Picture the Process!
Students learn about Blue Balliett's writing process and write their own mystery stories.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
- Unit Plan:
After reading Chasing Vermeer, students study the author's writing process and make connections between the book and the author's real-life experiences.
- Study the writing process and make connections with a real author's experience
- Write their own mystery story, following the writing process
Step 1: View Blue's Photo Album (link located under "Slideshows"). Discuss how this slideshow is also an autobiographical essay that describes how Blue Balliett transforms her ideas into a published book.
Step 2: Have students read Blue Balliett's "Q&A on Writing" and "Author's Note: To Aspiring Authors" (links located under "For You, From Blue" on Blue Balliett's author page). Ask students to identify additional information that describes how the author goes about writing and revising her work.
Step 3: Discuss the writing process with students. Explain that, in some way, all good writers usually follow these steps:
- Prewriting, or brainstorming, includes activities such as creating a story web with ideas related to a main topic.
- Writing drafts, where the author pieces thoughts together into a story with characters and a plot. There are often multiple rounds of drafts.
- Feedback involves sharing a complete draft with someone else who offers suggestions on what's good, bad, or confusing about the story.
- Rewriting, when the author incorporates the feedback.
- Proofreading, when the writer perfects grammar, punctuation, and fixes spelling mistakes.
- Publishing is the last step, when the final story is ready to be shared with everyone.
Step 4: Distribute copies of the Timeline graphic organizer. In the rows on the left hand side, have students list the six steps in the writing process as discussed. On the right, have them add notes about how Blue Balliett worked during each phase. For example, for "Writing Drafts," students' notes on the right might include:
- Kept pad and pencil by the bed for notes
- Wrote 10 versions of the draft
Step 5: Now that students have a good idea of the process of writing a mystery like Chasing Vermeer, they can write their own! Use these online steps from Writing With Writers: Mystery Writing to guide them:
- Writing Tips offers ideas for prewriting.
- Writing Challenges will help them put together a draft.
- Revision Guidelines include suggestions on offering feedback to the author. Have each student exchange drafts with another student. Using these guidelines, students can make suggestions including places where wording is awkward and where dialogue doesn't sound natural.
Have students rewrite their stories based on the feedback and then proofread them before sharing their stories with the class or their revision partners.
Supporting All Learners
- Develops the topic with simple facts.
- Organizes details chronologically.
- Uses technology to create and publish written work.
Working with Others
- Participates in a variety of group and individual activities
- Provides feedback in a constructive manner and recognizes the importance of seeking and receiving constructive feedback in a non-defensive manner
- Applies technology to compose and publish written work
- A film version of Chasing Vermeer is planned. If students were in charge of turning this book into a movie, what scenes would be most important? Usually some things are changed for films: characters' names can be different, scenes are deleted, or dialogue is rewritten. What would students change in Chasing Vermeer? Why? What would they delete? Why?
- A big part of the story revolves around ads placed in the newspaper. Ask students to imagine being Petra or Calder right after the mystery is solved. Have them write a newspaper ad summarizing their adventure.
- Assess students' ability to map Blue Balliett's experience to the writing process.
- Use the Mystery Writing Rubric to evaluate students' stories.