Repost: “The Important Book” A Writing Lesson

I’ve had several requests for this repost and I’m actually about to re-visit this lesson with my class to review the concepts and bring my 6 new students up to speed (I roll my class for 3 years, so 19 of my 5th graders were with me last year and I have 6 new students). This is a great scaffolding lesson. Here it is:

Even though my students have been blogging for 1 to 3 years, most started out way behind in their English and writing skills. Over half the students in my class have parents that did not graduate from elementary school, and about a third never made it past 3rd grade. Therefore about half the students in my class are not fluent in any language. (Just a note here – students that are fluent in a language other than English make gains much faster than students that know more English to begin with, but are not fluent in their native tongue. Why? Because they understand better how language works, and their vocabulary and schema are much more developed.)

So lately I have noted that in our writing we seem to be at another crossroad. I believe, and from my experience I have noted, that writing more builds writers faster. Therefore, I believe that working with students to edit their work is very important, but that to keep them motivated to write you have to let a certain level of “mistakes” go by-the-by. Get students published, and they start to edit themselves and want to write more. Require everything to be perfect, and you stifle writing and the willingness to self edit. So if you read my students’ blogs you will see mistakes in usage and punctuation and you might be appalled … unless you REALLY knew the individual students.

So to get my sixth graders re-focused on usage and paragraphing and a few other skills, along with researching and finding information and then reporting it out accurately, I started to design a lesson using “The Important Book” by Margaret Wise Brown.
The book follows a pattern – “The Important thing about a puppy is that it is soft. It licks your face, it runs everywhere, it likes to be petted. But the important thing about a puppy is that it is soft.” (Not from the book, but follows the pattern).

Even though my students have had laptops, we have not always had access to a robust wireless network (we do now). Therefore having all, or even most students searching the web at once was just not doable, so they are not great at doing research on the web. In addition their sentence and paragraph structure is so-so at best so I melded the simple pattern from the book with doing research to come up with a way to practice both. I also took into account that students like mine that are lacking in schema often don’t get excited about many topics because they often lack the base understanding that makes things interesting and engaging.

I added a page to our wiki and began listing “interesting topics.” Students open a word processing page and then they have 15 minutes (30 minutes the first time) to become an “expert” in the subject they chose. They peruse the web and read up on “sharks” for example, and as they read they type or cut and paste notes about what they learn. At the end of 15 minutes they get an additional 15 minutes to write an “Important” paragraph about their topic. They proofread and edit and post on their blog. Actual Student Example:

George Washington

The important thing about George Washington is that he was the first president of the United States of America. He designed the uniforms for his soldiers by himself, he was the only president elected unanimously, and he is on the front of the $1 bill. But the most important thing about George Washington is that he was the first president of the United States of America.

We will work on many of these this week and then when we are fairly comfortable we will expand the paragraphs, substitute words like fascinating, awesome, interesting, amazing and so on for important, and eventually write multiple paragraph pieces that take more time and aren’t wedded to the pattern so much.

If you like the idea feel free to use it … but realize that I am using it because it fits a skill set my students don’t have. I have since noted that an amazingly similar lesson is available on “Writingfix” (along with many, many others – some by me : ) )

Note that it is a short easy way to get a class of second or third graders (or above) up and going on a blog posting non-fiction writing pieces that they learn from by doing. BTW, my students right now love this work even though they are sixth graders. Next week we will begin the transition to more developed pieces … when testing permits. : )

Learning is messy!

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6 thoughts on “Repost: “The Important Book” A Writing Lesson

  1. I find it very interesting that over half of your class’s parents didn’t graduate from elementary school. Parents are supposed to be able to help their kids with their school work. If they didn’t pass through elementary school then they can’t be much help. I think it is very good that your teaching your students with “The Important Book”. It not only helps with their reading but also knowledge of things that they should remember.

  2. Writing is certainly one of the most daunting tasks for me to teach, mostly because I find that it is MY weakest area as a learner. I teach third grade, and I find this strategy to be extremely beneficial in building the writing process. I use a program called Power Writing, and this could easily be incorporated into the beginning stages of the program. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I am a student in edm 310 at University of South Alabama. I find it interesting that you let “a certain level of “mistakes” go by-the-by”. After reading this, I thought about my writing career in high school and how correct you are.

  4. I think this lesson is an amazing idea. It can be used for many things; it can be used a guide line to students, to learn when to begin and end a paragraph and also the order. I think this will also help them become better writers for different purposes in life. Another thing is, this comes from personal experience, by the students work being on the screen and not in their own handwriting, they can visually see what they have learn in a uniform way.
    I will use this lesson in my classroom. Even if I have a kindergarten classroom, I believe I can still find a way to use this lesson.
    I am in Dr. Strange EDM 310 Class and I have enjoyed reading your post my blogspot