From Babylon to New Hampshire: Tiny Writing Lives Large


Today’s guest post is from Elizabeth Oosterheert (@oosterheerte). Elizabeth currently teaches middle school language arts and directs the 8th Grade Theatre Troupe at Pella Christian Grade School in Pella, Iowa. She enjoys leading sectionals on young adult literature and writing workshop at the Iowa Reading Conference and the Heartland Teacher Convention. Her passions are writing beside students and encouraging students to use their gifts on stage.

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“Scientists seem to think there are no living beings up there…just chalk, or fire.”

Thornton Wilder

Memories & Miracles: An Autobiographical Journey

Reading Rebekah’s post about tiny writing and the necessity of publication for young writers at the end of October  inspired me to adapt some of her ideas for my eighth grade writing workshop. My students and I are engaged in a year-long autobiographical writing project that culminates in the publication of a class book featuring student photos and compositions. This year, our autobiography is entitled “Memories and Miracles,” a reference to our 8th Grade Theatre Troupe production of The Secret Garden. The goals of the autobiography are to engage each student in writing that is personally meaningful and fulfilling to him or her, and to encourage student growth as speakers, writers and thinkers as they prepare for the rigor of high school.

The autobiography consists of the following introduction and five chapters:

  • Introduction: A Room Called Remember: -Students compose place narratives framed around favorite childhood memories.
  • Chapter One: Encyclopedia of an Extraordinary Life: Using mentor texts by Amy Krause Rosenthal and Langston Hughes, students compose their own “life encyclopedias” and personalize Hughes’ classic poem, “Theme for English B,” so that it reflects truths about their lives.
  • Chapter Two: Youth, Joy, Adventure: Students explore mentor poems and narratives that I’ve composed as well as texts by professional authors like Billy Collins, and compose narrative poetry, poems for two voices, and snapshot narratives that tell the stories of favorite possessions or photos. Students have agency as far as which pieces they choose to write.
  • Chapter Three: In Spite of Everything, the Stars: In this chapter, students explore multigenre writing, experiment with writing editorial/opinion pieces after reading mentor texts by Rick Reilly, and with thanks to Penny Kittle, consider the songs that “live in their hearts” and write narratives about their life songs or life soundtracks. Finally, students dabble in composing Spoken Word poetry using mentor texts by Phil Kaye and Sarah Kay.
  • Chapter Four: Words for the Journey: Students write commentary after reading several mentor pieces by Mitch Albom, Leonard Pitts, and others. Students frame a research based commentary around an essential question of their choice, and are able to reference a folder filled with professionally written commentaries.  I also write a commentary with them as they draft theirs.
  • Chapter Five: Leaving a Legacy:  Students compose a Legacy Speech that reflects their life journeys. Students decide whether they wish to focus on their spiritual or academic growth, or some other aspect of their lives.  These speeches are drafted during our workshop time during the last month of school, and are presented at a local church.  Students also design websites featuring their compositions and we publish a hardcover class book showcasing our writing and photos using Shutterfly.




Tiny Writing with a Big Impact…Letter to My Younger Self

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A Mentor Text Goldmine for Movie Buffs and Writing Workshoppers Alike!

It seemed too good to be true when I first happened upon it: a database with hundreds of free Hollywood movie scripts, ready to download and dig in to for writing studies!

I had landed upon The Internet Movie Script Database (not to be confused with the International Movie Database)  — an amazing resource for writing workshop. I have used its contents to teach the obvious genre (screenwriting) — but I have also used the scripts in memoir and fiction writing studies to teach about dialogue, creating character, writing concisely, show-don’t-tell and so on.

Do yourself a favor and head on over to the IMSDb before reading on. You’ll notice that you can search the database by title or genre. You can also browse the newest titles on the homepage, under Newest Releases.

Two Scripts & Some Ideas

It’s easy to get lost in a script; it does take some time to plod through hundreds of pages in search of excerpts to use with students. I often just pull the first few pages of a script to share — or if I’ve seen the movie and can identify a scene I want to look at, I’ll search within the script for phrases I remember from the movie. To get you going in your study, below are two scripts you might consider exploring with your writers and ways to use them.


Photo by Jim Bridges Roadside Attractions Publicity via


Summary: Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the vigilantes that are on his trail and to reunite him with his true love. (International Movie Database)

Click here for the full script.

Click here for the excerpt I used.

How I used it:

I used this excerpt from Mud to demonstrate one way to create character: through setting. Nancie Atwell encourages her writers to “create [their] character’s bedroom and fill it with the stuff of his or her life that reveals parts of the present or past.” In this excerpt, director Jeff Nichols demonstrates this technique using narrative description to show the abandoned boat that Mud has turned into a temporary home. The students will enjoy discussing what the contents of his boat-treehouse reveal about Mud.


Photo by Global Panorama via Flickr

A Fault in Our Stars

Summary: Two teens, both who have different cancer conditions, fall in love after meeting at a cancer support group. (The International Movie Database)

Click here for the full script.

Click here for the excerpt I used.

How I used it:

I used this short excerpt to teach students about lean writing. David Trottier, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible, advises screenwriters to keep description “on the lean side, providing only what is absolutely necessary to progress the story.”

While this advice applies more to screenwriting than it does fiction, this lesson helps students become more intentional and “choosy” with the details they include in their writing. Beginner writers usually run into one of the following problems at some point: they don’t write enough description, or they get carried away with their description. Studying this excerpt may help students think about the types of details they can include or aid them in eliminating details that don’t move their story along. With this particular excerpt, we talk about why the screenwriter may have chosen to include the title of the book Hazel is reading. We also discuss the importance of the “squeal of delight.”

Another Goldmine

Current, engaging mentor texts that reach every writer in the room are like gold, so finding multiple drafts of a current, engaging mentor text is equivalent to striking it rich. This is what happened to me when the IMSDb lead me to other screenplay resources, like Drew’s Script-O-Rama, a recent favorite of mine.

In addition to offering hundreds of scripts, it also offers (for some movies) multiple versions of the same script. For example, here is the first draft of Batman, the revised first draft, and the fifth draft. Not only is it cool to study how scripts change over time, but these drafts can be bundled together to create a cluster for a revision study.

Drew’s Script-O-Rama offers fewer classic scripts than the IMSDb but tends to have a better selection of contemporary films.  Here is a list of just a few Oscar-nominated and winning films this website offers:



Gone Girl

How to Train Your Dragon 2



These mentor texts databases, coupled with our Mentor Text Dropbox that you have continued to help us build, offer so many possibilities for genre and technique studies next year. If you haven’t already, go ahead and add “explore the dropbox” to your summer to-do list. We can’t promise you won’t get lost inside, but with a glass of iced tea, and some extra time on your hands, it’s an adventure worth taking.

In your initial browsing of the IMDB, what scripts offered themselves up as mentor texts? In what ways do you envision using The IMDB or Drew’s Script-o-Rama in your workshop? Feel free to leave a comment below, or find us on Twitter @allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1.