“You are my role model and have been all year. Thank you for teaching me and encouraging me to write. When I grow up and want to be an author.”
This was a note written on a card I received from one of my students at the end of the school year. Moments like these are the heart and soul of teaching. Touching one child. Making a difference in one child’s life makes the stress and long hours and everyday frustrations of my job worthwhile.
I recently had the opportunity to teach 78 children all about writing, and let me tell you, there are some talented young writers out there. When I first announced the dreaded “Young Author’s Conference”, I heard a few cheers and saw a few smiles, but mostly I heard a lot of groans. “Miss, I never know what to write about.” “I hate writing.” “Writing hurts my hand.” Come on now, we’ve all heard this before. Most kids don’t like to write. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but when I took on this project, I was on a mission to create young writers who love to write.
We discussed character development, character flaws, and character goals. I read aloud, from books they love to read, great ways to begin stories and great ways to end stories. I gave them descriptive words and phrases to help them show, not tell, and even read them examples from children’s literature of great descriptions that pull the reader right into the scene. We shared ideas on other ways to show action as well. We went over examples of dialogue and how to make it genuine and character specific. The kids received an extensive list of other words for said, other words for went, transition words, etc… We had mini-lessons on capitalization, when to separate paragraphs, proper punctuation, and how to use quotation marks. We covered pretty much all the usual writing topics and rules that we all learned in school.
Lesson were kept short, no more than ten minutes a day, because I wanted the kids to spend their time writing. How can I expect them to produce a quality story if they don’t have time to write? Throughout the writing process they were encouraged to share ideas and offer creative insights with each other. Several cases of writers block were solved with this simple method.
None of these writing skills were taught until after I read aloud an excerpt from the draft of the first chapter of the children’s book I am in the process of writing. All eyes and ears were glued, listening intently, especially since I told them that their teacher was the author. As teachers, we use mentor texts all the time, but it’s not every day that kids hear a mentor text written by their teacher. That first chapter, which is all I read, sparked their interest and triggered many of our writing discussions.
My main teaching focus was character. You can’t have a story without characters. We discussed developing one good character who had one goal in mind, even if that goal was simply to get a cup of coffee. I used the standard summary technique of SWBST (Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then) to get the kids started. I told them that their main character (Somebody) has to want something so badly (Wanted) that nothing will stand in the way of reaching that goal. (But) throughout this character’s journey to reach his goal, things happen to him and people always seem to get in his way, preventing him from getting what he wants. How he overcomes these obstacles (So) is what makes the story come alive and shows growth in the character. Whether or not he reaches his goal (and not all characters do) drives the story and leads to the end. (Then)
The story concepts the kids came up with were incredible. One of my favorites was about a lizard, who works in an office and drives a car. All she wanted was a cup of coffee. After facing many obstacles in her pursuit to gain said cup of coffee, including a broken alarm clock and a police officer, she finally reaches the long line of Starbucks. Her coffee dreams are soon shattered when she shows up late for the office meeting, where coffee is not allowed. That particular story had a comic element to it and seriously made me laugh. On a more serious note, I had another student write about a character who, after a near drowning experience, wanted to overcome his fear of water. So he goes on an adventure with his friends. While boating down a river of rapids, which terrifies him, the boat tips over. Eventually he saves all of his friends by fishing them out of the raging river. The stories I read were amazingly detailed and made me want to dig out my pompoms and cheer their character on.
At the conclusion of this two-month long “Young Author’s Conference” experience, kids who didn’t like to write were proudly showing their stories to everyone, including all the teachers across the hall. They read them, or at least part of them, aloud to their peers and, even though most kids throw old assignments in the trash as soon as grades are handed back, my students kept these. They gently placed them in their folders, some even hugged their stories, and proudly took them home. “Miss, this was so much fun. Can we do it again?” “My story is awesome! I’m gonna write another one.” “I love to write!” The words and excitement coming from the kids spoke volumes to me as a teacher and as a writer.
Creating young writers who love to write. Mission accomplished I think.