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Monday, December 27, 2010

Learning from the kidlets

Subbing in a 4th grade class this month, I've been very impressed with the writing lessons. "We" wrote big fiction pieces, focusing on the following skills:

  • The kids started out by planning their stories using a "story mountain", where they put all the plot points along a sloped mountain-shaped grid, so they could see their conflict, climax and resolution... which was awesome. Then they put each of those events on its own page and wrote it, skipping lines for revision. Each "event" was its own scene.
  • Show, don't tell
  • Writing from one character's perspective or point of view (this one was not a personal narrative, so it couldn't be 1st person)
  • Each scene must start with action or dialogue, not narrative to capture a reader's interest
  • Colorful, detailed plot with a problem, climax, and satisfying ending
  • Characters show growth
  • And of course, writing conventions such as grammar, spelling and punctuation.
And, wow. Aren't these the same things many authors must focus on? I got to spend lots of time conferencing with the kiddos, helping to show them where they could expand, add details, make a more vivid "mind movie". Very good practice! It's awesome teaching the kids where they can add small things like body language, to give the reader a picture of somebody's mood--for example, "Mom put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes"...instead of "Mom looked mad". And the beauty is, the kids totally "get" this concept. I honestly don't remember ever having this type of fiction coaching in school. Most of our writing really focused on essays and term papers.

Makes me very optimistic about what neat fiction might crop up in about 15 years or so...

And in the meantime, it's made me feel really good about seeing the big picture and doing a nice job editing for my authors. Nor do I feel bad about enforcing these skills on my authors. Because, after all, if we can expect 9- and 10-year-olds to do it, we can sure expect adults to, right?

Autumn Piper
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