Writer’s Craft #6 by Donna Krause


“Smoky Night  By Eve Bunting

Writer’s Craft:  Craft of Text - Conversation Text

6 Traits of Writing:  Voice, Presentation

Rationale:  I chose this book because even though my students are English Language Learners they make judgments about other cultures and people based on how they look or sound.  They are guilty of buying into the typical cultural stereotypes.  This book addresses this issue in a subtle yet easy to relate to manner.  “Smoky Night” is a great conversation starter to a unit on cultural sensitivity.  As a teacher of ELL students I never thought I would have to teach a unit on cultural sensitivity because I assumed they would be ultra sensitive to the subject because of “where” they have come from; however, this has NOT been the case.  I have learned never to assume that just because you are from another culture and experience discrimination that you are empathic or open-minded to other cultures.  The presentation and voice in this book are what make students love it.  The child narrator does a great job of sounding and thinking like a child.  His innocence, yet profound insight make the story realistic and easy for everyone to relate to.


The students will:

          1.  Identify the text craft used in the story.

          2.  Reflect and write a narrative about a time they felt discriminated against because of their culture, appearance, or native language.

          3.  Use dialogue in their writing.   


Time:  Two 45 minute periods

Grade Level:  3rd - 5th grade

Anticipatory Set:  “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  What does that mean?  Have you ever heard that phrase before?  Have you ever decided not to read a book based on what the outside cover looks like?  Sure, I have too!  Have you ever decided who your friends will be based on what they look like or what language they speak?  Why do we do that?  Why might this be a bad idea?  We are going to read a story called “Smoky Night.”  The little boy, his mother, and cat learn an important lesson in this story.  See if you can figure out what lesson they learn.

Prior Knowledge:   This story takes place in Los Angeles, California during the LA riots in 1992.  It lasted for 6 days.  More than 50 people were killed, over 4 thousand were injured, 12,000 arrested, and there was over $1 billion in property damage.  The riots broke out when the verdict of the 1991 Rodney King case was announced.  Rodney King was speeding at 110 miles/hour or more and the police chased him.  When they caught him, he refused to get in the “prone” position.  He was badly beaten.  The riots occurred upon hearing the verdict of “not guilty” for the police officers who had beaten Rodney.  The city went wild with unrest because everyone thought the verdict had to do with racial discrimination.  This is a story about the riots.

Read as a Reader: Read the story aloud to the students.


After the story:  How did the story make you feel?  What message do you think the writer was trying to convey?  Have you ever avoided a person because they were different or not your “own people?” 

Reread as a Writer: I am going to read the story again to you.  This time I want you to pay attention to how the writer writes.  Pay attention to who is telling the story.  How does the writer help you connect with the storyteller?  Why do you think she chose the character she did to tell the story?  Why do you think the writer chose 2 cats to set the example for their owners?  How does the dialogue between the characters help you connect to them and the story?  How does the boy’s thoughts help you connect to him?  

For Example . . .

“Look at that!”   Mama is all amazed.  “I thought those two didn’t like  each other.” 

“They probably didn’t know each other before,  I explain.  “Now they do.” 

“Did I say something wrong?”  I whisper to Mama. 

Writing Practice: This craft is known as conversation text.  Sometimes dialogue between characters can help us get into their head and heart.  It allows the writer to use his/her voice.  Voice is the trait that helps us relate to the characters and moves us emotionally.  It prevents us from putting a story down because we are emotionally invested in it.  Eve Bunting uses a little boy, his thoughts, and dialogue to make the story come “alive” for us.  In your writing notebook, write a narrative about a time when you were avoided or judged based on your skin color or native language.  Try using dialogue in your writing to help convey your voice.

Assessment:  The students will write a conversational text about a time when they were judged inappropriately.  Have the students read their narratives aloud if they feel comfortable.  Allow for peer editing and suggestions on where the students can add dialogue to inject more voice in their writing.