On the final day of the Writing Institute, both Carl and Lucy spent some time reiterating the importance of knowing a few texts REALLY WELL so you can use the same book with many students (rather than needing several books for each unit of study). That is, figuring out how a text, such as a picture book, can teach many different qualities of good writing.
Lucy stressed that “If you wan to be clear, use more words” when describing what a writer does well in a text. Here are a few examples of how I did that with London’s book Hurricane!. (NOTE: The members of Lucy’s Course, “Teach the Reciprocity of Reading and Writing: Envisioning in Reading Aligns to ‘Show Don’t Tell’ in Writing, Interpretation Aligns to Focus,” collaborated to create a document that can be used to teach 26 different things from the book Hurricane! What follows are some of my contributions to the document, which I’m unable to share online… sorry.)
Instead of saying to a child “use strong verbs like London does,” one could say:
London uses strong verbs in a purposeful way on this page. Words like loomed, scrambled, flapped, slapped, and waded are in the past tense and convey the strong actions the boys are doing as they’re “threading the needle,” or getting ready to start their adventure. (2nd page of text)
Again, the author uses strong words, some in present and some in past tense, on this page. When authors use strong verbs it allows them to eliminate the adjectives and adverbs in a sentence, therefore making their writing stronger. (3rd page of text)
Instead of telling a reader to add dialogue to his/her story, one could say:
The dialogue on this page is one-sided. Only the mother is speaking. The young boy is thinking in-between her words, but he doesn’t say anything. Perhaps he says nothing so that we can see what he’s thinking or perhaps it’s mom’s sense of urgency that doesn’t allow him to interrupt her bursts of speech. Either way, these short bursts of speech from the mother signal that something is wrong… terribly wrong, which is causes the reader to pause upon reading each burst of speech the mom utters. (5th page of text)
Instead of telling a young writer to “show, not tell,” one could say:
London paints a picture with his words on this page. The image of rain slamming into them like a crashing wave is strong. He paints a stronger image when he uses figurative language, a simile, when he says: “We drove through rain so solid, it was like driving underwater.” When writers use similes, which are one kind of figurative language, it helps the reader to get a better picture in his or her mind. (9th page of text)
Essentially, by talking longer about what the author is doing helps a child to better understand what it is the author did so they can do the same thing in a purposeful way.
Carl suggested having two to three texts you know well for each unit of study. He suggested doing something like what we did in Lucy’s class with the book Hurricane! for each text you want to carry around to point out reading-writing connections during your conferences. You can the reading-writing connections you make based on the qualities of good writing and also figure out which pages/books will help struggling writers, mid-range writers, and sophisticated writers.
Looking for book lists to use? I can help if you’re an upper elementary school teacher. Just click here to see the books I used last year, which might help you envision the texts you want to get your hands on before school starts.
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.