minilesson · writer's notebook · writing · writing workshop


I was asked, by Ro, about my Strong Emotions/Skittles Lesson. I normally don’t post minilessons I write in this forum for several reasons (one of which is that it doesn’t align with the mission statement Ruth and I composed for this blog). However, this one is a bit out-of-the-box. Hence, I am posting the minilesson I wrote for last year’s class so you understand how it goes. This is not one of my best lesson plans. In fact, I’m a bit displeased with it since it doesn’t illustrate the picking of the Skittles until the Active Involvement (though that was done intentionally since I wanted this minilesson to be more about strong emotions than about Skittles). However, since many students used this day’s writing as the seed entry they chose to publish at the end of the month, I figured it was worth sharing in this venue.

Here it is:

TEACHING POINT: Writers discover ideas for stories in unusual ways. One way to do this is by thinking about strong emotions.

MATERIALS: Skittles, paper plates, writer’s notebooks, writing implements, Skittles Emotions Equivalency Chart

CONNECTION: Yesterday we learned how to create lists to help get us thinking about the best and worst times in our lives. You uncovered so much by using that strategy that I couldn’t help but introduce another one to you today. Today I want to teach you that writers discover ideas for stories in unusual ways. One way to do this is by thinking deeply about strong emotions such as feeling calm, enthusiastic, angry, afraid, somber, and interested.

TEACHING: When I write, I often need something to help me get motivated. One thing that helps me is candy. Therefore, I’m going to share some Skittles with you today. Don’t eat them yet! We’re going to use them as a writing tool (you can always eat them later).

I want to read you an entry I wrote about feeling somber the night before I moved out of New York City last July.

Right now I feel like the young girl in Patricia MacLachlan’s Book What You Know First. I’m preparing for a move from one east coast city to another and it feels so enormous and huge.

My boxes are stacked up throughout my apartment leaving little room for me to walk. There is an eerie silence that fills the apartment, with nothing more than the constant hum of the air conditioner as background noise.

Tomorrow I will spend my day running errands around NYC.
-I will visit the 85th Street Post Office to ensure my mail forwarding has taken effect.
-I will move the car from one side of the street to the other so as to not get a ticket due to Alternate Side of the Street Parking Rules so that the streets can get cleaned.
-I will stand in line at Grom with my New York Friends and share gelato on my last night in NYC.
-I will call my cable company and cancel my cable TV, telephone and cable modem, thereby disconnecting me from the world until I arrive in my new home.
-I will visit the needlepoint store I used to do p.r. for (before becoming a teacher) and will say my some good byes.
-I will attempt to venture to the Lower East Side to get some delectable cupcakes and to snap some photographs of the neighborhood my Grandpa Morris knew first when he came to America in 1921.
-And if there’s any time left in my day, which will also include throwing more things into brown cardboard boxes, then I will go to Central Park, my oasis amongst the hustle and bustle of city life, where I will sit on a park bench and savor the fact that I’ve spent seven and a half glorious years in the City I knew first when I was born in it 30 years and two months ago today.

I will take some H&H Bagels.
I will take my maps of Central Park and the Subway.
But, I cannot take the fast pace to which I have grown accustom.

The hustle and bustle will stay here, but will continue to live on inside of me. I am a New Yorker through-and-through and though I may not be physically living here anymore, New York will always be my home for it is what I knew first.

(This entry was inspired by What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan.)

Did you notice how somber my entry was? I really uncovered some deep emotions about how I felt about leaving.

ACTIVE INVOLVEMENT: I’m going to hand you six Skittles, one in each color. Let the red represent anger, the orange will represent happiness, the yellow is for fear, the green is for a time you felt confident, the blue is for a time you were sad or somber, and the purple Skittle will represent a time you were afraid.

Pick up one of your Skittles. Think about the time you felt that emotion. Take a moment to make a movie of that moment in your mind. Give students 30 seconds to do this. Encourage them to close their eyes. Now I’d like you to do some writing in the air by telling your Writing Partner about the strong emotion you felt and the story that goes with it. Go ahead, turn and talk.

Students try it. Listen in on the students’ conversations and share out after two minutes.

Debrief: I noticed…

LINK: So writers, today and every day, you can push yourself to write about strong emotions that you’ve felt and the stories that go with them. Today you used Skittles to serve as a reminder of times you felt different emotions. However, in the future, remember that you can think of a strong emotion and then write long about it using details from your life that capture the way you were feeling.

Before you leave the rug, tell me, in a plan box, what you plan to do. Will you record the story you just told your partner about, or will you pick another Skittle/emotion and will you write about that? Remember, your plan box is your ticket off of the rug, so get started on it.

This lesson was inspired by my colleague Kate. 🙂


  1. Thank you for that mini lesson. I love your ideas! I am a fifth grade teacher and I am just getting started with writing workshop..


    Long Beach, CA


  2. Wow! This is WONDERFUL! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so happy that you posted and shared with everyone. I’m definitely trying this out with my kids in September. I will let you know how it goes!

    Please keep posting your ideas & lessons…they’re so great!!! 🙂


  3. Thank you so much for sharing this mini-lesson. The different colors of the skittles will be something concrete for my second grade writers. I plan on using this great idea! Do you have any other creative idea like this to inspire writers? Thanks, again!


  4. I know you said that sharing your minilesson wasn’t exactly within the parameters of your mission statement, but I found it to be an interesting reflection on what worked and what you weren’t happy with. I also found that it stimulated my thinking. Most of the Writer’s Workshop reading I have done has not illustrated the use of tangible items to trigger students’ thinking. (Well, besides ephemera and personal mementos, that is.) So your sharing has stimulated me to think about using more than words to stimulate my children’s thinking…

    Thanks for sharing. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to read your blog – even when I don’t comment!


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