Novel Plotting – NaNoWriMo and Writing Advice

This is a video I posted to my YouTube channel a few days ago concerning the ideas of pantsing vs. plotting. I like to call this approach plotlining by the seat of your pants…but that’s just me!

I hope that you enjoy the video! Let me know what you think in the comments, either there or here, and if you like it let me know with a thumbs up as well! (My channel isn’t very old or popular yet so I’m shamelessly begging now! 😀 )

Have a great day!

Writing Portfolio

At the beginning of the school year I put together a writing portfolio with my students using a combination of old teacher manuals, a new book on teaching writing, and Pinterest ideas I had been pinning for years. What came about was, in my opinion, a fun and interesting container for student writing, notes, and ideas. We used the portfolio 173 out of 180 days this year, the others were review and state testing days! Special Needs/IEP students used the exact same set up and papers as their classmates and working in these portfolios was like having an automatic active assessment as well as an immediate chance for remediation.

I have been asked a few times, by a few different people, to lay out how I set this up. I don’t think this is a hugely different design from the rest of the portfolio ideas that are out there, but I took some pictures and will now walk you through the set up and use of my Writer’s/Writing Portfolio.

Materials List:

1 – 1 inch 3-ring Binder (We used the ‘view’ type)

1 – Set Page Dividers/Tabs (OR tape and construction paper in

a pinch)

Loose Leaf Notebook Paper

Set of Graphic Organizers (grade/class appropriate)

Crayons/Colored Pencils/Markers Etc.

Scrapbook Paper (optional)

…………..I also used the book Getting to the Core of Writing (level 5) by Richard Gentry, Jan McNeel, and Vickie Wallace-Nesler. (My state repealed Common Core but the writing standards are similar and this book is GREAT!)

A Treasury of Critical Thinking Activities By Teacher Created Resources

And Pinterest ideas from various Bloggers for Anchor charts and craft ideas.

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This is what the scrapbook paper was for! We decorated covers to slide into the viewable fronts…just another way to personalize student writing. When they have that much time and interest invested, students might take more care of what’s inside (about a 50/50 chance!)

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As you can see, the first few pages of the portfolio offer more chances for personalization and connection with the students. The interior title page (“Ms. Tyree’s…) can be decorated etc, allowing for personality to show itself immediately. The dedication page makes future assignments go from horrid homework to being for someone students actually care about…whether they be friend, family, or famous. Dedicating their work in such a manner both transfers the responsibility from teacher to student (I dedicated to MY friends/family…I am the AUTHOR and must do MY best) and gives students a sense of ownership for their portfolio and their work.

The Table of Contents page gives students a way to quickly flip through to needed information. When coupled with the page dividers (shown in these pictures are actually strips of paper or sticky note written on and then attached via clear tape) the table of contents provides an extra organizational tool for all.

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In the “WRITING IDEAS” tab we have the ‘AUTHORITY LIST’. The authority list is literally a list of items the portfolio builder feels authoritative about. For example:  my list (shown above) includes mythology and movies (writing research…really!), and Tinkerbell, Minions, and Crochet. These are things I feel very knowledgeable about and if I need to decide on a topic for a quick in class essay, I can choose from this list and whip up a first draft fairly easily. That’s the point, after all, of the ‘ideas’ section: The ability to recall what you know about and write it down without too much of that frustrating contemplation that gets students down before they ever write a word.

Next comes the Heart Map. Students (or other authors) draw a big heart in the center of the page with the words “I LOVE…” written inside. They then haphazardly fill the page with the names of things that they love. These are not necessarily items that they have to know a lot about, but merely things that they feel emotionally attached to. Many students will write things like ‘my friends, my family, soccer, music…’ and this not only gives you an insight into that particular student, it also provides them with topics for research projects, science experiments, or even art projects (to name a few).

Third in line is the Treasure Map (not pictured). The Treasure Map is an interesting art piece in which students think of a place that holds a lot of memories for them. Hopefully this place will be a holder of both good and not-so-great memories, or mostly good (most people will not draw a map of a bad memories place holder). They then draw an outline/blue print of that place…much like a pirate’s treasure map would be laid out. Then they place an X over the places with the strongest memories (i.e. the tree house fort behind Grandma’s house, the creek next door, etc.). If they are asked to write a narrative and don’t know where to begin, a look back at the treasure map can provide a bevy of inspiration. WARNING: Younger students and some IEP students will have difficulty differentiating between writing a fictional account and writing the bare bones of whatever actually happened. With these students make sure that you either tell them to write the facts, or are VERY specific when it comes to the fiction you want. Don’t write it for them, but make sure they understand the difference.

Finally, we have the memory hand, I also call the Emotions Hand. Students trace their hand and write a different emotion on each finger, the thumb, and their palm. They then (in a different color works best) list a few things that make them feel the emotion listed. (i.e. ANGRY often includes siblings, teachers, homework….PROUD was a difficult one for elementary students and usually just included good grades, winning a race, or praise from parents/teachers).

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The beginning of our ‘Writing” section is a page for Goal setting. This is really included so that the teacher can have individual conferences with each student and set goals for their writing. You put the date set, the goal, and then eventually the date met. Pretty simple right? Well I apparently can’t just leave well enough alone, so I not only did conferences, I also had students do small group/peer readings and discussions…and then they set another goal as well! This really pushed them to view their work not as another grade, or another essay for homework, but as something personal to them. Some of the best goals were set, and met, by my ‘special’ students, because (and I quote) “No one told us we could before”.

After the goals page is a set of loose leaf papers for story ideas and first drafts. The first page was a mini table of contents…students were asked to put the date written, the title, and the page number of their works.

Then came the graphic organizers and outlines section. I passed out 13 pages of organizers and 3 types of outlines during the first week of school. These included a KWL Chart, A Fact Chart, A Vinn Diagram, a Tree Chart, A Brainstormer, and a Cause and Effect Diagram.

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Since I taught fifth graders, we did some minor modifications to these pages, allowing them to use these much more easily. For example, the KWL chart had an extra column to allow for ‘things we couldn’t find the answer to’, while the Timeline page was alternately described as a paragraph outline…giving students a slightly different way to outline their essays along with the typical bulleted or roman numeral set up.

The final thing in our portfolios was, in my opinion, the most important; the writing journal. Every entry began with the day’s date in the upper left hand corner, then the word ‘prompt’ and the day’s prompt written out. Most day’s I gave the students 10 minutes to write to the prompt, usually while playing music softly in the background (a variety of artists and types). About 1 day a week I made students write without music, so that they would be used to noise or silence and able to work through during the testing (you never know what the ‘quiet’ class work next door might include!). Friday’s were always ‘free Friday’…allowing student creativity to come out as they wrote to their own inner muse for the day.

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Over the course of the school year, most of my students went from maybe getting a sentence or two written in the 10 minute time limit, to getting at least a half page. Most of them started writing more than a full page! More than anything else in the portfolio, even more than the differentiated (yet all the same) outlines, graphic organizers, and ‘what we know’ pages, I believe that the daily timed writing allowed my students the room to grow as authors, which is the best aid you can provide for students or aspiring authors! (one more quick example: an IEP student upped their score from a 4th grade writing test score of UNsatisfactory {but about 2 points from limited Knowledge} to ADVANCED on the 5th grade test. Writing, just like anything else, has be a daily habit. Like exercise, your muscles get used to be worked and can easily jump back into the push ups and chin ups of your mind!)

My House

Well folks, Mom is sick so I got drafted into teaching the second grade today. I may come up with some brilliant stunner of a post while I’m gone, but until then I will leave you with the first chapter of My House. My House is a novel I wrote years ago, back when I first hit college I believe. I’m thinking of using it as an outline and revamping the piece now that I know more about writing.

Let me know what you think?? Have a great day!

 

Chapter One

        Three small children are playing on a trampoline in the front yard while a woman (their grandmother?) watches from a walker on the front porch. A bird calls, a dog barks, cars go by…it’s a perfect picture of suburbia, but all I see is the house next door. A little more run down than the rest of the houses on this particular street, with its peeling blue paint, rusty gray porch, and light yellow door faded to a streaked dirty brown. Oh how I remember that door and the year we painted it. Billy was home from college and Dee had no summer school classes (for the first time that any of us could remember) the younger kids were at summer camp so it was just us three oldest. That was a great summer! With the three little brats out of the way at camp we got all of the attention that mom and dad had been wasting on them. They played ball with us, cooked our favorite meals, took us swimming and let us choose the new colors for the house. My brothers picked the blue of the house and the silver of the porch, making it look like a warm summer’s night, but I – I got to choose the color of the door. Everyone else on the block had boring doors, all different shades of brown and black, but our house was going to be different, pretty. It should, no HAD TO match the feel of the rest of the house. I spent hours contemplating that door color. As the boys painted the house and the porch, I would watch all of the colors of life go by in the form of birds, butterflies, flowers, people’s clothes, and whatever else I could see. Finally, I chose a warm, buttery yellow because of its happiness. It reminded me of sunflowers and those truly happy smiles that light up a person’s entire face. I thought it was the perfect color to remind us of the sun and summer during the rain and snow of the upcoming seasons.

            After spending so much time choosing just the right shade for our front door, it seemed like the painting was finished too quickly. A mere four hours after I told my father the final color choice, the door was painted and drying. My brothers made fun of me for taking so long in my decision, but I didn’t care, the color was absolutely gorgeous and just perfect for the blue house.

            I hadn’t realized that I had crossed the street and was touching the door until the deep voice behind me startled me back to reality.

            “Can I help you” he inquired, sweeping his gorgeous green eyes over me and taking in everything he saw quickly and efficiently. “I’m the realtor if you have any questions or want to take a look inside.”

            That caught me off guard, no on had told me he was selling our house.

            “It’s for sale?” I asked, stupidly stumbling over the surprise as well as the intense look on his face.

            “Yeah,” he replied, looking bewildered, “Didn’t you see the sign, its right over there?”

            Now I felt really stupid, the sign he pointed out was directly in front of me.

            “Oh, no I didn’t see that and Billy didn’t tell me about it either.” I sounded more upset than I really was, but then I did have a lot to be upset about.

            “Billy? Your husband?” He asked quickly, furtively glancing at my left hand for any telling rings.

            “Billy? No” I laughed as I took in his relieved expression. “He’s my big brother, and the owner of this house.”

            “Oh, OH you’re Kit McKlain” he exclaimed, stumbling over his words. His body language became shy, almost scared. No longer was he the bold, sexy realtor hoping to make a sell, but a small, scared little by, hoping the neighborhood bully wouldn’t take his lunch money. I’m so used to this reaction that I barely notice it anymore. When people find out my name, they have a tendency to react in a very similar fashion. My family has the ability to scare the pants off most people.

            “Don’t worry” I rushed to assure him, “Billy hasn’t told me because we rarely speak anymore.”

            “Really?” he asked, “I’m sorry.”

            “It’s okay, not something I usually talk about with strangers, but still okay. Any yes, I would love to take a look inside.”

            “Great!! I’ll get the keys, and by the way, my name is Nikolas.” He said as he jogged down the street toward his glossy black truck.

            As I stood there waiting for him to return with the keys, I let my mind drift back to that summer.

Aside

Note Cards and Outlines

I have a very simple and complex way of writing. Simple because I sit down with pen and paper and just write. I write what is flowing through my mind, it streams down the nerves and muscles into my hand, where the words drain into ink form and splatter across the page. Nothing convoluted about the process. However, the complex part begins soon after.

Many of the other writers I know, including those who teach the subject, tout the almost sublime attributes of a good outline. Most use a distinct outline format of flow charts, bulleted lists, painstakingly drawn out maps of characters and places, and the occasional snap shot. I don’t do that. If I begin an outline, I invariably forget the part about ‘outlining’ and begin the actual story. I sometimes make it as far as a second bullet on the list before sentences start spurting out, but not often.

No, the complexity of my work begins somewhere in the middle of a first draft. My characters are in the midst of a big action sequence (or a long, drawn out flight) and I suddenly can’t remember who stayed in England to begin with; and that is where the notecards come in. I have stacks upon stacks of notecards for each book. Cast of Characters in a conveniently numbered and color coded pile, followed by important places, car/house/business/ship names, pet names, and every once in a while, a quote so that I don’t forget to put it in.

Line after line scrawled on 3×5 squares in varying shades of bright ink with little numbers circled in the upper right hand corners so I don’t get them out of order. TWO note card holders busting at the seams in an attempt to contain them all, and I still forget a name from time to time. I suppose even notecards do not make my brain perfect (although I am close to it…if I do say so myself!).

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My actual notecards for the newest Stone Dragon Saga book. Begun around midnight last night…I don’t think they’ll fit in the green holder.

Do you have any certain ways of keeping yourself organized? I would love to hear how you do it!