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