Ever Found a Minilesson at the Grocery Store?

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I get minilesson ideas everywhere- at the beach, on walks with my dog, at the grocery store, etc. Just like we encourage our students to live writerly lives and notice the small things around us, we too find inspiration for teaching strategies in the funniest places.

This week when I walked into the grocery store, I saw a small display of dragon fruit. It was mesmerizing. Just look at it. It is such a spectacular looking fruit. Look at the color- such a deep magenta. Check out the leaves that layer it all over. What an amazing fruit! I immediately put it into my shopping basket.

As I continued walking around the grocery store buying things like lettuce, chicken, and cheese, my mind was racing with exciting ideas for the dragon fruit. I didn’t want to eat it- I wanted my students to write about it. But how did the dragon fruit relate to writing?

So many minilesson ideas came to my mind. I could use the dragon fruit as a springboard to teach: descriptive writing, building plot lines, writing prophecies, magic!, creating characters profiles, setting descriptions, etc.

I decided to use the fruit to teach a lesson about “Generating Ideas” for fantasy fiction stories. It was perfect because I am launching a fantasy fiction writing unit. I kept the fruit covered in a special box until the lesson began. I said, “Today we are going to learn a new strategy for generating ideas for fiction stories. We are going to look at an object and allow our imaginations to generate story ideas when we see this object. Our ideas will be inspired by the object.”

I removed the fruit from the box. Gasps filled the room. My students had never seen dragon fruit before, and just like me, they were mesmerized. I asked my students to brainstorm what they thought the fruit looked like. They came up with many different ideas: a magical flower blossom ready to bloom, a dragon’s egg waiting to hatch, a fairytale house for elves, a mysterious magical object left on a doorstep, a precious and magical seed, the important final ingredient to a powerful potion, etc. These ideas all led to some incredible and imaginative storyline ideas. Success!

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 1.45.05 PMSometimes the best minilesson ideas are inspired by unlikely locations. The best advice about teaching writing and creating minilessons that I’ve ever received is from Lucy Calkins. She says to notice the small details in life, use what you know and live, and teach with joy.

In February, I’ll write more about other minilesson ideas that come from the grocery store. Magical eggs! Coconut portals to journey to new lands!



Originally from Pennsylvania, Dana Johansen is hoping that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow on Feb. 2nd and there will be an early spring. In the meantime, she spends her time teaching fifth grade in wintery Connecticut, sitting with her yellow lab on the couch reading YA Lit, and watching the tv show, The Big Bang Theory. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 


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