Who Cares?

Thursday, November 14, 2013
half of our curly cohort, Suzanne

Literary writing...who cares?

In Texas high schools, this fictional story is dead to us.  On to bigger and better things, like expository and persuasive.  Well let me tall ya, in my Texas high school, literary writing is alive an well...at least until the second week of December.  We still have a staggering number of students who will fight to pass the STAAR retest in December.  The structure we are using would work very nicely with the personal narrative at the 4th and 7th grade level.  

Literary or narrative writing is, for most, the easier of the two writing tasks.  It is worth our time because it is a great place for students to pick up mucho pointage.  It will come as no surprise that we turned to our good buddy, Gretch, for help.  

We emphasize that the purpose of literary writing is to entertain.  They are excellent critics (and tough customers) of entertainment.  I can think of many a joke that has passed without a chuckle, deadpan stares after a hilarious YouTube video, and the denial of humor is a text (It was Dave Berry...come on people!!).  Yet they continue to turn in snooze-fest papers and call them entertainment.  To remedy this, students use her "Completely Made-up Story" structure to plan a story with an engaging character, conflict driven plot, and resolution. 

To plan, student draw and label the four boxes of the structure.  (See a picture? Ready go...character in the middle of doing something, a problem arises...)  Then they "kernel" the essay.  Under the structure, students write a 1, 2, 3, 4, leaving some room in between.  In the planning stage, they will draft four sentences of their essay.  This ensures (I use this word lightly) that their story will go somewhere.  In the drafting stage, writers "pop" open each kernel and fully describe.  

We recently finished working with the literary story in class.  Each day students would kernel an essay for a different prompt.  For our lesson, I would focus on one part of the structure and teach a different skill.  It went something like this:
1.  Character in the Middle of Doing Something- Ba-Da-Bings
2.  A Problem Arises- Showing vs. Telling: We made a list of "Be" verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been) in our Writer's Tools section.  I had students go through the essay they'd just kerneled and highlight any of the words listed.  We talked about how these words tell what happened.  Eliminating them helps us show the reader what happened.
3.  Unsuccessful Attempt to Solve- Dialogue: Using manipulatives (imagine that!), students put together movie quotes.  My fav:
"Nobody puts Baby in a corner," he said.  Did they know the movie reference?  Nope, but it sure did make me happy. 
Students copied their sentence into Writer's Tools, and we discussed what the noticed (a.k.a. were sneaky about taking notes of dialogue).  We also talked about how the same rules apply for internal dialogue and the positive impact it could have on our paper.
4.  Character Solves/Deals with the Problem-  Pitchforking

We would always revise our sentence to show this skill.  Students "published" there sentence on a poster, and I mounted the structure on top.

I don't know why, but I love this so much!  Students have a visual reminder of the structure, and they can see a sample sentence of the structure and skill in action.  This is probably me being overly mushy, but I love, love that it looks like a patchwork quilt.  All of us bring something different to the table to achieve a common purpose.  Told ya, sappy!

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