Monday, May 22, 2017

Writing Connections with Nick Bruel

Nick Bruel is the creator of highly popular chapter books, picture books and early readers, all of which feature his inimitable feline character Bad Kitty.  In an interview with the KidsPost section of the Washington Post, Bruel talks about his latest book—Bad Kitty Takes the Test--the testing climate in schools, and combating test-stress through creativity and playfulness.

Bad Kitty Takes the Test is a funny book, with chickens trying to sabotage the cats that are taking a standardized test to prove they are cats.  There are graphics, dialogue balloons and even portions of the very odd test.  Bruel’s aim is to help kids to laugh and take the whole testing-thing less seriously. 

So, with the aim of being silly and having fun, below are some writing lessons for the classroom or for individual writers 8 and up.  By poking fun at a serious issue (schools’ emphasis on standardized testing), Bruel helps both to defuse tension and highlight the negative effect on kids.

MAKING A GRAPHIC STORY:  Classroom Discussion:  After reading the book, ask kids about their feelings of stress and worry around standardized testing.  Have them write down three things they dislike about the testing process.  Talk about how Bad Kitty gets so frustrated that she refuses to take any more pretests.  Classroom Writing:  Have kids create their own animal or human character or work in pairs to do so.  The character is going into school to take a standardized test.  Encourage students to use dialogue balloons to directly show what the character is thinking and saying about the test.  Does she or he express feelings to other characters that are about to take the test?  What happens?

CREATING A SILLY TEST:  Students have certainly taken enough pre- or practice tests to know the standard format.  Have them create their own silly tests on a personal interest or passion (superheroes, dogs, chess, dance, swimming, etc.).  For multiple-choice format, students might write 2 silly questions and 2 serious questions--and answers for all might be one correct answer and three obviously silly ones.  Once they’ve designed their tests, students can have a friend, parent, or even the teacher take it.  Much laughter will ensue.

MAKING A GRAPHIC STORY REDUX: JOURNALING THROUGH WORDS AND PICTURES: Encourage students to use this graphic-story format as a way of keeping a journal or exploring, in writing and drawing, the things that worry or stress them.  First, have them identify, by listing on paper, one thing they feel stressed about at that point in time and why they feel stressed and how they deal with it.  Let them know there is no right or wrong to this and encourage them to write about this in more detail and/or draw pictures. Students can also cut images from magazines and make a collage of their feelings, adding in their own drawings, as they wish. Students should not have to share unless they wish to do so.  Ask them if they felt better just getting their feelings out and down on paper.

Additional Resources

Bruel’s website  includes games and resources.

In Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble, Bruel takes kids through the basic elements of story—and drawing--as he guides them to write their own story.


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