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Melissa Forney Writing Conference ’09

Last summer, I had the great priviledge of attending my third Melissa Forney Writing Conference. She is a dear friend and an inspiration to me as well as other teachers. I learned a great deal from the conference and I would like to share some of that information on this blog.

Day 1: Writing a Beginning, Grabbers, Middle, Ending, and Zingers

Melissa had us practice writing a beginning to different topics she gave us. Each time we wrote a beginning to a topic, she asked us to share it, and then share out. She helped us differentiate between a grabber and a beginning and told us to only write a beginning for the sake of this activity. Afterwards, she asked us to write a new beginning to the same topic. She had us repeat this process about two to three times. It was a great revision activity and a great way to help students learn that there are different ways of saying the same thing.

Here’s an example of a topic she gave us: Living in Florida

Here are the beginning sentences I came up with:

Try 1: Sunny beaches, a variety of people, Disney World…these are some qualities I love about living in Florida.

  • This was a pretty good first attempt except that I have a grabber in the beginning and we were only supposed to focus on writing a beginning only. Melissa just wanted to make sure we knew how to write a beginning that was short, to the point, and introduced the topic.

Try 2: Living in Florida has been the adventure of a lifetime.

  • This was also a great second attempt. Melissa then told us that when we write a beginning, we shouldn’t have to pass judgment. This information helped us for our next try.

Try 3: Florida is the place I call home.

  • This beginning is short, to the point, it introduces the topic, and doesn’t pass judgment.

Here are some of the tips we learned about writing beginnings:

  1. The beginning should be straight to the point.
  2. Don’t over think your beginning and steal words from the prompt to use in it. You need to use words from the prompt. Some words may be substituted but it should have the same meaning as the original word.
  3. Write the topic sentence/begining first before writing the grabber.
  4. There are different ways of saying the same thing.
  5. The beginning should clearly introduce the topic.
  6. Topic sentence/beginning needs to be person and definite.


Here’s a list of the different types of grabbers we went over:

  • A humorous statement
  • A shocking statement
  • Dialogue
  • Onomatopoeia
  • A rhetorical question (an important question that makes you think)
  • Scenario
  • Opinion
  • Comparison

A grabber invites the reader to keep reading your paper. It may be general in contrast with the topic sentence/beginning which is specific.

Melissa then had us go back to our original topics we used when practicing how to write a beginning. We then had to create a grabber to go along with the beginnings we had written. Here’s the grabber I wrote to the same topic from above using the beginning I wrote on my third try:

Picture this: Sunny beaches, warm wather, and Mickey Mouse as your neighbor. Florida is the place I call home.

Here is another great examples written by one of the participants using onomatopoeia and alliteration:

Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle. Hot feet hopping across sand. I live in South Florida where the sun shines every day.

Some tips we learned about grabbers include:

  1. Don’t replace the beginning/topic sentence
  2. Grabbers are the wrapping paper and the bow of your writing. The topic sentence/beginning is the nuggest inside.
  3. Grabbers get your attention without giving away the middle.
  4. Grabbers keep you in suspense.
The middle is the biggest part of your writing. If it’s a Narrative middle it needs to tell a story and must include sequencing and the passing of time, as well as lots of details the reader can picture.
An Expository middle needs to contain details, examples, samples, reasons, logic, facts, quotes, personal experience, opinion, and a testimony from an expert.
It is important that your middle contains writing other people can picture. This is done through descriptive words and details. Be sure to not go on and on and linger on information that is not needed. Go right into the story.
Melissa then had us write a middle to the topic of an embarrassing moment. After we wrote, she asked us to read our paper aloud (everyone at the same time) and as we read our paper we had to look for places in our writing that needed to be revised. If we found a spot for revision, we had to raise our hand so she can count how many people were revising each time using a counter (the one you hold on your hand and just click away). We read our papers about four times and at the end she showed us how many hands she counted going up for revisions. It was an amazing strategy and one I plan on using this school year.
The ending needs to pass judgment and needs to tell the reader your most important thought about the topic.
Melissa gave us an opportunity to try writing an ending to our embarrassing moment paper. We then shared our ending with our partners and had some share outs before moving on to Zingers.
A zinger is a statement that makes the reader think, smile, or feel. It comes after an ending.

We practiced writing a zinger to our ending and again, we shared with our partners, and then had a couple of share outs.

We didn’t share our writing until the second day, but below you will find my embarrassing moment writing paper which shows a grabber in the beginning, the short and to the point topic sentence, the middle, my ending, and the zinger.

My Sample Writing Paper – Topic: An Embarrassing Moment

“Come on Ms. Sanchez. Limbo with us.” Little did I know this was an invitation for disaster. What happened next was the most embarrassing moment my students will never forget.

The end of the school year was at hand and our fourth grade class decided to celebrate with a Luau themed party. Our classroom was the designated Limbo room. Students came dressed in their brigh tropical clothing all covered in flowery leis. The sounds of uplifting, island music filled the air and set the mood for Limbo. “How low can you go? How low can you go?” were the chants circulating around the room. It wasn’t long before students were inviting me to join them. I thought, “Oh why not. Everyone’s having fun. Let me give it a try.” To my surprise I was able to successfully pass under the Limbo stick the first time and I was beaming with pride. “This isn’t so bad,” I said to myself. I decided to give it another shot and you won’t believe what happened next! As I made my way under the stick once more, my flip flots slid on the carpet forcing both my legs to slide in opposite directions as if I was a cheerleader performing a clumsy split and then…KERPLUNK! I fell flat on my rear end in front of all my students. As they gasped and chuckled, I instantly tuned beet red. I was humiliated and wanted to hide under a rock. Instead, I decided to laugh along with the students. Nevermind that my body ached like a locomotive had smashed into me and that I had no clue as to how I was going to get up. As I laughed along with my students, I tried to turn my embarrassing moment into a humurous event fit for American’s Most Funniest Videos.

Next time I decide to Limbo in front of a class of fourth graders, I’ll make sure I try it barefoot instead. You better believe I don’t want to repeat that beet red face moment ever again.

Towards the end of the first day, Melissa gave us the materials to create our manipulative titled “Young Writer’s Survival Kit.” We took it home and started to put it together.

Day 2: Young Writer’s Survival Kit, Teddy Bodain’s Adventure Quest, Reader’s Theatre, Q&A

We began the second day by finishing up putting together the Young Writer’s Survival Kit. This survival kit is available for download throughout the summer of 2010. Get it while it’s available! www.forneyeducational.com

Here are some of the highlights featured in the Young Writer’s Survival Kit:

  • Where ideas come from?
  • The 12 Steps of the Writing Process
    • Melissa went through each step and had us practice some of them during the conference.
  • Sentence Variety
    • Melissa asked us to please teach this and the activity we did the first day with changing our beginnings to the same topic two or three times was a good activity to teach sentence variety.
  • Emergecy Landing
    • These are emergency endings that students can memorize (two or three) to use when they only have 5 minutes left on their state writing test and need to end their writing.
  • Writing Skills
    • We should teach about 8 to 10 of these a year so students are able to use them in their writing. Fourth grade students should use 6-7 writing skills in their writing.
  • Writer’s Checklist

There are many more pages that the Writing Kit includes. There are a total of 68 pages filled with grade writing information.


This was one of the free books Melissa gave us for attending the conference. It goes together with The Astonishing Journey of Teddy Bodain which is the free book we obtained during last year’s conference. It is filled with fun Language Arts activities that can be used in the classroom while reading about Teddy’s journey. In the book she highlighted on some Reader’s Theatres scripts which we performed in the conference. She also gave us a glimpse on part two of the Teddy Bodain story which she is currently writing.

I had a wonderful time at the conference and I was able to take so much from it. I thank Melissa for allowing me to attend and for being such a great inspiration. 🙂


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