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.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).