Revision Strategy #3: Rubber Banding

Posted July 18, 2017 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.


With younger children, this concrete activity called “Rubber Band Stretching” works well.  Demonstrate how a rubber band starts out small and can be stretched much larger.  Read a simple sentence out loud, and ask for suggestions about how to expand it.  After a student successfully stretches a sentence by adding new words, hand her a rubber band ball.  When a second student stretches the sentence further, the first student passes the ball to the second.  The game continues until it is impossible to stretch the sentence anymore!  Students then apply the lesson to a piece of their own writing.

With older students, the rubber band can be used to discuss sentence length in more complexity. Bring in a strong piece of writing that includes short, medium, and long sentences.  Discuss the various effects.  If you have a geo board, you can actually record or map out the sentences using rubber bands.  Show how the rhythm of a piece changes depending on sentence lengths.

As a spinoff activity, ask students to map out sentence lengths in advance.  Then, try to write a paragraph that fits, and notice how the paragraph sounds.  For older students, it is empowering to see how they can control the rhythm of their piece just through sentence length.

-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston

Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery

Posted March 28, 2008 & filed under Notebook.


I begin this lesson by asking my students to define what a “riddle” is.
They say:
“A riddle is like a problem you have to solve.”
“Riddles have clues.”
“You’re supposed to guess what something is.”

As a warm up, I read riddles that former students have written, and the class guesses what the answers might be. We discuss how writers can give clues about their object’s properties, use, or habitat. The students try to stump each other–let’s see if they’ve stumped you!

Mystery Object

My object is round.
It has three hands.
It has a number
Of numbers that is a dozen.
It is as quiet as a mouse.
9, 12, 6, and 3
Are enemies.
It also helps you when

You’re lost in time.

By Ty, 3rd Grade

Sea Shore

I am as dull as a rock.
I’m grayer than a dolphin.
I hurt people when they step on me.
You don’t often see me.
I’m not worth a lot, just your treasure.
And I contain great beauty.
What am I?

By Theresa, 3rd Gradeamy-lin-in-a-maze.jpg

You can guess your answers in the comment section below. Read my next post for the answers to these riddles!

Posted by Amy Lin, Writers in the Schools

On Meaning

Posted January 21, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

A few years ago I saw an author speak an Houston. During her talk, she spoke about a friend of hers who had passed away. Her concern was moving; she didn’t need to memorialize her friend, yet she freely chose to honor her with her speech. However, her execution wasn’t perfect. If her testimonial had been a service, complete with instruments, then a couple of the musicians sounded jarringly out of tune. There was an edge to her stories; some of them portrayed her friend in an unflattering light. At first I thought it might just be me, but a friend who had also been in attendance that night later confirmed my impression. We agreed that the author’s words had a double meaning, in which the edges of her speech cut against the grain.

It’s true of the literature we read, too. Our writing has unintended effects; it can reveal more about us than we meant to show, or speak in tones we would’ve preferred to hide. Sometimes, it can even make our work better.

I often begin the school year with an exercise where I ask the children to write about themselves. When children are asked to tell their personal history, they will often adopt a clipped, deadpan, almost clinical tone. They are recounting events that to them seem mundane, even boring; they have long since merged with the wallpaper of their lives. When we teachers read them, however, the details often leap out and grab us by the throat. Some children have experienced losses that are truly tragic; after reading their stories, their ordinary difficulties in the classroom seem trivial by comparpic.jpgison.

Even when we, as authors, think we can predict the effect of our writing, the example of those children shows us that readers will often glean meaning we didn’t know was there.

posted by Julian Martinez, Writers in the Schools

Origin Stories

Posted December 12, 2007 & filed under Notebook.


I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. I didn’t live there long; within a few years my family had moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where I spent my so-called ‘formative years.’ I remember billboards coated in the dripping wax of a local bourbon manufacturer, the sickly sweet smell of tobacco at the state fair, and the hot air balloons they would launch every year around the start of the Kentucky Derby.

My last interstate move was in high school, when I left Lakeland High School in the middle of tenth grade for Bellaire here in Houston. One of my first memories was of speaking to newfound friends about the beaches in Florida and Texas, when Galveston was just an ocean-blue blank in my imagination.

In my experience, there are two types of children who move around: the children of enlisted men and women and the children of engineers. My parents were engineers. My mother studied chemical engineering at Pratt Institute, an art school in New York City, and to this day, she says she would have been better off studying painting. Of course, it’s fortunate for me that she didn’t: since Pratt didn’t offer chemical engineering courses, she had to take them at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn (now merging with NYU), and that was where she met my father. For me, NYC was always associated with grandparents, aunts, uncles, the immigrant section of Queens, and relatives braving the flyover country to stay for a weekend with us.

Everyone comes from somewhere. One of the joys of teaching with WITS has been hearing the stories of my students and seeing Houston outside its familiar context, as the backdrop to a strange new young life. I know that, one day, the students I teach will be telling stories like these, too. My hope is that, when they do, my teaching will make them richer.wits-blog-pics-002.jpg

posted by Julian Martinez, Writers in the Schools