Picture
Who: Elementary and middle school students, although adaptations can be made for younger students

What: Write a biographical picture book, using the format modeled by Jacqueline Briggs Martin in Snowflake Bentley.
How:
  • Read Snowflake Bentley.
  • Notice how Martin includes interesting information about Bentley in the story and in the sidebars.
  • Choose a person who intrigues or inspires you.
  • Find books, websites, and/or articles about the person.
  • Read. Read. Read.
  • Use a graphic organizer (like the first page of this one) to help you gather important information.  Add any other categories you like. To avoid plagiarizing someone else's work, write your notes after the resources have been set aside.
  • Instead of writing a report about the person, write a story as Martin did. If there is anything in Martin's writing that you want to imitate, like her beginning, that's okay. Just use your own words.
  • Remember, writing is a process. A draft is the beginning, not the end. Ask someone--or two someones--to read your draft, ask questions about it, and make helpful comments, all to aid you in making your story better.
  • Break the story into chunks suitable for a picture book.
  • For a handful of pages, write a sentence or two for sidebars that give additional information about your person. Notice the page in Snowflake Bentley that says, "He could pick apple blossoms and take them to his mother. But he could not share snowflakes because he could not save them." On the right is related information about Willie and his mother that Briggs chose to share there rather than in the story.
  • Present your story in a blank book or any other way you like. (I'd love to see a copy in the Student Showcase.)
 
 
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!
                                ~Edward Lear

Limericks appeal to kids because they are silly and simple to write. They appeal to teachers because they are an easy way to show rhythm and rhyme scheme.

Bruce Lansky, a children's poet, has a refresher course on limericks here.

These two sheets are good for introducing kids to limericks.

What can your kids do with their limericks?
  • Add them to a book of poetry. (See more poems to try here.)
  • Invite their friends to write some, too. Make a special-edition limerick newsletter.
  • Write and illustrate several for a mini book. To lengthen the book, include the limericks of siblings, friends, and you
  • Submit them to the Student Showcase. I know there aren't many trophies there, but you have to start somewhere, right?!
 
 
One way I lured my girls into writing was to show them contests they could enter. Contests moved the writing process outside our home, giving the girls an audience beyond me, setting their focus beyond the work to the hope of a trophy, a blue ribbon...or money! At age six, my oldest daughter won her first prize. She wrote a piece for the zoo about a bird migrating south.  Her reward? Joining the zookeeper to feed the animals. Her lesson? Writing produces results!

I did a quick web search and found some contests. Check them out, but also be on the lookout for them in kids' magazines, newsletters, local newspapers, and libraries.


Are you aware of any writing contests? Share them in the comments.
 
 
I am joining my youngest daughter as she reads The Swiss Family Robinson for a history/literature class. The story is told in first person, from the perspective of Mr. Robinson, the father of four boys. The writing makes me smile because, at least in this version, it is very formal, even stuffy.

If you don't own the Bantam Classic edition, invite your students to read chapter 1 and part of chapter 2 here. Based on the writing style, what words would they use to describe the father? Give them the task of revising a few of Wyss's paragraphs, making the writing sound like a different father: their own, one they know, or one they imagine. They can then compare the two versions. What makes them different?

Not only will your students be able to practice revising through this exercise, but they will also see the effects of different voices in writing.
 
 
Max has two brothers. One collects coins; the other, stamps. Max wants to collect something, too, so he begins a collection of words.

Invite newer readers to join Max on his hunt for words. From magazines, newspapers, and catalogs, your student can cut "small words," "bigger words," "words that ma[k]e him feel good," "words of things he like[s] to eat," "his favorite colors...." After reading his words, he can arrange his collection in various orders until he finds an arrangement he loves, individual, unrelated sentences or strings that make a story. Instruct him to carefully paste the words onto a piece of cardstock, illustrate it, and share it with someone else who loves words or maybe someone who, like Max's brothers, doesn't share very well.
 
 
1. Read Nancy Loewen's Once Upon a Time: Writing Your Own Fairy Tale two times.  The first time, read the fairy tale. The second time, read the tools and notice how they relate to the tale.
2. Choose several of your favorite fairy tales, other than Little Red Riding Hood, to read and enjoy. You can read three completely different tales, or you can choose three retellings of the same tale to compare and contrast. If you choose the latter option, Little Red Riding Hood is fine.

3. Analyze each of the tales, noting on this sheet where you see each of the tools in action.

4. Write your own fairy tale. If helpful, use Loewen's "Getting Started Exercises" on page 29, or you may use the planning sheet here.

To see other books in this series, see this post.
 
 
Part 1
Let's pretend that ten-year-old Lily has given your students the first draft of her story, asking them how she can make it better. Ah, what a wonderful opportunity for them to read slowly, carefully, and analytically and to respond with comments that are kind, insightful, and helpful.

Copy Lily's first draft into a document and print it, allowing your students to write their questions and comments directly on it, or copy it to a Word or PDF document and let them use the review feature.

When I did a similar exercise with a class of high schoolers last year, they sat a little straighter and acted a little smarter as they took the role of mentor. They were able to notice problems in another person's work that they were blind to in their own. I guess that's typical, though, isn't it?!

The Poor Little Girl Who Became a Princess, draft 1
By Lily

Once upon a time there was a poor girl whose father was blind and very old.  Because he was blind and could not work, took her water pot from the shelf where she kept it and went to get water at a nearby well.

One day when she was taking her water pot down from the shelf, she found four beautiful jewels inside.  She did not know what they were because she had never seen jewels before.  Even though she did not know what they were, she thought they were very beautiful and wanted to keep them.  She hid them under her dust cloth and took the pot and went to get water as she usually did.  She did not expect the strange incident to happen again.

The next day she woke up and, after fixing breakfast, went to get her water pot.

She found that inside were a handful of jewels, even more beautiful than before.  She did the same as she had done with the jewels she had found the day before.  That night she thought that this was very strange and wondered who had been putting jewels in her water pot. 

The next day she went and looked in her pot and found that there were two handfuls of jewels, even more beautiful than before.  She put them under the dust cloth and went to fetch water, just as she usually did.  That night she thought about the person who had put the jewels in her water pot.  She wanted to find out who the person was. 

The next day, she ran to her water pot and found three handfuls inside.  This time she decided to go and show them to her father.  While she was bringing them to his room, she remembered that he was blind and would not be able to see them.  But, she thought, he might know what they are and he would be able to feel them.  So, she put the jewels in her father’s hands, and described them.  He knew at once what they were and told her that they were worth a lot of money.  So she went and sold some of them, but kept the first four, because she thought, “I might use them for something someday.”  By the end of the day, she and her father had a big house, plenty of food, and good clothes to wear.

The next day, she decided to go and sell her old clothes which weren’t very ragged yet.  She sold them to a poor man, who thanked her and told her that his wife would need them.  She went to bed that night and decided that it had been very good that she sold them and thought about how blessed the man and his wife would feel.

The next day it was very early in the morning when she heard a knock at the door. She answered it and when she opened the door, she saw that there was a man dressed in rich clothes.  He asked her if this was the Smith household and she said it was.  He handed her an invitation to a ball at the palace.  She thanked him and he went away and she shut the door.  She hurried to her room to get her best clothes ready. 

That night at the ball she got to dance with the prince and they fell in love.  And soon after, they were married.  And they lived happily ever after.

Part 2
Lily actually sent me her story for my mentoring help. She revised it a couple of times and sent me her "new and improved" version.

Ask your students to read both drafts carefully, writing down their observations of what Lily did to make her story better.

The Poor Little Girl Who Became a Princess, Revised
By Lily

Once upon a time there was a poor girl whose father was blind and very old. Because he was blind and could not work, she had to do all the housework by herself.  Every day she took her water pot from the shelf and went to get water at a nearby well. 

One day while cleaning the house, she removed her water pot so that she could dust the shelf.  As she was finishing the task, she peeked inside and found four beautiful jewels.  Each one was a different, rich color.  She reached inside and picked one up.  It was smooth and slippery.  “What is it?” she wondered. She thought they were interesting, so she wanted to keep them.  Then she hid them under her dust cloth and took the pot to get water as she usually did.  She did not expect the strange incident to happen again.

The following morning she woke up and, after fixing breakfast, hurried to get her water pot. Again she found a handful of jewels. She put those under her dust cloth, too. That night she thought that this was very strange. “Who is putting those beautiful things in my water pot?” she thought. 

When she woke up the next day, she quickly ran and looked in her pot and discovered that there were two handfuls of jewels.  She put them under the dust cloth and walked to the well, just as she usually did.  That night she wondered greatly about who had been doing this strangely wonderful deed.  She wanted to find out who the person could be.

As soon as she awoke, she ran to her water pot and found three handfuls inside. This time she decided to go and show them to her father.  “He might know what they are,” she thought.  So, she put the jewels in her father’s hands, and described them. 

“These are jewels Mary! They are worth a lot of money!” he said excitedly.            

So she hurried to sell some of them, but kept the first four, because she thought, “I might use them for something someday.” She earned 16,000 gold coins.

Later that day she decided to give away her old clothes which weren’t very ragged.  She gave them to a poor man, who thanked her and told her that his wife needed them.  She went to bed that night and thought about how blessed the man and his wife felt.

Very early the next morning, she heard a knock at the door.  When she opened the door, she saw a footman from the palace dressed in rich clothes. “Good morning. Here is an invitation to the royal ball,” he announced.   

“THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!” she yelled and then slammed the door.  She dashed to her room to get her best gown ready.

That night at the ball she danced with the prince and they fell in love. Later that night, they sat together and talked. “So, tell me how you grew up,” the prince said.

“Well, me and my father were very poor until one day someone started putting jewels in my water pot,” she replied. Then, she had an idea. “Do you know who put jewels in my water pot?” she asked. The prince was about to answer when they both heard a deep voice.  

“I did.”           

The prince jumped. “Father?” he said. They both turned around. There standing in front of them was the king himself!

The girl quickly curtsied and said, “Your Majesty.”             

“No need,” he continued. “I did, because when you went to fetch water every morning I noticed how kind and gentle you are. I wanted my son to marry you and I knew that the only way he could see you was at a ball, and the only way you could be invited was if you were wealthy. So, I did.” He smiled. “I can see that my plans went just as I pleased,” he said.  The prince and the girl were speechless.  Suddenly the girl broke the silence.

“I must tell my father! He will be so grateful to you.”          

The king replied, “Certainly you will tell your father. You may go home to tell him right now.”

When the girl returned, she brought her father with her. “My lord,” he murmured. 

“My good man, it pleases me to know that you raised such a kind and beautiful daughter,” the king told him. The girl’s father smiled with pride. “Will you give your permission for my son to marry your daughter?” the king asked.

“Yes, of course,” the girl’s father replied.     

The wedding was splendid. And so, with lots of love (and great riches) they all lived happily ever after.

THE END
 
 
We've made photobooks online to document a vacation or a school year, but I never thought of using them for writing and illustrating a book. Look at one blogger's idea here.
 
 
Who: Elementary-aged students (The publisher recommends the books for children in grades 3-6.)

What: Learn about different types of writing--non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and drama--and the specific elements required for each type; get practice by studying photos, considering the authors' questions about them, and doing exercises and assignments inspired by them.

Let me give you the flavor of these books which are written by different women but follow the same structure.

Each two-page spread has a focus. In Picture Yourself Writing Non-Fiction, for example, the author focuses on Detailing the Facts, Sensory Details, Unique Comparisons (similes and metaphors), Characters, Dialogue, Plot, Setting, Scene, Purpose and Audience, Point of View, and Bias. She explains, defines, and gives examples on the first page. On the second, she includes a photo with a "Write about It!" prompt.

These books include everything students need for independent study. Concentrating on one two-page spread a day will get them through one book every two weeks. If they do this for all four books, they will  know the elements of four types of writing and have a collection of their own pieces two months later.

If your students do an exercise or assignment they would like to share, post them in the comments or submit them to the Student Showcase.
 
 
Note: This assignment is adapted from Writing Fix and written directly to the student.

Read an excellent example of showing vs. telling in Roald Dahl's The Twits.  It's called "Dirty Beards."  (Warning:  I expect you will squint your eyes, wrinkle your nose, stick out your tongue, and say, "Yuck" as you read this.  I can picture this beautiful face in my mind!)

It begins like this:
"As you know, an ordinary unhairy face like yours or mine simply gets a bit smudgy if it is not washed often enough, and there's nothing so awful about that.

But a hairy face is a very different matter.  Things cling to hairs, especially food.  Things like gravy go right in among the hairs and stay there.  You and I can wipe our smooth faces with a washcloth and we quickly look more or less all right again, but the hairy man cannot do that.
And ends like this:
What I am trying to tell you is that Mr. Twit was a foul and smelly old man."
Now, Mr. Dahl could have just written "Mr. Twit was a foul and smelly old man" and gone on with his story, but he created a very vivid picture in our minds of exactly what he meant by foul and smelly.  Which one do you think is better?

I would like you to do something similar.  Think of a basic sentence, using a similar pattern. Maybe you want to include two or three adjectives like he did.  Then see if you can create a vivid picture for your audience by showing us what those words really mean.  You can follow Dahl's pattern here, too, tacking your original sentence on the end.

Actually, there is one more sentence to the chapter, which I didn't include.  It says:
He was also an extremely horrid old man as you will find out in a moment.
I wonder what he means.  I really don't know, since I haven't read the rest of the book.  Maybe you can write your own description before reading Dahl's.

If your students complete this assignment, please submit it to the Student Showcase.