I re-read Marshfield Dreams
last month, trying to think of a clever way to use the writing to help my students be more prepared for the state writing test, which in Nevada is usually a narrative prompt, like:
In life, we all do things that give us a sense of accomplishment. Tell the story of a time you completed something that made you feel proud of yourself.
I find I need to teach my students to read practice prompts from past state tests very carefully...because, in general, they don't do this when they take the actual test. I think I've come up with a great lesson that uses some of Fletcher's chapters from Marshfield
to help my students read prompts with care. Here's what I'm going to do:
Show my students a bunch of old prompts from past state tests. WritingFix actually keeps a bank of them at their State Writing Test Page
. Have them compare and contrast the prompts, looking especially hard at the similarities so they are familiar with the style and the organization of a writing prompt. I'll also have them study the fact that the prompts are so general that almost anyone could write to them, not just a select few people.
Have my students read a selected chapter from Marshfield Dreams
. Tell the students to imagine that Ralph Fletcher might have written this chapter after being prompted by a prompt like the ones we compared and contrasted. Have them, working in pairs, write out just the prompt they think Ralph Fletcher might have been given to write one of his short chapters. I think I'll start with his chapter called "First Pen," which is on page 43 of my copy of the book. I am choosing this chapter because it has a focus and it's about the same amount of writing our Nevada kids would be able to fit into the space on our state's writing test form.
Have all pairs share out loud the generalized prompts they've written, which I'll call "Prompts in Reverse," since the kids are reading a passage and determining possible prompts that would inspire the writing (instead of the other way around). Have kids vote on the writing prompt that was the most thoughtful or worded the best and the most general, and I'll write that prompt on the board.
At the next class meeting, we'll re-read the Fletcher chapter, and then I'll have the kids write their own response to the prompt, reminding them to try using some of the stylistic techniques that Fletcher used to make his writing more interesting.
Have kids share their passages with each other, looking specifically for high-quality writing techniques.
I believe if I do this activity four or five times (with different chapters) before the state writing test, my kids would have lots of practice thinking about what state writing prompts sound like and also some experience with what good writers do to make short, narrative pieces of writing interesting to an audience.
Maybe other teachers who use this idea could suggest the chapters from Marshfield that inspired their students the most!