Teacher Resource Page: Writing Lessons

Responding to Writing

The stories on mysteryemail.com provide students with many opportunities to evaluate writing.  Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • Lesson W1:  Choose a Favorite.   Good writing is sometimes described as “writing that someone else wants to read.”  In this lesson, students read several writing selections.  Then, they rank order the selections from the one they liked the most to the one they liked the least.  Finally, they write about their reasons for ranking the selections in this order.
  • Lesson W2:  Get Emotional.  Good writing evokes emotion.  This lesson helps students focus on the emotional impact of text.  Students are asked to read three selections and list words that describe how the selection makes them feel. Then, students select an emotion to focus on and use that emotion as the basis for a story they submit as a post.

Doing Writing

  • Lesson W3: Using Conflict.  In this lesson, students learn about conflict as an essential ingredient in telling a story. First they read the background information for the picture Dragon Path. Next, they discuss sources of conflict suggested  by the picture. Then they write a 10-20 sentence story that tells what this picture is about.  Finally, students write a two-sentence note explaining why John Macpherson sent this story to Anna Stolyarski.
  • Lesson W4: Looking for Options:  Writers know that the first idea isn’t always the best.  In this lesson, students are challenged to come up with three different ideas for writing about the current Mystery Picture.  They then choose the idea they think is most promising and write a story based on it.

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  • I’ve generally set lower and upper limits for the length of student writing assignments.  The idea was to keep text relatively short and focus on high quality writing rather than quantity.  You can, however, adjust the suggested assignment lengths to suit the needs of your students–or not specify any length at all.
  • Throughout these lessons, the word story is used to refer writing passages.  In fact, many of the passages could more accurately be described as captions or vignettes.  So, stories is a catch-all phrase to refer to various kinds of text passages.  It would probably be worthwhile, however, to go over the differences in these kinds of passages with students.
  • Once you’ve gone over the differences between a caption, vignette, and story, you might be asked whether it’s possible to write a story in 10-20 sentences. That would be a good chance to share the (perhaps apocryphal) story of how Ernest Hemingway won a bet challenging him to write a story in six words. His story, written on a napkin:  For sale.  Baby shoes.  Never worn.

Hemingway six-word story


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