We recently read Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain, both by Jean Craighead George. Since Super and Dude really enjoyed them, I decided to use the two books for a modeled writing exercise.
First, we compared the main characters of the books. Sam Gribley and Julie/Miyax were similar in many ways. They were both leaving a bad situation, and they both had to survive using their wits and resources from nature. There were many contrasts as well: Sam left civilization to live off the land while Miyax was originally trying to reach civilization. Sam was able to find more food, but Miyax faced many days of hunger. I wrote the kids's brainstorming ideas on the white board, and we also did a Venn diagram on paper.
Then the kids each wrote a short paragraph explaining which character they would rather be: Sam or Miyax? Both kids chose Sam, and I have to agree with their choice!
The next day, we took their paragraphs and expanded on their ideas. If either of them had chosen Miyax, we would have expanded both of their paragraphs; since both kids chose Sam, and their paragraphs were fairly similar, we just did one modeled essay.
We put their ideas into a Four Square template. (I LOVE the Four Square concept; I'm a very visual person and traditional outlines never worked for me!) The topic sentence goes in the middle, the supporting reasons go in three squares, and the conclusion goes in the last square.
We started with our topic sentence: I would rather be Sam because he ate a meal every day. This sentence is verbatim from Super's original paragraph, and we chose it over Dude's sentence: I would want to be Sam because geography is destiny and Sam had more resources. We talked about how Super's sentence is more concise and works better stylistically. We also agreed that Dude's sentence is very important and that we needed to address the geographical differences and the availability of resources later in our essay.
We supported our topic sentence with details: what did he eat? He ate hickory nuts, walnuts, and acorns. He ate tubers, dandelions, wild strawberries, wild blueberries, and wild onions. I was the "secretary" while the kids dictated their sentences. After a moment, we realized that all our sentences were sounding the same: he ate, he ate, he ate. So we thought of ways to vary our sentences to avoid sounding repetitive. After listing what Sam ate, we wrote a contrast sentence describing what Miyax ate.
We decided to address the issue of resources in our second paragraph. What other resources did Sam have that made his life more comfortable than Miyax's life? The weather was less extreme. The forest provided him with lots of things essential to comfort and survival. We ended the paragraph with a contrast sentence about Miyax. As we worked on the paragraph about resources, I pointed out that our topic sentence only mentioned food. The kids decided that the topic sentence might be a little too narrow. We revised it to: I would choose to be Sam Gribley because he had a more comfortable life than Miyax.
Since both characters depended on animals for food, our third paragraph compared Sam's falcon to Miyax's wolf pack. Sam trained a falcon to hunt for him, but Miyax didn't train wolves. She had to become part of their pack and ask to share their food.
We worked on our essay all week, for less than thirty minutes a day, to avoid burnout. Every day we started by reading the essay aloud. We made minor changes, rearranged sentences, and added a couple of details each day. On Friday, I was very pleased to hear Dude say: "Mom, are we going to work on our essay next? Because I have some great ideas!"
Here is Dude's original paragraph:
Here is Super's original paragraph:
And here is our essay:
Living Like Sam or Surviving Like Miyax
I would choose to be Sam because he had a more comfortable life than Miyax. He ate a meal every day. He ate hickory nuts, walnuts, and acorns. He foraged for tubers, dandelions, wild strawberries, and wild onions. This adventurous boy also ate plenty of meat, including deer, rabbit, turtle, and frog legs. He caught crawfish and other fish, and made tea from various plants. He even made salt from hickory bark and jam from wild blueberries! Miyax, on the other hand, went days without eating. She only had meat and a small amount of moss and wild peas.
Sam had more resources available than Miyax did. He was in a forest instead of on the tundra. The trees provided him with firewood, shelter, salt, leaves to make a soft bed, and food to eat. He found clay to make a fireplace and pots. He was near a stream which gave him fresh water and wildlife to hunt. Miyax did not have as many resources. Shelter was harder to find on the tundra. She had to collect caribou dung to burn. All the water was frozen, so she had to melt snow and ice to drink.
Sam had another important advantage over Miyax. He had Frightful, a trained falcon. Frightful caught small game for Sam. Miyax depended on the wolf pack for food, but she did not train them to hunt for her. She had to become part of the pack before they would give her any food. Unlike Sam, she couldn't be sure of getting food from her animal companions.
Sam found it easier to survive in the wilderness than Miyax did. Both Miyax and Sam were escaping bad situations, but Sam ended up having a fun adventure. Miyax survived her journey across the tundra, but she faced many dangers and hardships. I would rather walk in Sam Gribley's rabbit skin shoes than Miyax's caribou skin boots.
This essay was truly a collaborative effort, with the kids providing the bulk of the ideas. I walked them through the editing process and helped them only with organization and style. I think they did a fantastic job, and we're all looking forward to our next writing project!