Write like a Book Author

A great way to encourage good writing is to have students write like a book author. Some of my favorite novel study writing activities require students to analyze sections of the author’s writing and mirror the style from a favorite passage in their own work.

At the end of the year, my students reviewed Lois Lowry’s descriptions of pleasant memories in The Giver. They recalled a favorite memory of their own and brainstormed verbs, adjectives, and other descriptive words that went with the special recollection. Using Lois Lowry’s description of a sled ride as a starting place, they wrote their own version of a personal memory. By following Ms. Lowry’s sample, the students were able to successfully practice descriptive writing at a high level.

Write-like-a-book-author

How to Write Like a Book Author

  • Describing a Person: Find an example of an in-depth description of a book character. Pull the descriptive passage(s) out of the book or story and remove key words. Replace the key words with a blank line and label the space with the type of word or part of speech that should go in the blank. Basically, build a literary Mad Lib. To see my Mother’s Day activity inspired by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and download a free activity page, CLICK HERE.
  • Describing a Place: I have a descriptive writing activity about the setting in my full novel unit for The Cricket in Times Square available HERE. Students read Chester’s description of Times Square in New York City and list the details about how this famous landmark looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes (the 5 senses) based on the author’s words. Then, students recall a place they have visited personally and describe the new place using their own word choices.
  • Describing a Memory: Find an example of an in-depth description of a scene. In my example from The Giver, it was a vivid description of one of The Giver’s memories. Using a handout like THIS ONE, have students brainstorm a list of adjectives, verbs, and nouns that relate to a chosen personal memory. Once the list is created, students return to the original passage in the story. Using the passage as a frame, students replace verbs, adjectives, and key phrases with their own words to create a unique writing sample that mirrors the professional writer but is their own ideas.
write-like-a-book-author

Using published writing as a starting place helps students build confidence in their writing abilities. If you create a Mad Lib style template, you can reinforce grammar skills at the same time since students need specific types of words to re-build the paragraphs. By creating word banks and brainstorming prior to writing, students stretch their vocabulary and practice word choice skills. This activity can also be used to reinforce the concept of “mood” in literature. You can ask students to change the feeling of a passage from happy to scary or sad to exciting. My students always find success when using a published author’s writing style as inspiration for their own writing.

To purchase my complete Giver novel unit with additional reading and writing activities, CLICK HERE!

write-like-a-book-author

Trading Cards with Students

Over the years, I have used trading cards with students in a variety of ways. It is a project that can be implemented easily with literature and history (or really any academic area). In the past, my students researched a historical figure and designed a trading card about the person; that assignment incorporated research and summarizing skills. Another option is to design a card for a character in literature. My favorite trading card assignment with my students happened this year. My language arts class designed Greek mythology trading cards. We then had a trading card party, and students calculated card values after the trades ended. I made the activity technology based to build in computer formatting skills, but it could be a handwritten project too. Whichever way you choose to incorporate trading cards into your curriculum, it will activate many skills.

Greek Mythology Trading Cards

Before starting your trading card assignment, look at traditional trading cards. You can look up samples online or have students bring in any collections they have to share with the group. Note basic features of the cards. Sports trading cards are the easiest to use as samples because they have a main picture, team symbols, stats, and some background information about each athlete. That format is easy to replicate with your history or literature information.

Trading Cards in the Classroom

Trading Cards for History

  • Not only can students research people, they can also create cards for famous locations or events in history.
  • Assign students a topic or let them choose. Provide some type of research handout like THIS ONE for students to take notes.
  • Students organize their facts into the trading card template and print. You could download, save, and use this semi-editable POWERPOINT TEMPLATE or design your own template. Printing on white cardstock is preferred because it is sturdier and looks more authentic.
  • Alternately, you can print a template like THIS ONE and students fill in information and illustrations by hand. **Set printer preferences to two-sided and print on short edge**

Trading Cards for Literature

  • Students consider traits of a main character related to a novel study from class. Using a character chart or a brainstorming page like THIS ONE, students organize notes about the character.
  • In place of character cards, students can design cards for the setting, theme, or important symbols from the story. Any aspect of the novel you are highlighting with students could have a card designed for it.
  • Like the history version, students either format their information in a trading card template on the computer or print and handwrite information into the cards.

Trading Cards in the Classroom

Trading Card Party

  • To extend the trading card activity, plan a trading party.
  • After all cards are complete, print two sets of cards. One set the students keep. The other set is for trading.
  • Create a point value system for the cards. With my group’s Greek mythology cards, Titan cards were worth the most, and mortals were worth the least. I also had a few cards that were worth extra points because there was only one available in the whole class. Students traded cards with each other for about 20 minutes; I revealed the value of the cards, and then we calculated how much their collection was worth. Students also totaled the value of their original set of cards. It was a great way to integrate a little math into the activity.

After the trading cards are finished, they become great flashcards for students to use to review for assessments. To see more ideas for the novel, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson including the book character trading card, visit my TEACHER STORE.

Trading Cards in the Classroom

Student Holiday Cards

My class is designing student holiday cards with a twist to give to family members and friends. The group started by designing a holiday scene on 8 1/2 x 11 cardstock. I got out my craft box, so students could create a mixed media scene if they wanted. Students used watercolor paints, colored pencils, markers, felt pieces, sequins, beads, yarn, and various other crafty supplies. The mixed materials give the backgrounds a 3-D effect in the final photo.

Holiday Scene Craftivity

Next, students thought about a good picture pose for their background and brought a few accessories to school like scarfs and mittens. I supplied things like Styrofoam balls (snow balls), wrapped boxes (festive gifts), and cocoa mugs (hot beverage) to add winter elements to the photos. A solid color wall on the school playground works well to quickly take single pictures. Since we were outdoors and only one person was having his/her picture taken, I was allowed to have students remove their COVID masks for the photo.

I edited the pictures to remove the backgrounds and saved the photos as PNG files with transparent backgrounds. I used the magnetic lasso tool in Photoshop but after much cursing and aggressive mouse clicking, I changed to the Photoshop pen tool and refined the edge. I recommend finding a YouTube video like THIS ONE to figure out the best way to remove the background from your photos.

The next step was to take pictures of each student’s holiday scene and upload the background scenes along with the posed pictures to the school’s shared drive. Students used a small foldover card template in MSPublisher. They inserted the individual posed picture on top of each holiday scene to design individual cards. They added personal messages on the inside.

Holiday Scene Craftivity

For an extra layer of good cheer, our music teacher helped us record the students singing a holiday song. We have been using GarageBand on an iPad for audio recordings. We designed new “group” background scenes and inserted multiple students into the pictures. You can use MSPublisher or PowerPoint to create a full page scene and then convert the finished pages into JPG image files. Both apps will easily save each page as a JPG file. The scenes were uploaded into iMovie and arranged into a video slide show. The recorded songs were added as background music. The short movie was uploaded to our school’s private YouTube channel. We were able to share the link to the holiday video through a QR code we pasted into the interior of each card.

Holiday Scene Craftivity

The finished cards have brought joy to all of us this holiday season. The bright colors and cheery faces of the students have made us smile. During these last few weeks of 2020, it has been nice to have a project that incorporated technology skills and some spatial thinking while also providing a little bit of a brain break. Use this process for holiday cards or some other area of your curriculum. I can imagine kids drawing a scene from a social studies unit and having students pose as historical characters or re-creating book scenes. There are many possibilities!

Holiday Scene Craftivity

For more winter craft ideas, try THESE TUNNEL POEMS or SNOW GLOBE TOPPERS.

Follow a Theme with Students

During group novel studies, it is helpful to have a strategy to follow a theme with students. I am working with middle school students this year. In order to have higher level discussions, students need to identify more sophisticated literary elements such as themes, symbols, tone, and mood.

I adapted an anchor chart idea I found while browsing Pinterest to encourage students to track a theme throughout our unit on Where the Red Fern Grows. I converted the idea to a printable chart with small Post-it notes students could keep in their binders. There are multiple themes in the story, so my students did not all have the same theme choice. The variety of theme choices enhanced our daily discussions.

Following a Theme

Identify Possible Themes

  • About a third of the way through the novel study, we reviewed the definition for theme.
  • I printed THIS THEME HANDOUT with information on the front about common themes in literature. Using the “starter list” students worked with a partner to identify possible themes for our unit of study for Red Fern. Due to COVID, students stayed in their desk space and talked to the student in the 6-feet-away-desk near them.
  • I presented the sample theme, a dog’s love, which we discussed as a group. Students named scenes that related to our key theme idea.
  • Next, students received Post-it notes in different sizes, attached the Post-its to the spaces on the chart for tracking a theme, and chose an additional theme for the book.
  • As we continued reading, students jotted scenes that reinforced their theme choice. Since we were using Post-its, students had the option to rearrange the notes if needed. Some students removed a Post-it and replaced with a different scene choice as we got further along in the story.
  • After we finished the book, and all scene spaces were filled, students wrote final thoughts. They considered what they had learned about the theme through their reading of the story.

Following a Theme

Materials for the Theme Chart

  • Print a class set of THIS THEME HANDOUT front and back.
  • You need 3 sizes of Post-it notes. The first space for the theme name is 1 1/2″ x 2″. The scene spaces are 2″ x 2″. The final long rectangular space is 3 1/2″ x 2 1/2″.
  • In order to make the largest Post-it note, I cut down lined 4″ x 4″ Post-it notes with a guillotine paper cutter.

Tracking a Theme chart

For another way to use Post-it notes in the classroom, CLICK HERE. To purchase novel studies with unique reading comprehension activities in each resource from my TpT store, CLICK HERE.

Tracking Student Progress

I love data, and I like to implement easy ways for tracking student progress during the year. I have grades and test scores, but I also need a system for recording daily observations and general student performance. A few years ago, I started keeping a plain manila file folder with Post-it notes inside for anecdotal or informal records about each student. Each time I grade longer writing assignments, observe students during group work, or make mental notes during instruction, I jot notes on a Post-it note, which I add to the student’s space inside the folder. When I am preparing for a parent meeting or creating report card comments, I have a personal resource to remind me about specific strengths and areas of focus for each student.

The Student Progress Folder

  • Create a 3″ x 3″ grid inside a manila folder. Measure from the center fold, so you won’t have any squares that straddle the fold line. I mark every 3″ down the center line first. I then move the ruler to the right side and left side and mark the 3″ spacing. After making the guide marks, I connect the dots to create the horizontal lines.

  • To create the vertical lines, place your ruler at the center fold in the top half of the folder space and make a few dots for guidelines every 3″ to the right and every 3″ to the left. Slide your ruler to the bottom half of the folder space and make another set of dots. Connect the dots to draw the vertical lines.

  • If your grid is 3″ x 3″, you will have ~22 usable spaces.  Where the notch on the folder dips, the grid space is smaller. My maximum class size is 18 students (lucky, I know), so the folder spaces work for my classroom. If you have a larger class and need more squares, plan to use smaller Post-it notes and adjust your grid measurements.
  • Print labels or write names in each grid space. I create this folder at the beginning of the year when I am labeling class supplies and textbooks. I usually have extra labels that I can use.

  • My school keeps 3″ x 3″ Post-it notes in our teacher supply area. I like to have a little gap around the edges of the sticky notes, so I use the guillotine paper cutter in the teacher workroom and cut a stack of Post-its down to 2.5″ x 2.5″. And yes, you may comment about my tendencies to be a little OCD. You could also purchase the 2″ x 2″ size or even the slightly smaller 1 1/2″ x 2″ size.
  • Begin adding notes to each square. I might only add one small note at a time and keep adding to the same Post-it note over several weeks. Or, I might need many notes stuck on top of each other. By the end of a grading period, some students have multiple stacked notes, and some kids only have a few.

Suggestions for Tracking

  • When you grade projects or larger writing assignments, add short thoughts about trends in each student’s completed work. Did the student struggle with time management or working independently? Did the student work well in a group or have evidence in the finished project of good higher level thinking?
  • Note details about independent reading choices, pace to complete a book, comprehension overall based on his/her comments when the book is completed.
  • As you listen to students read aloud, what are impressions about fluency or word attack skills?
  • Monitor organizational skills and how a student transitions from class to class or teacher to teacher, you may have notes about executive functioning areas for a student.
  • Since I am a language arts teacher, I tend to make notes about writing mechanics and writer’s voice. For math teachers, you may detect weaknesses or strengths with certain skill areas. When you see pockets of need with a handful of students, it can help you plan mini lessons to reinforce specific topics or give you inspiration for an enrichment idea.
  • Observations about peer relations can be added too. I find I add items about general behavior– fidgety, frequent water breaks, stomach hurts every day after lunch, tardy to school…

I have other charts I keep too. They are plain and simple like the student progress folder but help me log parent contact or unusual student behaviors (more than what I might note with the quick Post-it note system). I also have gradebook style grids that I use for different class checklists. To download my teacher binder materials for free from TpT, CLICK HERE.