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My Altered Life, Exploring Mixed Genre Writing

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Keywords: Literacy, Writing, Altered books, Art
Subject(s): Art, Photography, Video, Spelling, Technology, Grammar, Special Needs, Writing, Reading
Grades 9 through 12
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
View Full Text of Standards
School: Burke Co High School, Waynesboro, GA
Planned By: Sherri Barajas
Original Author: Sherri Barajas, Waynesboro
Class Setting
This lesson will be taught as an after school literacy club activity held in the media center/library by the media specialist.

Literacy Club Goals
The goal of the literacy club is to offer students of varied reading abilities opportunities, outside of the classroom, to have fun reading and writing. The club offers a literature and technology rich environment, guest speakers, author events, and diverse activities such as, independent reading, discussion, read alouds, poetry slams, songwriting events, and other artistic endeavors that incorporate literature remediation and enrichment.

Learner Analysis

Age & Gender
The target audience will consists of 15- 20 students. Student’s ages range from 15 to 20 years old.

Grade Level
The students who will participate in this project are all high school students in 9th through 12th grades.

Cultural Background
The class consists of a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. The majority of students are from families that classify as working and lower socioeconomic classes earning from $45,000 to $10,000 or less per year. Many students live in single parent homes, some from the traditional two parent homes, while others live with grandparents or extended family.

Academic Level
Many students participating in this lesson exhibit some creative talents, however most are categorized academically as emergent and developing students, meaning they are performing at below proficiency levels. A few however, perform at proficiency and mastery levels. Many are struggling in the areas of reading and writing and have been identified as reading below their current grade level. These students have been identified as frustrated readers (the level at which the students are unable to pronounce many of the words and/or unable to comprehend the material satisfactorily), or instructional level readers (the level at which the students can make maximum progress in reading with teacher guidance).

Special Needs / Accommodations

Exceptionally Talented Students
Although not formally identified as gifted, several students have been identified as having a natural artistic talent. These students are exceptionally creative and show an interest in visual art, poetry or songwriting. They are able to recognize and infer many artistic concepts instinctively. For these students the teacher will:
Actively seek out the student’s interests by asking them questions and then directing them to resources that address students’ interests, while encouraging them to incorporate these themes into their project.
The teacher will actively challenge the student's skill level by suggesting unique and untraditional approaches to the use of visual elements in his/her project.

Basic and Special Education Students
The greater number of students participating in this project are either, struggling readers or have a learning deficiencies. For these students the teacher will:

1. Work with these students one-on-one, helping them brainstorm for ideas based on their interests for this project.

2. Provide an organizational chart to help these students approach the project using a step-by-step strategy.

3. Provide students with examples and demonstrations that will serve to reinforce the instructions given by the teacher in whole group instruction.

The purpose of this project is to present the students with a structured activity in which they are able to develop and enhance their reading fluency and comprehension skills in a fun and creative way. The mode of exploration will be that of mixed genre writing and altered books. Students will practice reading texts accurately, quickly, and with expression. By reading fluently, and through class discussion, they will develop the knowledge, skills and experiences to better comprehend the message of the text. Hopefully, through better understanding, they will become competent and enthusiastic lifelong readers.

Duration of Activities
This project will continue over a 4 week period with club meeting twice a week.

1. The teacher will ask the students to explore the question, “What is a story?”
Students will be assigned to groups and given markers. They will be directed to one of several posters hanging around the room that has the question “What is a story?” prewritten. They will be asked to answer the question and write their answers. They will be asked to write as many possible answers as they can think of.
The teacher will facilitate a class discussion on the topic by asking each group to read their answers to the class as she lists the main characteristics their answers on the board. The student’s ideas will be used to form a definition of a “story”.

2. In the next step of the lesson, the students will be presented with several examples of stories, some will challenge or affirm their own definition.

The teacher will share with the students several examples of stories. These stories were carefully selected because of their diversity. The stories will be experienced in various ways, some will be read to the students by the teacher, some will be read by the students out loud and silently, others will be presented in video presentations, while others will be heard in audio files.

Heart Touching Sad Love Story That WIll Make You Cry (Heart Touching Stories)

The The Man Who Fell Out of Bed (pg.32) A short story read by teacher, with considerable fluency. (Sacks 32-33)

Fake Smile by Josh Higham

Hemingway - Baby Shoes - Excerpt from the movie (Papa Hemingway In Cuba)

3. Again, the teacher will ask probing questions of the students to have them rethink and possibly redefine their definition of “a story” based on what they learned from the readings. The teacher will ask them to think about where stories come from. One idea is that stories come first from ourselves, we are the authors, we tell stories to ourselves everyday, we are the teller and the listener, and we begin telling stories from a very early age. (Travis) Explain to students the type of writing they will be doing is called “mixed genre”. ("Short Prose Genres: Defining Essay, Short Story, Commentary, Memoir, And Mixed Genre - Writer's Relief, Inc.")

4. Students will view a video that interviews a group of writers, journalists, and producers for the Aspen Ideas Festival to explain, “What is a great story?”(Martin)

5. Go over the handout, Adding Muscle to Your Story ("Adding Emotions To Your Story") Remind students that a story may evolve as one ponders on the best way to tell it.
Sometime we tend to embellish certain aspects of a story

Tell the students about the project they will be doing. Present the directions in a clear, linear fashion, chunk instructions so they do not feel overwhelmed, and give them examples of the end product.

1. Explain to student that they will be writing a story and they will they will tell it through the genre of altered books. Show the students an example of an altered book that tells a mixed genre story. “Discovering My Dharma”.(Gibbons)

2. Student will begin brainstorming about what kind of story they would like to tell. Allow them to discuss ideas with each other. Student may construct any type of story the wish using the mixed genre style, however, the student must cast themselves as the main character and they must include at least one self portrait. Every other aspect of the story is up to the student. Some ideas, events, or descriptions can either be true to the student’s real life or totally fictional.

Some ideas for themes that may be presented to students are:
It’s all in my head.
Things I learned to like.
Story about me in 6 words.
One thing I wish for...
One thing I realized...
My life is like…
On this day I was…
The day I was born…
I become sad when…
Life is too short to be…
I didn't plan to be a superhero, but all of that changed when…
I can't believe I didn't see that coming.
The most unusual thing about my life is...
The most unique thing about me is...

3. Working individually, have them write a brief outline of their story using the handout Beginning, Middle & End. The media specialist will read each idea and give feedback.

4. Have the student watch an altered book demonstration called, The Story of My Life Week 1 - Living. (Paternoster)

5. Allow the student to begin constructing their altered book.

Reinforcement & Enrichment
Each time the students gather to work on their stories, the teacher will have them read, view, or demonstrate for them stories, poems, lyrics, and artistic and technology based techniques that will assist, reinforce, enrich and fuel their creativity.

Once completed, the students will scan their stories and import them in MovieMaker. With MovieMaker they will use the panning tool to add subtle motion to their stories. Using the narration tool, students will read and record their stories. The project will conclude as parents are invited for refreshments and a viewing of the students stories and altered books exhibit.


"Adding Emotions To Your Story". Learnnc.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Gibbons, Julie. Discovering My Dharma. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Heart Touching Stories,. Heart Touching Sad Love Stories That Will Make You Cry. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Higham, Josh. Fake Smile,, Spoken Word. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Papa Hemingway In Cuba. Havana, Cuba: Bob Yari, 2015. DVD.

Paternoster, Miriam. Hidden Poems By Miriam Paternoster. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Martin, Philip. "What Is A Story? | Jane Friedman". Jane Friedman. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Sacks, Oliver. 1st ed. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and other clinical tales: N.p. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

"Short Prose Genres: Defining Essay, Short Story, Commentary, Memoir, And Mixed Genre - Writer's Relief, Inc.". Writer's Relief, Inc.. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Travis, Mark. "What Is A Story, And Where Does It Come From?". TheWrap. N.p., 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Thank you!
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Fine arts, ELA
The students will create a website to post their work.
Links: Discovering My Dharma
The Story of My Life Week 1 - Living
Beginning, Middle & End
Materials: Digital Cameras, Point and Shoot, Digital SLR, Wacom Tablets, Art Tools, Video Tools, Headsets, Authoring and Publishing, Clip Art
Other Items: 2 Nasco Roylco® Nature Stencils - Set of 10, $9.50 each, total of $19.00
2 NascoHelix® Plastic Italic Lettering Guides - Set of 4, $8.58 each, total of $17.16
2 NascoMandala Stencils - Set of 6, $21.50 each, total of $43.00
2 NascoFaber-Castell® Mixed Media Stencils - Collection 101&201, $11.00 each, total of $22.00
1 NascoVariety of ribbon, $30.00 each, total of $30.00
2 NascoSargent Art® Acrylic Paint - 12-Color Classroom Assortment, $75.00 each, total of $150.00
1 NascoRoyal Brush® Acrylic Super Value Taklon Flat and Round Set, $82.00 each, total of $82.00
3 NascoCollage Embellishment Value Pack, $75.00 each, total of $225.00