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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Just So Writing

My fourth grade students' narratives, modeled after Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, are finished! These kids really dazzled me with their character development, word choice, attention to audience, and skillful use of repetition. Let's look at a few examples.

The students were asked to give their writing some voice by planning how each character and the narrator would speak.
  •  From "How the Seahorse Came to Be":
"Let's go paddle in the pool! Come on! Let's go! I want to go! I'm ready! Are you? Come on! Let's go now! Hurry!" barked the annoying dog.
  • From "Why Penguins Don't Fly":
"Pennie," suggested Mother, "oh dear Pennie, your father and I would like to go to the North Pole! Will you come?"
"Why no! I wanna fly on my own two wings for once. I wanna go somewhere warm, like the warm waters of Wyoming!"
  • From "Why Cats and Dogs Fight":
Ox woke them up and gruffed, "Workin' in the fields is becomin' harder an' harder every day. I'm gettin' older an' older. Will you two help me plow the fields?"
"Ha!" laughed Dog. "Work? Us do work? Never ever will we do work! Move along, you big, ugly Ox!"
 Ox's fur turned bright red. He rushed to Master gruffing, "Master! Master! Cat an' Dog ain't helpin' me plow the fields!"
In their planning, each student made a word bank with specific nouns, active verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. These "wow words" are sprinkled generously through their writing.
  • From "How the Dolphin Got Its Tail":
So the Seahorse went home feeling very melancholy.
  • From "How the Crab Got Its Claws":
Fish was devastated when he got back to his house.
  • From "How the Polar Bear Came to Be":
PLOP! The Grizzly slouched down against a tree, later falling asleep and dreaming about being more like Penguin. 
Kipling addressed his audience directly, and some of my students tried this too.
  • From "How the Tiger Got Its Stripes":
So yes, my dear, dear friends, the tiger was defeated. But! There is something more important than that! If you are mean to others, you will be punished.
  • From "How the Dalmatian Got Its Spots":
To this day, young one, the Dalmatian still has his spots. But yet when they are born, they are still crispy, wispy white.
Although I generally steer my students away from repetition, Kipling was able to improve his writing by repeating himself. Some of my students used repetition effectively as well.
  • From "How the Bird Got Its Wings":
Farmer never wanted to work so he always said to his animals, "Go catch some corvina fish. Cut der scales off den deep fry 'em."
"Yes, master," said Bird.
"Neigh," said Horse.
"N-oo," said Cow.
* * * later in the story * * *
When Bird got home Farmer yelled out, "Go harvest de crops."
"Okay," said Bird.
"Too tired," said Horse.
"N-o-pe," said Cow.
As I have mentioned before, Kipling only used the word "said" in his dialogue tags. The student-author above continued Kipling's tradition, but many students varied their dialogue tag verbs after a classroom brainstorming session, which was summarized with collaborative posters shown below.

 Using Kipling's work as a model for writing has really paid off for my students! How was this accomplished?
  1. We first read and analyzed adaptations of three fables from Just So Stories. The students answered questions (RL.4.1), analyzed characters (RL.4.3), summarized and found theme (RL.4.2). Everything you need for this set of activities (including the stories) can be found in Just So Stories Reading Bundle - Grade 4.
  2. We read the original version for each fable aloud and carefully analyzed Kipling's style, including perspective, the use of "said," repetition, voice, word choice, and language used by each character.
  3. Each student planned his/her own Just So story using a three-page guide. All materials for analyzing Kipling's style (including printable versions of three original stories) and planning a Just So story can be found in Just So Stories - Writing. These activities are appropriate for students in fourth through seventh grades.
In addition to multiple reading standards, the writing activities directly address the following Common Core State Standards:
  • W.4.3, W.5.3, W.6.3, and W.7.3 (writing narratives)
  • W.4.4, W.5.4, W.6.4, and W.7.4 (developing clear, coherent writing)
  • W.4.5, W.5.5, W.6.5, and W.7.5 (planning, revising, and editing)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Just So Stories

For the past few weeks, my students have been exploring Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Published in 1902, these stories tell how the camel got its hump, how the armadillo got its scales, how the elephant got its trunk, and more.

Since Kipling's work is now in the public domain, I was able to take three of his stories and adapt them for two different reading levels. This way my students can all read the same story, regardless of reading level. "How the Camel Got Its Hump," "The Beginning of the Armadillo," and "The Elephant's Child" (my personal favorite) were adapted for readers in the 4-5 and 6-8 reading ranges.

For the first week we used the adaptations to polish a few of our Common Core State Standards. First we read "How the Camel Got Its Hump." Since it's the shortest story, I used it to model RL.4.1 (answering questions), RL.4.2 (both summarizing and finding a theme), and RL.4.3 (describing characters). You can see an example below:

After modeling with "How the Camel Got His Hump," we moved on to guided and independent practice with the other two stories. It was some serious fun!

In the second week, we looked more carefully at Kipling's writing style. We analyzed his use of "said." (This author never used a synonym for said. He used said and nothing more!) And, of course, we had to spend some time brainstorming and listing oodles of synonyms. My favorites were the animal sound synonyms: barked, squeaked, quacked, etc. We also analyzed how he repeated key phrases (and even sentences) and his word choice, such as "scalesome, flailsome tail." We talked about the author's voice and how he established his characters' personalities by they way they spoke. 

Today the students will begin planning their own Just So stories. I'll keep you updated on their progress!