Your Protagonist—in Costume: Reading Response Exercise #60

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Today is Halloween. If the protagonist (main character) of the novel you are reading were invited to a costume party, what would he or she be most likely to dress up as? Why?

Write down or discuss your responses with your reading partners.

Preschool Literacy:

Enjoy a picture book with your little one. Talk to him what kind of costume he plans to wear tonight. Then ask her what she thinks the main character of the story would dress up as for the evening’s fun.

Optional: flip through magazines or search through clip art and make a collage of costumes the two of you think would be a good choice for the protagonist of the story.


A Scene, A Conflict, A Train: Play With Your Words Writing Prompt #45

Write a scene that ends with the words:

“The train roared on into the night.”

Your scene can have any characters, any setting, any conflict you want to imagine. When you are done, share what you’ve written with your writing partners. Compliment one another on the vividness of the setting, and the level of tension and conflict, both in action and thought.

Proud of what you’ve done? Then please share your scene as comment. I would love to read it.

NaNoWriMo: The 2011 Challenge

This summer, I decided I would participate in NaNoWriMo this year. What’s NaNoWriMo? It’s both an oraganization that promotes and the actual act of taking part in National Write a Novel in a Month month.

Up until just a week or so ago, I was VERY excited. I planned to write the rough draft of a novel for which I’ve been gathering ideas for several years. (Maybe more than several?) Recently, say the last two years, I’ve been living in Revision World, focusing on revisioning and preparing for submissions novels I had previously been content to stuff in drawers so I could just write another one. But this November, I decided, I would let myself write something new.

Then a funny thing happened. Week by week, day by day, as November 1 has approached—Day 1 of NaNoWriMo— frantic thoughts flash through my mind. “Am I ready? I haven’t developed the character of my protagonist yet! I haven’t done enough world-building! I haven’t made a map—a massively time-killing, awfully fun activity! Yikes! Just one week to go!”

Now here I sit, less than 1 week to go and I’m wondering, “Can I do it? Do I have enough ideas? Can I do a good job?”

Why do I keep forgetting that I usually write my rough drafts in four to six weeks? Why should I feel troubled that I might not get it done by the end of November? Do I have some kind of vindictive boss standing over me with a whip? Have I ever not finished a novel I started and believed in?

Silly, silly me.

I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo, but a good friend has reminded me quality writing is not quantity of pages finished in x amount of time. Can I write my rough draft in a month? Maybe.

Do I need to beat myself up is I don’t? Nope.

First and foremost I need to serve the story. If I can finish my rough draft in a month, great. If I don’t, it’s not like I can’t keep working on it December 1 and any day I wish thereafter.

Thus, I am at last ready to embark on the writing adventure of NaNoWriMo, and the only thing that matters is that I stay true to my vision for the novel and enjoy the journey.

What about you? Anyone out there going to try their hand at NaNoWriMo?

The Influence of Gender in Reading: Reading Response Exercise #59

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read. How does your gender influence your response to and interpretation of the passages you just read?

Write down or discuss your responses with your reading partners.

What gender biases do you as a group conclude you must be aware of in processing your reading?

Tell Me a Good Dog Story: Play With Your Words Art Prompt #7

What’s this pair up to, and who are their furry friends?

Write a story about these dogs. It can be from the dogs’ point of view, an owner’s point of view, their toys’ point of view, or anyone else’s.

When done, share what you’ve written with your writing partners. Compliment the strengths in one another’s writing. Share what you enjoyed most about the story. And please, share your story as comment. Who knows? You may inspire someone else to give it a try.

Preschool Literacy:

Show your preschooler the picture of the dogs on your computer screen.

Ask your child to tell you a story about them. Help him to get started if he needs it. Type out the story as she dictates it. When you are done, read back what he or she has said, pointing to the words on the screen as you say them to reinforce the one to one correspondence between written and spoke word.

For fun, print out the picture and the story and post them somewhere others can enjoy them.

This picture was featured in the Martha Stewart Pets/PetSmart ad in the October 2011 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

A Greek and Latin Roots Review Exercise—Roots for Early Dismissal Vocabulary Exercise

One of my students’ favorite ways to review their Greek and Latin roots was to play “Roots for Early Dismissal.”

  • What do you need to play?
  • The list of the week’s roots and review roots
  • Popsicle sticks or slips of paper with your students’ names on them
  • A container to hold the names

How do you play?

Give your students enough time to clean up and gather their stuff so you will have about 2-3 minutes before the bell rings. Do not start the play until everyone is sitting quietly in their seats with their things, ready to go.

Draw a name and say a root. If that student provides a definition for the root, she may leave. If she can’t, continue to draw names until someone finally defines it and leaves. Only allow students five-ten seconds to define the root before you move on to a new student.

Once one root has been defined, proceed to a new name and the next root on the list.

When you come to the end of the root list just go back to the beginning and keep playing until the bell rings.

My students loved the opportunity to get out of class early, even if it was only a few seconds, so they were all eager to participate in the game. And students who had not yet learned their roots benefited from hearing their classmates correctly define them.

The pace moved so fast there was not much time for any one student to be embarrassed if he missed a root, and students who needed the practice sometimes got a second chance to play and experience success–if they had been listening.

So give it a try. I’ll guarantee “Roots for Early Dismissal” will become a favorite in your classroom as it did in mine.

Travel Writing/Setting Brochure: Reading Response Exercise #58

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Get out a pencil and paper, and art supplies if you feel inspired.

Write the text of a travel brochure (or make an actual three-fold brochure) based on an important setting from your reading. Be sure you describe the:

  • Geography
  • Weather
  • Major cities
  • Attractions
  • Methods of transportation
  • Form of government
  • Economy
  • Currency,
  • Dining and lodging options

Also, provide a list of what the traveler would need to bring along when visiting this place.

Share your brochure with your reading partners.

Preschool Literacy: After enjoying a story together, talk about its setting with your preschooler. Was it indoors or outdoors? What was actually there where your story took place.

When done, get out a paper and art materials or magazines for cutting up, and draw a picture or make a collage of the setting of the story.

Revising: Tighten your Text/Play With Your Words Writing Prompt #44

Freewrite a page on any topic, any genre, or select a page from something you have recently written but not fully edited and revised.

Count how many words on this particular page. Divide that total by ten.

Now go over the page and cut that number of words from the text. Yes. Cut 10%.

There are sneaky little things you can do like:

  • cross out the words “that” and “then” wherever possible
  • change passive to active voice (instead of, “She was going to the store,” write, “She drove to the store)
  • get rid of unnecessary adjectives or adverbs by using more precise nouns and verbs.

When done, read it to yourself. Can you feel the potency of the words that remain? Is there more power and dynamism to what you have written?

Share your piece (both the before and after) with your writing partners. Compliment one another on the positive changes you have made.

SCBWI Oregon Fall Retreat

I spent this past weekend—plus the Thursday and Friday that preceded it—at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Oregon Chapter’s Fall Retreat at the Silver Falls State Park Conference Center. As always (I’ve been a regular attendee for almost twenty years) it was an outstanding event. The combination of workshops, presentations, quiet time to think and write, a stunning forest environment, and fantastic food made this event, as always, a treasured highlight in my year.

Speakers this year were:

  • Karen Grencik, who led a workshop in “Finding your Authentic Voice and Writing from the Heart” and taught us all that we can be poets
  • Michele Torrey, who shared techniques for the various stages of revision in “Navigating the Rewriting Road”
  • Ellen Hopkins, who discussed and provided an exercise for finding character motivation in her talk “So What?”
  • Emma Dryden, who led us through an alien new publishing world in “Traversing the Digital Landscape: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed”
  • And
  • Suz Blackaby, who provided our Sunday morning, before-you-return-to-the-real-world motivation in a talk entitled “Pitfalls and Promises, Get Going and Set Goals”

I returned home with an enhanced understanding of myself as a writer, some new ways of looking at my work as I go through the process of revision, a new tool for helping me better understand and create consistent characters, and goals for October, November, and December, not to mention an opportunity to submit my novel for middle school readers to agent Karen Grencik.

I also came home having enjoyed old friends (who like me were “repeat offenders”) and made many new.

We laughed a lot, talked a lot, and learned a lot—and not just from the speakers. One woman I visited shared a screenwriting technique for character development that is going to help me make sure I have multi-dimensional minor characters in my stories, in addition to well-rounded protagonists.

I am eager to get to work on my next revision project and to write a new novel in November during NaNoWriMo.

Thank you Robin, Judi, and our whole SCBWI Oregon Board for an awesome retreat!

Theme/Truths the Author tries to Tell: Reading Response Exercise #57

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

What does it seem the author is trying to tell you through his story? What truths about the world or the human heart does her tale reveal?

What are the clues in the story that led you to this conclusion?

Write down or discuss your responses with your reading partners.

Preschool Literacy: Enjoy a story together. When done, as your preschooler if he or she learned anything from the story. Ask what she learned and how the story helped him to learn it. Enjoy your discussion.