Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Transitions and Time Compression

Week of May 22—Pacing a Picture Book
Wednesday, May 25—Transitions and Time Compression

Read the phrases below. Place a check mark in each box that represents something you have been told about your writing.

r Choppy
r Disjointed
r Jumps around a lot
r Doesn’t flow
r Lacks a feeling of wholeness

Ok, NONE of us have heard things like that about OUR writing, but we’ve seen it in the writing of others, no doubt! J

Many times I see choppy, disjoined writing from adult writers and from the children I teach. More than once after I’ve helped a classroom teacher evaluate a stack of writing papers, I’ve said, “The next step for your students is transitions.”  Transitions can be the next step for you, too. Transitions can smooth out a piece of writing, create flow, and develop pacing.

Transition Words and Phrases
Transition words and phrases can serve many purposes, but think of them as the joiners or connectors. Transitions can indicate cause and effect, develop comparisons, and help make emphases. For picture book writers transitions can be used to connect:

r Time segments
r Events
r Location and setting
r Direction

I introduce transitions to students by reading an excerpt from Granny Torelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech. There is a wonder excerpt in the book that shows the process of Granny and two kids making soup. The transitions literally move the reader from one place to another in the kitchen, from one culinary action to the next, and one from feeling or emotion to the next.

With that first exposure to transitions, my students and I begin an anchor chart list of transitions. From that day on, every time we find a new transition word in a mentor text, hear one spoken, find one when reading independently or in shared reading, we add it to the chart. Soon the chart has filled several sheets of chart paper. My students and I have no excuse not to use transitions since there are so many to choose from!

Last year, I visited a first-grade classroom and taught a lesson about transitions. One of the students from that class—Claudio—still hunts me up at school at least once a week and reports: “I’m still using transitions!” Here’s the mini-list of transitions I presented to Claudio’s class. Maybe the list will get transitions stirring in your brain.

A Mini List of Transition Words
r First                         r Now                       r Soon
r Next                        r Before long             r Then
r So                           r At last                     r Slowly
r Quickly                    r Immediately            r In a flash
r Two minutes later     r When                      r And

Punctuation as Transition
Picture book writers often use punctuation to form transitions, too. Ellipses and dashes are the two most common examples.

Time Compression
One of the great wonders of transitions is that they can move us weeks, months, even years into the future. Just by writing Ten years later or Just before midnight or In the blink of an eye, time is moved forward. All the events in between, the unimportant, the mundane, can just be skipped over with the use of a transition.

Transitions in Action
If you don’t know the book The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger, you’ve been missing out on a great read. Berger’s simple, masterful text and lively illustrations bring this quiet story to life. The book also includes some stellar examples of transitions.

A chill filled the air . . . and the sun sank slow. (pp. 18-19)

And then . . . and then, high up on an icy branch, a scarlet flash. One more leaf holding tight. (p. 27)

Neither spoke. Finally . . .
“Will you?” asked the Little Scarlet Leaf.
“I will!” said the Little Yellow Leaf.
And one, two, three, they let go and soared. (pp. 29-31)

From: The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger

It’s Your Turn!
1. Why not start your own anchor chart list of transition words, phrases, and punctuation marks? You’ll find you’ll be using those transitions to make connections the rest of your writing life!

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