Reading Response #39: Reading Comprehension~Genre

RR #39: Reading Comprehension~Genre

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

To what genre does the book you are reading belong? Could it be contemporary fiction or historical? Realistic, science fiction, or fantasy? Mystery or thriller? Humor or Literary?

What is it about the book, or if you’d rather, the passage you just read that is typical of this genre? List the details that helped you determine the genre of your text.

Write or discuss your responses.


Play With Your Words Prompt #33: A Proud Moment/A Narrative Prompt

It’s nearly June. Young adults are graduating from high school and college. Teens and schoolchildren are looking forward to the end of the school year and summer. Couples are getting married. It is a time of year marked by milestones and achievements.

Write about a day in your life when you felt proud. Don’t just say you felt proud, write the story of that day. What led up to this moment when you rightfully felt you could pat yourself on the back? What did it take to get there? What part of your achievement do you feel best about?

Tell the story. Include who was involved, what happened, when and where this took place, and why it mattered to you.

The moment can be as simple as shooting your first basket, baking your first cake, receiving your Boy Scout Eagle rank, or earning your PhD.

When you are done, share your narrative with your writing partners. Compliment each other on the strengths you see in one another’s writing. Call attention to turns of phrases or details you particularly enjoy.

Share your narrative as comment. Everyone can use a little inspiration.

For pre-readers, get out a pen or pencil and some paper. Sit down together. Talk about what it means to be proud of something. Then ask the child to tell you about something he or she is proud of. Ask questions. Write down all the child’s responses.

When you are done, read back what he or she has said, pointing to the words as you say them to reinforce the one to one correspondence between written and spoke word.

Leave some room on the paper, or get out an extra sheet, for the child to draw a picture, paste a photo, or create a collage to go with the memory.

Teacher’s File Drawer: End of the School Year Tanka Project

A few years ago, I encountered the Tanka, a poetic form that has flourished since the 700’s in Japan

Like Haiku, the Tanka is constructed of a fixed number of syllables per line (Line 1—five syllables or fewer; Line 2—seven syllables or fewer; Line 3—five syllables or fewer; Line 4—seven syllables or fewer; Line 5—seven syllables or fewer).

The traditional subject matter for Tanka is less restricted than that for Haiku. However, Tanka were frequently addressed the subject of love.

For this assignment, your students will capture things they have loved from this school year to preserve in the form of a Tanka.

Set: Ask your students if they have heard of Haiku. Call on several students to share what they know about Haiku.

Now introduce the Tanka form:

  • Line 1—five syllables or fewer
  • Line 2—seven syllables or fewer
  • Line 3—five syllables or fewer
  • Line 4—seven syllables or fewer
  • Line 5—seven syllables or fewer

Tell students that by the end of the period they will have written several Tanka.

Pre-write: As a group brainstorm all the categories of activities students have encountered through the school year. Keep a running list, the bigger the list the better.

Tell your students to select three items from the list and write them across the top of a page. Below each category of activity, instruct the students to list words, feelings, actions, and sensory imagery they associate with it.

Rough Draft: Instruct your students to draft a Tanka for each of their three categories.

Revision and Editing: Have students spend a few minutes revising each of their Tanka. Tell them to ask themselves if they can change out hum drum words and phrases for more vivid, descriptive words and words and phrases.

Now instruct them to read all three of their Tanka and choose one to polish up as a contribution to a class collection.

Have students divide into pairs or groups of three and share their chosen Tanka with each other. Ask them to praise strong, specific word choices and vivid images in each others work. Instruct them to point out any areas that are confusing or unclear in their partners’ work. Require them to write down their partners’ feedback.

Suggest they help each other with spelling and punctuation.

Publish: Ask each student to make a clean final copy of their chosen Tanka to turn in.


  1. The students’ brainstorm sheet for their three chosen categories.
  2. The rough drafts of all three Tankas.
  3. The final copy of their chosen Tanka

The Scoring Criteria for this project are as follows:

Brainstorm Sheet:

  • 3 categories with lists 1 point  (.8 pts. for two lists, .6 pts. for one list, 0 lists=0 pts.)
  • effort composing lists 1 point (10 items each list—1pt., 5-9 items each–.8 pts., 1-4 items each–.6.pts., 0 items=0 points)

Rough Drafts of 3 Tankas:

  • Three Tankas 1 point  (.8 pts. for two Tankas, .6 pts. for one Tanka, 0 Tankas=0 pts.)
  • Fidelity to the format 1 point (-.2 pts. for each line that exceeds its limit)
  • Partner comments for the selected Tanka 1 point  (Recorded feedback=1 pt. Did not record feedback=0pts)

Final Tanka:

  • Ideas and Content 1 point  (The Tanka has a topic and the writer uses strong details. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Organization 1 point  (The ideas in the Tanka are presented in an order that facilitates understanding. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Word Choice 2 points–Two points because word choice is so significant in condensed writing.  (The writer uses specific nouns, strong verbs, and vivid imagery. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Fluency 1 point  (The writing has a nice flow. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Voice 1 point  (This Tanka sounds like it was written by an individual and that he or she sounds committed to the poem being created. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)
  • Conventions 1 point  (The writer demonstrates mastery over writing conventions. Delete tenths of point for weakness.)

Total: ______/12 pts.

Gather or display: I created mini-posters using word processing software, matted them, and posted them for my eighth graders at graduation. You could do this and post in the classroom or on display until the end of the year.

Or, you can collect the poems into a book and give each student a copy as keepsake for remembering the year.

And try writing some Tanka yourself. It’s quite addicting. For my mother’s seventieth birthday I made my mom a book of poems. Most of them were Tanka.

Also, to help me serve you better please answer the following questions and post them as a comment to any of this week’s (May 20-26) blogs.

Are you a writer, student, teacher, or parent? If none of these, how would you describe yourself?

What part of this blog is most useful to you?

Which part of this blog do you most enjoy?

What would you like to see more of?

Reading Response #38: The Sixty Word Summary

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about your book so far. Consider:

  • Who is the main character?
  • What does this character want or need?
  • What is this character doing to get what she wants or needs?
  • What interferes with him getting what he wants or needs?

Briefly list your responses as a pre-write.

Set up a piece of paper with ten rows of six blanks running across it, like this:

______ ______ ______ ______ ______ _______

______ ______ ______ ______ ______ _______

______ ______ ______ ______ ______ _______ (etc. for ten rows.)

Now, using just one word per blank write your summary.

If it is too long, shorten it by deleting unnecessary detail and rephrasing wordy or passive sentence until it reaches sixty words.

If it is too short, go back and work in greater specificity of incident and detail (without being unnecessarily wordy) until it reaches sixty words.

Read it aloud. You have created a minute long snapshot of your novel.

Also, to help me serve you better please answer the following questions and post them as a comment to any of this week’s (May 20-26) blogs.

  1. Are you a writer, student, teacher, or parent? If none of these, how would you describe yourself?
  2. What part of this blog is most useful to you?
  3. Which part of this blog do you most enjoy?
  4. What would you like to see more of?

Play With Your Words Prompt #32 Dreamers: An Exercise in Characterization

Steven Spielberg once said, “I dream for a living.”

Create a character who truly does dream for a living. It could be a realistic or historical character. Or it could be a fantastic, out-of-this-world character. As you develop your character, consider the following questions:

  • What is your character’s occupation?
  • How does dreaming relate to his or her work?
  • Give your character a name?
  • Where does he or she live?
  • What does he or she love?
  • If someone met your character on the street or at a party, describe what he or she might see.

For a bonus exercise: Put your character in a scene that contains action, dialogue, and conflict. Have fun!

When done, share your work with your writing partners. Enjoy the variety of characters you came up with as a group. Compliment one another on the strengths in his or her character description. Identify the details you like or find particularly vivid.

As usual, I invite you to share your writing as a comment. I would love to see the scenes and characters you have created.

Also, to help me serve you better please answer the following questions and post them as a comment to any of this week’s (May 20-26) blogs.

  1. Are you a writer, student, teacher, or parent? If none of these, how would you describe yourself?
  2. What part of this blog is most useful to you?
  3. Which part of this blog do you most enjoy?
  4. What would you like to see more of?

Spring into Action with SCBWI-OR

I attended the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators) Oregon Spring Conference this weekend. This is a fantastic conference I usually attend annually and look upon as the launching point into the summer conference season.

As usual, Spring into Action did not disappoint.

Friday I spent with twenty other students in an all-day writing Young Adult novels Intensive (tracks for illustrators, picture book authors, and middle grade authors were also offered). The morning began with “Getting to Know Your Characters,” taught by Emily Whitman, the author of Wildwing (a novel I enjoyed just last month). In this workshop, Emily led us through a number of exercises for helping writers get to “know” their characters. I plan to use a number of these as I develop the main character, Branwyn, for my next novel.

Session two, “The Construction Zone: Building an Authentic & Complete World for Your Story” was taught by Martha Mihalek, associate editor of Greenwillow Books. This too was both a lot of fun and very useful to me as I am also working on developing Branwyn’s fantasy world. Martha ran us through an extensive list of tips and questions to ask ourselves as we create worlds for our novels, be they real or fantasy. She illustrated her points with samples from recent Greenwillow books. In addition to learning a lot, I’ll be adding Heather Dixon’s Entwined, Suzanne Crowley’s The Stolen One, and Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns (not coming out until September!) to my reading wish list.

The day closed with WOW sessions, an opportunity for each person in our track to read aloud the first page of his or her novel and receive a critique from Emily, Martha, and the rest of us. This, as usual, was so fun. It is amazing the range of subjects and genres represented by our group of twenty. I loved hearing what others were working on and their critiques because each critique provided a chance for all of us to learn.

Saturday was the day for whole group keynote addresses and break-out workshops.

Diane Muldrow, Editorial Director at Golden Books (Random House), was the first speaker. She talked about the history of Little Golden Books and in doing so shared the characteristics that make a book a Little Golden Book. She showed books that spanned the 70 years of Little Golden Books. Everyone got a kick out of seeing slides of books they remembered from their own childhoods. I saw a cover of The Saggy Baggy Elephant, a book I still own, and Margaret Wise Brown’s The Golden Egg Book, which I read to my granddaughter just last month. One I didn’t see, but still love is Margaret Wise Brown’s The Friendly Book. I’ve often considered using it as a base from which to launch a writing assignment. By the end of her talk, I realized I do have a manuscript that could be a Little Golden Book. I’ll be submitting it soon.

Bonnie Bader, Editor-in-Chief of Grosset & Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan (Penguin Young Readers), discussed “Writing for the Masses.” She called her publishing house the “Old Navy” of publishing as they put out books that are “cool, but inexpensive.” Grossett… and Price… sell books everywhere—bookstores, grocery stores, department stores… Their books include series and licensed products, and she says she can always use writers who can work fast and are easy to get along with as publishing licensed books is very much a timely and team activity.

For my first workshop, I attended Pamela Smith Hill‘s “Plot, Setting, and Character: The Essentials of Memorable Fiction.” Pam, who recently published a biography, Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, used many examples from Wilder’s The Long Winter and Wilder’s correspondences with her daughter Rose to show how plot, setting, and character must be woven together to create the tapestry that is masterful fiction. I bought the book (the biography), and Pam graciously signed it using Wilder’s words that had so inspired her: “Because there are so many ways of saying things.”

For my second workshop, I attended Sandy Asher‘s “Whose Story is This? And Why? And Are You Sure?” For this workshop Sandy took us through a series of exercises based on the research of Abraham Maslow (I’ll bet you teachers remember him), Erich Fromm, and Julian Rotter identifying the core psychological needs of the individual. Based on her exercises, authors can more easily identify who should be the protagonist in their novels, who logical allies and adversaries are and why these characters can fill these roles. She even had us considering whether or not all our characters are even necessary and the qualities that make it possible to combine multiple characters into one. I found working through her exercises in class very useful in evaluating the cast of characters for Branwyn’s story, and intend to put in more time using the core needs approach in developing them.

The final keynoter was Martha Mihalek, with whom I’d spent Friday. Her talk, “Behind the Scenes: The Inside Scoop” examined three phases of the publication process at Greenwillow: evaluating submissions, acquisition, and the road to publication. She dispelled any illusions we might have had that if an editor loves your book she can just publish it. Martha has to consider many questions before taking a novel to an acquisition meeting. She needs to know not just that she likes it, but why. Writers can help her get their books to that all important meeting if their work reflects strong storytelling skills, a compelling voice, realistic characters, a plot that has both an internal and external arc, and a sense of authenticity that reflects what that author is passionate about and believes in. Martha again shared books and her enthusiasm for her work and her authors was contagious. I think every one of us left wishing we could be one of her writers.

There was a final panel discussion which began by talking about this new digital age of publishing. The consensus seemed to be that digital options are not “instead of” options but rather another exciting way writers can reach readers.

The event closed with a drawing. I gave away a free ten page critique, and I won an awesome thesaurus, twice as thick as the one I had at home!

I returned home tired from all the great information I had taken in, and excited. It looks like I’ll be making some submissions soon.

Reading Response #37: Problems + Problems = Plot

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

  • What kinds of problems or conflicts are occurring in your reading?
  • Are they being resolved?
  • If they are being resolved, how are these problems being solved?
  • If they are not being resolved what stands in the way of solving them?
  • How do you think the author will get them solved by the end of the book?

Write or discuss your response.

For Pre-readers: Enjoy a story together. As problems develop for the main characters, stop a moment and discuss them with your child. Ask how your child thinks the problem may be solved? When you’ve finished reading, talk about how the author resolved the story and how the author’s resolution was different or the same as that the two of you imagined.

Play With Your Words: Art Prompt #5

Look at the back side of this awesome sculpture by Kathy Ross.

Imagine this is a place.

  • What kind of place would it be?
  • What kinds of rooms do those rambling stairways lead to?
  • What might happen in a space like this?
  • Who would go here, or live here?
  • What brought them to this place?

Think about these questions then create a scene or a short story that takes place in this setting.

When you are done, share your piece with your writing partners or with readers here on the blog. Compliment the strengths in each others’ writing and the words, phrases, and details you enjoy.

For pre-readers, show the child the picture then ask him or her to tell you a story that might take place there. Write down what the child says. When done, read the story back to the child pointing to each word as it is read to reinforce the one-to-one correspondence between the spoken and written word.

Have Fun!

P.S. Here is the front view of the sculpture. It’s called “Tin Head.”

To learn more about Kathy Ross visit her website. And if you’re in the area, check out her studio event on Memorial Day weekend.

Harstine Island Art Studio Show


Kathy Ross, Lillian Morlock, and Susan Holland

KR3d Art Studio (10 E Ballow Rd Ext.)

Memorial Day Weekend

May 28, 29, 30


Call or email with questions!

971-247-5954 *

National Doodle Day: Thursday, May 12

Do you love to doodle?

Tomorrow, May 12, publishers Albert Whitman & Company, Chronicle Books, Gibbs Smith Publishers, and Running Press, along with authors/illustrators Daniel Pinkwater, Neil Gaiman, Eric Carle, Mo Willems, and Jon Scizezka will be hosting an e-bay auction of doodles by children’s authors, illustrators, and other celebrities as a means to raise money and awareness for families and individuals affected by Neurofibromatosis
The publishers will sponsor story time and doodling activities at the following locations: the
Thomas Hughes Children’s Library in Chicago, the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City, and the Bay Area Discovery Museum Sausalito, California.

Want to have a story and doodle time of your own?

Gather together with plenty of paper, colored pencils/pens. Play an audio book (or you can choose a designated reader to read for you, or even set a timer and have everyone read for about ten minutes each). As the listeners enjoy the story, they are to doodle whatever images it brings to mind.

Being able to visualize what one is reading is an important reading skill. Doodling while listening, or after reading is a great way to build that skill.

Have a good time together, and please post your doodles here (along with the title and author of the book you listened to.) I’ll try to muster up the courage to share my doodle as well.

Remember, we don’t have to be great artists. We just want to exercise our imaginative skills to help us better to comprehend written text.

Reading Response #36: Compare and Contrast Settings

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

A Venn diagram can be used for comparing and contrasting. Draw one; it looks like this:

Make sure you have plenty of overlap in the middle section.

Now, choose two settings to compare and contrast. It can be two different settings from your reading, or one setting from your reading and a setting from your own life. Write the names of each setting over the circle that will hold it’s information.

Compare and Contrast the two settings, listing the ways they are the same in the shared central section of your diagram, and the ways they differ in the outer sections. (Remember, setting includes the time, place, and mood of a scene and the details used to depict this.)

When you are done, examine your Venn diagram. What kinds of insights does this enhanced view of setting give you into the characters or story? How did the lives of the “characters” impact their settings?

Write or discuss your response

For Pre-readers: Enjoy the book together. When done, ask your pre-reader how individual aspects of the story’s setting are or are not like where you are together.