Monday, February 13, 2017

"If I" Poem

Writers of all ages are inspired by the simple suggestion to imagine themselves as a different entity. Model the process by using your own poem or my poem, “If I Were A Cloud.” I chose this subject because watching clouds is not only a joy but a consolation for me. Their floating beauty in the sky often lifts my spirits. To begin the exercise, ask your students to do a quick write on their chosen topic. Here is my quick write:

Then form a list of words that could be used in the poem to describe your feelings:

Finally, create the poem, using the line “If I were . . .” at the beginning of each stanza. Note that the poem does not have to rhyme. Encourage your students to choose figurative language over a forced rhyme scheme. It is more important to paint a picture for your reader than to rhyme. Here is an image of my poem, “If I Were a Cloud.”

In addition, or before you have students write individual poems, you might do a group writing exercise with the same process. Quick Write, Quick List of Words, Poem.

Have fun imagining!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Story Scenes: Just One Thing

Anthony Pantaloni needs Just One Thing!—one thing he does well, one thing that will replace the Antsy Pants nickname he got tagged with the first day of fifth grade, one GOOD thing he can “own” before moving up to middle school next year. Every kid in Carpenter Elementary has something: Marcus is Mr. Athletic, Alexis is Smart Aleck, Bethany has her horse obsession, and even Cory can stake a claim as being the toughest kid in the whole school. Ant tries lots of things but – KA-BOOM! – nothing sticks! It doesn’t help that there are obstacles along the way—a baton-twirling teacher, an annoying cousin, and Dad’s new girlfriend to name a few.

“With tons of humor and lots of heart, this story jabs into the core of middle grade insanity and the question of whether or not a kid can ever make it out with even a little bit of self-esteem intact.” ~ T. Drecker (Bookworm for Kids) Discussion Guide for Teachers:

Follow-up Activity:
Fold an 8 ½ x 11 plain piece paper in half long end to long end.
Fold it again. And once more.
Open sheet to find 8 blocks.
Place paper on desk horizontally so that there are 4 blocks are across the top and 4 at the bottom.
In the corners, number the blocks left to right so that #5 is the first number on the second row.
Write KA-BOOM! somewhere on block #6.
Students get together in pairs, and interview each other using the following questions:

What kinds of activities/sports/hobbies do you do well?

What activities /sports/hobbies do you wish you did well?

In terms of activities/sports/hobbies, what frustrates you?

If you’ve found your One Thing, what is it? Is that working out for you? How?

If you could change your One Thing, what would it be?

Next, using the divided paper, each student creates a visual representation of another student’s journey in finding his/her One Thing. Using the interview answers above as a guide, they write a scene (like a mini-story) in 8 blocks. Each block is illustrated and supported by minimal text. As for the climax, that occurs on block #6 where KA-BOOM! is written. Here, the writer shows the turn of events that leads to a final outcome on block #8. Students can base their story scenes on entirely on the interview and write a factual account, or use the answers for inspiration only and write absolute fiction.

BIO: Nancy Viau no longer worries about finding her One Thing for she has found quite a few things she loves, like being a mom, writing, traveling, and working as a librarian assistant. She is the author of the picture books City Street Beat, Look What I Can Do! and Storm Song, and an additional middle-grade novel, Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head. Nancy grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA and now resides in South Jersey. 
Vist Nancy at or Twitter: @NancyViau1

Monday, January 30, 2017

School's First Day of School

School’s First Day of School, written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson, turns the typical “first day of school” story on its head.  After a new school is built, makes friends with the janitor, and gets used to a peaceful existence, the school hears some scary, unwelcome news: children are coming! 

School’s First Day of School will be a fun writing prompt to use in the classroom.  After you read the book aloud to your students, here are some activities to try:

1. In this book, the main character is a school.  If you were to write a story with an inanimate object as the main character, what object would you choose?  Why?  When you are choosing your object, think about what characteristics your inanimate object has that might be useful in the plot of your story.  For example, in School’s First Day of School, the school is able to squirt a boy from a water fountain, be embarrassed by setting off the fire alarm, and be hurt by a pushpin. 
2. What other books can you think of where the main character is an inanimate object?  Make a list as a class.
3. The school gradually warms up to the children, just as the little girl with freckles warms up to the school, and the book ends on a happy note.  What if you were to write a sequel to School’s First Day of School?  What would happen?  What new problems would arise, and how would they be solved?    

School’s First Day of School is funny, surprising, and heart-warming.  It is a story of adapting to change, and of realizing that the things we never wanted may be exactly the things we need the most.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Writing Connections with Raina Telgemeier

Is the classroom or your personal journaling experience starting to pall? One way to spice up the journal-keeping process is to add visuals.  That’s how Raina Telgemeier got her start as a graphic novelist when she was 10 years old.  In a recent interview in the KidsPost section of the Washington Post, Raina talks about her newest graphic novel Ghosts and how she began keeping a comics diary when she was a kid.

Below are writing lessons for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up.  Telgemeir’s website also has teacher’s guides. 

WRITING/DRAWING YOUR LIFE:  Classroom Discussion, Part 1:  You might start by showing kids various examples of graphic novels (Telgemeier’s Smile, Sisters and Ghosts; Jennifer Holm’s Babymouse series, Gene Yang’s Secret Coders series).  Though most tell a fictional story, Smile and Sisters chronicle events in Telgemeier’s life.

Classroom Writing:  Instead of the usual journaling-in-words-only that is done as part of the classroom writing experience, encourage students to do what Telgemeir did as a kid.  In a “comics diary,” she recorded her days in comic-strip form.  This loose, sketchy process helps kids to avoid getting hung up on creating “realistic” drawings and instead encourages them to focus on what’s key to the day/emotion/scene in very stylized drawings.  Students might do just one panel with dialogue balloons that captures an experience or several linked ones.

You might also have them bring photos from home or have some magazines on hand so they might cut and paste in backgrounds, relevant images, etc.

Examples of Prompts (these also work for traditional journal entries):  What made me scared today?  Angry?  Excited?  Annoyed?  Happy? Before writing, have students close their eyes and focus on their day and call a particular emotion/event to mind.

Classroom Discussion, Part 2:  After about a week of keeping a comics journal, ask students which they preferred, comics journal or the more traditional writing journal. Or perhaps a combination.  What did they like/dislike about all three?  What did they enjoy/learn from the comics diary experience?  Did doing their own comics diaries change the way they looked at/read graphic novels?


Monday, January 16, 2017

All Dogs Must Go!

All the dogs at the shelter must be adopted before closing day. Will that include Spanky the pup with three legs?

This short story will pull at your heartstrings and provide many opportunities to get young children or teens talking, thinking and writing.

Spanky the Pup was written by Abreona Curtis, Darrin Gladman, Rochelle Jones and Temil Whipple, illustrated by Evey Cahall. That’s right – a team of writers. All teenagers themselves, all working with Shout Mouse Press, a nonprofit writing program and publishing house. As it says in each published book, “Shout Mouse Press empowers writers from marginalized communities to tell their own stories in their own voices and act as agents of change.”

Photo credit: Reach Incorporated

Shout Mouse Press partnered with another nonprofit, Reach Incorporated,  to help teens in Washington, D.C., write their own stories for young children. The teens were challenged to write original, inclusive stories that would reflect the realities of their own communities. 

Four new titles were published in November 2016: 

The books may be shared with older students as a project they could replicate. Students of any age can use the books to spark discussion and writing.  

Let’s take Spanky, the pup with three legs who fears he will be left out on the final day of adoptions.  Spanky’s story may help children talk or write about a sensitive topic.

·       What did the dog named Dorothy do to help Spanky (defended him, built up his confidence)?

·       Write about an experience when you felt left out. What do you wish someone had done to help? How could you help make sure someone else doesn’t feel left out?

·       What can you say when you see someone being unkind or hurting someone else with their words?

·       What are ways to act with kindness at home or at school?

As a writing style, it is also possible to talk about the ending of this story which is shown entirely in pictures without a single word.  No spoiler alert here…

Shout Mouse Press would like to know how you use the books written by these teen authors with students. Please share your projects with

Monday, January 9, 2017


Bullying is an ongoing problem in all schools. Taking a little time to write and think about what exactly is “normal” might go a long way to defuse the primary source of the issue. Students are bullied for being “different.” Yet the criteria for being “different” varies from one community to another. A child from Latin America may be considered “different” in a small town in the midwest. While a child from a farm might be misunderstood in a metropolitan city. Tara Lazar’s Normal Norman  can be a great discussion starter for this topic.

In this picture book, a child scientist tries to demonstrate how “normal” a purple orangutan named Norman is. Yet it turns out that Norman sleeps in a bed with a stuffed animal and likes pizza better than bananas. One revelation after another demonstrates that Norman’s behavior is not what is expected for an orangutan. The young scientist is distraught. Norman’s abnormally large heart and breezy acceptance of himself saves the day as the young scientist finally accepts that “normal” cannot be defined.

After reading Normal Norman, discuss why it is so difficult to define “normal.” Does everyone have the same body type, eating habits, or sleep patterns? Are members of the same family exactly the same? Would you even want them to be? Would you want to spend the day in a classroom of “normal” students exactly alike? Do a ten minute quick write. Can you describe what a typical school day would be like if everyone looked and behaved the same way? For added inspiration, you could read a short passage from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle describing the planet where all the children behave in a mechanistic way, like robots.  

Next, provide your students with a dictionary definition of “normal,” meaning ordinary, standard, typical, etc. Contrast that to the definition of “unique” meaning unusual or special, unlike anything else. Ask your students to write a short essay on the topic. Would you prefer to be “normal” or “unique?” What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

What’s normal for one person or family does not suit another. We are indeed all different. Normal Norman celebrates individuality, an important topic to think and write about.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Handmade Accordion Journals

An easy but elegant gift to give to the writers and artists in your life is a handmade accordion journal.  Using a few simple materials and your own personalization, these journals can be left blank for the recipient to write or draw and paint in, or you can fill it with your own memories, poems, stories or art.

You will need:
1.     Two identical rectangles or squares of cardboard cut to any size. Cut up cereal boxes or gift boxes work well.

2.     Craft or brown paper (lunch bags, grocery bags or package paper)
3.     Large sheet of heavyweight paper (watercolor paper or mixed media paper)
4.     Glue or Mod Podge
5.     Black acrylic paint (available in craft stores in small bottles)
6.     Metallic paint in color of your choice (available in craft stores in small bottles)
7.     Any embellishments you want to use for the cover (Silk flowers, beads, metal embellishments etc.)

Start by covering your two cardboard pieces with torn pieces of craft or brown paper and glue flat.  These will be used for the front and back cover of the journal. When dry, paint the covers first in black acrylic paint, and when dry, cover over black in metallic paint.  Next, cut a long strip of watercolor or other heavy weight paper. This should be slightly smaller in size than the height and width of the covers. Fold the paper back and forth in an accordion fold so it will fit inside each cover. Glue the first and last pages of your blank paper to the inside of the front and back covers. Place completed journal under something heavy overnight to flatten out pages. If desired, add your own touch to the inside or leave blank. Decorate front cover with embellishments.

Wishing all our readers a very happy holiday season and all the best for the coming year!