I first heard about Lessons from the Geese in the mid-90’s. The person who first shared this with me turned out to have a completely different agenda in mind and is no longer someone with whom I am in contact. However, a spiritual leader I hold in high regard recently reminded me that this inspiring set of lessons is just what we need right now. This reminder made me realize that I still hold on to this vision in spite of popular beliefs to the contrary. I hope you find it useful, too.
This Thursday and Friday we had student led conferences at my school. This is the culmination of over a week of preparation and anticipation as we approach spring break. Typically, the children gather their work in each of the core curriculum areas, and art, to share with their parents. The children write reflections as to why they chose particular pieces, and use these reflections to talk with their parents about their work. If there is time then parents sit down with me for a chat.
Recently, the mom of one of my students talked to our class about her work as a writer of YA books. She prepared a PowerPoint presentation using Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt as her mentor text. The following list includes some of the tips she gave the children.
(1) First, it’s important to write about what you know so that you can write with confidence and authority.
(2) A well-developed beginning, middle, and ending is a critical component to any story. Just writing “the end” is not enough. It was great to have a professional writer point this out to the children since often that is how they end their stories because they’ve figured out that they don’t have anything else to say. The truth is that either they didn’t plan their story before sitting down to write, or they didn’t have a problem in the story that needed development and resolution. This is something I’m planning to address during the last term of this year.
(3) Pay especial attention to the beginning of your story. A well-written and interesting beginning will often be the determining factor for whether or not the reader will want to continue reading.
(4) Make sure there is a conflict in the story. If there is no plot, the story will be boring.
(5) The ending should wrap things up for the reader in some way. My student’s parent mentioned that she didn’t like cliff hanger endings. I respectfully disagree. Sometimes those are the best endings because they leave me wanting to read more. More books, more by the same author, and more in a series, if that’s the case. I don’t always think cliff hanger endings are a bad idea unless it seems obvious that the author couldn’t think of an ending and so decided to have no ending instead.
All of this was very instructive and validated much of what I’ve been teaching this year. However, what piqued my interest the most was when this parent shared her “character collage”. A character collage allows the writer to think about and develop a character before she even starts to write her story. By using magazine images and words the writer can create a picture of a character’s interests and traits. And, this collage can be a work in progress as the writer starts to write and think about major and minor characters, plot, and setting. This is the next step I am planning to take as we continue thinking and analyzing character traits in my classroom. I will write more about how this went with the children during the first week of April. In the meantime, just in case you’re curious about character collages, read this post at http://www.stinalindenblatt.com/2010/10/getting-to-know-your-character.html at my student’s mom’s blog/website.
I’d love to hear any thoughts about the tips mentioned above from readers of this blog. Please, feel free to leave a comment with your ideas.