Sharing the Mentor Text/Brainstorming:
In my classroom, I spend the first month of school establishing my all-important writer's workshop. Slowly and diligently, we learn the vocabulary and practice the processes students will need in order to become the 'community of writers' I expect them to become. Not only do they learn how the writer's workshop will work and what roles they will play, but they also begin to collect and record independent topics they would be willing to write about. Everyone's writer's workshop is different and, in mine, students have a combination of assigned and free-choice writing they will be doing during workshop days; this particular write-up sets them up with a resource for any of their upcoming free-choice tasks.
First, share the idea of the book and the first two or three pages. Tell them this is an alphabet books about different forms writing can take. The A page features an autobiography, and the B page features a book report (a brilliant book report, in fact). Ask, "What do you think are some of the other forms (or genres) of writing that might appear on the other pages?" Allow them some time to brainstorm with a partner or small group. This is a great opportunity to learn what they already know about different genres and purposes of writing.
Find a way to hear their guesses while sharing the rest of the book. As they discover the book uses a lot of alliteration (brilliant book report), challenge them to add alliterative adjectives to the different forms of writing they brainstormed, or to come up with alternative alliterations for the book's items: a better-than-bad book report, for example.
Tell students you are going to give them a pre-writing task that you want them to spend a week on: you are going to have them create a unique alpha-list of things they might write during this upcoming school year. They will have a few minutes here and there to add to their lists, and in between any time you give them in class, they are to be thinking of unique forms of writing to add to their lists later. Students will be allowed to share ideas with each other, just so long as everyone ends up with a different list of 26 items; no two people should have the exact same list of 26.
Distribute the alpha-list brainstorming sheet pictured at left. I like to run a blank copy on both sides of the paper for those students who "mess up" and want to start over.
During the next week of class, remind students of this task. Brainstorm out loud in front of them: "Hey guys, I came home yesterday and there was a pamphlet in my mailbox. Has anyone thought of putting a pamphlet in their P section of the alpha-list yet?" Give them a few minutes here and there to add; celebrate out loud when a student independently brings an idea to you that the student thought of.
Also, encourage them to combine letters that are next to each other on the alpha-list into one item. On my teacher model below, for example, I combined my A and B boxes into this noun phrase: an Allegory about Bullying.
Modeling/Creating the Writer's Notebook Page:
In my writer's workshop, most of my students' ideas for their independent writing begins in their writer's notebooks. If you have never established a writer's notebook requirement for your students, be sure to read over WritingFix's Writer's Notebook Resource Page, and if you can, get yourself a copy of Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. This little advice guide from Ralph (pictured, at right) is a constantly-referred-to text in my classroom, especially in the first few months that we're setting up our notebooks. Unlike a journal, which contains daily thoughts and ramblings, a writer's notebook is a place where students 'save' ideas that occur to them; the ideas they save are specific to writing the students would be willing to do during an upcoming writer's workshop block. I require my students to make their notebooks very visual, incorporating stickers, cut-outs, and original drawings inspired by my Mr. Stick character, which I introduce them to in the first week of school.
"This lesson's notebook spread is a good opportunity to have students practice the combination of words and visuals early on in the school year. But they need to see a model. I believe it so very important to have your own version of this notebook page assignment that you can show your students. Below, you will find mine, which you can certainly claim as your own, but I'm including it here as my attempt to inspire you to create your own. Your students will be incredibly inspired to do a better job with this notebook spread if they see your creative attempt to do the same assignment."
Before having students transfer their brainstormed alpha-list into their notebooks, it might serve a good purpose to have students double-check each other's work for misspellings. Once you feel confident that their lists are spell-checked, have them divvy up a two-page spread (with comic book-style boxes) that would allow them to record their 26 ideas; they could have less than 26 if they combined two letters into one noun phrase (as I did with my Allegory about Bullying), so you might want to have them carefully count their actual number of items, then divide the total by 4 (for four rows, as you see in my example, which leaves enough room for small illustrations) so they can figure out how many different boxes they need in each row.
In my notebook, I tend to lightly pencil my boxes in first, then ink them once I know I've created enough space. If you do this, be careful with ink that soaks through because you will not be able to use the backside of your pages if you use this type of ink.
Below is the alpha-genre list from my notebook that I showed my students before I added the visuals; I took a digital photo of this page before adding pictures, and I can show the digital picture when we're at this step of the process. If you click on the picture, you can see it in a slightly larger form and you can print it.
(Click here to see a really large version that you can zoom in on.)
Over the next week, whenever we had a free minute at the end of an activity, I challenged students to add a visual to one or two of their comic-book-sized boxes; some students, of course, asked to take them home, where they added stickers, magazine clippings, or drawings. At the end of the week, I gave students twenty minutes to finish whatever boxes weren't complete, and I had colored pencils ready for those who already had all their images down on the pages.
Here is my finished page with my added visuals. If you click directly on the image, you can see it in larger form.
(Click here to see a really large version that you can zoom in on.)
Sharing/Talking/Planning Future Writing:
The reason why I require visuals in my students' notebook pages is that--when I ask them to share with each other--the visuals always launch a great conversation; when only words appear on a notebook page, my students have a harder time starting a real conversation because it's easier just to read the writing to each other. My students love to share and talk about this two-page spread. I hear a lot of students say, "Oh, that's a good idea" while they speak, and that type of comment does two things: 1) shares one student's good idea with another and 2) reinforces a student's good idea so that the student might be more willing to do something more with the cited idea.
After students have laughed and shared their pages with each other, explain, "Next time we have a writer's workshop day and you're unsure what you can start working on, here is a page that will inspire you. I expect everyone to use--at least--one idea from this page before the year is out. We might even have a little contest that rewards the writer who uses the most ideas from this two-page spread, so find a way to keep track, and find a reason to keep visiting this page in your notebook."
This year, I wandered around the classroom, collecting unique alpha-genre entries from various students; from these wanderings, I made a "master class list" that you can see at right (click image to view it larger). This master list will hang in my classroom most of the year, so that students can continue to borrow ideas from it during future writer's workshops.
An Invitation to Share Students' Alpha-Genre Notebook Pages:
You will have students who create awesome two-page spreads--one that should serve as models for future students who go through this writing activity. At WritingFix, we hope you'll consider photographing and sharing any student's notebook page that really is inspirational. Tell your students you're going to choose the three best notebook pages and post them at WritingFix; this is a fabulous way to motivate your writers, and your students could very easily have their pages seen by the tens-of-thousands of teachers and writers who visit our site annually.
The link in the blue box below will take you to our posting page specifically set up for this lesson. And hey, I'd love to see teachers sharing their own models of this assignment too!
Click here to visit our ning's posting page,
where you can post photographs of student notebook pages.
Alpha-Genre Examples from my own Classroom
6th grader--Jacinda--shares her alpha-genres page from her notebook. Click the image to view it larger.
6th grader--Audrey--shares her alpha-genres page from her notebook. Click the image to view it larger.
6th grader--Ryan--shares his alpha-genres page from his notebook. Click on the image to see it larger.
6th grader--Hannah--shares her alpha-genres page from her notebook. Click either image to see it larger.
7th grader--Emily--shares her alpha-genres. Click image to see it larger.
7th grader--Eric--shares his alpha-genres page. Click image to see it larger.
7th grader--Danielle--shares her alpha-genres page. Click image to see it larger
8th grader--Isaac--shares his alpha-genres page. Click image to see it larger.
8th grader--Alex--shares his alpha-genres page. Click image to see it larger.