Lightning Writing

Thursday, January 30, 2014
struck by Lori

Brace yourselves. I'm going to shock you. When we ask kids to explain or persuade, they hesitate to support their case with any convincing examples. Allow me to demonstrate. 

Perhaps a prompt asks students to explain the benefits of having a good friend. In my best student voice, I will write my essay:

A good friend is important because they are always there for you they can help you when you need it and support you when you feel down. Sometimes if you are having a hard time, maybe you can find a good friend to help you feel better. When I'm having a bad day, my homegirl will always be there for me. That's why we're best friends we're always there for each other. 

Ok. I'm going to stop before you decide to stop reading our blog forever. The point is, kids just throw it away. If we can just get kids to think of examples...lightning support their thesis statement, then we've already won half the battle. 

I start by reviewing two terms in our visual dictionary.
  • Anecdote--a small story used as an example to prove a point.
  • Allusion--reference to literature, movies, or history.
For this lesson, I emphasize the anecdote as a personal story. I realize that I'm using the term allusion in a direct sense and that we have to train our kids to identify indirect allusions as they read, BUT I really like having my students use these "reader's terms" to describe their own writing. It's that whole read as a writer and write as a reader mentality.
Hundreds of prompts at your fingertips!

Once we've reviewed the terms, I allow lightning to strike. I use Gretchen Bernabei's picture DVD Lightning in a Bottle because it is a treasure trove of images and accompanying theme statements or truisms. (Get 89 of the visual prompts for F-R-E-E-E here!) These truisms can easily be turned into thesis statements and the kids are then asked to support the thesis with anecdotes or allusions. I like to choose 5 images and truisms. When I display the first one, I tell my students to talk at their tables about how they would support that statement. 

Surprise! Surprise! When I listen to their conversation, they're not supporting the thesis! Instead, they're rambling like I did at the beginning of this post or they're talking about whether they agree or disagree with the statement. When I finally hear a kid doing it correctly, I make a big stinking deal about it and ask that random awesome student to explain to the class how they know that thesis (truism) to be true. Then I ask the class to identify whether random awesome kid is supporting the thesis with an anecdote or an allusion. Then I change the photo and we do it a couple more times before moving it to paper. 

When we move it to paper, I display 5 images/truisms in a row and ask kids to pick 3 to work with. They split a page in their journal into 3 sections, and I ask them to support the trusim/ thesis and then use the expository sentence stems to move into their example. 

It is empowering because I think kids realize that they can use certain nuggets of knowledge to support various thesis statements. For example, an allusion to Martin Luther King could support ideas about perseverance, sacrifice, ambition, hard work,...options are almost endless!

Some kids struggled more than others, but this is definitely going to become regular practice for us. It is fast practice that really allows lots of room for good discussion and sharing our writing. 

Maybe lightning can strike twice!


  1. Lori, can you elaborate on the expository sentence stems? 8 weeks until our test, and I have tons of kids still in the dark. I am in panic mode!

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  3. Hi Teresa, the sentence stems are listed on Suzanne's post, and I put the link below. They are used to remind kids to begin with a position statement or controlling idea (I think...). Then they help kids to remember to EXplain with EXamples (I think this because... I also think this because...) Finally, it helps bring the writing to a close by reinforcing the thesis (That's why...). Breathe deeply. Teach them how to use the stems in 4-sentence kernel essays. Kernel several essays and then choose one to develop and play with revision strategies. Look at a calendar of your class days and figure many kernels you can do and how many revision lessons you want to have. Best wishes! Keep me posted on how you and your kids are doing.