Tag Archives: writing

Week 36 – A Pop Essay to Make You Foam at the Mouth


As the year is winding down, I’ve been wanting to assess my students on the writing process when left totally up to them.  I also wanted to know what they took from the movie “A Knight’s Tale” that we watched in class as part of our unit on the middle ages.  (We watched a safer, denuded, and cleaned up “airplane” version.)   So when they came back from recess, I said, “Okay, Pop Essay!  Get out binder paper and your notes.”


Using your notes and the True/False list you made while viewing the A Knight’s Tale, outline and write a first draft of an expository essay.  You have one class period only.

 Here is your prompt:  How historically accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”?  Describe the most important moments that are accurate and explain why, and then describe the most interesting  moments that are inaccurate and explain why.  What conclusions can you draw about our popular notion of the middle ages based on the film?

Do your outline here.


The students never batted an eye.  They all got out paper and their notes, and we looked at the prompt.

We took a minute to “deconstruct” the prompt.  First I asked them where we would find our thesis statement.  We underlined the first question.  I explained that they would need to turn it into a statement, but clearly I need to go over it again because one student used the question as it was written.

Then we numbered the jobs that the prompt was asking to be answered.   We put a 1 at “describe” and drew an arrow to what we were to describe and circled it: the important moments.  Then we put a 1a at the word “why” to remind us to give examples and reasons.  Then we put a 2 at the second “describe” drew a circle around the words “interesting moments” and drew a squiggly line under the word “interesting” to make it clear that “important” and “interesting” are two different concepts.  Then we put a 2a at the word, “why”.

Then we looked at the last sentence, and students were relieved to see the word “conclusions”. They accurately connected the word to a conclusion paragraph.  You don’t need to do it that way, but it does make a nice way to wrap up your thoughts.

Then I introduced the idea of the magic number 3.  They need two sets of moments.  Emphasis on the plural.  I told them that it is always useful to pick three ideas to support their thesis.  This meant that with a topic sentence they would be looking at about seven sentences for their body paragraphs.  Each moment must be supported.  The three moments plus three examples plus one topic sentence equals about seven sentences.  That gave them an idea of the length of the paper.

I wanted them to give me strong outlines, and so I told them that they needed to make the outline specific enough that if they didn’t finish the paper, I could still give them credit based on what they were planning to say as shown in their outline.  One the other hand, I warned them that they didn’t want to make the outline so specific that they didn’t have time to write it.  Only one didn’t get to write.  But his outline is amazing.  (We’ll work on it.)  Some finished early.  I told them that in this case, they need to check that they were on topic, then do as much revision as possible before the essays are picked up.  They needed to think about legibility, grammar and mechanics, idea and content, organization, word choice, and voice.

It takes time to master timed writing. They should not beat themselves up because they didn’t finish, but to consider why they hadn’t.

Instead of posting several essays, I thought I could get more student’s work up if I cherry picked some paragraphs and moments that I found to be most interesting.

Here are some openings:

The movie “A Knight’s Tale” focuses on medieval times.  But is the movie accurate to history?  In this paper:  What is accurate?  What is inaccurate? and why?

How accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”? This movie is about a squire, the helper of a knight, named William, and how he changed his stars.  Which means that he went from squire to knight.

Is “A Knight’s Tale” historically inaccurate? Or is it both?  Let us find out.

And some 1st body paragraphs:

This will be the accurate section of my paper.  Training daily is a huge part of a knight’s  life.  That is how they have lots of power to hold these huge swords (not always big swords, but heavy).  Courtly love is love in the nobility.  One of the rules is when you speak to your lover, you will foam at the mouth.  The Black Prince is a real character.  His real name is Prince Edward.  He is famous for his victories.  He does help other kings and, yes, he does tournaments.  There is still many more. 

First of all, this movie had a lot of accuracies, some unexpected.  There was, in fact, daily training for all knights.  William wasn’t doing a lot of extra training. All the rules of jousting and the stuff that happened (including getting hurt) did happen.  This is important because it was actually unwarped despite how silly it sometimes seemed.  William also followed the rules of courtly love.  That is very important because to some people could see that it would be crazy how one would follow and constantly think about another.

Now I will describe a few accurate parts.  Most of the dances were accurate, but not all of them were.  This was important because William got closer to the girl he liked.  Only widows having men’s job (blacksmithing) was accurate.  William needed a good blacksmith.  People were hanged.  Roland uses this to show William what could happen to him.

First, I will discuss the accuracies of this movie. First on accuracies is Knights.  Knights had to have people pay them taxes so they can go to a tournament.  Also, in Europe, if you are not of noble birth, you cannot be a knight.  Next is Ulric von Lichtenstein.  Ulric was an actual character from history who was a knight.  Next is apprentices.  Most children were apprenticed around the age of 7.

And some 2nd body paragraphs (I didn’t give the whole paragraphs for some of these because there was a lot of repetition.)

This next paragraph is about how inaccurate it is.  They filled the lances with pasta.  The makers did that so they could have an effect.  The blacksmith put a Nike symbol on the armor.  First, they didn’t have Nike, and second the blacksmiths did not put a symbol on armor (as far as we know).  They did not know what people looked like back then.  For example, the Black Prince, we don’t know what he looks like.

Now I will explain three false moments.  One of them is that David Bowie did not exist then.  He was born very recently.  The outfits for women were very inaccurate. They looked like “Star Wars” clothes!  The lances broke.  They wouldn’t have been able to afford so many.

Next,  the inaccurate moments.  They had no trial for criminals.  When William got arrested, he went straight to public humiliation.  They also filled the lances with linguini.  I would not expect to see that in the middle ages, but it did add pop to the jousting.  Finally, the women used hair dye.  We know that women would dress their hair elaborately, but did not color their hair. 

Finally, roses were pink and white, not deep red.

They did not eat turkey legs.

First, in the middle ages, there was no hair dye and women would have worn their hair up and covered.  I know this because we have watched many middle ages documentaries and they said exactly that.

And for some conclusions:

Not thinking historically, this movie was funny and exciting.  If we had not learned about the middle ages, everyone in the class would think that the middle ages wasn’t all that bad.  They also would think most knights were mostly too snobby and proud to congratulate anyone else.  If everyone had thought these things, they would be totally wrong.

I learned that some movies are accurate and some aren’t.  Example, this one was more accurate.  I learned and saw some of the rules of courtly love. Like when the two lovers, William and Jocelyn, are talking and William is tripping over his words and you can hear him.

I am very pleased with the results.  The students’ voices come out loud and clear while strongly reflecting what we learned in class.  They also had little problem transferring the writing process to a quick essay test.  So, yay, yay, and yay.

So, here’s to Heath Ledger (god rest his soul), people having fun with History, and whoever created the essay.  Add them all up, and you get statements like “when you speak to your lover, you foam at the mouth.”


Week 35 – Our Path Leads to Tiblet


Yes. I meant to write “Tiblet”. Actually, I didn’t mean to originally, but it’s the way it came out as I was trying to research some questions that my students were asking about this amazing book. The real title is My Path Leads to Tibet by Sabriye Tenberken.

Every day during our writing class, students read a chapter of her book and then write a Reading Journal about it. I think I’ve talked about this before. We moved swiftly through the book reading a chapter or two every day.

6th grade students wrote a five-sentence summary of the chapter, they gave evidence of the writing trait we are working on, and then they wrote a ten sentence reflection. They practiced using academic English, and the things they are learning in Grammar class. The 5th grade did variations on this theme. These students needed a little more help with vocabulary which slowed them down a little.

I’ve been blown away with the students’ response to this book. After reading The Alchemist with them, I’m no longer surprised at the depth of their thinking, but this book is tapping into their innate sense of justice. They want to stop and talk about what Sabriye is going through as they feel it. It’s sometimes difficult to keep them on task because they get so angry at what she’s put through. It’s the right moment to say to a student, “Good, I’m glad that you are reacting, but what you are saying belongs in your reflections. Make a note about it, or hold on to it until you are ready to write.” Of course this is not satisfactory, but generally, I find that students do write those reactions in their journals.

Today, students wanted to know if there is another book by her. They wanted to know what her organization was called, and they wanted to keep reading. What I love is hearing their voices in their reflections. I learn so much more about them by what they write.

As we just finished the book, students are pooling their reflections to write letters to Sabriye and her school in Tibet. I compiled all the reading journals for each student and handed them back to them in packets. The students want to make little origami gifts to put in the box along with the letters. If they give me permission, and thankfully, they generally do, I’ll post some of them before we send them.

Again, I’m just so proud of them.

Week 34 – Against All Odds: A 5th Grade Essay


Here is the final paper that I will post from this essay prompt.

This is a 5th grade paper. In it this young writer reviews the novel Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. His thesis is basic which is to tell his reader about the book and his opinion of it. As of yet, he comes to no profound understandings, but he gets it right and pulls out the important concepts in an order that is clear and helpful to his reader.

Against All Odds 1
Against All Odds 2
Against All Odds 3

I show you this paper because it is an example of a student turning a corner. He isn’t burning through the boring yet, but he is starting to make it his own. For example, his organizational structure improves with every paper. The ideas he pulls out are strong, interesting ones, and he is taking some risks with word choice which are brave.

I have to admit that this is a novel I have never enjoyed. However, after reading his paper, I revisited the story and through his eyes, I found a new appreciation for it. He changed my mind, and that is the mark of powerful writing.

Week 34 – The Underground Hero: A 6th Grade Essay


Another review essay, this one is on the novel Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is a great favorite in my classroom. I’m thrilled about this because even his youth fiction is complicated and requires real concentration from his readers.

This writer immediately picks up on the perverse nature of what it means to be a “hero”. Believable heroes are never fully convinced that he (or she) really is one. This writer highlights the premise that a real hero is often the product of a moment.

The Underground Hero 1
The Underground Hero 2a
The Underground Hero 3
The Underground Hero 4
I have to say that I really love this paper. The writer understands what is important in the novel and presents it clearly and with such strong word choice. Also, I’m pleased with how he is moving his organizational structure to accommodate his readers. Finally, it is unusual for me to agree so completely with one of my writers, but as I read his paper, I found myself saying, “Yup, yup, yup,” and nodding along as I read. I watched him struggle with this paper, but the end product is so definitely worth it.

Week 34 – A Desert Trip: A 6th Grade Essay


An essay on Holes by one of our 6th graders. She asserts to us here that she has grown out of this level of reading, and at the same time, she is able to see the merits of the novel.

A Desert Trip
A Desert Trip 2
A Desert Trip 3

This writer started off writing essays in a verbose manner. As you can see, she is now working on being succinct. The pendulum swings for writers, and you can see how she is begins to understand how answering readers questions helps her to decide how fulsome to be as a writer.

However, no matter how concise, her voice comes through loud and clear. This writer has a chatty tone which I love. You get the feeling that you are discussing the book over coffee and cake.

Week 34 – The Sly Creation: A 6th Grade Essay


Here is the offering of a student who read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  This student gets right to the point of the book, i.e., what does it mean to be human?  It’s a grand philosophical question, and one that, clearly, our students can grapple with in middle school.

The Sly Creation 1
The Sly Creation 2
The Sly Creation 3
The Sly Creation 4

To some extent he runs out of steam when he gets to his conclusion paragraph, but this only slightly diminishes the power of his thesis.

I feel that this student really turned a corner with this paper. It seems to me that he has “burned through the boring” of essay writing and is making the writing his own. He has become a writer of non-fiction in his own right.

Week 33 – Student C’s Offering


Here is another student’s response to the compare and contrast prompt.

This student worked extremely hard on this paper. His willingness to do revision after revision, to listen to those who could help him, and the choices he ultimately made to improve his paper make me so very proud of him. Notice the green underlining on the outline. He never lost patience when I asked him to go back and answer reader questions. Notice the back of the third draft. He was still working on hooks and introductory thoughts. This child knows how to work. And he did so diligently, coming up with a product he can be proud of. I know I’m proud of him.

The contrast brainstorm:
maniac artemis contrast

The contrast brainstorm:
maniac artemis contrast:

The outline:
maniac artemis outline 1
maniac artemis outline 2
maniac artemis outline 3
maniac artemis outline 4

The first draft:
maniac artemis 1st 1

The second draft:
maniac artemis 2nd 1
maniac artemis 2nd 2

The third draft:
maniac artemis 3rd 1
maniac artemis 3rd 2
maniac artemis 3rd 3

PSR: For some reason we can’t find it.

The fourth draft:
maniac artemis 4th 1
maniac artemis 4th 2

And the Graded Rubric:
maniac artemis final rubric