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
A few years ago, my students designed a Facebook page for a favorite character in the book, Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise. I was surprised how much critical thinking was involved. The students needed to pick a significant scene from the story, summarize it from the point of view of a character in the form of a Facebook post, and then respond to the post from the point of view of a different character.
It was challenging for students to think about one story event from several angles. The finished writing activity reveals quite a bit about a student’s understanding of events in the story, character traits, and character interactions and motivations. It is a short activity but packed with reading skills, and the results are completely entertaining! It also had the bonus of incorporating technology skills since my students completed the Facebook page digitally.
I recently assigned the activity again, and it did not disappoint. My students were in three separate reading groups this time around, but all students completed the Facebook page based on a character from their assigned book. It is such an easy activity to adapt to any novel study.
In my classroom, I inserted the blank FACEBOOK TEMPLATE that I designed as a background in a PowerPoint slide and then added text boxes as placeholders on top of the background. I shared the template with my students, and they clicked in the text boxes to add their writing. They also inserted pictures, used bullet points, and changed font sizes (potentially tricky technology skills for 4th graders).
For younger students or classrooms/homes without computer or printer access, the activity could be handwritten using THE TEMPLATE. The basic Facebook page with the text box outlines can be printed, and students draw profile pictures and neatly write posts, likes, and replies.
The samples above are related to the novels, Dying to Meet You, Love That Dog, and Hate That Cat. Complete novel units are available for purchase in my teacher store. Click the book names to see more details about the novel studies.
The three dreaded pieces of a reading assignment to any student. Most students take a stab at a word in the first sentence to find topic and main idea and then pick something from the middle for a detail. There’s a 50/50 chance they will get partial points using that strategy. Well, hold on to your hats; I have a better way.
I attended another professional development class from my favorite source for good reading strategies– KUCRL. This time, I got some tips for helping students identify topic, main, idea, and detail.
To find the topic of a paragraph or article, use the sentence prompt, “This paragraph/article is about _____.” The one or two words that complete the sentence is the topic. If a student is still lost, the topic will often appear in the title and/or first or last sentence of the paragraph, so look there while using the prompt.
To find a main idea within a paragraph, locate the topic first. Then ask yourself, “What does this paragraph tell me about the topic?” Insert your topic at the end of the question. The answer to your question is the main idea.
To find important details, use the main idea. Ask yourself, “What is specific information about the main idea?” Insert your main idea at the end of the question. The ideas that answer the question are the key details.
Read the paragraph and give it a try.
Topic: This paragraph is about ice cream sundaes.
Main Idea: What does this paragraph tell me about ice cream sundaes? This paragraph talks about sundae ingredients. The main idea is ice cream sundae ingredients.
Details: What is specific information about the ingredients? Key details are ice cream flavors, sauces, and different kinds of toppings.
These prompts help with standardized test preparation for reading comprehension. They also work well when looking for the important “stuff” while reading textbooks. Finally, this is a great way to pick out the essential information in any non-fiction reading assignment. It provides a structured way for students to weed out non-important details and zero in on the meat of the text in order to take notes for research projects or preparing for class discussion and tests.
If you are looking for teaching materials that help with these skills, visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to purchase activities that reinforce reading skills like topic, main idea, details, and paraphrasing.
Gather round readers. I am about to reveal a handful of literature gems. Each year, I teach about six novel studies with the whole class. We complete activities related to the book that hopefully enhance reading comprehension and improve critical thinking and writing skills. I have a wide range of readers, so I have to be careful with my book and activity choices. The plot of the book and writing assignments must be accessible to my lower readers but keep the higher readers engaged.
Below is a list some of my favorite literature activities. I am hoping you educators might see a novel idea (see how I slipped in that play on words?) that you could use in your classroom this year. But, I always need new ideas to keep things interesting. Do you have any suggestions for me?
Point of View Journals
After reading the first chapter of a book, each student selects one of the main characters. I ask them to re-tell the chapter from the point of view of the selected character. We share samples with the whole class and compare the differences in the re-telling. Why is one character’s story different from another? The students complete this task for every chapter, writing 4-5 sentences per chapter. The students stick with the same character throughout the book. Once students make their character choice, they may not change.
Give each student a ledger sized piece of white copy paper (11×17). Legal paper will work too; letter sized is too small. Dip a tea bag in cold water for several minutes, carefully squeeze out excess water, and “paint” the entire piece of paper until it is a tannish color. Let paper dry. When it is dry, it will be this nice crinkly texture and look like parchment paper.
The students then create a map of the setting of the novel. For THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis, students have to search for passages in the book that give clues about where key locations are in the story. They use the clues to build a map of Narnia. This is HARD for 4th graders! I have a Narnia Map Handout, and we do the first few locations together. Students are then allowed to work in pairs. In THE WHITE MOUNTAINSby John Christopher, the main characters travel from England to the Swiss Alps, but it is in the future after an alien invasion. Readers must use descriptions in the book and knowledge of maps of Europe to piece together the route the main characters take (used this with 6th graders).
I have also used the antique paper with an activity for THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. After researching pharaohs, students pretended they were a pharaoh. They created a name and wrote a description of their life as a pharaoh on the antique paper. If you have laser printers, you can print the story, then stain it with the tea bags. Ink jet printed papers will smear.
Amazon Book Listing
Students design an Amazon book listing for THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies. The students wrote a catchy book summary and included basic book information. They also provided a “star” rating and provided three additional book suggestions in the “Frequently Bought Together” section, so we built a book recommendation list at the same time.
We read a few sections of THE MISSING GOLDEN TICKET by Roald Dahl. This is a great book to kick off discussions about the writing process. It includes a chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with an additional nasty character that Dahl edited out. My students design their own rotten child with a bad habit (a la the Chocolate Factory characters) and build a CHARACTER RESUME for that character. Not only does it help with characterization, it also is a good way to teach word processing skills.
This will work with any novel. I have used it with DANNY, THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD by Roald Dahl. This is a culminating activity after finishing the book. The students create a DANNY NEWSPAPER with 3 articles. The first article is a feature article with quotes. The students must think like a reporter and write a description of the climax scene of the story. They imagine what the main characters might have said on the scene and incorporate quotes from the characters that fit. The second article is an editorial about whether it is acceptable to poach or not. The third article is a book review. The students create the paper in MS Word and use a variety of word processing skills– section breaks, borders, column changes. All of my students’ finished products are pretty impressive.
Look at copies of your local newspaper before starting this assignment. Note common layout details on the newspaper and incorporate those into the assignment– newspaper name, date, volume number, author byline… Also note the writing style in a paper. Important facts are in the first paragraph followed by lesser details.
I have many low prep, high engagement novel units available in my teacher store. Click the bold novel titles above to be linked to the resource listing, or CLICK HERE to see the full list.