’t just scared.  We were scared-out-of-our-wits scared. Shelby

We didn’t call our full-court, man-to-man, get-the-ball defense “Duracell” for nothing.  In our last game alone, we had created fifteen turnovers.Ryan

Dash

I was having the time of my life.  Something was bound to happen—something bad. –Jesse

Confused, I glanced at the clock.  It was only—wait—that couldn’t be!  Nine o’clock?!! –Annie

There were no birds singing, no plants swaying, no clouds moving—another breathless day. –Carly

Every minute—every second—was precious to me, because every instant we weren’t there was a moment he might die.  I don’t remember whether or not I cried.  It wasn’t important.  What was important was how much I needed him—how much I would miss him—how much I loved him. –Hetty

I was trapped. The towering oak which had once captured my imagination now held me prisoner in my own treehouse.  I yelled for my mom, for my dog—for anyone!  –Jaci

Colon

It was World War III:  older brother vs. younger sister.  There were pillows, books, even food being thrown.  Soon we were throwing ourselves at each other!  — Myles

I knew something then:  this dog needed me, and I needed him too. –Emmi

It was only later that I realized what I had accomplished:  not only had I broken my own record, but I had broken the all-time record! — Katy

Victory was mine:  I had decimated his army and captured his king in the most strategic and graceful game of chess I’d ever played.  — Clifton

Ellipsis

I felt strange…not good, not bad.  Only one thing was certain:  I had to make the best out of a sad situation—new house, new room, new things. –Mary

“Ummm…sure…I’ll do it,” I finally answered.  Oh my God, I thought…What did I just do?Jessie

“Hi, I…I’m Je…Jessica.”  My lips were paralyzed and my heart was pounding furiously.  Three hundred pairs of eyes were staring up at me, watching my every move. –Jessica

Students, use the comments to post examples of punctuation craft from your recent essays or blog posts.

Author’s Craft

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Show, don’t tell.

Use vivid verbs.

Paragraph for effect.

Create images that the reader can see, hear, and feel.

Open your writer’s toolbox: dialog, metaphor, simile, personification, ellipsis, dash, colon, sentence variety, repetition, inner thoughts, leads…

And more.

All good advice, but none of it as effective as it could be without models–mentor texts–to serve as guides for imitation and inspiration.

So in recent weeks, we’ve been reading Michael Crichton, James Herriott, J. K. Rowling, and more published authors to enjoy their work and the way their words made us feel, and to ask how they did it.  What choices did those writers make that were particularly effective, and could we do apply the same “brushstrokes” (thank you, Harry Noden) to our writing to achieve the effect we wanted?  Students were also encouraged to pay attention to the crafting in the books, articles, and posts they read outside of school and to ask the same questions:  What do I like about this?  How did the author do it?

I’m excited to see our attention to author’s craft showing up in student blog posts.   Read the following Flipboard magazines spotlighting our student writers…what craft lessons can you recognize in their work?

Word Play:  Fiction–Setting, Mood, and  Character

Word Play:  Expository and Personal Narrative

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, Writing, Thinking…

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Reading, writing, thinking…and thinking some more after more reading and writing.  What have we been up to?  Here’s a summary of the past few weeks:

  • Reading of The Hunger Games and Beowulf:  A New Telling, discussing not only what happened in the stories, but the “why?”  and the “how?” questions, too.   How did Suzanne Collins and Robert Nye craft their writing to show character  motivation and conflict, to create mood and advance plot, to  develop theme and make meaning?  What connections do we see between those stories and others that we know and love?  Students in periods 2 and 3 applied the connection between imagery, mood, and theme to create poems inspired by The Hunger Games.  You can see some of their work here and here.
  • Exploring our own voices through the varied assignments of our iEARN MindWorks Learning Circle project.  Our project partners from Belarus asked us to write about teen culture, and we sent them a fun collection of narrative and expository pieces sharing our take on young teen life.  Our partner class from Pakistan asked us to write about what students need to be psychologically healthy, and our responses included a poem as well as short essays and opinion pieces (more free time and less homework was a common theme!).  Our Russian friends live in a closed city, and they wanted to know about building and sustaining friendships over time and distance.  We wrote personal anecdotes, advice columns, and summaries of interviews with parents about their own long-term friendships.  When all the iEARN projects are published in January, Mrs. Schoch and I will post the link on our blogs!
  • Writing poetry for our own iEARN project.  Students from Pakistan, Indonesia, Russia, Romania, and Belarus are writing with us about family, home, and heritage.  You can see some of our own work here and here, and we have received the wonderful poems from Ms. Gorelova’s class in Russia and from Ms Mitrofanova’s class in Belarus.  Mrs. Schoch and I will have our students put together a collection of poems from all participating iEARN classes for January publication.  It promises to be a beautiful look at how much we all have in common even as we value our own unique roots and cultures.
  • Understanding phrases, clauses, compound sentences, complex sentences, and comma usage.  We learn the rules, look at models from published writing, and then practice in our own work.  We’re also paying attention to sentence fragments and how effective they can be.  Katniss’s voice would not have been the same without them…and Robert Nye used plenty of  fragments (and very short, simple sentences) in his new telling of Beowulf.
  • Studying Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  We’re learning to use the awesome Subtext tool to facilitate deeper reading and discussion.  Our narrator is the delightful Jim Dale–you can listen to him read a part of Stave One here.

What’s ahead?  More Christmas Carol reading, more Writer’s Notebook explorations, and of course, more blogging  :- )