Planning Sheets


Writing Trait/Strategy:
Adding details; organization

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Your own modeled writing—see description below
The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston
Laura Charlotte by Kathryn Galbraith
Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin, Jr.,
The Hickory Chair by Lisa Fraustino
Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino
A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams

To give students more practice in asking questions to help clarify their writing, I often use this technique as a brainstorming tool. We begin by making a list of all the questions we think the reader might want to have answered in the piece. Students answer the questions either orally or on a planning sheet before beginning their rough drafts. When using planning sheets for this prewriting activity, I always model how to go from the completed planning sheet to the first draft. Without sufficient modeling, students will end up just recopying the answers from the planning sheets. Following are two sample lessons that work well with this technique:

Special Object
Read aloud a picture book involving a character who owns a special object. The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston and Laura Charlotte by Kathryn Galbraith are good ones. Have students select an object that is special to them. Brainstorm questions that the reader will want to know, such as:

  • Where did you get this object?

  • Why is it special to you?

  • How long have you had it?

  • Have you ever misplaced it?

Have students answer the questions and then write a first draft.


Student Sample:








Family Traditions
Read aloud a picture book involving a family tradition such as Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin, Jr., The Hickory Chair by Lisa Fraustino , or A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams . Give students the following assignment: “Make a list of some family traditions that are important to you. Think about holidays, birthdays, or other special events. Think also about everyday events that are traditions in your family. The traditions can be from the present or the past and can involve your entire family or just one member. Talk to other members of your family to get more ideas.”  I model first by making my own traditions list:



Mrs. Johnson’s Family Traditions List:

  • Sunday evenings watching Disney and drinking Pepsi at Grandma Pindel’s

  • Cooking with Grandma C.

  • Sunday dinners at Grandma and Papa’s

  • Christmas Day

  • The elephant birthday cake Aunt Josie used to make for me

  • Driving home from grandma’s – the safety speech

  • Christmas Eve dinner

  • Saturday morning bowling league with my dad

  • Catching lightning bugs

  • Baseball every night after dinner

  • Listening to Grandma and Papa’s “coming to America” story

  • Grandma and Papa’s Christmas tree story

  • The fishing rodeo at Monument Park

  • Saturday night hair washing

  • Milk and Honey after baseball games

  • Going to the ice cream stand in our pajamas

  • Friday night pizza picnics

  • Family chores: token day

  • Morning devotions before school

  • DZ and the candy basket

Have students complete planning sheets and drafts using the following questions as a guide:

  • What is the tradition and how do you participate in it?

  • Why is it important to you? Why do you love it?

  • How does it make you feel?

Model by writing about one of your own family traditions. Here is one of mine:


The Custard Stand

“What kind are you going to get?” I asked my brother Michael. Without waiting for him to answer, I shouted, “I’m getting a chocolate vanilla twist!”

“That’s what you always get!” he replied.

One of my favorite summer memories from my childhood was when my parents loaded all four of us kids into our 1969 Chevy Impala for a drive down to the Custard Stand. That’s what we called the ice cream stand which was three blocks from our house. I’m sure it had an actual name, but I never knew what it was.

Ice cream was one of my favorite foods, so I loved going to the Custard Stand anytime, but the trips that were most memorable were the ones on really hot summer evenings when we were all ready for bed. We would take our baths, get into our pajamas, and pile into the car. Sometimes my hair was still wet, making me shiver even more after eating the cold ice cream.

I always ordered the same thing: a medium chocolate-vanilla twist on a regular cone. I was never good at making decisions, so if I ordered the twist, I didn’t have to decide on a flavor. I couldn’t wait to start licking the cold, creamy treat.

On hot evenings we had to lick fast or there would be ice cream soup running down our chins and arms and sometimes even our pajamas. I was always good at licking every last dribble before any of them got away. My three younger brothers weren’t always so lucky. Usually at least one of them had to put on clean pajamas when we got back home. I often wondered why my mom had us put our pajamas on before we had our ice cream, but now I think it had something to do with getting us ready for bed quickly.

The custard stand no longer exists. The building is still there, but now it is called Pizza Oven. I wonder if any moms and dads take their children for late night runs to Pizza Oven in their pajamas on hot summer evenings. Maybe they do, but somehow I don’t think it would be quite the same.


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