Empowering Writers

October 2010 Lesson of the Month

It’s hard to believe autumn is here – the time of year when students and teachers both settle into a comfortable routine and, together, explore and enjoy the many changes fall brings! Thinking about a new season in life is always invigorating and fun – this month’s lesson uses the “stuff” of autumn as the inspiration for some short response, side-by-side narrative and expository writing. Our “autumn exploration” can be adapted for just about any grade and will focus on elaboration in both genres. We’ll apply the “detail generating questions” authors use to produce powerful writing.

Here’s what to do:

1) Begin by discussing genre in terms of purpose and salient features. The chart below can help you:

Narrative Writing Expository Writing purpose: to entertain purpose: to inform focuses on a main character, setting, focuses on a TOPIC problem or adventure the main character tells a story the author provides information follows the narrative diamond follows the expository pillar includes strong sensory information includes powerful description.

2) Explain that they’ll be writing an entertaining descriptive paragraph about an autumn setting and an informational paragraph about autumn. (Another option is to divide the class in half and have half the students work on narrative paragraphs and half on expository. You could even pair students up, one writing narrative, the other expository.)

3) Discuss/chart the questions authors ask to generate detail and elaborate.

Narrative: Expository:

  • What was the temperature/weather like?
  • What did it look, sound, feel, smell like?
  • What kinds of plants/trees grew there?
  • Why is that important (to your main idea)?
  • How did the air feel?
  • Is each detail in a separate sentence?
  • What kinds of animals were there?
  • Did you give a specific example?
  • What did you hear/see/smell?
  • How did you feel about being there?

4) Write the theme/topic on the board: Autumn Stroll (narrative) Changes in Autumn (expository)

Explain that the narrative paragraph falls in the “personal experience” category. As the author you entertain the reader by describing what you see, hear, feel, smell on your autumn stroll through the woods. In the expository paragraph the author explains the changes in nature in autumn and why they’re important.

5) Here are some examples to share. Point out the way the respective detail generating questions relate to each detail!


I strolled through the forest on an autumn morning. It was chilly and I buttoned up my sweater. The sky shone bright blue and the air was crisp. I gazed at maple and oak trees. The leaves were already beginning to turn shades of gold, orange, and brown. Squirrels scampered about and birds chirped, all of them collecting nuts and berries to prepare for winter. Inhaling deeply I enjoyed the woodsy scent of this fall morning. A smile curled the edges of my mouth as I headed on down the woodland trail. (Note: See pages 90-92 in the Comprehensive Narrative Writing Guide for more ideas.)

Expository: (the MAIN IDEA sentence is underlined. Each subsequent detail supports the main idea.)

Many changes in nature occur in autumn. The cooler temperatures and shorter days cause leaves to change from green to shades of red, gold, and orange. This happens because there isn’t enough light or water for photosynthesis to take place and trees begin to slow down in making the green chlorophyll they produce all summer. You might see squirrels running about gathering nuts. They will store these up so that they have enough food for the winter months ahead when food is scarce. Many types of birds that thrive in warmer climates begin migration in the fall, traveling to warmer climates for the coming months.

Be sure to point out the difference in tone and style between the two pieces. Students might also need to do some research to complete their expository paragraphs. This is the nature of informational writing! (no pun intended!) They might go to the following link: http://www.tooter4kids.com/autumn/why_do_leaves_change_color.htm

6) Some additional tips: Provide sentence starters, if necessary. As students work, circulate and share powerful examples. Finally, use these paragraphs for an Autumn Side by Side bulletin board!