Writing Tall Tale Short Stories

It’s the end of the school year. I don’t have time to start and finish a quality novel with my students and complete reading comprehension and writing activities to support good “thinking” about the book. We get interrupted often during the last few weeks of school, and I don’t have reliable blocks of time. To maintain continued reading instruction, I switched over to short stories. Tall tale short stories to be specific. They are hilarious, and we have loved every minute of it.

One of the key traits in a tall tale is the use of exaggeration or hyperbole. Hyperbole is used to solve the story problem in a funny way. To really cement the tall tale characteristics in the students’ minds, they are writing their own tall tales. We will add their creative stories to our end of year writing portfolio as the final writing piece. It will be the perfect fourth grade writing finale!

To get the students started, we brainstormed everyday problems students might have. The students had lots of ideas. There is the common problem of not wanting to do weekly chores at your house (inspired by Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout by Shel Silverstein and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books). We have school problems such as bookbags that are too heavy or teachers who give too much homework (inspired by A Fine, Fine School by Creech). We also discussed pet problems (inspired by Those Darn Squirrels! by Rubin).

Once students had a place to start, they completed THIS BRAINSTORMING PAGE to gather their ideas and map their story plot. Students identified key events in their story and then made choices about how they could exaggerate the events to create humor. Using a side by side chart to outline the story plot helped the students maintain a believable “voice” while writing. It reduced the likelihood of a story that was so ridiculous that the reader lost the meaning. I’ve been conferencing with the students, and while there are some stories that are more successful than others, most make me laugh out loud.

To download my tall tale creative story brainstorming page, a rubric, and lined paper that could be used to handwrite the story, CLICK HERE.

To see the tall tale stories we used and to purchase activity ideas for tall tales, CLICK HERE to visit my teacher store.

Extension Idea

  • We typed our essays in MS Word, so I was also able to incorporate a lesson on formatting a document. Students changed font and font size. They centered the title and changed the spacing to double space. They also added images and learned about wrapping text around an image.

Native American Magazines

native-american-magazines

I love culminating projects that wrap lots of skills together in a tidy finished product. Before the holidays, my students finished our Native American unit with a research project focused on one aspect of a Native American group from a specific region. They presented the information in a magazine style feature article. The project checked off a lot of boxes for me. Research skills (check). Technology skills (check). Expository writing (check). Non-fiction text features (check). Really cool looking writing piece printed on fancy paper (check).

wampum-magazine

The students started the project by reviewing their textbook, readings, and graphic organizer notes for the different regions and tribes we studied as a group and chose a favorite area on which to focus. I had multiple topics ranging from the Inuit and igloo building to the Navajo and turquoise jewelry to the Iroquois and the game of lacrosse. Once students selected a topic, they generated three sub-topics that guided their research. I had the students use THIS ORGANIZER to help focus their reading and note taking.

Once students gathered information and were ready to begin writing the magazine style article. We looked at many professional writing samples in various magazines targeted at children in upper elementary grades (Kids Discover, American Girl, Muse, National Geographic for Kids, Boys’ Life…). Specifically, we looked at the titles of the feature articles, the first sentences in each article, and the layout of the page.

sample hook sentences from magazines

We spent one class period using THIS ACTIVITY PAGE and writing first sentences from several articles. The students met in groups to compare first sentences and determine what the sentences might have in common. The idea was for students to replicate a good “hook” sentence in their own article. Some key ideas emerged. Many opening sentences contained an unusual fact or an idea that grabbed our attention. All of the sentences used interesting vocabulary. We also noticed that the length of the sentence varied– we found short and long sentences that were effective.

lacrosse-magazine

To create the article, students used MSPublisher documents. Each person started by setting up a text box and changing the formatting to two columns. Each article was three paragraphs long matching the three sub-topic boxes in the notes organizer page. After typing the article, the students inserted a fancy header and developed a catchy title and sub-title, added images with captions, and chose a colorful background. Finally, I purchased shiny paper that felt the same as magazine paper, so the printed masterpiece really looked like a true magazine article. We were all impressed with the quality of the final product and are ready to write for a real publisher.

To see another activity idea for non-fiction text features CLICK HERE. To see my Native American teacher resources, CLICK HERE to visit my TpT store.

Facebook Character Activity

facebook-group-samples

A few years ago, my students designed a Facebook page for a favorite character in the book, Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise. I was surprised how much critical thinking was involved. The students needed to pick a significant scene from the story, summarize it from the point of view of a character in the form of a Facebook post, and then respond to the post from the point of view of a different character.

facebook-sample-jack

It was challenging for students to think about one story event from several angles. The finished writing activity reveals quite a bit about a student’s understanding of events in the story, character traits, and character interactions and motivations. It is a short activity but packed with reading skills, and the results are completely entertaining! It also had the bonus of incorporating technology skills since my students completed the Facebook page digitally.

facebook-page-samples

I recently assigned the activity again, and it did not disappoint. My students were in three separate reading groups this time around, but all students completed the Facebook page based on a character from their assigned book. It is such an easy activity to adapt to any novel study.

facebook-pp-template

In my classroom, I inserted the blank FACEBOOK TEMPLATE that I designed as a background in a PowerPoint slide and then added text boxes as placeholders on top of the background. I shared the template with my students, and they clicked in the text boxes to add their writing. They also inserted pictures, used bullet points, and changed font sizes (potentially tricky technology skills for 4th graders).

facebook-sample-post-seymour

For younger students or classrooms/homes without computer or printer access, the activity could be handwritten using THE TEMPLATE. The basic Facebook page with the text box outlines can be printed, and students draw profile pictures and neatly write posts, likes, and replies.

facebook-sample-post-jack

The samples above are related to the novels, Dying to Meet You, Love That Dog, and Hate That Cat. Complete novel units are available for purchase in my teacher store. Click the book names to see more details about the novel studies.

Mother’s Day Writing

mothers day pocket folders

I just finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my students, and we spent some time discussing C.S. Lewis’ descriptive sentences. I wanted my students to mimic Lewis’ style in a writing assignment, but I needed a vehicle to make their word choice meaningful. I pulled two passages out of the book and removed key words. I replaced the key words with a blank line and labelled the space with the type of word or part of speech that should go in the blank. Basically, I built a literary Mad Lib.

mothers day mad lib

The students spent some time thinking about their mothers (or another loved one) and brainstormed words to describe that person. Following the brainstorming, they re-read the original passages in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and then plugged words into the frame I gave them to create their own beautiful description with a C.S. Lewis vibe.

We typed the paragraphs, and students added small images that corresponded to details in the descriptive writing. We printed the text and pictures on a piece of cardstock and cut them apart. The students folded a small pocket folder using colored cardstock and decorated the cover. The pictures and small paragraph were no bigger than 3″ x 3″ each and fit nicely in the small pocket card.mothers day writing sample 2Not all of my students are quite finished with this project, but the ones I have read so far make me tear up because they capture such sweet thoughts about a loved one. If you need a thoughtful card or gift for a mother, father, grandparent, sibling… pull a favorite passage from a story and use the basic structure to write a special message.

Pocket Card Materials

  • 8 3/4″ x 7 1/4″ colored cardstock
  • 4″ x 3 1/2″ white cardstock (optional)

mini pocket folder

Pocket Card Directions

  • Place the colored cardstock on a flat surface in the landscape direction.
  • Fold the bottom edge (8 3/4″ edge) up about 2″, match the corners carefully, and press firmly to fold the crease.
  • Open the flap and fold the paper in half, so the two 7 1/4″ edges meet. Match the corners carefully and press firmly to fold the crease.
  • Open the paper flat and fold the 2″ section up creating the pocket. The pocket sides will be open but create a little “shelf” to hold the small pieces of paper. Fold the paper in half down the center fold.
  • If you would like, glue the 4″ x 3 1/2″ white rectangle to the front of the folder as a cover for writing a title or salutation.

Want to try your own literary Mad Lib? Click Author Mad Libs to download a free copy of my activity page. To purchase other Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe activities, CLICK HERE.

mothers day writing sample

 

Concrete Poems

book concrete poem

I am always surprised how much my students like poetry and even more amazed at the poetry they create during our poetry unit. We start the poetry writing process slowly with an adjective review. The students make a list of adjectives that describe the sneakers on their feet and then write these simple “adjective” poems using a frame I provide to get warmed up. The poem frame has a fill-in-the-blank structure where students add five adjectives from their sneaker description list.

adjective poems

Everyone can complete the poem without fear of having to rhyme words or create some great metaphor. After completing the sneaker poem, the students choose another topic like dogs, pie, or books and write a new adjective poem that uses the same structure. This year, we took the completed adjective poems and created concrete or shape poems.

shoe concrete poemWe searched for black and white clipart in Google images that matched the poem’s topic. The kids pasted the clipart image into a Word document and enlarged the blackline image to fill an 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. We printed the image and lightly traced the main lines with pencil on a blank piece of copy paper. Using black pens, the students wrote their poem over the traced pencil lines. Students left the paper with the clipart image under the paper with the concrete poem while writing to serve as a guideline.concrete poem and clipart

concrete poems tracing the design

In most cases, the students needed to write their poem multiple times to fill the shape outline. They also added a few details to complete the effect. The finished product elevated the simple poems into something much more sophisticated.

dog concrete poem

pie concrete poem

More ideas for student poetry are available in my poetry unit. Purchase the poetry unit by CLICKING HERE.