Shared Writing and the Classroom Novel

The popularity of fantasy adventure novels hasn’t dwindled since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Teachers capitalizing on this popularity can inspire student writing, without marking more pages than Lord of the Rings. Today, I’m going to talk about shared-world ‘novel’ writing. This is something I did with a class of gifted grade four students, but the format easily adapts to older students, all the way up to high school.

Design the architecture of the story a bit like a video game or a treasure hunt. The protagonists are searching for a special item, or group of special items that are keys to solve a puzzle, or which give magical powers to defeat an opponent. Each chapter depicts the protagonists’ search through a different world.

In the case of our student novel, World Pool, it began when a magic rock and a runaway science experiment tumbled our heroes into a series of water portals. The protagonists, a boy and a girl invented by the class in a chalkboard brainstorming session, moved from world to world having adventures. Don’t ask me how it worked scientifically. It was magic, and as long as the rules of magic are consistent in the story, your students can do just about anything.

Our intrepid heroes visited the soccer world, the stone age, the bronze age, the land of hockey, Formula 1 racing world, the magical jungle, a planet with heart-shaped people, and finished off by visiting the Wonderful Lizard of Paws…

When the chapters were edited, we collated them, photocopied, added a student-designed cover, and bound and distributed the finished product. If I were to do it again today, I would produce an ebook on Smashwords, and give the families a coupon code for unlimited free copies. That way there could be a colour cover, and the young authors’ families and friends could access their book worldwide, at no cost to the school.

If this idea inspires you, try holding a few shared-writing brainstorm sessions with your students. This is a fruitful process but it can’t be rushed. Every student needs to feel implicated in the planning, writing, and peer-editing. The process is as important as the final product, and helps create team spirit.

Suggested procedure:

  • Set aside a daily time for work on this intense project
  • Set behaviour guidelines which allow only constructive criticism, and limit brainstorming to positive comments
  • Discuss the format, story genre, and types of characters students want for their story
  • Collaborate on a story architecture that will allow each chapter to be written by a pair of writers, inspired by a topic of personal interest to them
  • Dividing into pairs also keeps the number of chapters down to 15 or so
  • set chapter length limits (word count or page limits)
  • The class will need to collectively map out the book’s outline, including how it ends before writing begins (I like to use chart paper to keep and display our decisions)
  • One pair will write the first chapter, in which the protagonists are drawn into the first portal
  • One pair will write the final chapter where the protagonists return, victorious!
  • Make it fun! Creativity can ‘turn turtle’ under pressure
  • You may want to discuss writing characters of the opposite sex in a realistic way, and use mixed writing pairs, to avoid sexist clichés
  • Have groups ‘sign up’ for topics to avoid repeats (ex. there shouldn’t be two candy world or vampire world chapters in the same book)
  • Pairs should be given plenty of class time to write, peer-edit, and revise their chapters before the teacher edits them
  • Good copies need to be typed by each pair and submitted to the teacher as a digital file (for printing or ebook conversion)

For more information on formatting ebooks for distribution on a variety of devices, you might like to look at the Smashwords website, or the Kobo Writing Life website. Kindle Direct Publishing sets limits on what you are allowed to publish for free. If creating an ebook for Kindle interests you, check out Amazon’s fine print, or produce your .mobi (Kindle) files via Smashwords.

 

Takatsu Cell Phone Novelist

Takatsu wrote the first North American cell phone novel. I met with him to speak about creativity, multimedia art, writing, and education reform. His current project, Espresso Love, is a Wattpad novel. You can look at the video trailer, which he produced himself using Animoto to add mysterious signs to the urban landscape. His multimedia productions include songwriting, stories, video and graphic arts.

Takatsu praised the rigour of the Japanese school system and the close relationships and teamwork inherent in Japanese culture. Paradoxically, the strictness and high expectations bring out students’ talents and develop their abilities. Takatsu says that by working inside such a strong box, students learn to think outside it.

The same students who work together on a rigorous curriculum during school, and then clean their classrooms together, must participate in one club after school. These clubs involve many hours of daily practice in one area chosen by the student according to interest and talent. Choices include music, sports, visual arts and drama. The creative or athletic skills developed last a lifetime. Takatsu laments that in North America, although many people have a passion for the arts, many forget their talents once they enter the workforce.

There is a place for teachers on platforms like Wattpad, according to Takatsu. Educators are needed for collaboration, to teach net etiquette and also to mentor and teach writing skills.

I hope you enjoy this interview in which Takatsu speaks passionately about art and education. You can find his multimedia projects at Takatsu.tk.

 

Creative Teaching Newsletter – Poetry Slam

The very first Creative Teacher Librarian newsletter has been sent. Subscribers will receive a mini unit introducing spoken word or ‘slam’ poetry. Tips, instructions, useful links and a Spoken Word Rules page are included. Lessons can be adapted for a wide range of ages from grade school to high school.

 

Back-To-School with Feeling: Poetry in September

Poetry gets a bad rap ;-). Quick, when you think of poetry, what comes to mind? Spring? Acrostics? Singsong rhymes? Archaic language?

Students tire of poetry if they associate it with sappy greeting cards or bygone eras or a cookbook approach that emphasizes rigid form over self-expression.

Don’t miss out because of old stereotypes. In September, poetry makes an excellent get-to-know-you and formative assessment tool. In a two or three week poetry unit, students will produce many short poems on different topics and in different forms, affording the teacher multiple chances to assess written and spoken language. The trick is to make it fresh and relevant for young people.

— from the September Newsletter

 

 

Make a Chapbook or Booklet – DIY Video

Getting Started with Chapbooks and Brochures

Give your students recognition for their excellent creative writing by publishing a short story anthology, or connect school and home with a booklet of favorite family recipes, or a homework guide for parents. From poetry chapbooks to collections of cartoons, publishing little books helps generate excitement for literacy. When you arrange a book launch for student authors and their families, their pride is palpable. I will never forget when one of my student’s poems was accepted into a school board anthology. It was gratifying to see her get recognized for her originality. You can create the same kind of emotion in your school, library or classroom.

Chapbooks are a well-respected form among poets, including professionals. Making a chapbook can be as easy as printing out a manuscript and photocopying. A simple chapbook can be formatted using software such as Word or Publisher. Once you have printed out the booklet, fold the paper in half to make your book. For added panache, add a separate cover using heavy stock before you staple it together.

To find simple instructions for designing a booklet, I searched the internet for templates. Unfortunately, a lot of the available templates are for tri-fold brochures or one-page flyers. In the spirit of DIY, here is a quick instructional video to get you started making chapbooks using Word for Windows 8. My version has a cover, an automatically generated table of contents, and odd and even page numbers. Click the link to watch the video: DIY Chapbook Video

I also found online instructions for making a chapbook using Windows 2002 as well as a YouTube video for using previous versions of Windows to make a booklet.