My Teaching Materials: The Letter

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

The past couple of posts in this series have focused on spelling. My classes are graded in three areas: Prewriting, Writing, and Editing. Spelling falls under the editing category. This week, I thought I would jump over to the Writing category. The following is not so much a worksheet, as a model for them, to show how to add detail in order to “explode the moment,” as my district calls it. Beginning writers have a tendency to gloss over entire scenes, because they are used to watching them play out on television or in movies instead of reading through them. This, I believe, is the same reason they struggle so much with describing characters and setting: on the screen, it is never described, just shown.

The first one I show them is a short little paragraph that covers an entire scene. Below is the first version of The Letter.

The Letter

It was night. It was windy. The girl stood on the roof. A man walked up to her. He gave her a paper. Then the man jumped off. The girl read the paper and cried and threw the paper away.

This I show them on one screen. Even the kids can tell you it’s bad. Then I tell them I have another version, and ask them to see if they like it better. Reading the second one has every kid’s attention.

The Letter

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled around the corners of the street. Above the street, the wind and rain assaulted the rooftops.

On the roof stood a girl, wearing a dark trench coat with a hat pulled low over her eyes. Whether it was meant to keep out the rain, or hide her face wasn’t clear. She seemed to be waiting for someone. It must be an exceedingly serious reason to be out on a rooftop in such blustery wind and biting rain.

Suddenly, the rooftop door opened. The wind slammed it against the wall. The man standing in the doorway had long, stringy hair and a cruel-looking face. His countenance made the scar across one eye look almost cheerful. He stepped out onto the roof, leaving the old wooden door to slam and swing back and forth helplessly in the wind.

As he walked up to the girl in the broad-rimmed hat, he held out his right hand. Clenched in his fist was a paper envelope wrapped in plastic. She hesitated, but accepted the mysterious package. In a flash of lightning, she could just barely make out the address on the outside of the envelope.

She looked up to ask a question just as he stepped up onto the ledge. This was so startling that her question froze unvoiced in her throat. Then the man jumped.


She stepped forward, but it was too late. He was gone, even more mysteriously than he came. She ripped open the envelope and held the letter in both hands to keep the wind from ripping it away. As she read, her sudden tears mixed with the pouring rain. She finished the letter and stood, frozen, shocked. Finally, she opened her fingers and let the wind take the hateful letter out of her life.

After reading this, I have to go through 5 minutes of questions about what happened to the two characters and what was in the letter. To which I have to shrug repeatedly, with a knowing smile. Then we discuss what made the two versions different. I go back to the first version and point out how every piece was turned into something larger. Practically every sentence in the first version became a paragraph in the next. “It was night. It was windy.” From those two sentences, we get a full paragraph of setting description in the second. The same with the next sentence about the girl, and so on.

At the end, I ask them to choose a piece of their writing that they feel matches the first version, and turn it into the second one. This has been a pretty effective lesson in the past; I look forward to trying it this year.


Other posts in this series:
Land of Xanth
Thief & Chief
Key to Happyness

My Teaching Materials: Key to Happyness

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

This is the companion worksheet to Thief & Chief, which I posted last time. Before giving out either of these, we cover the rules that are included in them.

Name: _________________
Period:___ Date: _________

Please correct the following paragraph. These mistakes focus on the following rules: Changing Y to I, and Doubling the Final Consonant. Previously covered spelling rules may also be present. Each of the 25 errors is worth 4 points.

Their was one key to happyness in Jane’s life: she partyed. Parting was everything to her. It occupyed all of her free time and deli ghtted her and her freinds. There favorite place to party was a club that admited them even though they had not agged to 18 yet. They had made copyes of they’re driver‘s licenses and handded them over, smileing. The IDs claimmed the girls were 21. They had tryed to get into other clubs, but the bouncers stoped them at the door. One threatenned to call there parents! Jane finaly was geting to have a good time, when suddennly, she heard a bad sound: “Police. Everyone stay where you are!” They were takeing everyone’s IDs and puting them under arrest! When her parents came to get her, she was ashammed of what she had done.


The first post in this series was Land of Xanth.
The second was Thief & Chief.

My Teaching Materials: Thief & Chief

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

I hand out sheets that detail a few spelling rules, and then cover them about two at a time. After covering the spelling rules, I give out a worksheet for homework that has a very short story or passage which targets those particular rules. The following little story targets three rules: i before e, dropping the final e, and the homophones there, their, and they’re. The students have to correct the errors for homework. There are 25 of them in this little story.

The Theif was rideing a stolen bicycle he had gotten from the Clown Cheif. The fameous Cheif had said that it was absolutly the safest ride in town. The clowns had decieved the theif, however. The bike was not the safest ride at all; it was a hopeless peice of junk. There idea of a joke was going to leave the theif sitting they’re on the side of the road. Although the theif beleived that it was a well-mad bike, the wheels were becomeing a problem. The rubber was wasteing away as he rode. Soon, he was sitting in the gutter, hopeing to recieve a bit of timly luck. Fortunatly, a nieghbor was driveing by at that very moment. They threw the bike into the trash and went looking for thier freinds the clowns.

You can find the first post in this series here. And no cheating!

My Teaching Materials: Xanth

One of the things I rather enjoy is making pertinent materials for my writing classes. Yes, I probably do way too much myself, and should save energy by finding or buying and using pre-made stuff, but I like it. So, I thought I would share a few of those with you.

This first one I usually give out the first week, and they mostly get credit for trying. However, it’s a fun way to judge how well they edit, their “wordsmith” level, and give them a peek at what is in store for them. I didn’t write this one, I borrowed the passage from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, credited at the bottom.

Let’s see how many errors you can find! Leave your count in the comments. ;)

Name: ________________

Dor is a student in a land called Xanth, which is next door to a place called Mundania. His teacher asked him to write an essay about Xanth. Dor isn’t a good speller, so he got a “spelling bee” to help him. Thanks to the bee, nothing in his essay is misspelled, but he still didn’t get a very good grade. Can you do better than Dor? Find and correct all of Dor’s spelling mistakes. Here’s a hint: there are 52 of them!

The Land of Xanth
buy Door

Eye live inn the Land of Xanth, witch is dis-stinked from Mundania inn that their is magic inn Xanth and nun inn Mundania. Every won inn Xanth has his own magic talent; know to are the same. Sum khan conjure things, and others khan make a whole ore illusions ore khan sore threw the heir. Butt inn Mundania know won does magic, sew its very dull. They’re are knot any dragons their. Instead their are bare and hoarse and a grate many other monsters. Hour ruler is King Trent, whoo has rained four seventeen years. He transforms people two other creatures. Know won gets chaste hear; oui fair inn peace. My tail is dun.

From Centaur Aisle by Piers Anthony, p. 14

Writer’s Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 2

Every writer needs tools to get the job done. (Yes, pen and paper or laptop, I heard you. Please sit back down, peanut gallery.) I’m not talking about a word processor, or even a thesaurus. Plotting, organizing, scheduling, pacing… our tasks are many and guidelines few. My wife and I have developed and discovered some tools that I use, and I thought I would share what I am using and how I use it. To that end, this is the Writer’s Toolbox series.

The last post in this series talked about the Novel Stats spreadsheet, primarily the first page. I did mention some things that would only happen once you had input information on the Chapters tab. I’d like to talk about that today, at least to start.

We’re skipping over the Weekly Projection tab to look at Chapters. Chapters is really pretty clear-cut, I think.

You can click on these images for a larger version or, if you would like your own copy of this document to play with as you read this post, it is available here. It’ll start blank, waiting for you to fill in the information. The columns are labeled Chapter (this is for the chapter #), Title (The title of your chapter, if you do that- it’s an optional thing.), Words is where you put in the number of words in that chapter, and finally the Planner is a very simple Notes section to help you break down your story into chapter-segments.

As you enter word counts into this sheet, the first sheet (Novel Stats) calculates your words/chapter, progress, and such. When you complete a chapter, put the total word count for that chapter in the Words column, and zero out the count in the box at the bottom, “Words completed so far in current chapter.” Repeat until published. Or at least until you are done.

Now let’s get back to the Weekly Projection tab.

Don’t type anything on this page. This is purely information gleaned from the other pages and provided here for your own scheduling information. This page lays out each week of your WIP and lets you know how many words and chapters you should have written at each stage. It also lets you know where you stand and whether or not you are behind.

It also has this awesome little meter to show how far you are ahead or behind your schedule.

On the far right of the tabs, we find the Chapter Scratchpad. This page is virtually empty. It’s just a place to help sketch out the flow of the chapter. What events need to happen within the chapter or scene, and make note of details such as POV or characters present. Remember when you took tests in school and were allowed one sheet of scratch paper? That’s what this is. There are certainly much more involved plotting techniques and tools. This, like so many things, is only the beginning.

Earlier posts in this series:
Writer’s Toolbox: Google Docs
Writer’s Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 1