If you’re like me, we do school visits that are typically one-shot, Big Events. For example, my visits typically involve doing large-group assemblies and smaller writing workshops for upper-grade kids all on the same day. But here’s something I’ve done recently that I love: working with a single classroom in my local community over a period of time with primary school kids.
WORKING WITH FIRST GRADERS: In 2014, I took part in a creative collaboration with a seasoned first grade teacher, Kristen Nordstrom. We met at a conference and wondered if first graders would be able and willing to apply revision techniques to make their nonfiction writing “pop.”
Kristen scheduled me for three sessions with the kids in late spring. They were about to work on their African Animals project. Part of my role was to add “star power” to the mix — a published author who has worked through the exact same process that they were about to begin.
Session 1 (1:15 hrs): I demonstrated my research process with the class.
- I showed them a photo of a horned lizard and had them generate wonder questions based on an image of the animal.
- We practiced how to use those questions as a research guide.
- I shared my rough drafts, the “final” piece, the revisions I had to make as requested by the editor, and the published article.
- We generated examples of “juicy” verbs to catch a reader’s attention.
Session 2 (1:30 hrs): I visited the classroom 5 weeks later. In the meantime, Kristen was doing the heavy-lifting. She taught mini-lessons on verbs, similes and metaphors, research and drafting. I met with small groups and gave feedback on their works in progress. The purpose was to help them come up with attention-getting openings.
Session 3 (1:30 hrs): At my last visit, kids shared their final books with me and reflected on their writing and revising process. They were proud of their opening “hooks.”
To see the results, take a look at a short film featuring the young writers, filmed by older students:
This project led to Kristen and I doing teacher workshops for her school district and for the California Reading & Literature Project at California Lutheran University.
WORKING WITH SECOND AND THIRD GRADERS: In 2015, I did a collaboration with another creative teacher, Kathi Byington, in her grade 2/3 combination class. They chose to do a biography project featuring American peacemakers.
Session 1 (1 hr.): Meet-the-author / research process introduction
Sessions 2, 3, and 4 (1 hr each): Students met with me in “we-are-all-authors” critique groups. We shared feedback. The goal was for each to produce a book to enter into the Young Authors’ Faire sponsored by the Ventura County Reading Association. http://www.vcrareading.org/ As with Kristen, Kathi did many lessons with students in-between my visits. I served more to reinforce and extend than to relay information.
Session 5 (1:30 hrs): Publication Party. We “launched” their books with treats. The kids talked with me individually about their projects and writing. The result was a deeper connection with these young writers than could have been accomplished in a single-day visit. The students invited me to their “Living Museum” and “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performances, and met me at the local Young Authors’ Fair.
Why not talk with a local teacher and see if you can forge a creative collaboration in the next school year! Or if you’re already doing this, please leave a comment below and share what you’ve been doing. I’d love to hear from you.