Using Lists

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This lesson was originally used for 4th graders. It encourages students to use lists to add interesting details and description to their writing while ensuring that they are punctuating the lists properly.

  • Read the book Mirette on the High Wire
  • Explain to students that one of the great things that Emily Arnold McCully, the author, does in this story, is to use lists to provide interesting detail and description to her story.
  • Project the first line of the writing clips page to the class and read the sentence, "Acrobats, jugglers, actors and mimes from as far away as Moscow and New York reclined on the widow's feather mattresses and devoured her kidney stews." Discuss with the class what is being listed. (The types of people who stayed at her boarding house) and how much more interesting this is than just saying, "a lot of different people"
  • Project the second group of sentences on the writing clips page. Read the sentences "Madame Gateau worked hard to make her guests comfortable, and so did her daughter, Mirette. The girl was an expert worker.
  • Then show the next group of sentences. This is how the author had written this section. Discuss with students what is being listed, and how it makes the writing more interesting than the first version.
  • Pass out the worksheet. Students should look at the pairs of sentences and put a star next to the one sentence in each pair that they think is more detailed and interesting. When students are finsihed you can review their papers and discuss the writing.
  • For some practice, have students view the 1:58 long video clip titled Performing a Circus Act on | United Streaming. Let them know that they will be writing a descriptive paragraph about the circus that they see when you are finished, and you will be asking them to use descriptive lists. You may even want to watch the clip once, and then share as a class what some lists are that they might be able to use (all of the acts they saw, all of the weird people and things in the audience, the colors of the marbles that came out of the car). Students may benefit from watching the clip a second time and jotting down in a circle map some of the things they can include in their writing.
  • Give students the challenge of writing a paragraph about the circus they saw. Require them to include at least 2 descriptive lists. Warn them of the danger of overusing lists! If the whole paragraph is one list after another it will be boring. We still want to vary our sentence lengths and only use lists sometimes.
  • When students are finished, take a few minutes to focus on punctuation. Display the bottom section of the writing clips page. Notice and discuss the proper use of commas in a list. Then ask students to reread their own paragraphs and to make sure that their lists are properly punctuated.
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