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What do you think of this minilesson?

I’ve been working on a few sample minilessons to give my grad students next month when I start teaching “Children’s Literature in Teaching Writing.”  I’ve been making tweaks to the traditional minilesson structure I’ve used in the past based on Lucy Calkins’s session, “In the Complicated World of Today, What’s Changed and What’s Stayed the Same About the TCRWP’s Ideas on Teaching Writing,” from the March 2012 Saturday Reunion.  Calkins emphasized the importance of making sure students are engaged during minilessons.  She said, “If you don’t have engagement you have nothing.”  How powerful and true is that?

As a result, I’ve been thinking about ways to alter my mentor text minilessons to support student engagement.  Based on what Calkins suggested in March, I’ve made two adjustments to the minilessons I’ve been writing.  First, I’ve been tucking in two places where students are actively engaged in the minilesson (briefly in the connection and then again during the active involvement — though the latter of the two has always been done).  Second, during the teaching part of the minilesson, I’m trying to invite the students to be more active in the lesson, asking them to study the text along with me rather than just being a passive listener.  (This plays during the active involvement when students in the lesson that follows below are asked to talk about the ending of the story I reread aloud during the teaching part of the minilesson.)

These changes seem small on the surface, but I’ve been struggling with them since I’m not actually delivering them in a classroom of fifth graders (which is the grade level the one below is written for).  Instead, they’ll be used as mentors for my grad students, who are elementary teachers themselves, when they write a mentor text minilesson as part of their coursework this summer.

Here’s one of the minilessons I wrote using Happy Like Soccer as the mentor text.  Your thoughts, ideas, and/or questions are welcome and would be appreciated.

Teaching Point:  Writers craft endings to their narratives that leave their readers satisfied.  One way they can do this is by resolving a problem the character worked to overcome.

CCSS:  W.5.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

Materials:  Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts, document camera, writer’s notebooks, writing implements, chart paper, markers

Connection: Writers, you’ve been hard at work drafting your stories keeping the story mountain in mind.  You’ve unfolded the dots on your timeline bit-by-bit, taking your readers along on a journey with your characters.  Yesterday you experimented with different leads for your narratives.  Each of you spent a great deal of time crafting a few different leads.  Would you quickly turn and tell your partner which lead you decided to use for your story?  (Provide students with 30 seconds to exchange this information.  Use a signal to bring the class back together.)  Writers, you’re doing an amazing job crafting beautiful narratives.  There’s one very important thing you have left to do before you can say your draft is complete.

Today I want to teach you that writers craft endings to their narratives that leave their readers satisfied.  One way they can do this is by resolving a problem the character worked to overcome.

Teaching:  When writers craft narratives, they take their readers on a journey with their characters.  A well-crafted narrative helps us see that characters, like us, are people too.  Characters have problems and have to work hard, just like us, to overcome the problems they have.  When we write the ending to a story, we have to make sure that it’s believable so our reader will think the ending to the story is actually possible.  In addition, we want to make our endings clear so that our readers aren’t confused about what happens to the characters once the story is over.

Maribeth Boelts, who has become a mentor to us says that “endings are tricky business.”  (SOURCE: https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/happylikesoccer/)  She states:

“I know there’s a certain chord I need to hit, but most of the time, it feels like I am playing the piano with a blindfold on! I experiment most with the ending as well as the first few sentences.  One key to a satisfying ending is making sure you know what’s driving what the character wants.”

Let’s study the ending of Happy Like Soccer together.  As you’re listening, I want you to think about what Maribeth Boelts did to show you how Sierra overcame the problem of not being able to have her aunt attend her soccer games, which she desperately wanted.  (Reread the last five pages of the book starting with the sentence, “Later, Coach Marco shows up at the lot to see for himself and tells me that my idea was a good one.”)

Did you notice how Maribeth Boelts helped us understand that Sierra solved her own problem by thinking creatively about the way to get her aunt to the game?  As a reader, we knew all along that Sierra wished that she could be cheered on just like the other kids on her team.  As you can tell, Sierra had to think out-of-the-box to come up with a solution that would help her to get what she wanted and to make sure what she wanted wouldn’t interfere with the needs of Coach Marco and her teammates.   As you can see, Maribeth Boelts worked hard to craft an ending that left us satisfied and helped the character overcome the problem (i.e., no one attending her games to cheer her on) she faced during the story.

Active Involvement:  Now I want you to think a little bit more about the ending of Happy Like Soccer.  I don’t know about you, but I felt like this was a realistic and satisfying ending.  For the first time, Sierra was able to play soccer, her favorite game, in her neighborhood.  During her final game, not only was her aunt there, but people she knew from her neighborhood were there cheering her on.  As a reader, that made my heart burst with pride.

I want you to take a couple of minutes to talk about two things with your partner.  (Post the following two questions on the screen using the document camera.) First, how did the ending of Happy Like Soccer make you feel as a reader and as a person?  Second, what can you learn about the way to craft a satisfying ending for your narrative using Happy Like Soccer as a mentor?

(Walk around the meeting area listening in to partner conversations.  After 2 – 3 minutes, have a couple of partnerships share out with their responses to the questions.  Chart responses to the second question if time permits.)

Link:  Writers, today and everyday that you’re writing a personal narrative, I want you to remember that writers craft endings to their narratives that leave their readers satisfied.  One way they can do this is by resolving a problem the character worked to overcome.  As a writer, it’s your job to think deeply and imagine what kind of ending will be both realistic so that you can choose an appropriate ending for your narrative.

Just like any piece of writing you do in writing workshop, crafting an ending for your personal narrative may take several tries.  I’ll give you some time to write independently and then, if you would like to meet with your writing partner later in the workshop, then you’ll have time to do so.

Before you leave the meeting area, would you take a moment to draft a plan box.  I’d like to know what you plan to work on today.  Tell me if you’re going to try out this strategy to help yourself craft a satisfying ending to your narrative.  Also, let me know (in your plan) if you need to work with your writing partner towards the end of today’s workshop or if you’d prefer to spend all of independent writing time working on your own writing.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

10 thoughts on “What do you think of this minilesson? Leave a comment

  1. Thanks to those of you who commented on this post. I revised the minilesson based on your comments. Here’s what it looks like now:

    Teaching Point: Writers craft endings to their narratives that leave their readers satisfied. One way they can do this is by resolving a problem the character worked to overcome.
    CCSS: W.5.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
    Materials: Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts, document camera, writer’s notebooks, writing implements, chart paper, markers
    Connection: Writers, you’ve been hard at work drafting your stories keeping the story mountain in mind. You’ve unfolded the dots on your timeline bit-by-bit, taking your readers along on a journey with your characters. Yesterday you experimented with different leads for your narratives. Each of you spent a great deal of time in workshop crafting a few different leads. For homework last night you developed one of them further, honing it until it was exactly the way you wanted it to read. Would you quickly turn and tell your partner about the work you did last night to finalize your lead? (Provide students with 30 seconds to exchange this information. Use a signal to bring the class back together.) Writers, you’re doing an amazing job crafting beautiful narratives. There’s one very important thing you have left to do before you can say your draft is complete.
    Today I want to teach you that writers craft endings to their narratives that leave their readers satisfied. One way they can do this is by resolving a problem the character worked to overcome.
    Teaching: When writers craft narratives, they take their readers on a journey with their characters. A well-crafted narrative helps us see that characters, like us, are people too. Characters have problems and have to work hard, just like us, to overcome the problems they have. When we write the ending to a story, we have to make sure that it’s believable so our reader will think the ending to the story is actually possible. In addition, we want to make our endings clear so that our readers aren’t confused about what happens to the characters once the story is over.
    Maribeth Boelts, who has become one of our mentors, us says that “endings are tricky business.” (SOURCE: https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/happylikesoccer/) She states:
    “I know there’s a certain chord I need to hit, but most of the time, it feels like I am playing the piano with a blindfold on! I experiment most with the ending as well as the first few sentences. One key to a satisfying ending is making sure you know what’s driving what the character wants.”
    Let’s study the ending of Happy Like Soccer together. As you’re listening, I want you to think about what Maribeth Boelts did to show you how Sierra overcame the problem of not being able to have her aunt attend her soccer games, which she desperately wanted. (Reread the last five pages of the book starting with the sentence, “Later, Coach Marco shows up at the lot to see for himself and tells me that my idea was a good one.”)
    Did you notice how Maribeth Boelts helped us understand that Sierra solved her own problem by thinking creatively about the way to get her aunt to the game? As a reader, we knew all along that Sierra wished that she could be cheered on just like the other kids on her team. As you can tell, Sierra had to think out-of-the-box to come up with a solution that would help her to get what she wanted and to make sure what she wanted wouldn’t interfere with the needs of Coach Marco and her teammates. As you can see, Maribeth Boelts worked hard to craft an ending that left us satisfied and helped the character overcome the problem (i.e., no one attending her games to cheer her on) she faced during the story.
    Active Involvement: Now I want you to think a little bit more about the ending of Happy Like Soccer. I don’t know about you, but I felt like this was a realistic and satisfying ending. For the first time, Sierra was able to play soccer, her favorite game, in her neighborhood. During her final game, not only was her aunt there, but people she knew from her neighborhood were there cheering her on. As a reader, that made my heart burst with pride.
    I want you to take a couple of minutes to talk about two things with your partner. (Post the following two questions on the screen using the document camera.) First, how did the ending of Happy Like Soccer make you feel as a reader and as a person? Second, what can you learn about the way to craft a satisfying ending for your narrative using Happy Like Soccer as a mentor?
    (Walk around the meeting area listening in to partner conversations. After about three minutes, have a couple of partnerships share out with their responses to the questions. Chart responses to the second question if time permits.)
    Link: Writers, today and everyday that you’re writing a personal narrative, I want you to remember that you can turn to literature you know and love when you’re trying to craft a piece of writing. As you know, when you study a book as a mentor text, you can look at it and ask yourself, “What did this writer do that I can do?” Today we’ve learned one way that we can craft a satisfying ending to a narrative is by resolving a problem a character has worked hard to overcome. This is one way that you can craft an ending, but as you know, there isn’t just one way to craft an ending to a story. There are many ways, like surprise endings and circular endings, which we studied during our last unit on small moment writing. You still have those ways of crafting an ending in your writing toolbox. As a writer, it’s your job to think deeply and imagine what kind of ending will be both realistic so that you can craft an appropriate ending for your narrative.
    Just like any piece of writing you do in writing workshop, crafting an ending for your personal narrative may take several tries. I’ll give you some time to write independently and then, if you would like to meet with your writing partner later in the workshop, then you’ll have time to do so.
    Before you leave the meeting area, would you take a moment to talk to your writing partner. Do you need to meet with him/her today? If so, please work that into your plan box. In addition, tell me (in your plan box) what you’re going to work on today. Will you try an ending like the one we studied together in Happy Like Soccer or will you go back to your writer’s toolbox and use a different strategy to craft the ending to your narrative? I’d like to know what you plan to work on today.

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  2. Hi Stacey! I know this is a mini-lesson, but sometimes the students need more time to process the questions asked, like in your partner conversations for 2-3 minutes. It just doesn’t seem long enough to me to have students really talk about both ?’s. I also would like to allow students to work on their endings with this idea of resolution like your mentor text, but they may need more than one lesson to work on the ending, & more than one mentor text with different examples. The book sounds good (I read your earlier review). I just always liked my students to know there was more than one way to do something. And finally, at the end. Until they begin working, how will they know if they want (or need) to work with a partner until they write first, & evaluate how it’s going, whether they need feedback, etc? I.E., they cannot plan that first. Thanks for asking!

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    • @Linda: I think your comment goes back to what I expressed in my comment back to Ryan. This needs to be an inquiry lesson. However, I don’t have the template for that. (Not making excuses… just sayin’.) Perhaps that’s why I’ve felt so unsure about it and posted it. It feels like studying a text (and really looking at it) will take more than 10-15 minutes. I don’t know. Something to mull over a bit more in my head. In the meantime, I think the way to make it into a 15 minute minilesson (the max I ever go since more loses kids’ attention) will be to make more time for kids to stay on the rug at the end of the minilesson trying out the problem solving ending. Perhaps then, and only then, they will draft a plan box and go off for the rest of independent writing time.
      Ah, the problems with writing a minilesson that isn’t for one’s own students. It’s so hard to do! (It was a cinch when I had a class of kids who were living, breathing people in front of me!)
      Anyway, thanks for your input and thoughts Linda. I appreciate the time you took to leave this comment.

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  3. I’m thinking about what you wrote in response to Ryan’s comment. I think you don’t need to say that resolving a problem a character has worked hard to overcome is just one way to craft an ending. I think most stories (especially stories for kids) do resolve that problem. What you listed after are different ways to show the resolution. The resolution might be surprising because it’s a different resolution than we expected, and a circular ending shows that the resolution has happened, because the character is in a different place than s/he was in the beginning–but there’s still a satisfying resolution. What about tucking into the teaching point Maribeth Boelts’s comment from her interview that what makes the resolution satisfying is that it satisfies the character’s underlying need, rather than what s/he might say on the surface s/he wants? Or maybe not….Now I’m rethinking that and not as sure.
    Another thought I had was in the connection–if students had written different leads the day before I would have imagined them talking at the end of the writing time about which lead they thought they might choose, so to have them tell their writing partner which lead they chose might be repetitious. I was thinking that maybe instead of telling which lead they chose, they could tell their partner why they chose the lead they did–that could lead into students’ thinking about why they choose the ending they do, as well. (or a talk about how a professional author decides on an ending).
    Loved the ideas you shared from Lucy Calkins about involving students more in mini-lessons, and I’m grateful you shared the mini-lesson so I could see a model of those ideas in action. Thanks!

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    • @Natasha: It’s funny that you mentioned the thing about the connection. I actually just thought about that when I was rereading the lesson after I made further tweaks after writing back to Ryan. It totally doesn’t make sense for them to discuss this unless they worked on it further for homework. Some teachers give kids writing homework that stems from the previous day’s minilesson while others don’t. (I was in the first camp.) Therefore, I’m going to connect it to the homework assignment that I would’ve given the previous night.
      THANKS for your feedback!

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  4. Hi Stacey,
    I also attended that workshop – I see where you are trying to tuck in bits of interaction throughout the mini Thank you for sharing, you captured a lot of what Lucy was suggesting so well- just a thought, perhaps provide a few possible terrains that the writers could travel in the link (another chance to promote engagement) – something like “so now you’ve learned one other way that you can look at literature to help you craft your writing – you’ve learned that you can look at endings and ask: What did the writer do that I can do,too?” Specifically, you learned that endings have to be places where the character’s problem is solved, but you’ll discover there are a ton of other ways that authors choose to end their stories. I trust that you will find these as you return to some of the mentor texts we’ve studied together, and be able to add these to our chart for possible endings. Now you have a few options for workshop today, you might be drafting a few possible endings that show the character solving their problem, or perhaps you are reading other texts and studying the endings of these texts just like we did together, some of you might even be meeting with a writing partner to rehearse a few ending before committing to drafting one of them — then again many of you will probably invent some other work writers do when we come to the end of our stories. Thumbs up if you have a plan, jot it down quickly on the top of your page, and off you go . .. (For those who don’t have a plan, have them remain on the carpet as your first small group).

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    • @Ryan: This is helpful, especially since you sat in the same session! I did a little revision to the first paragraph of the link. (Of course, my fear is now that it doesn’t restate the teaching point in exactly the same way that I stated it earlier in the lesson. Sigh.)

      I’ll keep tweaking, but here’s what your comment inspired me to rewrite:

      Writers, today and everyday that you’re writing a personal narrative, I want you to remember that you can turn to literature you know and love when you’re trying to craft a piece of writing. As you know, when you study a book as a mentor text, you can look at it and ask yourself, “What did this writer do that I can do?” Today we’ve learned one way that we can craft a satisfying ending to a narrative is by resolving a problem a character has worked hard to overcome. This is one way that you can craft an ending, but as you know, there isn’t just one way to craft an ending to a story. There are many ways, like surprise endings and circular endings, which we studied during our last unit on small moment writing. As a writer, it’s your job to think deeply and imagine what kind of ending will be both realistic so that you can choose an appropriate ending for your narrative.

      THANK YOU!

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  5. Stacey – thank you for sharing this. It is always helpful for me to see lessons others have written to gather ideas and grow. I appreciate it. I am really looking forward to reading this picture book and thinking about the ending after reading this post and the interview you did with the author. Thank you for teaching me. Your class sounds great! My question as I was reading this lesson (which is more just processing on my end than helpful feedback for you) was, “Where in the gradual release of responsibility does this lesson take place?” One thing I have observed a coach in my district is that often we skip from the I DO to the YOU DO step and it seems to really make a difference when the WE DO step is also occurring.

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    • @missmoyer: Thanks!
      @Dana: I’ve been thinking a lot about that. I’m glad you brought that up. I guess the answer is that it’s more of an inquiry lesson rather than a true minilesson (really it’s a hybrid between the two so I’m not sure what to call it). I mean obviously, as the teacher, one is doing the lion’s share of the work here and the students are doing some processing work. However, you’re correct that it’s not the traditional teacher demonstration with the students trying out the exact same thing as the teacher just modeled.

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  6. Timely topic for your mini lesson as I have found myself stumbling with endings with my third grader writers. This mini lesson feels very organic to me.

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