"Literature is the best stimulator for writing that I know. Make it a point to saturate your students with literature - all kinds - all the time"
(Frank, 1996, p. 76).
that Facilitate Writing**
The quality and appropriateness of the literature will have a direct impact on the quality of writing students produce. Books that are weak in appeal, are not at the appropriate age and interest level, or that are didactic will do little to inspire students to do their best writing. The language that books use is of vital importance and should compliment the type of writing students are being asked to do. If a descriptive writing assignment is being made, a piece of literature that exemplifies descriptive language would be the perfect match and provide students with a model for the type of language needed to complete the assignment.
A selection of literature needs to be made with the types of writing that students will be asked to do in mind. Writing is not synonymous with "story writing." Certainly, story writing is a common and popular form of writing in the classroom, but an entire writing curriculum built around only story writing would be inappropriate. Students should be introduced to other literary forms. The following are writing forms that offer diversity and opportunities for creativity:
- lists, captions, labels, design book jackets, bumper stickers
- invitations, announcements, messages, thank-you notes
- quotations, wise sayings, song titles
- editorials, speeches
- advertisements, jingles, T V commercials, wanted posters
- persuasive essays
- journals, logs
- character portraits
- rules for games, laws, directions
- word play, jokes, riddles
- scripts for plays
- parodies, alternate versions of traditional stories
In matching these writing forms to literature and grade levels, it is best to start with short, fun, and non-threatening writing activities (Frank, 1995). It is important for first attempts at writing to be successful and enjoyable experiences. An example of a first writing experience might include Judith Viorstís Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day (1972). This is an appropriate book for early elementary because it includes events that are common in most childrenís experiential background.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst, 1972).
1. Introduce book and author. Show other books by Judith Viorst and discuss her writing. (Notes: Many companies publish autobiographical and biographical information on popular childrenís literature authors.)
2. Read book aloud, pausing to allow students to make comments, clarify concepts, and ask questions.
3. Share a bad experience you have had and ask students if they would like to share one with the class. Allow a few students to share experiences.
4. Give students an opportunity to talk about some of the things that happened to Alexander. They can talk with a partner or in a small group.
5. Ask students to make a list of things that happen to them that cause them to have a bad day or that happen on a good day. Explain to students that adult writers make lists for lots of different purposes. The length of the list should be adjusted for grade level and development. Emergent writers might begin with pictures to illustrate a bad or good event and then add a couple of words (or letters).
6. Make a class book, poster, or bulletin board with studentsí writing.
7. Use these lists as springboard for stories. For example, a student who had a list of five things that make a day "bad" will probably have a story to tell about how each of those things happened to him or her. The list could be stapled in the front of a file folder as a prompt for future writing.
8. Alternate activities:
a. Write a recipe for the perfect gum. What would it look like? taste like? be made of? cost?
b. Make a list of all the wonderful things that should be included in breakfast cereal. Make a list of all the breakfast cereals you can think of. Make up new flavors and types of breakfast cereal. Design boxes and list nutritional values. Make a newspaper ad or TV commercial to advertise your new cereal.
c. Alexander wants to move to Australia. You get the idea that he thinks that if he lived in Australia he wouldnít have any problems at all. Discuss utopias.
Design your own utopia or perfect world. What would it be like? What are the rules there? Be very descriptive. Write a song or a poem about your creation.
d. Alexander has to sit in the middle seat of the car. Design a car that has a window seat for every passenger. Make a list of driving instructions.
e. Alexander draws a picture of an invisible sailboat. Make a list of all the things you wish were invisible. Describe all the things you would do and places you would go if you were invisible for one day.
f. Alexander left out the number sixteen when he was counting. Make a list of all the things of which you would like to have sixteen and all the things of which you are glad you donít have sixteen.
g. Alexander talks about a strawberry ice-cream cone. List all the types of ice-cream you can think of. Invent a new kind of ice-cream that no one has ever made before. What is in it? What makes it special? What unusual properties does it have? What will you call it? Make a flyer advertising it. Write a letter to the patent office announcing your new ice-cream flavor.
h. Write toothpaste companies telling them how much you like their toothpaste. Suggest new flavors to them. Ask for free samples or t-shirts. Send thank-you notes if you receive merchandise. Check the Internet for web sites of toothpaste companies. Send email messages to them commenting on their site and telling them things you would like to see there.
i. Alexander is upset because he didnít get a candy bar. Make a list of all the candy bars you can think of. Invent a new candy bar. What would it have in it? Why would people want to buy it? How much would it cost? Design a complete advertising campaign with a group of students. Each person could be responsible for a different type of media: newspaper, flyers, TV, radio, Internet, etc. You will need a brand name, logo, and jingle to promote your product.
j. Alexander gets blamed for something he didnít do. Think of a time and write a story about when you were falsely accused. How did you feel? How did the problem get resolved? What will you do differently if it happens again? Make a wanted poster for the person who is guilty of what you got blamed for.
k. Alexander gets stuck with plain white sneakers. Make a list of all the types of shoes people wear (in the U.S. and around the world). Design a new type of tennis shoe. What would it be made of? What special features would it have? How much would it cost?
l. Alexander made a mess on his dadís desk. Tell about a time you broke something or messed something up that belonged to someone else. Write a belated "Iím sorry" note to them.
m. Alexander has lima beans for supper. Make a list of all the vegetables you can. Make a list of all the foods you like or all the foods you hate. Design a menu for the worldís most perfect restaurant. What foods would you include? What would the "rules" of the restaurant be as they apply to people under eighteen years of age? Be sure to include all the food groups. Donít forget about specials - invent as many daily specials (with catchy names) as you can. Will you have delivery service? How much will the entrees cost? Desserts? Drinks?
n. Alexander witnesses "kissing" on TV. List all the TV shows you can. Put stars beside your favorites and xís beside the ones you dislike. Retell your favorite episode of your favorite TV show. Who is your favorite character on any TV show? Do a character portrait of that character. Tell everything you know about him or her. Find a friend in the classroom who has a different favorite person. Pretend your character suddenly finds himself or herself in your friendís favorite TV show. Have your friend read you the episode they wrote about. Discuss or write about how your character would have responded in that episode based on everything you know about your character. Find the web site for your favorite TV show (or the broadcasting company on which the show is aired). Tell the producers how much you like the character and why. Suggest future plots and scenarios you would like to see. Ask for an autograph or a picture of the character. Write a thank-you note if you receive anything.
o. Alexanderís bath time is not fun. Make a top ten list of all the reasons you hate taking a bath. Make a list of excuses that you can use on your parents to delay bath time.
p. Alexander has to wear railroad-train pajamas to bed. Write or tell about a time you had to wear something you really hated. Read Robert Munschís Thomasí Snowsuit (1988).
q. Alexanderís night light burned out. Being afraid of the dark is a common childhood phobia. Make a list of all the things that frighten people. Tell about something on the list that unnaturally frightens you. Make up a story that puts you in the situation with the thing or event that frightens you and tell how you survived the experience.
Older students might enjoy a book entitled, The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups by David Wisniewski (1998). This book is a satire on rules that parents and other grown-ups impose on children. Children are given lots of reasons for these rules, but this book allegedly reveals the truth. The front cover of the book resembles a file folder and is marked "top secret." Each rule is revealed by first telling the traditional excuse given for a rule and then turning the page displays the "real" reason for the rule.
The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups by David Wesniewski (1998).
1. Introduce book and author. Show other books by David Wisniewski and discuss his writing and award winning artwork. Share information about the Caldecott Award.
2. Read book aloud pausing to allow students to make comments, clarify concepts, ask questions, and laugh.
3. Share a rule from your childhood that you did not understand and ask students if they would like to share one with the class. Allow a few students to share insights.
4. Give students an opportunity to talk about rules, why we need them, the good ones, the bad ones. They can talk with a partner or in a small group.
5. Ask students to make a list of rules that we should keep and ones we should get rid of. Explain to students that adult writers make lists for lots of different purposes. The length of the list should be adjusted for grade level and development. Older students might make a list of laws instead of rules.
6. Make a class book, poster, or bulletin board with studentsí writing. Graph the top ten rules to keep and the top ten to banish.
7. Use these lists as springboard for stories. Students could recall times they have broken rules and suffered the consequences. The list could be stapled in the front of a file folder as a prompt for future writing.
8. Alternate activities:
a. In response to rule number 31, students could make a list of all the vegetables they can think of. Make a list of the ones they like and the ones they donít like. Let the ones they like be the good guys, the ones they dislike be the bad guys, and write a story or a cliffhanger with the vegetables as characters.
b. Rule number 37 refers to drinking milk. Students could make riddles, jokes, and puns related to cows or cow byproducts. Students could make a list of all words and terms related to cows and cow byproducts. Then they could make a list of all the words related to love, boyfriends, girlfriends, dating and so on. By substituting the words on the cow list for the words on the "love" list, students could write a letter to a sweetheart. (NOTE: Ground rules would have to be set for this activity.)
c. Rule number 42 refers to hair. Have students invent new hair products. Students need to accurately describe the new product and write a persuasive newspaper article praising the new invention or product. Other students could read the article and then write back with complaints about what happened when they tried to use the product. An arbitrator could decide which letters and claims were most convincing and award damages to the party who was most well represented in writing.
d. Rule number 62 refers to jumping on your bed and getting hurt. Students can share "war stories" about times that they have broken bones, have gotten stitches or have narrowly escaped death in some miraculous way. After sharing the stories, students could compile a list of "Warnings" for others to keep them safe. Students could fashion new types of signs that would display these warnings to others. Serious or noteworthy warnings could be sent to the city council for approval. Students could write councilpersons and make their case for the new ordinance.
Attached is a bibliography of books that serve as good language models, have stories that appeal to children, and are good prompts for writing (see attachment A). I would recommend that a school system take advantage of the hundreds of free Internet sites that feature childrenís literature and bibliographies. Many of these sites have accompanying teacherís guides and suggestions for classroom application of the literature. Other sites feature authors and provide background information about childrenís literature selections (see attachment B). Teachers also need a host of ways to publish students completed pieces of writing. Besides the traditional methods of bookmaking, hall displays, and bulletin boards, teachers may want to consider publishing students work on the Internet (see Attachment C). A student with work published on the Internet then has reason to use electronic mail capabilities and combine letter writing skills to notify family and friends about where they can view his or her work.
I would recommend that a school system interested in beginning a creative writing program identify the literature available to them, target the types of writing skills they would like for their students to learn, and provide teachers with the training they need to have students writing every day (see Attachment D for Teacher Resources). The focus should not be on teaching writing; it should be on teaching kids to be writers (Frank, 1995). Well-chosen literature matched with challenging writing prompts directed by well-trained and informed teachers, equals a creative literature-based writing program that should attract attention from administrators and parents, and effect the literacy development of students.
Burns, P. C., Roe, B. D., & Ross, E. P. (1988). Teaching reading in todayís elementary schools, 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Frank, Marjorie. (1995). If you are trying to teach kids how to write . . . youíve gotta have this book! Nashville: Incentive Publications.
Jan, L. W. (1991). Write ways: Modeling writing forms. Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia.
Munsch, R. (1985). Thomasí Snowsuit. Canada: D. W. Friesen & Sons.
Viorst, J. (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. New York: Scholastic.
Weaver, C. (1996). Teaching grammar in context. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Wisniewski, David. (1998). The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books.
World Wide Web. (1999). The writing process. Lingualinks Library: http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/mla/writing2.html .
Language Rich Books
John Henry (Caldecott Honor Book) by Julius Lester, Jerry Pinkney (Illustrator)
Aunt Nancy and Cousin Lazybones by Phyllis Root, David Parkins (Illustrator)
How Turtle's Back Was Cracked : A Traditional Cherokee Tale by Gayle Ross, Murv Jacob
Smoky Mountain Rose : An Appalachian Cinderella by Alan Schroeder, Charles Cendrillon Perrault, Brad Sneed
With a Whoop and a Holler : A Bushel of Lore from Way Down South by Nancy Van Laan, Scott Cook (Illustrator), Nancy Van Laan
Sports Pages Adoff, Arnold.. (poems about sports)
Tersery Versery Harrington, Anthony.. (8-line biographies)
Piggericks. Lobel, Arnold. (pig limericks)
If . . . Perry, Sarah.
Kids on the Block. "I'm in a Rotten Mood" "I'm the Single Most Wonderful Person I Know" Prelutsky, Jack.
Dan Mcgrew, Sam McGee. "The Cremation of Sam McGee" Service, Robert.
The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups Wisniewski, David..
Bright and Early Thursday Evening. Wood, Audrey and Don Wood.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 : A Novel by Christopher Paul Curtis
Holes (Newbery Medal Book, 1999) by Louis Sachar
Folk Literature & Myths and Legends
Dadey, Debbie. Shooting Star: Annie Oakley, the Legend.
Isaacs, Anne. Swamp Angel.
Lester, Julius. John Henry.
Wood, Audrey. The Bunyans.
Related Literature with Social Studies Applications
Bunting, Eve. Smoky Night.
Cherry, Lynne. The Armadillo from Amarillo.
Clark, Ann Nolan. In My Mother's House.
Schuett, Stacey. Somewhere in the World Right Now.
Ecology and the Environment
Bang, Molly. Chattanooga Sludge.
Base, Graeme. The Sign of the Seahorse.
Cherry, Lynne. A River Ran Wild.
Cherry, Lynne. The Great Kapok Tree.
Jordan, Martin and Janis. Journey of the Red-Eyed Tree Frog.
MacGill-Callahan, Sheila. And Still the Turtle Watched.
Mazer, Anne. The Salamander Room.
Carle, Eric. Animals, Animals.
Julivert, Maria Angels. The Fascinating World of... Spiders.
Lind, Alan. Black Bear Club.
Silverstein, Alvin, Virginia, and Robert. Eagles, Hawks,
Related Science Topics
Bisel, Sara C. The Secrets of Vesuvius.
Burns, Khephra and William Miles. Black Stars in Orbit.
Frasier, Debra. One the Day You Were Born.
Heller, Ruth. Color.
Sis, Peter. Starry Messenger.
Stevens, Janet. Tops and Bottoms.
Math Applications in Literature Form
Axelrod, Amy. Pigs in the Pantry.
Axelrod, Amy. Pigs will be Pigs.
Anno, Masaichiro and Mitsumasa. Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar.
Burns, Marilyn. The Greedy Triangle.
Clement, Rod. Counting on Frank.
Dee, Ruby. Two Ways to Count to Ten.
Friedman, Aileen. A Cloak for the Dreamer.
McGrath, Barbieri. The M&M's Counting Book.
McKissack, Patricia C. A Million Fish... More or Less.
Pinczes, Elinor J. A Remainder of One.
Schwartz, David M. If You Made a Million. Scieszka, Jon. Math Curse.
Children's Literature Online Resources
Kay Vandegrift, Rutgers School of Communication, Library and Information Science.
The Children's Literature Web Guide. David K. Brown, Doucette Library of Teaching Resources, University of Calgary, Canada.
Candlelight Stories: Hans Christian Andersen stories.
Hans Christian Andersen stories and biography.
Survey on the Usefulness of Language Arts-related Web Sites
Database of Award Winning Children's Literature by Lisa R. Bartle.
Multicultural Literature in the Elementary Classroom. ERIC documents.
The History of Illustrated books:
Brianna's Name That Book - great site
The Hornbook and Beyond: A Survey of Reference and Nonfiction Resources for Children
The Horn Book, Inc.
Winnie the Pooh's homepage.
Book reviews: Book List, Book Page, NY Times, Publisher's Weekly, etc.
Caldecott Winners History of the Caldecott Award.
Caldecott Winners - Great site with pictures of the Caldecott winners and Honor books divided by decade.
Caldecott Winners - List of winners and dates.
Children's Literature Webguide - Caldecott winners.
Caldecott winners - List by date.
Award Winning Books
Award Winning Books
Just for Kids - Award Winning Books.
Unique site to view (or purchase) original artwork by famous illustrators of children's books. Title of site: Every Picture tells a Story.
Jacqueline Briggs Martin's new Caldecott Winner: Snowflake Bentley.
Authors' and Illustrators' Pages
Another list of Newbery winners.
Newbery Books since the beginning.
Peter Rabbit Homepage.
Poetry Resources on the Internet
Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker: Ogden Nash Online
Edward Lear Homepage - Nonsense Poetry and Art
Lewis Carrol Home Page
Walter de la Mare (1873-1953) - biography, selected works
May Swenson - bibliography
Jack Prelutsky - biography, literary criticism, lesson plans, online poetry.
Web Sites for Publishing Children's Writing and other On-Line Resources