Grade Appropriate units:

The following Writing with Writers units are appropriate for students in grades 4–8. Follow the following links for specific guides for each unit:

  • Biography Writing
  • Descriptive Writing
  • Folktale Writing
  • Mystery Writing
  • Myth Writing
  • Poetry Writing with Karla Kuskin
  • Poetry Writing with Jean Marzollo
  • News Writing
  • Speech Writing
  • Writing a Book Review

The structure of the lesson remains the same for all the above genres and each can be completed in 8–11 class periods.

Lesson Introduction:
Students in grades 4–8 should use the Writing with Writers program to improve writing skills in any or all of the above mentioned genres. Students will read examples, brainstorm, work in groups, write, edit, and rewrite their work before submitting it for online publication.

Depending on the topic, you can use the Writing with Writers program to promote cross-curricular activities. For example, you can use Biography writing to incorporate history or speech writing to incorporate civics.

Project Introduction (1 Day)
Introduce the Writing with Writers component with a class discussion on the genre.

For Biography: Write the definition of biography on the chalkboard: "A written account of someone's life." Ask students to discuss what this means. Have students name some titles that they know and the defining aspects of the biography, for example principal figure, influences, important dates, significant events, and valuable contributions. Explain to students that they will be writing biographies of specific people. Depending on your curriculum, you may want to have a list of people for students to write about, or you can have students pick their own person — from a U.S. President, to a famous sports star, or a family member.

For Descriptive Writing: Introduce students to the descriptive writing unit by asking them what kind of writing requires the use of descriptive writing. Encourage them to think about letter writing, stories, magazine articles, journals, and even email. Prompt them further to talk about why good descriptions make writing better and more interesting. Explain to students that they will be writing their own piece of descriptive prose. Depending on your curriculum, you may want to assign a specific kind of descriptive writing like a journal or letter, or you may allow students to pick their own format.

For Folktales: Ask students to discuss what they think folktales means. Point out that folktales are stories passed on from one person to the next by word of mouth or by oral tradition. Create a folktale word web on the chalkboard to organize responses. Read aloud a favorite folktale or provide a selection of folktales for students' silent reading. Discuss defining elements of folktale.

For Mystery Writing: Ask students to explain what a mystery is and give some examples. They can give books or even movies they have seen. Prompt students to think about what they like about mysteries, and how these stories have suspense. Explain to students that they will be writing their own mysteries.

For Myth Writing: Introduce the word "myth" to the class, and ask students to offer definitions of the term. Then, encourage students to brainstorm myths that they may know. Have volunteers write examples on the chalkboard.

Poetry Writing with Karla Kuskin or Jean Marzollo: Invite students to discuss what they know about poetry. Go through a book of well-known poems with students, and read some favorites aloud. Have students discuss poems that they know. Ask: How are poems different from stories?

News Writing: Hand students prints of Scholastic News's daily story and ask them to read it and sum up the main points. As a class, discuss the news and how the article is written. Tell students that they will be writing their own news story.

Speech Writing: Ask students to give examples of times that they might have to give a speech — for example, a class project or during show and tell. Think of other times people may have to make speeches — for work, when running for political office, etc. Explain to students that they will be writing and recording their own speech for this project.

Writing a Book Review: Take a poll by a show of hands on how many students have read a book. Then ask, how many student have told someone about the book they read. Pick on one hand, and ask that student to give a short summary of the book he or she is reading. Ask students if the summary made them want to read the book. Explain to students that this is called a "book review" and that each of them is going to write a book review of their own.

Following the Steps (1–2 Days)
Divide students into same-level reading groups to read through the first steps of the unit. If you have limited computer access, print out a copy of the steps for individual students to read.

Author Biography
After the introductory discussion, you may choose to hand out the author's biography for individual students to read. Discuss why students think it is important to find out about the author of a book they are reading.

Following the Step-by-Step Writing Process (2–3 Days)
Each Writing with Writers component gives a step-by-step program for writing their separate genres. Divide students into same-level reading groups to read these steps online. If you have limited computer access, print out a copy of the steps for individual students to read. See below for individual project tips.

For Biography, News, Book Review, and Speech Writing
As each group of students complete the steps, hand each a copy of the 5Ws graphic organizers (PDF) to gather information on their subjects. Encourage students to brainstorm their biography subjects, news article, or speech topics within their group as they fill in their organizers separately.

For Descriptive, Myth, and Poetry Writing
For students writing descriptive pieces and poems, hand them a copy of the Setting the Stage (PDF) graphic organizer and instruct them to write descriptive words that work for their descriptive piece or for their poem.

For Mystery Writing
Before students go through the steps of writing a mystery, hand students a copy of the Follow the Clues (PDF) graphic organizer. Explain that they will be writing their own mysteries and they should think about the steps in their own mystery. Encourage students to share their steps with the group so students can brainstorm together as they fill out the graphic organizer.

For Folktale Writing
As each group of students complete the steps for writing folktales, hand students a copy of the Plan a Plot Diagram (PDF). Instruct students to think about their own folktale as they go through their steps. After they go through the steps, the groups should return to Step 2: Brainstorming and work together in filling out separate plot diagrams.

Write Your Own (4–5 Days)
Allow students time to go over the steps and add to their graphic organizers. You may want to collect the filled out graphic organizers to review and make suggestions before handing them back to students.

Direct students to write their own example of the chosen genre. Give them time to write and also remind them to review any appropriate editing steps so they can re-write. This process should be done in a word processing document that can be saved.

Editing and Review (1 Day)
When students are done with their drafts, have them exchange papers with a peer for comments. Partners can write their comments on the draft itself. Then have students follow the revision checklist as they revise their writing. Make the Assessment Rubric's guidelines available to students as they revise their work.

Revision Checklist:

1. Review the author's tips and check to make sure you've used as many as possible.

2. Read your peer's comments. Remember, you do not have to include all of the comments in your final draft.

3. Read your piece with an objective eye. Does it make sense? Does it flow well?

4. Does it meet each requirement in the Writing Rubric?

5. Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.

Publish Online (1–2 Days)
Once they've completed their revision, have students follow directions to publish their work online. Encourage students to use the Preview option to proofread their pieces one more time before submitting. Students can print this preview to hand in for teacher assessment or they can print their word document. They should also hand in their completed graphic organizer.

Once students have submitted their essays, wrap up the lesson with a group discussion.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the most important lessons you might learn from the way this person lived?
  • An older person or mentor is important in shaping the lives of others. How is this true of the person in the biography you wrote?
  • What do you think it means to be a hero? Was your person a "hero"? Explain.
Descriptive Writing
  • What are some words you learned that are good descriptive words?
  • What is the difference between descriptive writing and just writing a story?
  • How does observing our daily lives help in writing good descriptions?
  • How did writing a description of your main character influence what that character does?
  • Did you write your folktale and then decide on a message or the other way around? Why?
  • What kinds of things did you find that you changed after your first draft?
  • How did you brainstorm for your mystery? Did you think about the beginning or the end first?
  • How did you create your main character? Did you base it on anyone you know?
  • What kinds of "red herrings" did you put in? Why were they important to your plot?
  • Why do people write myths?
  • Why did you pick the natural phenomenon for your myth?
  • How did your daily observations help in writing your myth?
Poetry Writing with Karla Kuskin
  • What kinds of poems do you like? How has those poems effected your own poetry?
  • Why should you make observations of your daily life help in writing poems?
  • How did the Set The Stage graphic organizer help in writing a poem?
  • What were some of the difficulties in editing and re-writing a poem?
Poetry Writing with Jean Marzollo
  • How many poems do you think you could write on just one of the I Spy images?
  • Does it help to have the image to make the rhyme?
  • Is it easier or harder to have the constraints of an I Spy riddle?
News Writing
  • How did you get your idea for your news story?
  • Why do you need to ask a lot of questions to write a good news story?
  • Can you think of news articles that are not "fair"? Why is it hard to be objective as a reporter?
Speech Writing
  • How are some of the ways that you can get your audience's attention when writing a speech?
  • What are some of the differences you found in writing a speech compared to writing an essay?
Writing a Book Review
  • When you edited your peer's book review, did it make you want to read that book? Why?
  • How did you write your review without telling everything about the book?

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