Saturday, November 8, 2014

Eight Tantalizing Recipes for Combining Reading and Writing Skills

Eight Tantalizing Recipes for Combining Reading and Writing Skills
By Jill Jenkins
                            Below you will find eight assignments that combine reading and writing skills making them engaging and entertaining for young learners. Learning to write need to encompass more than preparing students for the end of the year tests.  Please let your students have a little joy in their education.  These are some fun writing assignments that I have used with my students. One of the skills students need to develop to pass the state competency tests is using information from material they read to support an informational or an argument essay.  Most of the assignments to prepare are particularly dull for some students.  The first two assignments can reinforce those skills in an exciting manner.

Assignment #1: Boy by Roald Dahl
            After reading the description of Mrs. Pritchett from the childhood tale of Boy by Roald Dahl, ask students to identify all of the disgusting details that makes Mrs. Pritchett’s candy store so undesirable.  Ask your students to pretend they are the inspector from the health department and they have made a secret inspection of her candy story incognito.  They are each to write a report to file with the department and support their report with details from the story.  They can make any recommendation they wish from close the store, fine the store owner to ignore the reports from patrons about the unhealthy environment.   For more ideas about writing about this wonderful book, go to

            After reading both The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciezka and Grimm’s Fairy Tale’s Version “The Three Little Pigs,” place your students in their pair-share groups. Each student in each pair decides if he is the prosecuting attorney or the defense attorney.  Each writes his/her closing arguments for a court case either prosecuting or defending the wolf in a case of murder and attempted murder.  The next day you allow each pair to read their arguments to the class.  After you have heard from each pair of students, each student pretends he/she is the judge and must decide if the wolf is guilty of first degree murder.  He/she must present his decision in a paper with all of the evidence that led him/her to make that opinion.
    Although the Common Core does not test on narrative writing that does not mean that you shouldn’t include it in your teaching.  One excellent example is written by Sandra Cisneros who also wrote The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek.  Many of her chapters lend themselves to excellent examples of writing for students to analyze or write about.  Her use of literary devices and her vivid descriptions make them excellent examples that will hold your students’ attention.

  Assignment #3 and 4 Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven”
            Read this beautiful narrative to your students while they follow along.  Put them in their pair-share groups and ask them to explain the following:  Why is she talking about an onion? What literary device is being used in: “like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box?”  What does she mean by that?  Have them each share a time when someone destroyed a special time for them by being insensitive.   After they have shared them with their partner, let any student share one with the class who wishes to.  Finally have them write a narrative of their own experience.  Ask them to add at least one simile or metaphor to their description.  Remind them to add specific details, because the details are what made the example so interesting to read. 
            Another idea for the students who do not wish to share their own stories is to ask them to retell the same incident from the teacher’s perspective.  This offers students a chance to fanaticize and still learn the basic components of a narrative.

            After you finish reading the story “The Split Cherry Tree” by Jesse Stuart watch video clip or two:  or . Now the class is ready to write about it. They have heard the story from the child’s point of view, but it is important to look at stories from everyone perspective.  Organize your class into trios. One student will retell the story as though they were Professor Herbert writing in his diary at the end of a difficult teaching day.  The second student will pretend he/she is the student’s father, Luster, and describe in a letter to his brother Jed his experience at the school.  The third student will pretend he/she is another student in the class and will write a note to one of his/her friends describing his/her feelings about seeing a parent in a classroom.  At the end of the period, have your students share their creations.  Like Sandra Cisneros’ writing these are excellent examples to use to teach controlling symbols without losing your students’ attention.

Assignment #6
            This is a frightening story that lends itself to many activities and discussion, but one particularly fun writing assignment that I have found is to stop the story before the husband has found the monkey’s paw and made his final wish.  (Many students may be familiar with the Simpson’s version, but ignore them.)  Ask the student to write a new ending for the story and imagine what the mother sees when she opens the door.  What will her son look like?  Will her son really be there?  They should illustrate their endings and present them to the class as a fun Halloween activity. 

Assignment #7 “The Foul Shot” by Edwin A Hoey
            Writing poetry usually terrifies most adolescent boys, because they imagine that all poetry is the over sentimental drool that teenage girls scribble in notebooks.  This poem is about sports. It is about one moment in time in sports, so you can dissect it looking for literary devices without the boys fading into their desks in boredom.  You can show them how it becomes a litany of actions leading to the successful basket.  As a teacher, you can demonstrate how the poem changes point of view after the ball leaves the players hands.  You can point out the lay-out of the poem matches the movement of the ball while holding the boys attention, because this is about SPORTS. Finally, you can have the students write their own poem about a moment in time: flipping on a skate board, landing a first kiss, flipping a spit wad at a teacher, flying down a snowy mountain on a snow board, spinning on a dance floor or crunching an opponent on a football field.  Ask them to include two literary devices in their creations and let them write.  You will be surprised what they can create.

            This classic adventure story depicts one man’s attempt to rescue himself from the seemingly civilized General Zaroff who traps men on his island, Ship Trap Island, to entertain himself by hunting men. It appeals to the young men in the class and offers wonderful examples of irony.  With this classic story, I love to have the students define what it means to be civilized and using examples from the story write an argument discussing whether General Zaroff is civilized or uncivilized.  This is an assignment that uses literature to teach skills that students may need to pass the writing portion of their Common Core test, but provides an entertaining discussion and examples for adolescent boys.
            I know teachers are preparing students for the end of the year test, but if that is the only kind of writing you do in your class, you will lose your students’ enthusiasm.  Writing should be fun.  Learning should be fun.   If you can combine literature with writing, the reading and the writing will become more meaningful and more productive for students.