In this activity, students identify passages or short texts that they love. Then, they analyze the writing of these pieces of text to try to determine why they like them so much. They consider multiple aspects of writing craft, and try to figure out why these pieces of writing are so successful. This activity helps students to analyze text with greater sophistication, it attunes them to the craft of writing, and it helps them to become explicitly aware of techniques that can improve their own writing.
- Identify novel(s) or a set of short texts (poem or prose) that you want students to select from. You should include texts that are well within students’ independent reading level: they need to be able to read them with at least 97% accuracy, without much effort. You should select texts that are well-written and engaging.
- Prepare a list of the craft features that students have studied, that you want them to focus on. These may include:
- rich interior life of characters
- setting description that conveys attitude or perspective
- exciting action sequence includes interpretation
- suspense built with sequence of “frustrations”
- well-stated commentary on something that seems true or important
- realistic dialogue
- clear, precise sentences
- conflict conveyed through dialogue
- images that compelling or arresting, and that convey meaning
- time used flexibly: ideas grouped thematically, jumps or breaks in chronology
- rhythmic, well-balanced sentences
- line(s) that cut to the core of an important truth
- “show don’t tell”
- lines that strongly evoke emotion
- novel and apt word choices
- effective use of literary tropes
- Teacher leads a brief discussion about what is meant by “good writing.” Class discusses their own preferences in writing, their own ideas of what they like to read.
Try to move students beyond identifying content that they enjoy, and help them to think about other features of writing that they like to read.
- Teacher displays and review the craft elements that students will be looking for.Students should only be looking for craft elements that they have already studied. Curricular tools such as Ralph Fletcher’s Craft Lessons series can be helpful in initially teaching these craft elements.As you review the target craft elements, provide familiar examples of each. You may want to display or distribute examples of each.
- Teacher makes available the text or texts that students will be looking through. Students look through selections, and identify a short text or a portion of the text that they particularly enjoy.
Students can also do this portion of the assignment ahead of time, in preparation for this activity. You want to be sure that students have the time to identify something that really speaks to them. Alternatively, you can generally ask students to highlight or otherwise mark or record passages that they love, and then they can use this ongoing record to complete this assignment.
- Students look through text and try to identify craft elements that may be contributing to their engagement with the text. They record their ideas in 2-column notes.In one column students should include the words/lines from the text, and in the other column they should include the craft elements the lines represent, and thoughts about why this craft element is effective in this piece of writing.Encourage students to think beyond the provided list of craft elements, and to try to identify other details that make them love this piece of text.
- Students get into pairs, and each student shares the passage s/he chose, the craft elements s/he identified, and briefly discusses WHY s/he likes that passage so much. Students share ideas about what makes each passage so effective.
At this stage, try to sit down with each pair for at least a few minutes, to listen to their thought process and to give them some more ideas.
- Teacher leads students in a discussion about the texts that they chose, and what makes these effective pieces of writing.Lead students in a discussion, asking them to analyze and evaluate the excerpts of writing that they chose. Consider modeling reading aloud sections of text that you love, and identifying the elements of the texts that make them so wonderful.Ask students to consider how they can use what they learned to improve their own writing.
- Students reflect on their learning alone or individually, orally or in writing.
Students should respond to questions including:
- What does it mean to “read like a writer”?
- What makes writing good?
- How does analyzing craft help you to understand a text better?
- How might this activity help you to improve your reading comprehension?
- How might this activity help you to enjoy what you read more?
- How might this activity help you to improve your writing?