Posted November 27, 2017 & filed under mentor text, Notebook, Student Writing.

The trees sway in the wind, dancing upon our eyes. The joy-filled kids swarm past us like a flock of angry geese. The mud bestows heavy layers of stains at the tips of my shoes, leaving them with a brown bumpy concoction. The blades of grass at my feet tickle my toes, while the mulch does its job and makes the grass disappear. The fresh air roars through my skin, making its way into the roots of my hair. The sweat forms on my skin like rain in a thunderstorm, the warmth of the sun works its way down to the tips of my toes, to the roots of my fingernails. The pasty wind runs through my nostrils, leaving me with a sudden surge of cold. The creaks of the monkey bars crack through my ears, as love-filled kids rock upon them. The shrieks of laughter reach my ears like a mighty roar of thunder. The teachers happily talk to one another as if just meeting an old friend. The birds chirp above us sitting on trees stuffed to the brim with leaves. The playground is a place that makes any visitor feel free.

By Ella, 4th grade

Jump into Fiction with Springboard Books

Posted April 4, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Sometimes even the best writers need a springboard – an idea just big enough to give their imaginations a boost into the air. I’m always excited when I find a great new “springboard book” to use with my young writers. Here are two of my favorites.

I recently discovered the delightful book 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore, written by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Nancy Carter. This book’s rambunctious heroine17things is full of schemes that seem like a good idea at the time, but invariably get her in trouble. “I had an idea,” the book begins, “to staple my brother’s hair to his pillow.” The facing page says, “I’m not allowed to use the stapler anymore.” Through this simple structure, the main character shows us sixteen more brilliant ideas she’s no longer allowed to pursue.

Although the illustrations give us some idea of the girl’s actions and their consequences, the beauty of this book is that it allows the reader to fill in the narrative, giving us plenty of room to imagine exactly what happened as a result of the main character acting on her rather impish ideas. After my third grade classes read this book with me, they were eager to write about the main character’s adventures–and given a starting and ending point framed by the book’s structure, they were confident in filling in the rest. Some were even inspired to continue this theme by writing their own fictional misadventures.

mysteriesofharrisburdickA book that serves as a more sinister jumping-off point for young writers is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Each surreal black-and-white illustration is accompanied by only the first line of a story. Young writers are intrigued by the slightly scary mood of the book, and are given enough information in the first line to begin to construct their own stories. The resulting mysteries, ghost stories, fantasy and science fiction tales also give young writers a chance to recognize and employ elements of each genre as well as expanding their imaginations into impossible realms.


posted by Tria Wood, Writers in the Schools

Thinking Inside the Box

Posted February 19, 2008 & filed under Notebook.


Usually we want our students to think outside of the box, but for this writing activity, I ask students to do just the opposite.

Last week I brought three ornate boxes into the classroom. We sat in a circle, and the students passed the boxes around. I told them that they could shake the boxes, but they weren’t allowed to open them. The students imagined something was inside the box that would give them special powers.

I told the class we were going to write a three part story. Here’s the breakdown:

Beginning –Describe the box and what is found inside.

Middle –What special power do you get? What happens when you get the power?

End –Do you get to keep the special power? Does it weaken? Get stronger?

I told students they could look inside the boxes if they worked hard during writing time. The students enjoyed writing these stories. Here’s one example.

The Magical Nickel

Today I went outside, and I saw a box. It was a big, green, glowing box. I went by it and a magic nickel just came flying out. I soon figured out that it was a magical nickel. I made a wish that I was the fastest runner in the world. Then I did a race with everybody in the world. I always won. I said, “I like this nickel already.”

Then I wished that I was rich. It happened. I was thrilled. I had like a million dollars. Then I wished I could fly and before you knew it, I was flying as fast as an eagle. Then I flew back to my house and went to sleep. Then I woke, did more wishing, and I shared my wishes.

That’s how my life went on until I was a grown up. Then the nickel went back into the box and then flew into a dimension far far far away from here. I tried to reach it, but I couldn’t. But my life was still good. I really don’t need the nickel any more.

by Orkan, 3rd Gradeamy-lin-in-a-maze.jpg

Posted by Amy Lin, Writers in the Schools