Friday, November 28, 2008

NCCAT Teachers Exercise Muscle Words


If you've been to one of my writing workshops you know that when it comes to learning Show, Don't Tell writing and revision, I get teachers up out of their seats in this kinesthetic activity.

If you want to try it in your classroom, first teach the "Muscle Words":
- vivid verbs
- specific nouns
- image-driven adjectives
- similes, metaphors, & personification
- onomatopoeia & alliteration

Then, assign an exercise to each one and voila! you have your own version of Exercising Muscle Words. This is a great way for students (and teachers!) to remember words which will jazz up their writing.Technorati Tags:
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Favorite Books Selected by some Favorite Teachers


At NCCAT where Joyce Hostetter and I have been co-teaching the "Is There a Children's Book in You?" seminar, I asked the teachers to tell me what their favorite books were and why. Here are some of their favorites:

My Little Sister Hugged An APE by Bill Grossman, illustrated by Kevin Kawkes. Gail Hurlburt of Randleman, NC recommended this cute rhyming book that teaches the alphabet. She is an ESL K-2nd grade teacher.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd and Well Witched by Frances Hardinge were recommended by Pam Brillisour, a media coordinator. She said that The London Eye Mystery is about a boy whose brain figures things out differently and solves the mystery of his missing cousin. The Well Witched starts slowly but has amazing descriptions. "Three friends miss the bus home from a village where they aren't supposed to be. Since they don't have the bus fare they decide to take some coins from a wishing well. The problem is that they each develop a unique (but scary) skill that they need in order to grant the wished tied to each coin."

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester was recommended by Laurie Foote who is an EC teacher in Henderson County. She writes, "The moral of the story is the world is full of exciting things to learn and interesting people to meet if you're just open to it and take the time and look."

Freaky Green Eyes by Joyce Carol Oates is a young adult book recommended by creative writing instructor, Rebecca Wheeler. She says, "This is a coming of age story that is packaged in a wonderfully executed psychological thriller as a teenager discovers her parents' relationship is veiled in secrets."

Gooney Gird Greene, Gooney Bird and the Room Mother, and Gooney the Fabulous
by Lois Lowry. Kathy White, (who couldn't choose just one book) is a second grade teacher in Greensboro, NC. She says that these books star an unusual second grade girl with a gift of telling "absolutely true" stories about herself. Through her stories she explains good writing skills.

Every Living Thing by Cynthia Rylant was recommended by Jan Caldwell, NBCT, Grade 4, Candler Elementary. She writes, "This book provides twelve short stories in which animals change people's lives for the better. It has limited illustrations. The children love it, and it has great themes and life lessons."

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech was recommended by Elizabeth Bemiss, a third grade teacher in Mint Hill. She wrote, "This is a great poetry read aloud/quick read that you'll want to read over and over! This is for second grade and up. A new sequel just came out which is just as great, Hate That Cat."

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech was recommended by Karen Kollar, a teacher at Ashley Elementary in Fayetteville. She wrote, "Sal is suddenly left without a mother and a mystery as to why she left.  This story will take you on an emotional rollercoaster and the intrigue about the whereabouts of her mother and why she left will keep you wondering to the end."

I will leave the week feeling like a mid-wife, expecting that I helped birth some books from this talented group of teachers and writers.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Writing a Nano Novel is Different than “Normal” Novel Writing


On the ride to NCCAT with Joyce Hostetter, my fellow presenter, we talked about our NaNoWriMo books. This is my first foray into historical fiction; this is Joyce's fifth book. Her story is about a teenager who for unexpected reasons finds himself working in a mental hospital in the 40's. I was curious to know how writing a book within the framework of one month has been a different experience than how she normally writes her books.

"Before I started NaNo I actually used "Create a Character" from Teaching The Story." (Of course I was delighted to hear that!) "It pushed me to identify major people in my character's life and formative events and helped me to know his back story. I don't usually intentionally sit down and brainstorm about my character first; usually I just discover my characters as I go along.

"I haven't had as much time to research as I would have liked," Joyce admitted. "I have books on my shelves that I haven't even had a minute to read. For example, I want to read the memoirs of a mental hospital employee from WWII but I've been so busy trying to write that I haven't even been able to contact him yet.

"The other difference is that before I had high speed internet connection and the distractions of Facebook and blogging, I would just get up every morning to write. Now, I get up and check my e-mail, and troll around the web and it is all very distracting. NaNoWriMo has helped me to remember what it feels like to create a character and to have my mood lifted by the writing process itself. It energizes me. After recently experiencing the tediousness of proofing the copyedits for Comfort, the sequel to Blue, it is exciting to have a new story and a fresh new character."

Joyce and I became so engrossed in talking about our experiences with NaNoWriMo, that we missed our exit coming here. Fortunately, we figured it out before we drove too many miles out of our way. Get two writers together and that's what happens! But we arrived with plenty of time to set up and lead 24 teachers in the process of exploring, "Is there a Children's Book in You?"

This is Joyce sharing how to create characters with voice. Hopefully a character who doesn’t miss her exit driving along I-40 West in the Appalachian Mountains!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Writing Lesson Plan for November 14

I'm giving all of the teachers out there a present for this Friday. Since Saturday November 15 is "I Love to Write Day," take a minute and click on the link on the first paragraph on that site. If you don't find a novel writing idea that will fit your classroom, why don't you look at MIGUEL ANGEL ARENAS HARO's website. At the IRA's 22nd World Congress on reading in Costa Rica he placed a large white strip of paper on the floor and let it snake throughout the conference hall. He then invited participants to write poems on it. "The Giant Poem is very classical," he was quoted saying in the Oct/Nov issue of Reading Today. "It puts the paper close to people and gives them a chance to read their own words."

Why not try creating a giant poem that meanders down the hall of your school? Or how about one that goes around the perimeter of your school cafeteria or up and down the bleachers of the gym?

As for me, I think I'll celebrate by trying to add another 2000 words to my novel. It is now at 14,317 words and has a new working title: Half the Truth.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Literary Odds and Ends

Since working on NaNo depletes my brain, this blog will be a consortium of quotes from other people who are inspiring me at the moment. Appropriate for writers as well as teachers, I hope these words inspire you too:

This is how I feel when I am writing: "Writing a first draft is like creating clay out of nothing, just dirt and water." John Green, winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature for Looking for Alaska.

This is what I struggle with (see last post):

"For the same reason that active verbs are generally better than passive verbs, a lively present tense will beat a sodden past tense every time. It's the difference between a saunter and a trudge." James Kilpatrick, "Why because? Since is sounds better, that's why," November 8, 2008 column.

This is what I have to remember: "I firmly believe the story knows itself and the really good stuff just pops up when we let down our guard." Joyce Hostetter, author of Blue and Healing Water.

This is what I'm doing now and later:

"Of course we [Joyce is also in the middle of NaNO] can layer in what we know for now but we don't have to know everything. We can leave _____________s for filling in later or make up something totally not accurate. I do have some sensory details and little descriptions of what is going on around my character but I expect to have tons of stuff to layer in later (and lots to take out)."

This is what I have to think about:

"Novels that last and please readers are written because the novelist is intoxicated by the delight and the endlessly renewable joy that comes from engaging with imaginary characters—with story; and that engagement always begins with reading; and if it catches you, it never lets go. Write a novel if you want to win a competition, or impress your friends, or possibly make some money—do so by all means. But if you're not a lover of stories, a passionate and devoted reader, don't expect your novel to please many readers." Phillip Pullman – from his NaNo Pep talk on 11/7/08.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Teacher Learns to “Show, Not Tell”

I'm thick into NaNo and realizing that I can describe something to death-- but making up something that hasn't ever existed except in my mind is really HARD for me! As I push along at the keyboard and struggle to produce (gulp!) 2,000 words a day, I barrage myself with hundreds of questions: What will Anna Katherine, my 12-soon-to-be-13-year-old protagonist say or do next? What words would she use? What hand gestures or facial expressions would show her feelings? I am aware that every snippet of conversation can take her and my other characters in multitudes of directions and the possibilities overwhelm me.

I feel like I'm floundering in deep water with some knowledge of how to swim and hoping I can finish the race. Although I talk about show, don't tell in lots of workshops, I am at home doing that in nonfiction. This plunge into fiction is another story all together. (Pun intended.) I am more comfortable narrating what Katie (her nickname) did last summer than showing what she is saying, thinking, or doing in the moment.

So what is helping me? Remembering my own acronym for showing a character- FAST.

  • F- Feelings
  • A-Action
  • S-Speech
  • T- Thoughts

It's nice that my own book is informing my writing! I am convinced that this foray into fiction will not only move me toward making my dream of writing a book for young readers become reality, but it will make me a better writing teacher also.

Last night at a writing workshop at South County Library I happily concurred with my teen participants that "plot holes" happen. Now I know the pains of dialogue that doesn't sound authentic; the reality of making all of the details fit together into a cohesive whole.

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