BY ALLY HAUPTMAN
1. Choose a text. It might be a brilliantly written and illustrated picture book, an excerpt from a middle grades or YA novel, or even an interesting infographic.
2. Share the text with your students and model what writing ideas you have based on this text.
3. After reading, ask the questions, “What writing ideas do you get from this text? What are the possibilities you see as a writer?”
4. Get out of the way and let kids write and create!
5. Give students time to share and learn from each other.
That’s it...five steps that lead to important discussion and writing possibilities.
The following is an example of this writing lesson in action with two of my own children. I started by reading Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai. The book begins with Malala talking about a television program she used to watch. The show’s main character was a boy with a magic pencil who Malala saw as a hero, always helping others. She dreamed of having her own magic pencil. She goes on to tell her story of fighting for girls’ education, realizing that she really did have a magic pencil all along. She was able to change the world with her pencil as she fought for educational equality. The last line in the book reads, “One pen, one teacher, one student can change the world.”
Here is the key to this lesson, and this is how I get out of the way of their creativity. I asked my children to write for ten minutes about what ideas they got from Malala’s Magic Pencil. It is as simple as that. I did not give them my prompt that might be presented from this book such as, “What would you do with a magic pencil?” I let them figure out how this book would be a mentor text for their own writing. The beauty of presenting a text and then letting students figure out their own writing possibilities is that they bring their background knowledge, voice, and writing style and combine it with the author’s ideas from the text presented. When you present a mentor text and ask the students to see the writing possibilities, the variety is astounding.
Just with my own daughters, my fifth grader, who is the youngest and always trying to prove herself to her sisters, wrote about a magic tree. In her story, no one believes her that this tree is magic and she hatches a plan to show everyone that she is right. She brought in her ideas and showed strong voice. My eighth grade daughter decided to write about the Infiniti Pen. It is worth mentioning that all of my daughters are obsessed with Marvel movies. So, the Infiniti Pen was inspired by Thor’s hammer in that only the worthiest person in the village could pick up the pen because of its persuasive powers. In this piece, my daughter chose to bring in her own voice and combine Marvel with Malala’s ideas. These writers were able to choose their ideas and use their voices. When we present possibilities through mentor texts, readers also begin to read like writers.
Try it. Read a book and ask your students to find writing possibilities, to write for ten minutes and see where it may lead!
The following list includes texts I have used to spark writing ideas over the past few years with teacher candidates, K-12 students, and my own children.
25 books with endless possibilities…
After the Fall by Dan Santat
Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins
Bookjoy, Wordjoy by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Camela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Claymates by Dev Petty, illustrated by Lauren Eldridge
Coco: Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Ana Ramírez
Cute as an Axolotl by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
Dude! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat
Dreamers/Sonadores by Yuyi Morales
Friends and Foes: Poems About Us All by Douglas Florian
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Love by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Loren Long
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoёt
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López
Nope! by Drew Sheneman
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Water Land by Christy Hale
What Makes a Monster? by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand
Wild World by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Hvass & Hannibal
Ally Hauptman is a CLA Board Member and is the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee. She is an associate professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.
Image by Tookapic from Pixabay
BY JANET K. OUTLAW
Experiencing online education is a completely different experience from in-person teaching and learning. Simply transferring what you would normally do to an online platform doesn’t offer the same kind of experience. During this time of social distancing, I’ve been particularly interested in thinking about platforms that still allow teachers and students to engage in literacy in socially participative ways.
One platform that is really interesting for students to share out responses to children’s literature is Flipgrid. It is a great way for all children, or college students, to share their experiences, their learning, and reflections! As the teacher, you can add members of your class to Flipgrid and ask them to share out about what they’re reading at home. Since children have varying accesses to high-speed internet or media devices, I also like Flipgrid because it can be used on a tablet or mobile phone. It’s free to create an account and join. It offers wonderful learning opportunities, where each student can highlight an amazing new book they read, what they may have personally connected to in the story, or how they felt while reading it.
I’m not a technologically savvy person at all, but Flipgrid is very user-friendly. I first used it a couple of years ago in an online graduate course. It helped the course to feel more socially engaged than typical online courses. Watching classmates’ videos and hearing about their experiences brought the class to life in a way online discussion boards just don’t. If it’s your first time using Flipgrid, below is a brief tutorial video to show you how to set it up as an instructor.
Once you have gotten your account and topic set up, you can share it with your students for a variety of different discussions. One great idea would be for every student to give a book talk of a new children’s book they read at home!
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are several resources for free access to children’s books right now:
Some of my favorite texts that are available on Epic are A Different Pond (by Bao Phi, Illustrated by Thi Bui) and We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga (by Traci Sorell, Illustrated by Frané Lessac). A Different Pond touches on themes of immigration, loss from war, and family pride. We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga prompts you to think again about all of the people and things in your life you are grateful for.
These are just a couple of books you can recommend to your students or allow them the choice to read a book of interest to them! Using Flipgrid, you can have discussion question prompts to guide students through their book talk, such as:
Janet K. Outlaw is a member of the CLA student committee. She is a doctoral candidate in Literacy and English Language Arts at North Carolina State University.
BY JEANNE GILLIAM FAIN
These are hard times. Many of us are scrambling to figure out a schedule that keeps us all from losing our minds. One important part of your schedule should definitely include the power of the read aloud. This is a wonderful time to facilitate reading aloud digitally. There has never been an easier time to get to know some of the fantastic authors that are online. It would be easy to send your students a link and have them check out a favorite author (provided that they have online access). Many authors are spending valuable time reading online via YouTube, their websites, Instagram, and there are even author posts via twitter. These digital resources were created by the author and read by the author. As a reminder, it’s completely fine to read books aloud in a classroom or library setting but the rules change when it comes to a digital platform. So be wary of reading books online to your students*. Here are a few of my favorite authors and some of their websites.
Kwame Alexander is a poet and educator. He is the author of 32 books. He is known for his energetic approach to making poetry come alive in his writing. His website includes various read alouds and tips for teaching in the home.
* Creating a recording of reading aloud a published work is subject to copyright law. Sharing copyright-protected work via a public platform and/or monetizing your recording is not allowed. Sharing a read-aloud via a Drive link you post only to your own classes is generally allowable under Educational Fair Use. However, posting to something like YouTube (which is by default indexed and potentially searchable) is not. The story Publishers Adapt Policies To Help Educators published in the School Library Journal (SLJ, March, 2020) offers some helpful guidance as to how children’s publishers have temporarily altered some of their policies to support teaching in the context of COVID-19
BY ADAM CRAWLEY
Before becoming a teacher educator, I taught in elementary public schools for twelve years. The affordances of technology – particularly in connection to literacy and literature – have long been an interest of mine. While I’ve always aimed to stay current with what’s available and to consider increasingly innovative, meaningful, and critical use, I have gleaned much from countless others who are generously sharing resources via social media and other networks…particularly during these past few days and weeks with shifts in instruction due to COVID-19. While an abundance of online children’s literature resources is available – and resources continue to grow from educators, librarians, authors, illustrators, and publishers – Epic! has been particularly helpful in my work teaching a children’s literature course for pre-service teachers at Oklahoma State University.
For those unfamiliar with Epic, it provides a vast collection of children’s literature including picturebooks, chapter books, and graphic novels. As stated on the site’s homepage, users can “instantly access 35,000 eBooks, learning videos, quizzes and more for K-5.” Many of the books available are recent publications and award/honor recipients. The site includes books diverse in representation (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, social class, language, etc.) and genre. Just a few of the many books available include El Deafo (Bell, 2014), When Aidan Became a Brother (Lukoff, 2019), and The Princess and the Warrior (Tonatiuh, 2016). One of my particular favorites is the bilingual picturebook Sora and the Cloud (Hoshino, 2011), exquisite with its soft mixed media illustrations and Japanese translation.
In addition to digital versions of printed books, the site includes audiobooks and “read-to-me” books with the option to add text highlighting. I emphasize to the pre-service teachers the importance of such features for emergent readers.
There are numerous ways to explore what’s available in Epic. Users can type a title, author, illustrator, or topic into the search bar; hover over “Explore” in the menu to see options for various subject areas (such as “narrative nonfiction” in English Language Arts or “geometry” in Math); or browse curated collections by other users. Educators can also add their students – whether K-12 or beyond – and assign books to them within the site.
As I want the pre-service teachers to have access to and use this resource beyond our semester together, I encourage them to create their own free account as an educator. Educators can create an Epic! for Educators account.
Adam Crawley is Assistant Professor of Literacy Education at Oklahoma State University. He is also Co-chair of CLA's 2021 Master Class.