Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Simple and Complex Writing


Who: For students in grades 5-8

What: Using two selections about the same situation--one simple and one more complex--students first notice the differences between them, then write simple and complex pieces of their own.

How: Begin by inviting students to read the excerpts from each of the mentor texts below, writing their observations and discussing them.  What are their impressions about each excerpt?  Which one do they like better?

Together, analyze the texts for sentence length, sentence openers, kinds of punctuation, ability to paint a picture in the reader’s mind, point of view, etc.  Begin to use showing vs. telling terminology.

If you can find the two books in a local library, check them out.  Wait to show them until the discussion is complete, so they are not biased by the books themselves. I think they will be amused to see that the first selection comes from an easy reader.

When students understand how the two texts differ, give them one of two tasks.

        Option #1:  Rewrite the two selections, developing the simple one  and simplifying the complex one.

        Option #2:  Write two similar scenes, one that simply tells about the scene with short sentences and sparse details, the other that shows the scene with varied sentences and rich details.

When students have completed their drafts, ask them to share highlights from their simple and complex pieces.  Which one do they prefer?  Which one was easier to write? Draw boxes around each sentence. How do  the widths of the boxes compare from one piece to the other?  Highlight the sentence openers.  Is there variety? What is their strongest detail?

Allow time to revise and edit the pieces before putting them away.

Selection #1

From I Am Rosa Parks by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins

 “One day I was riding on a bus.  I was sitting in one of the seats in the back section for black people.  The bus started to get crowded.  The front seats filled up with white people.  One white man was standing up.  The bus driver looked back at us black people sitting down.  The driver said, ‘Let me have those seats.’ He wanted us to get up and give our seats to white people.  But I was tired of doing that.  I stayed in my seat.  This bus driver said to me, ‘I’m going to have you arrested.’ ‘You may do that,’ I said.  And I stayed in my seat.  Two policemen came.  One asked me, ‘Why didn’t you stand up?’ I asked him, ‘Why do you push us black people around?”

Selection #2

From Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

 “Rosa settled her sewing bag and her purse near her knees, trying not to crowd Jimmy’s father.  Men take up more space, she was thinking as she tried to squish her packages closer.  The bus made several more stops, and the two seats opposite her were filled by blacks.  She sat on her side of the aisle daydreaming about her good day and planning her special meal for her husband.

 ‘I said give me those seats!’ the bus driver bellowed.  Mrs. Parks looked up in surprise.  The two men on the opposite side of the aisle were rising to move into the crowded black section.  Jimmy’s father muttered, more to himself than anyone else, ‘I don’t feel like trouble today.  I’m gonna move.’

 Mrs. Parks stood to let him out, looked at James Blake the bus driver, and then sat back down.

 ‘You better make it easy on yourself!” Blake yelled.

 ‘Why do you pick on us?’ Mrs. Parks asked with that quiet strength of hers.

 ‘I’m going to call the police!” Blake threatened.

 ‘Do what you must,’ Mrs. Parks quietly replied.  She was not frightened.  She was not going to give in to that which was wrong.”

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