I am a big believer in having my students write every day. Every. Single. Day. No matter what’s going on, we always make time for writing in our notebooks. At the start the year, we organized our notebooks into specific sections, made Heart Maps that captured future writing ideas, and decorated the outside of our notebooks with 5 Word Memoirs. Every month we use Corbett Harrison’s Sacred Writing Time Bingo Cards and students have a plethora of choices to pick from during writing time. I always promote student choice, but the cards are safety blankets that students can always use if they wish. Since we have been using the cards for a few months, there is now a noticeable excitement around the room when I pass them out, as students check out their options. We immediately go through each column and students star the ones they are interested in and jot down ideas in the boxes too. Hurray for writing routines!
Last week I decided to switch things up, and try something new. I chose the first chapter of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry as our mentor text and distributed copies of it to students. Recently having started this book myself, I was enjoying it because it is one of those books that grabs you from page 1. The first chapter starts with the female main character in a very desperate situation. She wakes up after possibly being drugged, has no idea who or where she is, or an answer to the biggest question, why there are two men trying to kill her. Major teen reader appeal!
The title of chapter one is “Day 1, 4:51 PM and when we finished reading the 4 pages, I asked students “What did you notice?” and we proceeded to discuss several things that stood out:
- The title is very specific – Day 1, 4:51 PM. “This is an important detail. It was obviously done on purpose.”
- The beginning sentences are noticeably short and get longer as the main character wakes up and adjusts to her surroundings. “Cool idea. It makes you want to keep reading because so many things happen so fast at the very beginning!”
- The chapter ends with a MAJOR cliffhanger. “Wait! What happens next? We can’t just stop!”
Talk about insightful observations! Of course students wanted me to continue reading to find out what happens next, but I told them that it was now up to them to decide what happens. I threw out some directions – “Start the story 5 minutes, 5 hours or 1 day later and show what happens. Use suspense and descriptive details just like the author did. Go!” Students did some of their best writing of the year and after 20 minutes had gone by, hands shot up all over the place because they all wanted to share their stories. Proud teacher moment, let me tell you!
For the next week, the majority of my students continued their stories on and off during Sacred Writing Time and that is the proof that it was as successful lesson! A pro tip teacher bonus – I also had a drawing to see who got to check out the book first.
When writing activities come together as seamlessly as this one and students have FUN while working hard on pieces they are proud of – it builds community, writing skills, and an awesome story to tell all of you!
Happy writing, everyone!