Author Inspiration

I love getting to the end of a book and reading an author’s note that provides insight into the story’s inspiration. The story is classified as fiction, but there is a seed or small moment that the author used as a starting point to create a character or event. Most recently, Miss Priss and I read Curtain Up by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach. At the end of the book, Wallach explains that, like the main character in the story, she too started a theatre company in her neighborhood as a teen. That real-life experience inspired the book.

After reading The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, I found an article where Davies explained that her two children were arguing over who had the rights to the driveway for a lemonade stand, and the idea for a lemonade war was born.

Kate Klise, the author of Dying to Meet You, responded to a letter from my students and shared some background information on her book. She told us that she read a newspaper article about an elderly couple who were selling their house with all of the contents including the dog. From that article, Klise was inspired to write a story that would include a house for rent. If you rented the house, you agreed to “rent” the owners’ child as well.

Now that most authors have websites or author’s notes at the end of books, it can be easy to locate the answer to the question, “How did the author get the idea to write this book?” Hunting down the answer to the question is a great way to inspire interest in a book or author, and it has been a great way for me to motivate readers. It also shows students how writers gather ideas and encourages students to analyze small moments in their daily lives and use that as inspiration to start writing.

Here is a short list of books that have interesting backstories into why the author decided to write his/her story. Use THIS ACTIVITY PAGE to have your students complete an author inspiration scavenger hunt to learn how or why an author created a character or plot line in their novel.

  • Curtain Up (Stagestruck series) by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord
  • Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Frozen Fire by James Houston
  • Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
  • Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
  • Blood on the River: James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone
  • Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

If you want to hear from the author directly, use this freebie CONTACTING BOOK AUTHORS ACTIVITY.

 

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Sharpie Paint Pen Teacher Hack

Even though I did not want to do it, I returned to my 4th grade classroom for some final clean up from the school year. My main objective today was to remove the semi-permanent names on the corners of the desks.

In the past, this has been a little bit of a chore because I use Sharpie Paint Markers, medium point, to write student names on each desk, and it does not wipe off easily. That was the point when I started using the Sharpie Paint Markers– they did not wipe off easily. I was so frustrated with laminated paper name tags that were torn, bent, doodled on, and peeled apart by the third week in August. The Sharpie Paint Marker names hold no interest for the students. They can’t wipe them off. They can’t wrinkle or peel them apart. The names are smooth and flush with the desk surface, so students papers don’t rumple, bend, or tear them. They are practically perfect except when you need to remove or change the name.

I tried a few paint pen removal methods, and Goof Off really works the best. Unfortunately, you practically asphyxiate yourself by the end of the job because of the fumes. However, TheRoomDad came through on this one (accidentally) because when I sent him to Lowe’s for a new can of basic-original-classic Goof Off, he returned with a spray bottle of Goof Off Adhesive Remover Gel. The smell is not as deadly, and it worked as well as regular Goof Off to get the paint pen off the desks.

I have two groups of students who move through my room every day, so I color code my desk names. Blue is one class group; red is the second class group. The names are easy to read and stay bright and clear even when I wipe the desks down. When I do need to change names on the desks, I can wipe one name away or both names using the Goof Off. The paint pen names have been a great teacher organizational tool that reduce mess in my classroom.

To Remove Sharpie Paint Marker Names:

  • Spray Goof Off Adhesive Remover Gel on dried paint pen and wait a minute.
  • Wipe in circles (scrubbing motion) with a dry paper towel.
  • Wipe up the gel off the desk.
  • Wipe the entire desk with a Clorox wipe or other cleaning solution (or even a wet paper towel).
  • Repeat if necessary.

   

When You Don’t Have Goof Off:

  • Scribble over the dried Sharpie paint pen with Expo marker.
  • With a damp paper towel or Clorox-type wipe, rub the Expo and Sharpie paint pen away. This method takes longer.
  • Repeat as necessary.

    

 

End of Year Teacher Gift

If you are new to TheRoomMom, you may not know about a fixation I have for teacher gift giving. I love putting together small appreciation gifts for my children’s teachers throughout the year. For our end of year teacher gifts, I don’t even pretend to think about new ideas any more. We repeat the scratch off lottery ticket gift that we have been giving to the teachers and staff at our school for the past three years.

The part we do change is the receptacle we use to deliver the lottery ticket. This year we made mini pocket folders with cardstock weight scrapbook paper. They are easy to make, and it was fun choosing the paper and coordinating washi tape.

Mini Pocket Folder Materials

  • stiff scrapbook paper (5 1/2″ x 12″)
  • tool to score paper (I have THIS ONE)
  • double sided tape in an E-Z dispenser, .27″ width (like THIS)
  • scissors
  • labels (~2″ x 2″)

Directions

  • Set the paper in a landscape direction. Using the tool to make score lines on your paper, press a line at 2 3/4″, a line at 6″, and a line at 9 1/4″. Fold the paper in half along the 6″ score line. Open the paper and fold the two outer edges towards the middle. The decorative side of the paper should be on the outside.

  • Near the top of one flap, trim the corner. Start about one inch from the outer fold at the top of the paper and cut down at an angle to cut a triangle. Take your triangle scrap and flip it over to use as a guide to cut the triangle on the other side of the folder.

  • Run an adhesive strip at the bottom of the paper on the outer flaps.

  • Press the flaps down to attach the bottom of the paper together to form the pocket.
  • Stuff the pocket folder with your materials. We filled with three $1 scratch off lottery tickets, but the pocket folders are a good size for gift cards or even a thoughtful note.
  • Attach a label on the front cover. I printed Avery 2″ x 4″ labels and cut the sides down to make the labels ~2″ x 2″. You could also print on plain paper, cut apart, and glue to the front of the pocket folder.
  • Seal the folders closed with a piece of washi tape or a sticker.

To see my other ideas for making lottery ticket– or gift card– holders, CLICK HERE or HERE or HERE.

Greek Salad

I live in South Carolina where the weather changed from almost uncomfortably warm to hot and humid some time last week. During the oppressive heat season, the only foods that appeal to me are fresh and crunchy and light. As a result, we have been eating variations of a Greek salad quite a bit lately.

The reason I love the Greek salad so much is because of the dressing. When you search Greek salad dressing recipes, there are many options. I took a few recipes that were similar and combined parts using the herb combination I liked best. The finished dressing is tart and tastes great with steak or chicken. If you are looking for a light summer meal, put together a chopped Greek salad. Leave the dressing off and make some individual portions to bring to school or the office for your teacher or work lunch. Add the dressing when you are ready to eat.

Dressing Ingredients

  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
  • ~1 t. salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 t. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 5 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 t. dried basil leaves
  • 1 t. dried oregano leaves

Salad Ingredients

  • Romaine lettuce, chopped (enough for people you will be serving)
  • peeled cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • grape tomatoes halved or quartered
  • thinly sliced purple onion
  • crumbled feta cheese
  • grilled steak or chicken, thinly sliced
  • pita chips

Directions

  • Mix together dressing ingredients and shake in a jar or use a whisk to combine. Set aside.
  • Put chopped lettuce in a serving bowl. Top with cucumbers, tomatoes, and purple onion.
  • Mix salad dressing again if it has separated and pour over salad. Toss well until ingredients are covered evenly with dressing.
  • Sprinkle feta crumbles on top.
  • Serve with sliced meat and pita chips.

Notes

  • Other ingredients you could add are calamata olives or mild banana peppers.
  • I like my lettuce chopped into small pieces because I think it tastes better that way. The dressing really covers well.
  • This makes a great teacher lunch. Assemble in individually sized tupperware with the dressing on the side. Pour the dressing over when ready to serve, put the lid on firmly, and shake.

For more great salad options, read about my favorite FRIED CHICKEN SALAD or TACO SALAD.

Writing Tall Tale Short Stories

It’s the end of the school year. I don’t have time to start and finish a quality novel with my students and complete reading comprehension and writing activities to support good “thinking” about the book. We get interrupted often during the last few weeks of school, and I don’t have reliable blocks of time. To maintain continued reading instruction, I switched over to short stories. Tall tale short stories to be specific. They are hilarious, and we have loved every minute of it.

One of the key traits in a tall tale is the use of exaggeration or hyperbole. Hyperbole is used to solve the story problem in a funny way. To really cement the tall tale characteristics in the students’ minds, they are writing their own tall tales. We will add their creative stories to our end of year writing portfolio as the final writing piece. It will be the perfect fourth grade writing finale!

To get the students started, we brainstormed everyday problems students might have. The students had lots of ideas. There is the common problem of not wanting to do weekly chores at your house (inspired by Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout by Shel Silverstein and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books). We have school problems such as bookbags that are too heavy or teachers who give too much homework (inspired by A Fine, Fine School by Creech). We also discussed pet problems (inspired by Those Darn Squirrels! by Rubin).

Once students had a place to start, they completed THIS BRAINSTORMING PAGE to gather their ideas and map their story plot. Students identified key events in their story and then made choices about how they could exaggerate the events to create humor. Using a side by side chart to outline the story plot helped the students maintain a believable “voice” while writing. It reduced the likelihood of a story that was so ridiculous that the reader lost the meaning. I’ve been conferencing with the students, and while there are some stories that are more successful than others, most make me laugh out loud.

To download my tall tale creative story brainstorming page, a rubric, and lined paper that could be used to handwrite the story, CLICK HERE.

To see the tall tale stories we used and to purchase activity ideas for tall tales, CLICK HERE to visit my teacher store.

Extension Idea

  • We typed our essays in MS Word, so I was also able to incorporate a lesson on formatting a document. Students changed font and font size. They centered the title and changed the spacing to double space. They also added images and learned about wrapping text around an image.