Marsha Wilson Chall

Marsha Wilson Chall

Learning Strategies for Up North at the Cabin

Thanks to edu­ca­tor Low­ell Eberwein:

Up North at the Cab­in is writ­ten in a style that is almost poet­ic. It is meant to be read aloud and cre­ates many visu­al images, espe­cial­ly if you have been to Lake Mille Lacs, Live Deer Park, and oth­er lake set­tings in North­ern Min­neso­ta. Although some may not agree with this exten­sion, it is almost pat­terned lan­guage. Notice how many times “Up north at the cab­in” is repeat­ed through­out the book.

This is too good of a chance to miss with inter­me­di­ate grade lev­el chil­dren. Chil­dren should take the syn­tax of this title and cre­ate their own book uti­liz­ing Mar­sha’s poet­ic pat­terns. Mar­sha is a poet­ic artist who weaves words togeth­er to cre­ate visu­al images. Steve John­son, a Min­neso­ta res­i­dent, has vis­it­ed these places, too. The fusion of these two “artists” makes one think that going Up North at the Cab­in is Val­hal­la and has no mosquitoes.

The learn­ing strat­e­gy that would be use­ful with this book is to have stu­dents study Mar­sha’s writ­ing style and mod­el a nar­ra­tive plus a pic­ture to fit the nar­ra­tive. In some ways, this is a struc­tured Lan­guage Expe­ri­ence Activ­i­ty. The end prod­uct would be a pic­ture plus a poet­ic verse using a free style of writing.

I would first have the chil­dren do a slot-and-filler analy­sis of the title.




place noun






place noun

Although I would use adverb, noun, prepo­si­tion, and adjec­tive, I would not ask chil­dren at this lev­el to have this lev­el of gram­mat­i­cal sophis­ti­ca­tion. What I would ask them to do is to fit words into slots to make new titles. For example:















the field




From this title, stu­dents would describe the place using a free poet­ic verse style. Then using a medi­um of choice, the stu­dents would illus­trate their writing.

One of the secrets to make this work would be to re-read Up North at the Cab­in many times. One sur­face read­ing gets only at the visu­al images cre­at­ed by the pic­tures and nar­ra­tive. To get to a deep­er lev­el, one must hear these vers­es numer­ous times.

I would also ask the stu­dents to choose two favorite pages from the sto­ry and copy each nar­ra­tive. Some­how, I find I learn much more about the author’s style when I copy the text. It seems copy­ing gets one clos­er to what is going on in the author’s head when she/he writes. In some ways, “one becomes the author.”

I envi­sion this as a week-long project. I would read the sto­ry in either the fall or spring. I would begin this mini-unit by read­ing the sto­ry on a Fri­day after­noon. The fol­low­ing Mon­day, I would re-read the sto­ry again. This time I would ask the stu­dents to form visu­al images of what they are think­ing about as they hear the words. If appro­pri­ate, I would give them paper and crayons, and ask them to draw a picture.

Tues­day, I would play the slot­ting game with Up North at the Cab­in (as shown above). I would then put the stu­dents into groups of two and have each stu­dent to come up with a title that each per­son is inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing. The pur­pose of the paired group­ing is to bounce a title off anoth­er per­son to see if it has value.

Wednes­day, Thurs­day, and Fri­day will be spent on devel­op­ment of the nar­ra­tive and the pic­ture. This tim­ing may need to go to mid-week in the sec­ond week. The last day will be spent on shar­ing their writ­ing and pic­ture. If pos­si­ble, I would like to share this with the oth­er stu­dents at my grade lev­el in an audi­ence sit­u­a­tion. If the new sto­ries and pic­tures turn out to be of good qual­i­ty, I would ask the stu­dents to write invi­ta­tions to their par­ents and invite them also (anoth­er place to prac­tice writ­ing skills).

Up North at the Cab­in is a delight­ful sto­ry and mod­el­ing this style of writ­ing would broad­en the stu­dents’ writ­ing reper­toire, which is the pur­pose of this activity.

North Woods Activity

Sto­ry­teller, camp­fire builder, I am the fire, star watcher

Five Sens­es Word

What do you see? hear? smell? touch? taste?

Sug­gest metaphor here; e.g., what else does wind sound like?

Vital Verbs

Words that describe actions we can make with our necks, heads, waists, hands, fin­gers, feet


Fea­tures of room or build­ing: ceil­ing, cor­ner, win­dow, floor, lights