Life's Instructions: Collecting family sayings in a student publication

A lesson plan by Rae Anne K. Alpers, Thomas Kelly High School, Benton, MO

Subject: High School English
Duration: This activity can be completed in 1-2 weeks with students working every day. As an alternative, students could gather, collect, create "Life Instructions" one day a week (Friday?) for an entire quarter, semester or year. Students would add 1-2 sentences per week and compile a book at the end of the designated time. If done in electronic form, such as a Life's Instructions wiki or blog, the project could be ongoing and include work from year to year with different classes, as well.

This lesson plan was one of the winners in a lesson plan contest sponsored by TeachersFirst in 2002. TeachersFirst editors have added technology options where appropriate.

Rationale My students always found literature from the early American period to be quite boring, yet I felt obligated to teach it to create a foundation for the other literature we would be studying in Junior American Lit. To get them interested in Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack," we discussed sayings and proverbs that students had heard in their families. Then, we studied "Poor Richard's Almanack," and the students mimicked Franklin's style and created their own book of sayings, their "Life's Instruction Book."
Objectives After a thorough study of grammar and the parts of speech, students will apply this knowledge to write complete sentences. These positive statements will be compiled in a "book." NOTE: this works well after studying Ben Franklin’s "The Autobiography" and "Poor Richard’s Almanack" in American Literature.
Materials Applicable text: McDougall-Littell, "Reading Literature." Copyright, 1990.

Several copies of "Life's Little Instruction Books" (Several different volumes available); Textbook containing "Poor Richard's Almanack" or online version; pen and paper; Binding elements (staples, yarn, etc.); Construction paper; Markers. Or use electronic tools for making an online book (see below).
  1. Allow students to thumb through "Life’s Little Instruction Books" - explain their significance.
  2. Remind students of the "sayings" within their family: rules, statements that mom and dad say regularly.
  3. Inform students of the time schedule (1-2 weeks, 1 quarter, semester, year).
  4. In their books, students will include 25 "instructions." Five of them may be "borrowed" from the examples in the book. Twenty statements must be original. The statements must be positive, make sense, and be grammatically correct.
  5. After students have compiled statements, they are to put together an "anthology" of statements. This anthology must include the following:
    • A pleasing cover (hand or computer generated). The cover must include an original title and a subtitle.
    • Binding (staples, yarn, curly-Q’s, etc.)
    • An introductory letter to the reader that describes the assignment, the family life of the author and the anecdotes behind the statements. This letter may be any format: friendly, business, or informal.
    • A dedication page: to whom is this book dedicated? A poem or saying may be on this page.
  6. The book may be hand or computer generated. Either choice must be neat, readable and pleasing to the eye—the teacher will decide this when grading.
  7. If the student chooses to create an online "book," the same requirements for components are easily translated into one age or screen per element. Student must share the URL for their wiki, workBench project, or electronic book to turn it in.
  8. If you elect to make a large class wiki, have each student create individual pages comparable to the elements above, including images and other extras that are "pleasing."
  9. Books will be displayed on the "Best Sellers" book rack. Electronic versions will be linked from the class web page.
Helpful online resources and tools Poor Richard's Almanac: an online text

Online tools for Creating a Book or digital collection:
Bookemon, reviewed here.
TRintuition workBench (for visual screens of each "instruction," reviewed here
wiki tools:
PBworks, reviewed here
wikispaces, reviewed here
Evaluation Rubric:

"Life is Grand"—4—This book is complete. It is neat and readable and contains no more than three grammatical errors. Twenty-five statements are included as well as a cover, well-written letter and dedication page. This book is "camera ready" for publishing.

"Life is Great"—3—The author of this book did a fine job compiling and writing. It contains 20-24 statements. The cover is attractive but not eye-catching. The letter does not include all of the required parts (description of assignment, family life of author, and anecdotes). There are four or more grammatical errors. With some revision, this book could be publishable.

"Life is Good"—2—This book displays minimal effort. It contains 15-19 statements. The cover is sloppy, pencil-drawn or there is no cover at all. The letter is missing 2 or more parts (description of assignment, family life of author and anecdotes). There are nine or more grammatical errors. Very unorganized work.

"Life is Okay"—1—This book contains 10-14 statements. There is no cover, no dedication page, and only one or two parts of a letter. There are 15 or more grammatical errors.

"Life Stinks"—0—This book contains fewer than 9 statements and at least 20 grammatical errors. All other parts are missing as well. Start over on your own time to possibly receive a "1" rating.

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