Reading about Writing
One of the greatest ways to inspire kids to write is to get them to read about writing. Reading and thinking about writing is as critical as actually sitting down to write–I know that I do a good deal of prewriting in my head.
A great book can be a wonderful inspiration for a budding writer, whether it’s a picture book, novel, or nonfiction title. In fact, these mentor texts are commonly used as introductions to writing exercises and assignments. Books specifically about writing can directly correlate to fun and in-depth lessons.
For the youngest writers, introduce Robin Pulver and Lynn Rowe Reed’s The Case of the Incapacitated Capitals, in which Mr. Wright’s class at Learnalot Elementary School must figure out how to capitalize correctly in order to save Teacher Appreciation Day. The story is a silly and colorful lesson about capitalization and letter writing, and Mr. Wright aptly reminds his students that formal writing requires careful attention to details. Lesson idea: using the formal letters in the book as models, have students think up a new school celebration day and write a letter to the principal proposing it. (ISBN 9780823429141. Gr 1-3.)
Upper elementary students–especially the daydreamers among them–will appreciate Nikki Grimes‘s Words with Wings. Gabby is a daydreamer who has a hard time paying consistent attention in class–or anywhere else for that matter. Words fly into her head and she sets off in her head on in imaginary journey to far-away places and times. Saddened about getting in trouble in school, Gabby decides to quit letting her thoughts wander. Luckily, her teacher recognizes the importance of daydreaming: “the best thinkers, writers, inventors in the world allow their thoughts to carry them away, now and then,” he says. Mr. Spicer comes up with the perfect solution for Gabby that also encourages her classmates to take time to daydream–and to write. Lesson idea: reserve 15 minutes each day for a week, encouraging students to daydream and freewrite about their thoughts. (This title will be available September 2013.) (ISBN 9781590789858. Gr 3-6.)
Middle school students working to master essay writing often find such assignments boring and repetitive. Not necessarily, say editors Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe of Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays: Your Favorite Authors Take a Stab at the Dreaded Essay Assignment. Each essay is a response to a typical essay prompt, such as “Pick a myth or an urban legend and argue why it must be true,” “Write about a memorable encounter you had with someone you didn’t really know,” and “Compare and contrast two characters from the same story.” Authors such as Scott Westerfeld, Rita Williams-Garcia, Gigi Amateau, and Ned Vizzini contribute lively essays that truly demonstrate thinking outside the box when it comes to creative responses to essay prompts. Well written and widely varied, these essays are categorized by type (in an index), making it easy for teachers to find examples of the types of writing they want to focus on. Lesson idea: Have students each write three essay prompts on separate slips of paper. Put the prompts in a box and pull one out each week for an impromptu writing session. (ISBN 9781596437371. Gr 6-9.)
Other middle school titles about reading and writing: After Eli by Rebecca Rupp, Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy by Leonard Marcus, Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer.
High school students honing their skills at any facet of the writing process will enjoy the contemporary Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. The first part of the book focuses on narratives, essays, and memoirs, weaving in anecdotes from the authors’ own experiences and drawing from excerpts of prose written by a number of others. Later sections of the book discuss accuracy, style, writing as a career, and editing. The text is engaging and humorous, while providing insight and guidance into how to write well. Lesson idea: Talk with students about memorable first lines (see page 4). Ask students to think of a topic for each of the types of prose highlighted in the book and then write a unique and interesting opening line for an essay on the topic. (ISBN 9781400069750. Gr 9-up.)
Other high school titles about reading and writing: Bookmarked: Teen Essays on Life and Literature edited by Ann Camacho, Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers, The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher.