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Lesson Plan

Cut up, Cover up, and Come Away with Ideas for Writing!

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Cut up, Cover up, and Come Away with Ideas for Writing!

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

S. Rebecca Leigh

S. Rebecca Leigh

Rochester, Michigan

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will:

  • talk about their writing, in particular the stories they want to portal.
  • experiment with masking and isolating text (i.e., words and/or phrases) so that they can experience seeing stories emerge from existing stories.
  • write their own stories, practicing writing from their portaled pieces as an opportunity to develop and extend ideas for their stories.
  • discuss the connection(s) between the original story, the portaled story, and the revised draft.

 

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Session One

  1. Ask students to talk candidly about some of their stories that are still in draft form. Why do they think these stories are still incomplete? Can these stories be salvaged?
  2. Introduce the concept of Portal Writing. Explain that it is a writing strategy that can be used to discover story ideas within an existing story and using those new ideas as entry points for rewriting. By circling specific words and masking others with black marker (or other materials that can be used to cover text), we can see how a story can change entirely or remain the same only focused on a particular aspect of the original story. Remaining, circled words are what drive new writing, offer new direction. Although some students may retain the original theme of their story, their plan to write a new story may be more focused on a specific part. To illustrate, here is an example:
    • Original story was about family.
    • Portaled story focuses on a child in that family.
    • New story will be about being an only child.
  3. Other students may discover a better story through portaling, abandoning their original ideas. For example:
    • Original story was about a family.
    • Portaled story is about endurance.
    • New story will be about discipline in sports.
  4. Tell students that one way of seeing how this circling of words is done is through Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout and Tom Phillip’s The Humument.
  5. Distribute photocopied examples (i.e. three or four) from one or both books to students (or print examples from the web).
  6. Provide time for students to examine these examples and talk about them in small groups. Some questions to consider during the discussion:
    • What kind of words do you notice?
    • How are words isolated? Are they circled? Boxed? Etc.
    • What stands out to you? The marker? The words? The story?
  7. Provide a demonstration for students by portaling part a text with them (on an overhead or elmo). This piece of writing may be your own or someone else’s. Share with them which words you are portaling (i.e. circling) and why (e.g., “I am circling this word because I like the way it sounds” or “I want to circle this word because it reminds me of someone I know.”) This collaborative step is important because it will show students that there is no one correct way of portaling text.
  8. Distribute photocopies of the same text for each student. Ask students to portal this piece, encouraging them to pay attention to the words that hold significance for them. Distribute markers to students so that they may begin portaling the text, keeping in mind that they can:
    • Circle words
    • Box words
    • Make interesting shapes around words (e.g., blobs)
    • Create rivers by making white lines that connect words (see page 36 of Newspaper Blackout)
    • Isolate punctuation (e.g., exclamation points, periods) for developing mood or tone
    • Isolate sentences and/or phrases (not just individual words)
    • Isolate words that are in keeping with the theme of the story and/or
    • Isolate words that have nothing to do with the theme of the story
  9. Invite students to share their portaled texts, either in a small or whole group setting. Sharing is important because students need to hear how one singleton story can have multiple stories, offer multiple directions for writing. While this engagement is meant to be an enjoyable approach to looking at language, the purpose of portaling is to cause us to rethink a piece of text, whether the text is our own or someone else’s. To help ensure that students do not simply interpret this engagement as purely fun and nothing more, give each student a copy of the Portal Writing Reflection Questions and consider discussing them during share time.
  10. Ask students to select one story in draft form (a story they have started yet have lost interest in developing further) from their writer’s notebooks or writing folders and leave it open on their desks for you to collect. After school, make one photocopy of each story. Photocopying handwritten stories is important because once they are portaled, it becomes very difficult to see the original story. Tell students they will have the opportunity to portal this piece the next day.

 

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Session Two

  1. Distribute a different newspaper article to each student. Ask students to portal this text, reminding students that they will portal their newspaper article by circling the words that stand out to them. Tell students they may also look for word combinations that create interesting images in mind (e.g., “cracked” and “salads”). They can select words that are in keeping with the theme of the article or they can select words unrelated to the theme. Tell them that it is not necessary to read the article before portaling it. In fact, reading it beforehand may get in the way of thinking creatively. Remind students that not all circled words have to be kept; they can always cover these up with marker later.
  2. In a whole group setting, invite students to:
    • Briefly share what their newspaper article was about.
    • Read their portaled version of the story so that students can hear if portaling it changed the story or remained the same yet focused.
  3. Engage students in a conversation about where their newspaper stories could potentially go now that they have portaled these texts. The following questions can start that conversation:
    • Do the words construct a different story? The same story?
    • Do the words magnify a person? A place? A mood? A voice?
    • Do you notice a word you did not notice before?
    • Does a word make you think differently about the story?
    • Can a word be used to change the title?
    • Is there a word that changes the meaning of the story?
    • Do any of the words you circled conjure up new words or images in your mind?
  4. Ask students to take out their photocopied story from yesterday.
  5. Have students meet in groups and talk about their draft. The questions below can guide student discussions.  You may wish to write these questions on a white board or chart paper for discussion.  These questions should generate a discussion about writing and story.
    • Why did you select this story for portaling?
    • What is this story about?
    • What was it supposed to be about?
    • What were your reasons for wanting to write this piece?
    • Why did you stop working on it?
    • Which part(s) do you still like?
  6. Remind students that not all drafts are meant to be finished drafts but that good stories can lie dormant in rough draft writing.
  7. Provide students in-class time to begin portaling their story. Be sure to pass out black or dark, felt tipped markers.  Ask students to finish portaling their text at home if they were unable to finish it in class.

 

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Session Three

  1. Give each student a new copy of the Portal Writing Reflection Questions and allow them a few minutes to complete the questions.  Ask students to meet in their same groups to discuss what happened to their story after they portaled it. Groups should discuss the Portal Writing Reflection Questions.
  2. Tell students that while they discuss these changes and new directions in their writing, they should think about how portaling their writing helped refine their original story or provide a new direction for a different story. Encourage students to jot down (in their writer’s notebook or on the story itself) ideas shared among peers about what they can do with their story. Often in sharing our portaled texts, others can see story ideas that we may have missed ourselves.
  3. Offer students the remaining time to work on rewriting their story.  Students will need to come prepared to read a section of their writing in the next session.

 

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Session Four

  1. Ask students to meet in their groups to share some of their writing. Depending on group size, time, and length of story, there may not be enough time for students to read their entire stories. Still, in reading a specific selection of text, students are being asked to think about their use of language by asking themselves, “Which part of my writing is effective and worth sharing today?” Invite students to share their process with their peers by explaining:
    • What their original story was about.
    • How the story reads after they portaled it.
    • How portaling their original story affected their plans for a third draft. Did the story change? If so, how? Did it stay the same? If so, in what way?
  2. Encourage students to offer their peers what author Katherine Paterson calls glow feedback (e.g., what worked well) and grow feedback (e.g., what the writer may consider for next time).
  3. Invite students to share with the whole group how they think portal writing supports them as writers.

 

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EXTENSIONS

  • In addition to poems and prose, look critically and reflectively at language in a variety of narrative forms (e.g., menus, maps, advertisements, recipes, etc.) that can easily be portaled for ideas for writing.
  • Consider introducing students to narratives written in other languages, too (e.g., Spanish newspaper articles, menus written in French, etc.). This holds cultural significance for students in your classes who speak more than one language.
  • When celebrating and displaying final written drafts, consider displaying the portaled draft beside it so that people in the school community can see the process that took place.
  • Invite students to experiment with portaling text on word processors.
  • Students can draw the words they portal as a demonstration of visual thinking. Drawn portals can also be used as an exercise to further develop story ideas.
  • Encourage students to access the web for text from well known writers of personal interest (e.g., Emily Dickenson, Ernest Hemingway, e.e.cumings, etc.), searching for texts that they would like to portal. Not all students will want to portal their own writing. In fact, some may find it easier to discover ideas for writing from outside sources.
  • Peruse Austin Kleon’s website in class. He offers a range of unique stories through his blackout poems.

 

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • Informally observe students actively portaling their writing in class.
  • Evaluate students’ contributions to group discussions by visiting each group and taking anecdotal records of students’ comments.
  • Collect three samples of writing from each student: 1) draft; 2) portaled draft; and 3) developing or revised draft where the connection between the portaled text and the revised story is developing or self-evident.
  • Collect the Portal Writing Reflection Questions from each student and assess for completeness.
  • Students can reflect and respond to the following questions in their writer’s notebooks: 
    1. What am I coming to know about the connections between portal writing and revision?
    2. How does access to portal writing affect my writing or my thinking about language in general?

 

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