I'm going to admit right now that I have a cool summer learning activity planned for myself.  As you must know by now if you're following this blog, I've been keeping my first writer's notebook myself this past year, and about half of its pages are currently filled.  When I've shown my model to students as part of a demo lesson, I have an amazing response.  "Do we get to do that too?" is the most common question I am asked.  "Tell your teacher you want to!" I respond.  I've helped a lot of teachers add writer's notebooks to their pre-writing tools this year.

Meet Austin (at left--an old picture from a few years back is all I have); he's a colleague's son who's going into seventh grade in September.  Since third grade, he's been featured at WritingFix because he's been a participant in our NNWP's TWIST Camps.  This summer, because he's now too old for the TWISTs, he and I are working on a project we're calling "Corbett & Austin Keep Writer's Notebooks." 

He and I will be chatting (over Skype) about funny ideas we have about new writer's notebook pages; he's just starting his, while I'm adding new pages to mine.  We will then be getting together--face to face--and creating our pages with a shared set of pencils, pens and crayons.  Then, we'll both be using our pages as inspiration for longer stories or poems or whatever.  I'll be turning each idea into a web-page at WritingFix, and next school year, our Writing Lesson of the Month network will be featuring both Austin and my pages and the stories/poems they inspired.  Our hope is to inspire whole classrooms (all grade levels!) of students to create similar pages and to share the stories/poems they eventually write.

To make sure we're both on the same page, Austin and I will be doing several pages together right at the beginning of the summer, and these initial notebook pages will be based on lessons already posted at WritingFix that we'll be modifying with our work this summer.

Larger view
One lesson that I know for sure we're doing is WritingFix's Serendipitous Crazy Illustration Prompt, which has students create two wacky illustrations inspired by choices that make using WritingFix's Crazy Illustration Idea Generator--it's pretty fun; go to the link and try it out!  Students, then, choose their favorite illustration and turn it into an actual story.  At this point, I have my notebook page made (click here to see it in larger form), and this summer once Austin has created his, we will both write stories that will become features at WritingFix.Want to join us in the process?  Here's my summer notebook challenge #2:  Create a notebook page based on the Crazy Illustration Prompt so that you can compare the story you write to the stories Austin and I write.  Got kids at home this summer?  Have them play along too.  If you send me their stories or photographs of their notebook pages, they'll be included at the revised version of the lesson that will be going up in September!


If you've successfully inspired your students to keep writer's notebooks this year, then now is the time to plant "seeds" in your writers' minds that will keep them working in those notebooks over the summer.  This is the first of three Notebook Summer Challenges for you (from me) to share with your students.

Now I am a lover of language!  Palindromes and oxymorons excite the tar out of me.  I also believe puns to be fantastic.  I have devoted full pages in my writer's notebooks to these topics, and when I hear (or make-up) a new pun, palindrome, or oxymoron in my daily work, I know I have a place to record them.

The other day, I came up with a brand new palindrome: Exam know, that's the axe they give novice firefighters when they take the "break the burning door down" test as they're testing to become full-fledged firemen.  My brain works in this crazy way, and I am glad to have a place in my writer's notebook to record them. 

My Summer Notebook Challenge #1 is based on a language pun that I love: Tom Swiftie jokes.   Inspired by the writing style of Victor Appleton, author of the Tom Swift adventure books from long ago, this is when you write a dialogue sentence with a dialogue verb (said, reply, etc.) that sits next to an adverb.  The goal is to make what's said in quotes pun off the adverb.  For example, here are two of my favorite Tom Swiftie puns:

  • "I've only got spades, diamonds, and clubs," Tom said heartlessly.
  • "I'm wearing my wedding ring now," Tom said with abandon.
I have a whole lesson on Tom Swifties posted at WritingFix; it shares the whole history of this type of pun, which I first discovered on the "Grin and Bear It" joke page found in every issue of my Boy's Life Magazine from my youth.  You can access the whole lesson here:

Over the summer, I encourage my students to read their books with a "Tom Swiftie" eye for punning, which means they're looking for lines of dialogue with interesting adverbs attached to the speaking verb.  For example, they might find in a book they're reading the following line of dialogue:
  • "I don't think I can stand," Ariel said weakly.
If they see a punning possibility with the adverb weakly, they can create a Tom Swiftie joke.  They have to change the character name and what's said in quotes, and that might lead to several possibilities.  Here are two from me:
  • "It's Sunday.  Here we go again," Tom said weakly.
  • "Why do I always become ill on Tuesdays," Tom said weakly.
Tom Swifties are certainly not for every student, but I'll bet you have kids excited about their notebooks who will find this to be a great challenge for the long as you model the process and show them a Tom Swiftie notebook page (yours or mine below).  Have your interested students dedicate a page in their notebooks to this topic, and as they read, challenge them to create these types of jokes.  On their notebook page(s) they can record their best ones and illustrate them.

Here is my Tom Swiftie page from my notebook; click the image to see it in larger form:

If you click on the image and print, it should print out the size of a full notebook page!

I'm spending the next two days hammering out end-of-year materials for our Northern Nevada Differentiated Instruction Program: The Student Learning Facilitator (SLF) Program.  As soon as Wednesday night's portfolio celebration is completed, I am full-time committed to finishing our new Expository Print Guide for 6th - 8th grade teachers.

Yesterday, between SLF observations, I managed to complete the second set of 6th grade "sparklers," which puts the sixth grade section of the guide very close to completion.  This set of Sparklers was based on this practice prompt:  Ever since the cave man invented fire and the wheel, people have been inventing things to move us forward.  What invention do you think has been the most important?  Explain your answer with relevant, showing details.

Click here to open this 6-page document of 6th grade Sparklers
Keep watching for new postings after Wednesday night...they should be coming fast and regular now.


Working with a crazy deadline here!  We put out the "Show Me Your Story" Narrative Print Guide in April, and before June, we're trying to assemble all our Expository materials into a new-but-similar guide for our 6th-8th grade teachers.  We have money set aside to print an expository guide for every Northern Nevada 6th-8th grade teacher, but that money goes away on July 1st...Deadlines can be stressful.  Especially when I have so many other things I'm working on.

It's no secret that one of my favorite authors for teachers in the amazing Gretchen Bernabei.  Her collection of essays called "Sparklers" really shaped my thinking as I coordinated both the narrative guide and this new expository guide.  Gretchen's book contains student samples from all over the country that scored well on state writing tests, and they're presented in a way that they require students to critically think as they examine the strengths of these student essays.

In Northern Nevada, we have designated narrative and expository practice prompts that we hope our teachers--indeed--practice with, and many of them do.  Gretchen's book inspired me to create a set of Nevada Sparklers for all our designated practice prompts.  It's turned out to be a little bit of a chore, but we are almost 100% there.  The last two sets are for the expository guide's 6th grade practice prompts.

Hooray! I finished the first set this afternoon.  6 charming essays by six charming Nevada kids who practiced with this prompt:  It may be fun to be someone else for a while.  If you could change places with someone, who would you choose?  Explain your choice.

I hope you enjoy these six "sparkling" samples.  And I hope you'll notice the "Interactive Challenge" below each sample, which are designed to get other writers to apply critical thinking skills to their own expository drafts.

Click here to open/print this 6-page document

Most of all, thanks Gretchen Bernabei.  When I grow up, I want to be you!