Empowering Writers

March 2011 Lesson of the Month

Top of the morning to you! It’s a great time of year to celebrate all things magical. Leprechauns and fairies take center stage in this month’s lesson. Using the season as a springboard to writing a “fairy” tale is an engaging way to teach the skills of narrative writing while having a little fun along the way.

Here’s what you’ll do:

1) Ask the class how many of them will be observing St. Patrick’s Day. Discuss some traditions, signs and symbols of the holiday. They might mention leprechauns, pots of gold, and rainbows. Explain that Ireland has a rich collection of folklore that involves magical themes. Ask if anyone has ever heard of a fairy ring or pixie circle. (Many probably have never heard about this phenomenon or the legends connected to it.)

2) Read aloud (or print and distribute) the following informational paragraph about Fairy Rings:

If you ever stroll through the Irish countryside don’t be surprised if you come across a fairy ring. What is a fairy ring, you might ask? A fairy ring (also called a fairy circle, pixie ring, or elf circle) is a natural growth of mushrooms that occur in a circular pattern. Fairy circles can be up to 30 feet across! These sporocarps grow several feet apart around the circumference and sometimes surround a circle of dead or dark green grass. These fungus-type plants that make up the fairy circle look as though they could be seats or tables for magical beings like fairies. Many people enjoy the superstition that these fairy rings are actually magical gateways into mystical kingdoms where fairies, elves, or pixies live. They believe that fairy rings grow to mark a place where one of these magical characters has appeared.

3) Discuss this paragraph with your student writers – point out the use of word referents – different ways to refer to the mushrooms mentioned: sporocarps, fungus-type plants. (Google “fairy ring” images and show these to the class – there is a good mix of realistic and magical images for them to see.)

4) Explain that they will be using the information about fairy rings to create an entertaining narrative main event. Write the following on the board:

I stumbled upon a strange circle in the clearing and gasped at what appeared in the center!

This is a summary statement about the main event of a story. Ask them to write a fully elaborated main event from this summary.

Discuss the variables (what appeared in the circle – leprechaun, fairy, pixie, elf)

Have some tradebooks or images available that portray these magical beings.

Ask them how they would feel if they saw a fairy, pixie, leprechaun, or elf. Remind them that they’ll need to SHOW these feelings (rather than tell) in their main event.

Post the productive questions they’ll need to write their main event. It might be helpful to limit the event to an observation of their magical being, unless you want them really spend a great deal of time on this. If so, they might capture the being, be chased by the being, or involved in some other magical adventure. But, simply observing the being is quite extraordinary on its own!

Productive Questions for a Main Event (these can be found on p. 259 in the Comprehensive Narrative Writing Guide):

ACTION: What did you (and, what did the magical being) do? (How did it move?)

DESCRIPTION: What did you see, hear, feel? (What sounds did it make?)

THOUGHTS/FEELINGS: What did you wonder/worry?

DIALOGUE/EXCLAMATION: What did you say or exclaim?

SOUND EFFECT: What did you hear?

5) Be sure to MODEL this first! Remember, modeling is NOT the same thing as sharing an exemplar. To review the dynamic of successful teacher modeling, see p. 264-266 in the Comprehensive Narrative Writing Guide, and go to Youtube, search Empowering Writers and select the “Magical Bike” video.

6) After you model this, proceed to GUIDED PRACTICE and have the class try their own. Provide some sentence starters for students who need them:

  • I gasped when I saw _____.
  • My mouth dropped open at the sight of _____.
  • In the center of the ring appeared a _____.
  • The magical being _____.
  • I stared as the amazing character _____.
  • It was _____.
  • I couldn’t help but notice _____.

Here’s a sample that might inform and inspire your modeling:

After a long hike through the forest I came to a small clearing and gasped. There was a circle of small toadstools. The grass in the middle of the circle was the color of emeralds. The toadstools changed color and began to sparkle. They looked like golden knobs with fairy dust glimmering around them. I was dazzled by the sight, so much that at first I didn’t notice what was in the center of the circle! My eyes nearly popped out of my head. My heart began to race. “Oh my goodness!” I murmured. That’s when the tiny fairies turned my way. They were small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, the size of sparrows. They hovered in the air and came closer to me. They had big sparkling eyes and wore clothing made of brightly colored leaves and flower petals. Like hummingbirds, they flew around me. I heard a buzzing sound and then a tinkling noise. They swirled their magic wands as they flew, sending out a sweet smelling cloud of glittering dust. The dust made me sleepy, but I fought to keep my drooping eyelids open. Then, as mysteriously as they appeared, they left, one by one. They each landed on a toadstool, spun around on the curved top, and disappeared. “Wow!” I whispered, rubbing my eyes. “Did I really see what I thought I saw?”

Finally, display student main events alongside images of Fairy Circles!