Because my students share several times a week with their sacred writing partners, pages like this become what I call "contagious." One student takes the challenge from me and my notebook, creates their own interpretation of the page, shares the page with up to three partners, often inspiring their partners to try something similar.
|I am always seeking student examples from students other than my own. If you have a student do a quality job with this notebook challenge, photograph and send it to me. If I end up sharing it here on this page, I will send you a complimentary product from our Teachers Pay Teachers store!
Introducing a Word Bank and Applying it to an Actual Painting:
I used to be intimidated by art museums. My wife took a really good art appreciation class in college, and I ended up in a not-so-good section of the same course. When we'd visit a museum, she could always out-critique and out-analyze me because she had a better vocabulary and knew how to focus on a painting's style and its elements. Not me. If I visited an art museum (my favorite is the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., where I can see several paintings by my favorite artist--Winslow Homer), I would become silently appreciative, not vocally appreciative. I let my wife do all the talking as we looked at paintings. Eventually, I picked up enough vocabulary through her that I could speak somewhat intelligently. It requires repeated practice to learn to meaningfully use the specific vocabulary of anything--a sport (like golf or dressage), a past time (like cooking or karate), or an expression of art (like painting or opera).
As I remind my students often during our Vocabulary Workshop routine, the research says, "A person must have 8-10 meaningful experiences where they apply a new word to different contexts before any person can 'own' a word and call it a part of his/her vocabulary." My students collect 25-cent words every week, which means they collect words that require contextual clues or a dictionary to discover their meaning; through our vocabulary workshop every week, we attempt to have multiple experiences with just four 25-cent words that we write about in interesting ways. When a student no longer needs context clues or a dictionary (a.k.a. they can define the word by simply seeing the word), our words become 10-cent words. "But they're losing value!" my kids like to dramatically exclaim. "But you can fit more dimes in your pocket than quarters," I reply, "and the goal of vocabulary learning should be to have as many great words 'in your pocket' as possible. You can read how I share this concept/metaphor with my students by clicking here and viewing my original PPT presentation that I share with the students early on every school year.
Back to being able to talk like someone who knows how to talk about paintings. Our students study slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement, both in their history class and through assigned literature in my class. When we do this "art critiques' vocabulary bank" activity, I try to show them paintings based on those three topics so that our study complements what topics I know they're already learning about, but I want their knowledge and perspective to go a little deeper. By far, the best discussion about a painting my students have with me is when we discuss Norman Rockwell's painting "The Problem We All Live With." In Travels with Charley (one of our assigned non-fiction studies), Steinbeck visits the south near the end of his road trip, and he witnesses first-hand a group of angry white mothers--he ironically calls them "the cheerleaders"-- screaming hateful expletives at young Ruby Bridges being escorted to her newly segregated school by federal marshals. Steinbeck paints the hatred well with his words, but Norman Rockwell captures it visually and beautifully with this painting.
Before students see the painting, they study this two-page word bank (which I copy-pasted from the Internet) as a small group of three or four students. The first page and a half of the document does not list definitions, so students work together to see how many of the words are '25-cent words' to them and how many are '10-centers,' as I like to call them. Usually the group has enough knowledge of the words so that, working together, they can define just about all of them. Those they can't, they highlight. We share our short list of highlighted words with the whole class, and if anyone in the class can provide a working definition of a word from the list, they can write the definition next to the word in question. Any words that no one can define? Well, that's why we keep dictionaries under our desks, or they may look the words up on their phones if they ask permission first. When they look up the words, remind them to look for the definition that seems to be most about visual art or painting; muted is an example word that might need to be discussed before students write an explanation that is applicable to art.
Now, we do a small group RAFTS prompt based on the Norman Rockwell painting, which I show on my Smartboard with the lights out. If you're unfamiliar with RAFTS prompts, simply know they are prompts that give the students a real-world task to write about, and they don't write as students; instead, they write as a specific "role" that's been assigned to them. Here is my RAFTS prompt for this painting by Mr. Rockwell:
|You are a professional art critique and teacher
||You are speaking at a museum to a group of students
||8 intelligent sentences that you might say to your audience
||Norman Rockwell's painting-- The Problem We All Live With
||Your verb is to impress these students with your knowledge
In their small groups, using the two-page word bank document provided above, my students work together to craft accurate and intelligent things to say about the painting. Each sentence must contain a vocabulary word from the two-page document. They may re-use a vocabulary word in a new sentence so long as the new sentence also contains a vocabulary word from the document they haven't used yet.
As with all my group write tasks, students play "pass the pencil," which means students take turns being the recorder for the group. I don't keep these group writes--they earn a participation grade for creating the ten sentences in collaboration while I monitor and coach the group to success--but generally what you're looking for are accurate statements, like these:
- The splattered tomato provides a dramatic and unfriendly focal point that your eyes are immediately drawn to.
- Compared to the huge bodies of the federal marshals, the young girl is almost a miniature; her tiny-ness is evidence that she poses no real threat to anyone.
- The angular arms and rigid legs of the headless marshals provide a frame within the frame that would be around the painting.
Once finished, each group member quickly memorizes a different sentence from the group's list. I ask them to practice saying their sentence as a "stuffy-but-smart-sounding art expert might say it" with their groups, then, everyone stands up and mixes and mingles. I turn the light off again so the painting can be well seen, and my students find 5 different people not from their original grouping, and they exchange their smart sentences. When they return to their group, I give them a few minutes to try and remember smart things said to them by their classmates during the exchange. By the end of this activity, students have a healthy portion of art words to play with as we prepare for the writing mini-lesson.
A day or two later (I think it's important to let ideas for upcoming writing lessons sit for a few days; I call this teaching technique, "letting the ideas or words gestate or simmer."), we try a new word bank activity in different small groups. This time our word bank's topic is "Words you would use to describe paint and/or brush strokes on an artist's canvas." To get the ideas flowing (that's a 'brush stroke word!'), I show them a video. When Coldplay made the video for "Viva La Vida," they used a filter on the camera and special effects that make the video seem like a painting that's come to life. Clearly, the "paint" looks cracked and weathered, but what else do they see, especially when they focus on the moving backgrounds behind the musicians? We watch the video (my students inevitably start singing along...usually badly) and knowing they are looking for words to describe what a painter can do/imitate with paint (like swirl/cloud), I allow them to quietly share words that occur to them as they watch.
Click image or here to watch Coldplay's Viva La Vida on YouTube.
Always preview any video before showing it to your students!
In their groups, after the video has been watched, students see if they can write down ten different words that would essentially describe 'brush techniques' the video made them think of. We write these words on the backside of the two-page document with the art critique's words on them. Ten is a tough number of words, I've found, with just showing them the one video, but I am always surprised to discover if I have each group share their one or two best words/descriptions, allowing others to 'steal' ideas they hadn't thought of and add to their own lists, ten or twelve words from everyone becomes a possibility.
Then, remaining with the same group, students continue the brainstorm as I show them the following four images of famous paintings:
The thumbnails above can be clicked on, and I purposely linked them to pretty sizeable versions of the paintings elsewhere online; this will allow you (or students on laptops or iPads) to zoom in as they search for the most descriptive and specific words that describe what the artist has done with paint. Again, these words from these brainstorms need to be saved, and I have found writing them on the back of the two-page handout from earlier in this lesson helps to keep all their words together.
And, by the way, there is a fifth, bonus painting thumbnail you can share at this point of the lesson if you'd like; it's a painting by Vermeer (called "View of Delft"), who is the artist the characters learn about as they have their big adventure in the mentor text I cite below in the mini-lesson.
The Skill-Specific Writing Mini-Lesson: Writing Like an Artist Paints
When I read a good, new-to-me chapter book, I am always on the look-out for really interesting excerpts, usually in paragraph form. I look for techniques I see the writer using, especially techniques that I can point out to my students and challenge them to imitate the idea in their writer's notebooks or for small pieces of writing we take through the writing process in a week-long mini-lesson that we revisit daily for fifteen to thirty minutes. My goal in using chapter book excerpts for the basis of a mini-lesson is to motivate students to want to read that whole book on their own. While I do have some mini-lessons that use excerpts from the assigned novels we read as a class, most of my lessons are from books that reside in my classroom library or in our school library. This is the case with the book I use to inspire a small piece of descriptive writing from my kiddos in this particular mini-lesson: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett.
If you've followed my website for any amount of time, you'll remember that I classify my mentor texts and the ways that I use them into three categories. The notebook lesson at the top of this page (based on When Pigasso Met Mootisse) uses what I call an idea mentor text; the book provides the idea of two neighbors decorating their houses using their individualized style of painting, upsetting each other in the process enough to make them complain to each other. I borrowed that idea. I use Chasing Vermeer as a style or craft mentor text; with this type of touchstone text, students look closely at specific writing techniques an author has used and attempt to imitate the style or craft of the author. When I challenge teachers to organize their own mentor texts during my 7 Elements Workshop, they generally find that idea mentor texts are pretty easy to come by and create lessons around; with craft mentor texts, we have a much harder time. I believe that we--as writing teachers in general--are not used to analyzing texts for craft techniques; we are very good at teaching our students to read for comprehension because that's mostly what we do with the books we personally love to read. We are not used to reading for comprehension as well as for analyzing techniques authors used that were unique or impressive. Over time, I can tell you, it becomes easier to spot good craft techniques. I tell you this because I hope you might set a personal goal for yourself of "Discovering more craft mentor texts for my classroom library," and I hope this lesson illustrates what you can do to improve your own mini-lessons when you become better at spotting potential craft mentor texts in your reading. You can download two great free resources about using mentor texts well at this page at our Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
Chasing Vermeer is a story about two young, bright school friends and neighbors (Petra and Calder) who find themselves in an unexpected and mysterious adventure when an invaluable painting by Johannes Vermeer goes missing in their hometown of Chicago. Here is the passage that struck me when I first read Chasing Vermeer; it is a description of a subway train that races past both adventurers' windows from their two separate homes:
|“The 5:38 southbound train went by Petra's window exactly three seconds before it passed Calder's. In between, it shot by the Castiglione's and then the Bixby's--Petra had once calculated that it passed a house per second on Harper Avenue. She liked the trains. Looking out, she saw the bright shout of a red hat, a child in a purple jacket pressed against the window, a bald head just rising over a stiff rectangle of newspaper. She'd noticed that colors sometimes left their shapes when things flashed by so fast. She wrote [in her notebook]:
Yellow leaf: surprise.
Loud hat, square coat, bald head like moon: red lavender, salmon.
Question: What does Ms. Hussey really want us to see?
(pg. 18 in my copy).”
Ms. Hussey, by the way, is the teacher of the book's two main characters, and she challenges her students to look at the world differently, as referenced in the above passage; this reminds me of how Ralph Fletcher challenges my students to observe the world with a writer's eyes in his book A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. I love that Petra in this book keeps a writer's notebook. I love how she records thoughts so uniquely in it; most notably, I love how she describes the scene of the subway passing by using words that one might use if describing an interesting painting of that scene. Colors and interesting shapes are what she pulls from the scene of a subway in fast motion. It's almost like she's analyzing or describing the scene as a painting...thus, the title of this lesson: writing with a painter's vocabulary.
So the writing task for this mini-lesson becomes this: You are either standing still and see something move by you quickly, or you are on something that is fast moving and you are studying something you see outside that is not moving as fast. When students describe, their goal is to incorporate vocabulary that one might use if describing the scene as though it were the subject of a painting. Like Balliett, they shouldn't assault us with word choice that hints at the art of painting; instead, they need to maintain subtlety.
Trait/Skill Focus for this Writing Task: All students must focus on Word Choice, specifically skills of using words that support an theme or concept (painting or artistic words) and the skill of taking risks with language. For students who would benefit from a differentiated extra push, they can also be expected to work on Idea Development, especially focusing on using specific details to "paint a picture" for the reader's mind.
Student samples for discussion: Before writing a rough draft or immediately before planning revision, I like to show my students samples I have collected over the years. One of the 21st Century skills is "Self Regulation," and teaching students to specifically analyze another student's sample for--in this case--word choice and idea development begins an important conversation that leads to self-regulation. If students can point a finger at skill-based strengths and struggles in another student's writing, they can eventually point that same finger at themselves, which is at the heart of this 21st Century Skill.
Comparing a Third Grader's Sample to a Sixth Grader's Sample
|The Bike in the Park
by Austin, third grade writer
Round and round the pedals go, faster and faster by the park. Around the bike, the grass is blowing by in a blur and it’s morphed with the white of the dandelion. The slide has a gleam which shines in my eyes. The wood chips and the rough concrete look uncomfortable, and I hope they don’t pop my tires. The clouds look like old chips of paint off a car. The blue of the sky is painted with stroked water color.
This park look like an old painting with details chipped off.
|With a partner, discuss where you see these two different-aged writers doing well with any of the the following trait-based skills:
- Uses "painting" vocabulary
- Takes risks with words
- Incorporates strong verbs
- Chooses interesting adjectives
- Uses specific nouns
- "Paints a picture" in the reader's mind
- Uses interesting and specific details that are memorable
- Balances "showing" with "telling"
- No detail feels out of place
- Stays on topic
by Betsy, sixth grade writer
It is a dark rainy day. I am waiting for the trolley to go by. The dreary raindrops pitter-patter on my umbrella, and slide off it like tears. Finally, the moment I've been waiting for. I see a small object down the street. As it grows, it expands like someone's lung when they are inhaling. As it passes me, there is a blur of vivid colors, and my imagination explodes. A burst of colors and shapes flood into my mind, washing away all my thoughts, even those I was just thinking a moment before. My mind is blank but fuller than anyone else's mind.
My vision zooms in closer, to see what is within the spectacular walls of the trolley. I see a boy wearing a coat as black as a panther, ready to pounce. A creamy shawl whispers quietly in the corner trying not to be noticed, but unsuccessful, for its beauty is hard to miss. The rain splashes up from puddles, making the image look like a water color with too much water, dripping down the canvas. Then, as quickly as it had come, the trolley was fading, shrinking smaller and smaller as it got father away, just as a lung shrinks when it is exhaling.
Then, I am left in the quiet stillness of the street. The only sound that I can hear now is the trees, whispering like old ladies, telling secrets too old for man today to understand. I become dizzy from all the sharp colors piercing at my mind. I lay down in the wet grass as the moon arises, looking like a perfect button stitched in the sky to keep the world from falling apart. As I close my eyes, the crickets start to join in to the chorus of birds, and I am lost in my imagination. I see the image of the trolley going by and fly in to the colors. As I look around me at the beauty of art, a startling thought occurred to me, but a wonderful thought too. I had just glimpsed the beauty of the world for what it really is.
The world is the most beauteous thing, and we must cherish that, before it has gone. The world is our most valuable possession. The world is of great importance to us. The most vivid beauty of all. A beauty that so many people had failed to notice and that so many others had forgotten.
Student Samples with Discussion Prompts that can be Printed!
Click here to open/print this one-page document.
to open/print this one-page document.
Allowing Students to Make Choices Before Writing: Choice is always an important element to incorporate in any writing lesson, but what's not a choice in this lesson? The focus skill! All students will incorporate art-inspired vocabulary into their short pieces of writing about a scene. What is a choice here? Choosing the scene's elements! In the mentor text, a speeding subway is what is described. If your students have trouble choosing their scenes' elements, I have provided the interactive button-pressing game below.
An Interactive Choice/Prompt Creator
Directed Revision Task: Revision--when our writing assignments start taking longer than we thought they would--is usually the step of the process we eliminate first. Sadly, when students truly revise, they are probably thinking at the deepest thinking levels from Bloom's taxonomy--and that's a step we should never give up without a fight.
For the revision step of this writing mini-lesson, I provide two sticky note-sized revision checklists, which you see at left and at right. Both my regular and my struggling writers are required to use the Word Choice Sticky Note to plan their revision strategies, and my gifted writers and my regular writers looking for more options are also required to use the Idea Development Sticky Note.
The important thing to note about the sticky notes is the verb in the directions: it's rank, not rate. If a student rates the five skills on the sticky note, they can assign the same number multiple times, and your lazier students will start simply marking everything as 3's or 4's. Because I require my students to rank the five trait-based skills, that means they can only assign one '5' to the skill that stands out the strongest, then a '4' to the next strongest skill; they cannot repeat the numbers, and that forces them to think about the skills using deeper thinking. On Bloom's, we would call this deeper thinking 'analyze' and 'evaluate.' You don't want to skip steps of the writing process that push students that far into Bloom's.
I like to have my students get into response groups. Each writer self-ranks his own draft, then folds up that ranking and stores it out of sight. The responders then rank using the same sticky note, and when they are done, they have a conversation about where their numbers are similar and where they are different. With that conversation in place, my students are ready to look at the skills that didn't rate as high and create a revision plan. Their plan must be explained to me using academic language found on the sticky notes.
Publishing: I give my students a choice here. We go to the library, and students who want to type their final draft may; students who want to print their revised drafts into their writer's notebooks AND then decorate them with colored pencils may. We don't always have time for author's chair in my busy classroom, so with this lesson, we usually break into small groups and everyone gets to hear everyone else's revised drafts; with sharing groups, I do my best to group them so they are with students who have not helped them at all during the steps of the of the process with this up to this point.
If you have a student who does an exceptional job on this writing, and you wish to type it or photograph it to share, I am always looking for new samples that did NOT come from my own students. You can self-publish your own students' samples for this mini-lesson at this link -- http://writinglesson.ning.com/group/publishingstudentwriting/forum/topics/publish-writing-like-an-artist -- and if I end up sharing your student's sample here at this page or during one of my conferences or workshops, I will send you a complimentary classroom resource from our Teachers Pay Teachers page: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Always-Write
Remember, any questions about this lesson, please ask: email@example.com