Leading to Great Places in the Middle School Classroom
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Tapping existing texts for models is one of the best strategies for writer's workshop. This lesson examines types of leads in prominent young adult literature and asks students to search for great leads and then try their own hand at writing leads. Students rank several leads from novels as they are read aloud, and then discuss their rankings. Working in small groups, students read alternative leads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. They then act as a marketing group to select the best lead. Next, students create two new leads for a novel, using different strategies for each. Finally, students apply this process to their own writing, working in pairs to create two alternative leads to something they have written.
From Theory to Practice
This lesson asks students to position themselves alongside the writers of the picture and chapter books that they read in the classroom. By using existing texts as models for their own writing, students learn "ways of reading texts like writers, developing a sense of craft and genre in writing" (Ray 2001, p 132) - something Katie Wood Ray recommends as a whole class unit of study in the writing workshop. In her book In the Middle Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents, Nancie Atwell suggests that "mini-lessons on leads helps students internalize stylistic concerns." Moreover, exposing students to different kinds of leads helps students see the importance of voice and how people respond to the literature.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Overhead of lead from a shared text
- Read over the Great Leads handout to determine which ones to share with the class.
- Schedule time in the library for the second session, during which students will search for additional great leads in small groups.
- Collect texts for the samples selected.
- Make an overhead of the lead from a shared class text, such as the most recent read aloud. It would be most useful to select a lead from a novel that the class enjoyed but felt was a slow starter. Alternately, you could use any of the leads on the Great Leads handout.
- If you will complete an extension, test the Printing Press or Book Cover Creator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- discuss their reactions to the leads from the various texts.
- compare different leads from young adult literature.
- develop leads individually and in small groups.
- present their leads orally and share why they selected the types of leads they did.
- revise leads in their own writing.
- Give each student a notecard, and ask them to number the notecards according to the number of leads you have selected to read aloud.
- Introduce the concepts of leads by sharing examples from Great Leads handout or texts that you have selected. The order of the leads shared should match the order in which they are printed on the student handout.
- After reading each lead, ask students to place a simple rating after each number according to how they liked the lead which was read aloud. Suggested rating might include +/- or one, two, or three stars.
- After you have read aloud all of the sample leads, distribute the Great Leads handout.
- Using pairs, small groups, or a whole class arrangement, invite students to discuss why they rated each lead as they did. If pairs or small groups are used, take some time to invite students to share with the whole class some of their impressions of the leads shared reminding them that readers experience the texts differently.
- Explain that during the next session, the class will look at leads from a text that the whole class knows so they should keep the handout in a place where it can be easily accessed again.
- Students may be interested in reading the books the samples were taken from, so allow time and/or access to those novels. Ideally, this lesson can be completed shortly before students are asked to select texts for independent reading or for an author study.
- Collect the notecards for assessment purposes.
- Arrange the class in small groups, and pass out copies of the Possible Alternative Leads.
- In their groups, ask students to read each of the potential leads, taken from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As they read, have students discuss how each of the leads would change their expectations for the direction that the book takes.
- After preliminary discussion, share the following scenario with students:
You have been hired by a marketing firm that is exploring options for new young adult books. They want to guage adolescents’ interest in different kinds of of texts, so they have gathered you together in focus groups to give them some feedback on some sample texts. In your group, they would like you to examine the different leads listed on the Possible Alternative Leads and decide as a group which of the alternatives would most interest you in reading the book. Your group should choose an alternative lead and jot out a rationale for your choice.
- Answer any questions that students have about the activity, and allow approximately 20 minutes for groups to discuss the options, make their decision, and jot out their rationale.
- Once all groups have completed the task, have each group share their choice and rationale with the entire class.
- If desired, the class can vote on their favorites as well.
- Ask students to bring a piece of their own writing to the next session, so that they can apply the class discussion of leads to their own work.
- Invite students to join you with the handout of sample leads, their writing notebook, and a pen/pencil.
- Display the lead you have chosen (or a lead from the Great Leads handout) on an overhead, while reading it orally.
- In pairs, ask students to create two new leads for the text, using a strategy demonstrated on the Great Leads handout. For example, if the text uses a lead built around the setting, encourage the pairs to create a lead that uses another strategy, such as dialogue.
- Give students time in class to complete the task. Let them know they will be sharing the new leads they have crafted. Ideally, the teacher crafts a lead during this time as well.
- If the class requires more active monitoring, you can draft a lead as part of the preparation for this lesson.
- After sufficient time to draft, ask student volunteers to share their favorite new lead and explain why they chose the type of leads they did. You may need to share your sample to get the discussion going.
- If desired, display the book covers and newly written leads on the bulletin board with a before and after feature.
- Next, ask students to get out their own piece of writing and focus on the lead that they have chosen.
- Have students work in the pairs to analyze the existing lead, comparing it to the leads on the Great Leads handout.
- Once they have determined the features of the lead, ask pairs to create at least two alternative leads for the pieces, again using a strategy demonstrated on the Great Leads handout. At the end of the session, each student should have three leads for the piece of writing she brought to class (e.g., the original lead and two new alternatives).
- For homework, ask students to examine the three leads and choose the one that best fits their text. In their journals, have students indicate their choice and explain their rationale.
- Within the classroom, post great leads along with the book jacket. Challenge students to find great leads. When they find leads they believe to be worthy of being posted they can share them with the class before posting them. This will reinforce the skill and continue to generate interest in books. As a further extension, students might use the Book Cover Creator to design new covers for the books that tie in with the new leads they have composed.
- Use the Printing Press to publish the leads that you find in texts as well as the leads from students’ own work. The flyer templates will work for individual leads. Students might use the booklet template to create a collection of leads.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- As students work, observe who participates in the activity. Review the notecards at the end of the first session for evidence of student engagement.
- Collect samples of student work representing the leads in students’ own work before this lesson and after.