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New York, NY
PK - 12
Class Size:
Less than 10
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  1. In this lesson, I use a book called The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant; Illustrated by Stephen Gammell, to help students begin thinking about their own summer vacations and family customs. Look for it in your library or substitute it with one of your favorites.
  2. Parent Letter [] (PDF)
  3. Good-bye Summer (PDF) reproducible worksheet from Comic Strip Writing Prompts [] by Karen Kellaher, available in the Teacher Store [].
  4. Story Board (PDF) reproducible from The Big Book of Reproducible Graphic Organizers [] by Jennifer Jacobson & Dottie Raymer, available in the Teacher Store [].
  5. One roll of 3-4 inch wide cash-register/calculator tape
  6. Rulers
  7. Colored Pencils


Students will:

  1. Write a friendly letter about a fantasy summer vacation using proper writing conventions.
  2. Make connections between themselves and the text.
  3. Identify key events and retell in sequence.
  4. Write a minimum of 5 detailed sentences following "The Rule of Four."
  5. Retell important events in sequence through a comic strip.

Resource Instructions

Part 1
Day One: Steps 1-4
Step 1: Introduction-Get Them Thinking
On an overhead projector or visual presenter, show students the Peanuts comic strip "Good-bye Summer." (see Scholastic Teacher Resource Comic Strip Writing Prompts p. 26). Lead a discussion of how Sally feels about the end of summer. Ask students to explain if they are feeling similar or different to Sally at this point.

Step 2: Share with students how when you were in school, teachers always asked students to write an essay titled "What I did on My Summer Vacation," just like Sally's teacher. Tell your students that right now you do not want to know what they did on their summer vacation. "That's too old-fashioned." Instead, you want them to write an essay called "What I Wish I Did on My Summer Vacation."

Step 3: Pass out a copy of the "Good-bye Summer" writing prompt to each student. Go over the directions together. Review letter-writing conventions such as greeting, body, closing before students begin.

Step 4: After students have finished writing, allow them to share their letters with the class.

Part 2

Day 2: Steps 5-8
Step 5: Tell the class they will now be reading about someone else's summer experience. Bring the class around you to introduce the book The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. Preview the story by looking at the cover and the vivid drawings. Have students predict the story elements based on what they see in the pictures. Record predictions for all to see.

Step 6: Read the story aloud to the class, stopping to discuss what is happening throughout. Point out when relatives have not seen each other in awhile, there may be lots of hugging, talking and sharing taking place when they reunite. In your discussion, mention the custom associated with families having large meals when they get together. Have students share relevant personal experiences of family reunions. Also, discuss the appearance of the relatives as related to the story's rural Appalachian setting. Use the United States map to help students visualize where the region is.

Step 7: Revisit the predictions that were made as you map out the story correctly.

Step 8: Have students think of a specific time, perhaps this past summer, when either they traveled a long distance (more than half an hour!) to visit relatives overnight or relatives visited them. Discuss how their trip may have been similar to that of the relatives in the story, such as taking snacks in the car, having their cheeks pinched by an older relative, sharing a big meal together, and perhaps even sleeping in a crowded bed. On paper, students brainstorm 5-6 key events from the visit they had with relatives.

Day 3-4: Steps 9-11
Step 9: Short Writer's Workshop: Introduce students to the "Rule of Four" before they put their brainstormed thoughts into complete sentences.

The "Rule of Four" is something I devised to help students stretch their sentences by adding more detail. A sentence that follows the Rule of Four includes information about at least four of the following: who, what, when, where, and why. To follow this rule, students must add detail to their sentence. For example, instead of writing, "My cousins visited me," which includes only who and what, a stretched sentence might be "In the middle of summer, my cousins drove all the way from Chicago to visit my family in Detroit."

Tell students how good authors often follow the "Rule of Four". Read a few pre-selected sentences from The Relatives Came and write them on the board, diagramming each into who, what, when, where, why categories. Model a few more sentences with students helping to stretch each one.

Step 10: Using the reproducible "Story Board" (see printable) students write their events in the correct sequence. Each event should be summarized in one to two sentences. Students can also do a rough sketch of an illustration to go with each event.

Step 11: During peer editing have students check sentences for "The Rule of Four." After writing has been edited and revised, students publish in the form of a comic strip, adding colored illustrations.

Note: Model the comic strip paper's preparation before you have students attempt it. When it is time for the students to create their strip, give each a piece of adding machine tape and have them measure off equally spaced boxes. Each frame should be three inches wide and it is optional to put a border all the around the outside perimeter and between each box. I have students put in the borders, modeling their strips after the Peanuts comic we had used previously on day one.

Part 3
Day 5: Culminating Event
Culminating Event: The Relatives Came Family Read-Along
A few minutes before the scheduled start time of our Read-Along, I bring students to the carpet to supposedly review some of the elements of the story. With their backs to the door, I tell them to brainstorm what it would be like to have a surprise visit from relatives they had not seen in awhile. We talk briefly about what kinds of foods they might eat, what activities they could do together, etc.

About this time there is a knock on the door from a parent. Everyone turns and I announce it seems as if we are going to have a surprise visit from some relatives. At this point the relatives come streaming into the room with their baskets, many adorned with kerchiefs around their heads. My absolute favorite part of this whole unit comes at this point when my class is just staring, jaws open trying to figure out what is going on. The stupefied looks turn to complete joy when they realize our visitors are going to be spending the rest of the afternoon with them enjoying a few good books.

Variations: Over the years, I have tried several different scenarios to match the students up with their relatives. Relatives have come to us; we have "unwittingly" stumbled upon the relatives already sitting outside or in the gym on their blankets and so on. Do whatever works best for your classroom or school community.


Teacher Observation: Observe how students work with others during the peer editing process.
Written Outcome: As you check each friendly letter, look for a greeting, a closing, complete sentences, and proper punctuation. Assess how each student correctly summarized a visit with relatives in one paragraph, using sentences that follow the "Rule of Four."

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