Writing monologs–short narratives in first person voice–help students practice many aspects of good writing, especially voice, and content. Monologs invite students to reveal honest (“true-to-life”) feelings about things they wonder about, life’s lessons, pet peeves, etc, in a way that leads to insights or understanding. By the end of this unit, students will produce an original monolog, but will also gain experience helping to plan others’ writing, listening and responding to professionally-written AND student written monologs, revising a monolog that needs work, and assessing strong and weak monologs.
Part 1: Develop a sense of what monologs are: Read aloud several monologs from WINNING MONOLOGS FOR YOUNG ACTORS by Peg Kehret. What do you notice about how the monologs are written? (First person voice, “true-to-life” voice, etc.) What topics inspired each monolog? Do you identify with any of the feelings or ideas expressed in the monologs? (Discuss).
Here is a list of monolog characteristics several of my classes helped create after reading several monologs:
–1st person point-of-view with lots of voice
–Mostly narrative and thoughts and feelings (with evidence of lots of inner conflict! very little dialogue, if any)
–has a point (or moral)
–sometimes written as if the narrator is looking back on an experience OR like he/she is talking to a friend
–can be funny, or sad, or thoughtful
Part 2: Create a rough draft of a monolog:
- Five minutes. List as many topic ideas for monologs as you can. (List things you wonder about, experiences that taught you something about life, etc. ) The topics you list should be personally important to you.
- Five minutes. Share aloud as a whole class. Either go round in a circle and each list one idea you thought of–or just call out some favorites at random. List as many as possible for the whole group. Encourage students to borrow ideas they like, adding them to their own lists.
- Two to three minutes: Pick ONE idea from your expanded list–the one you think you could write the most about right now. Quickly write down words and phrases to capture your thoughts about experiences and ideas related to your topic that you may want to include in your monolog. Don’t worry about writing in full sentences at this point, and don’t try to put things in order. Just list ideas in the order they come to you.
- Ten – Fifteen minutes: Use your list to write a quick draft of your monolog. Write quickly. Go for strong impressions. Write as if you were talking face-to-face with a really good friend with whom you can share even your most secret thoughts. Write on every other line so you’ll have room to revise later. You will have plenty of time to add things later. Don’t worry . You do NOT need to finish this today. In fact, you shouldn’t!
- Put your draft away for now. You will return to it later.
Part 3: Assess and Discuss Anonymous Student Monologs: Share on the overhead (or just read aloud) student monologs. (Several papers from past Ridgewood students are provided below.)
In particular, assess each for the traits of Ideas and Voice.
Talk about scores. What makes the strong ones work well? What could make each paper stronger?
Part 4: Ask students to work with a partner revising a monolog: Ask students to assess the monolog titled THE DUMBEST BIRD for ideas and voice. Then ask them to work with partners to create a revision. They can add further details and incidents. They can make the narrator more a part of the monolog, reacting to and sharing her thoughts about what is happening. They can give the narrator some insights or understanding of the significance of the events she relates. It’s OK to be inventive!
Follow-up by reading some of the revisions and discussing the changes various pairs made. Why did they decide to make some of the revisions they made?
What was missing from the original monolog? Ask students to write a short critique, or reflection on their revision, or both.
Part 5: Ask students to help you revise a monolog you’ve written: If you wrote with them in Part 2, you’ve got a draft going already. If not, invent one. Don’t make it too strong–or too long. Jot down their suggestions for improvement. Then, actually do the revision, and share the result. Ask them to comment on how much you have improved, and in which traits. If you plan to revise the piece further, also share your plan for revision.
Part 6: Share more monologs from Peg Kehret’s book or other sources
Part 7: Assess your own writing: Ask students to take out their first drafts of the monologs they wrote in Part 2. They should now assess their own work for ideas and voice, then develop a plan for revision–list one or two things they plan to do to revise. (Let them know these scores are NOT tied to their grades–the purpose of this assessment in just to help them see how much revision there is to do–and to help them plan it.)
This is a good time for students to share their writing in a group or with a partner, to get feedback on what’s working well, and what parts may still need some work. Good questions to ask peer listeners are, What is your main impression of my monolog? What do you feel as you listen? What do you see in your mind? Answers can give writers good ideas for revising.
Part 8: Revise your writing: Time for students to put everything they learned in this unit to work and actually do some revision!
When students have completed their revisions, or are well into the process, ask them to share their stories of revision: What exactly did they do? Put more information in? Take some out? Did others’ responses influence them? Did they try to sound like another writer? ‘Did they read aloud to themselves? To others?
Once they have completed their revisions, ask students to write a self-reflection about what they learned, how they revised, how they think the revision is stronger, etc. (You might want to give them copies of the “Thinking About Your Writing” sheet.)
Part 9: Closure: This is the time for formal assessment (completed by you, the teacher), but you may also wish to have students include all or part of this unit in their portfolios. Possibilities for the portfolio include:
–Original draft writing
–Assessment of the draft with narrative comments
–Original of The Dumbest Bird and revision, plus a reflection on the revision
–Response to one or more literary monologs
–Another sample of writing which the student considers strong or weak in ideas and voice.
This unit was adapted from a unit on “Memorable Place” from the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory
THE DUMBEST BIRD
I have the dumbest bird in the world. Charlie my bird was the dumbest thing that ever lived. My dad came home from work and had brought In “In” Out for dinner. Charlie grew up as a theif, was steling every thing he was intrested in. He stole a fry from my dad and went in to the bag the my dad’s dinner was in. Charlie likes to be sceakret about every thing he dose. My dad not knowing Charlie was in the bag picket up the bag and almost throw Charlie away. Charlie gets really mad if you disturb him while he’s eating. he started flying and skwaking in the bag. My dad was tired so that it toke him along time to know what he was doing untel my mom came in to the kitchen and told my dad that he was throwing away Charlie.
Sample monologs by 5th and 6th graders to use with Six-trait assessment rubrics:
I HATE MY SISTER!
My sister has got to be the most annoying person in the world. (Personally I think she is a robot and was programmed to be annoying. ) She eats with her mouth open and slurps her milk. She must’ve got the slurping from my mom who always slurps her tea. My sister whines all the time, and I’ve seen her picking her nose and eating her boogers. Gross!
One day we were visiting my grandparents and I was outside walking along their gravel driveway minding my own business when she ran by me and tripped. She fell flat on her face and went off crying and screaming I’d tripped her. I was sent to my room. Why didn’t my mom ask me for my side of story? Later I was found innocent of all charges when I finally got to explain what really happened. I thought you were innocent until proven guilty in this country! I hate my sister!
I am tired of people saying do this or Don’t Do that. like one time I was sitting downstairs watching TV when my brother comes down and says to me “take this outside to the garbage. ” I say “no” and we start arguing. Then my mom comes down and tells us to stop argueing. Then my mom that he asked me to take the garbage out and that he said it nicely. Then my mom tells me to take the garbage out. so I’m stuck doing something. This happens over and over and I am really tired of doing something that my brother was asked to do! ! !
IT’S MY ROOM!
I don’t understand why my parents always make me clean my room. After all, it’s my room! I don’t care if my laundry’s in a heap on the floor or if my softball clothes are strewn across the end of the bed or if my art supplies are all over my desk along with my half finished model for school. I mean, I can find everything and I’m the one who lives there. I’m not bothered or embarassed by it.
What I AM bothered and embarassed about is when I have to call my friend on the phone and say, “Oh sorry , I can’t play. I have to clean my room. ” Who cares if I come home and throw my coat on the floor by my unmade bed and then run upstairs for my snack? Well, my parents do. One day they called me upstairs and said, “You have to clean your room before your friend’s party or your not going.” “But why?” I asked. “It’s a household rule.” As soon as I heard those words I ran to my room, threw myself on the bed and started crying. I stayed in my room for three hours because I had to clean my room. then I went and rode my bike I sat in bed that night sucking a lolly pop and reading a book. I was mad! I didn’t speak to my parents for the rest of the night. I mean, who cares how my room looks anyway?
WHY COULDN’T I HAVE BEEN AN ONLY CHILD?
Why couldn’t I have been born an only child? I have one brother he’s 14 years old, it seems like he always gets his way.
One day I was watching TV in the living room. A program had just ended so I was waiting for my favorite program to start right after wards. I was sitting on the couch when my bother came in. He told me to move and go somewhere else because he wanted to watch ESPN sports. I told him NO because I was here first and because he never lets me watch TV when I want to. He went to my mom and told her that I wouldn’t move. I tried to protest but my mom had alaready told me to go and watch TV somewhere else.
I was looseing my temper. I could not believe how much he got his way. It was disgusting. I got up off the cauch and threw the TV remote and it hit the TV and broke. At first I didn’t care if it broke I didn’t care at all. But I started to care when my mom got really mad at me and sent me to my room for the rest of the night.
I learned that sometimes it might seem like he gets his way alot but I get my way alot to I just don’t notice it as much as I notice that he gets his way.
THE TOOTH FAIRY
It all started when my orthodontist told me I needed my two cuspids pulled.
“Youch!” I thought, as the dentist injected the novicane into my gums.
“This won’t hurt a bit,” said my dentist.
“Yeah right. ” I thought.
When my teeth both were out, my dentist told me to have a shake or something.
That night I put my teeth under my pillow. It’s not like I believe in the tooth fairy or anything, but I wanted to see if I would get any money. In about a half an hour I went to sleep.
In the middle of the night I woke up to find my head being lifted by….my dad!
I saw him turn on the light and take some money out of his wallet. He put some money under my pillow and left.
I quickly drifted back to sleep. In the morning I thought about telling my dad how I’d seen him, but I decided if l did my dad wouldn’t give me money anymore. Anyways, what’s the harm in him not knowing.
DON’T PLAY FOOTSIE WITH ME!
Sometimes it can get real annoying to go out to dinner with my sister. One time, my family and I went to a restaurant for a rather late Mother’s Day dinner for my grandmother. As usual, Jill, my sister and I sat together, which was a real problem. Every time I slightly touched her foot, she would say, “Don’t play footsie with me!” Of course, I would tease her by keeping it up, but then she would say, “Oh, I didn’t know you cared!”
Oh, of course it can get funny, but when it always happens you tend to get pretty annoyed, for example, one time, when Jill particularly annoyed me, I shouted, “Shut UP!” Then, the whole restaurant sounded like a sprinkler system. You know, “SHH!” I got a rather nasty scolding from my mother .
I don’t know why older siblings act like that, but I know the only cure is a frontal lobotomy.
MY GARAGE SALE CAT
“Mom when will we be there,” I complained. I couldn’t wait to get to grandma’s house.
“When we get there,” she replied, the bright lights of the car ahead of us shined on her face and looked like a bright red mask. Why do moms always say that. I mean do they get together and think of annoying little blurbs like, “Because I said so. ”
We finally got there. Grandma came walking out, followed by her annoying little dauchson which always tried to nibble my toes.
“Grandma, look what I made for you. ” I showed her the sticks that I had managed to look like a half way decent horse. “Oooh, I love it sweetie. ”
Across the street there was a garage sale. People were walking out with an odd range of things from lawn furniture to potato peelers.
I asked my mom if I could go and look and she said yes but she’d have to go with me.
“Mrooooww ,” I looked down to see a large calico cat. As I bent down to scratch her head I noticed that she had about 5 little duplicates all curled up near her front paws.
“Ohhhhhhh,” I cooed as the smallest one stretched out her front paws. As she yawned I saw a small row of teeth that I would soon find out were very sharp.
“Momm,” I said in the most angelic voice I could muster up. “Can I have one, PLEASE. ”
She seemed to contemplate over that idea for a long time. That was a good sign.
“O.K.,” She replied.
YES, I thought silently. As for you little kitty (1 said to the one that had just yawned) welcome to the family!
The wheels turned down the long, dusty road. “When will we be there?” I asked. My dad and I were going fishing at Rainbow Lake, in Grant county . We finally arrived and we set up our chairs and lines. I put a long worm on my hook and cast my line. I heard it plop in the water. Suddenly there was a huge splashing frenzy and my dad realed in an 8 inch fish. He put it in a bucket and cast his line again.
“Nice fish,” I said as it flopped around, “I wish I could–”
My dad’s line jerked and he realed in another 8 incher. I was very upset that my dad could catch fish and I couldn’t. About an hour later my Dad said, “Let’s go.” “Come on Dad,” I asked, “Just five more minutes.” About four minutes later my line jerked and I realed in a 12 inch fish. I caught a very big fish.
I love the game of football. 1 exspeally like smering people. It feels good to get smered. The best part of football is breaking through the defence of line and out running the defence. The second best feeling is some one screaming miss when you through it and the person catching it and running for a touchdown and the funniest thing is when they trip and fall on there face trying to show off. Probably the worst feeling is if you brag to someone that your going to beat them and then you loose to them. Because they bug you the rest of your life about it.
BAD HAIR DAY
I think they ought to make today a national holiday for people who are having bad hair days. I got up this morning and I had an actual lump in my hair. Last night at ballet, I had my hair in a bun, I forgot to take it out. Now when I brush my hair, I have this like permanent wave. My once beautiful brown/red hair looks like a minefield! What will everyone say? “Oh, look at her! She looks like she has a scalp tumor.” And Andy will think I’m starting to grow another head. I wonder if this happens to anyone else. Maybe I could put my hair in a ponytail – except it will make me look like a horse with one ear on top of my head. Maybe a French braid – no, I’ll look like Frankenstein. But wait – ifI dye my hair and get a ten-minute perm, no one could tell. Or maybe I could just stay home and say I’ve got a tumor in my hair and I have to go to the hospital. Shoot! It’s time for me to go, maybe, if I wear one of those umbrella hats, no one would notice. Rain! Please, let it rain!
DON’T YOU JUST HATE IT WHEN…
Don’t you just hate it when you get in trouble for something you didn’t do? It happens to me all the time. My parents are always saying, “How did this mess get here?!” or “Why did you beat up your brother. ” Somehow, they have a very strange way of making everything my fault. I could be at my friend’s house all day, and when I get back my parents say, “You guys have messed up the computer room again.” Or maybe this: “I told you not to leave the Sega wires crossed. Go untangle them.” Of course, it’s not my fault. It’s my brother’s fault. But do they believe me? No. They just say I should be more careful, and have better memory . Of course, I haven’t played Nintendo or Genesis for about 3 weeks. I haven’t even turned on the computer yet. Okay, so I have, but I was doing my timeline. That took about 2 hours because I had to put boxes around the words. Okay! Fine! I have played the computer, but it wasn’t mine. And I didn’t make a mess.
Stuck for an idea? Read over the starter sentences below and see if one of them sparks your fancy. You can use one of these as an opening to take off from, drop it in your monolog somewhere else, or change the words around as needed to “fit” whatever you want to say.
- Don’t you just hate it when your parents say, “Turn off the Nintendo. You’ve played enough for one day.”
- I don’t understand why my parents are always so concerned about how clean I keep my room. I mean it’s my room, right?
- Why do teachers think they need to give us homework every night?
- Let me tell you about all the ways I have found to successfully annoy my sister.
- Why couldn’t I have been born an only child?
- All my friends who have brothers and sisters think that being an only child would be wonderful. Most of the time…
- I love my grandparents.
- I have the oddest pet in the world.
- If I didn’t have to go to school…
- I can’t wait until school is out for the summer.
- My best friend is mad at me…
- Today is not Friday the 13th, but it might as well be…
- I can’t believe the dumb thing I did today…
THINKING ABOUT YOUR MONOLOG
- Where did the ideas for this monolog come from?
- What parts were easiest to write?
- What parts were hardest to write?
- What parts did you revise? Why?
- How did your revisions make your monolog stronger?
- What did you learn by doing this monolog?
- What are you most satisfied with in your monolog?
From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams www.suzanne-williams.com