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.
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.
- 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.
Sentence strips have so many good classroom uses that go beyond simply practicing handwriting and beginning sentences. I use sentence strips in my upper elementary classroom to create timelines. The paper Sentence Strips are a great length and width, and they already have a straight line printed on them.
One type of timeline we complete shows the years the various explorers reached the New World. Our textbook organizes the explorers by country, so students read about Marco Polo (Italy) first. Then, move over to Portugal, followed by lots of Spanish guys, and end with England, France, and the Netherlands. The format of the book makes it seem like Spain did all of this conquering and then other people sailed across the Atlantic and explored the northeast coast of North America and Canada last. I had my students create an explorer timeline, so we could see that after Marco Polo’s great journey, the explorers of the Americas were actually all sailing and conquering at about the same time.
Another type of timeline we made showed the span of events in a story. A few books we read take place over a short amount of time with a lot of action built in. In the sample below, students used clues in the novel, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, to identify the exact time from the beginning of the story to the great pheasant hunt party at the end. It is nice for the students to visualize how quickly or slowly characters are solving a problem.
Story timelines are also a great tool when a story has a flashback element or the narrative order is different than the time order. The students can see the actual time of events and compare it to their reading. The Odyssey is a great example of a story that is told out of time order (in medias res), and it is easy to confuse the reader. I used the sentence strip timeline with 9th graders to summarize key events in time order of The Odyssey, and it was really helpful.
Building a Timeline
- Gather your information in notes or a chart like this EXPLORER TIMELINE NOTES PAGE. Identify the first date and the last date that will appear on the timeline. Determine the time span and then add a few years before the first date and after the last date, so there will be space at the beginning and end of the timeline.
- The sentence strips are 24″ in length. The next step is to determine the increments of time along the strip. This is the part that can confuse kids. Their first reaction is to list each event in order on evenly spaced lines, but the point of a timeline is to show how close or far apart events happened from each other. Your group will need to add, subtract, divide, and measure to determine the spacing and increments of time on your timeline. Creating the spacing on the timeline is great measuring and counting practice.
- If you note that there is a break in activity for many years, you can jump over years using a dividing line. Create a “broken timeline” by drawing a wavy line indicating a jump over years. In the image below, you can see a break near the beginning and end of the strips where we had a span of years with no events. It allowed more space in the middle years to add information we needed.
The finished timelines give a great overview of a topic in history or key events in a story. It allows students to make generalizations about a topic and synthesize several pieces of information as well as incorporate math skills. Students need more practice reading charts, tables, and graphs, so they can draw conclusions about any data presented. When students are reviewing big chunks of information at the end of a unit of study, have them create a chart or table of some kind to help visualize similarities, differences, and recall big ideas.
If Montezuma had an Instagram account, what would he say when Cortez arrived in 1519? My fourth graders have some ideas. We are finishing our study of the conquests of the Inca and Aztec empires and have been reading about Cortez, Pizarro and the events that took place in the 1500s when the Spanish arrived in Mexico and Peru. Students took the information they had about Cortez’s encounter with the Aztecs and Pizarro’s contact with the Incas and created Instagram posts from the point of view of the leader, the conquistador, and a common citizen or soldier. The students wrote comments that shared knowledge of the time period as well as demonstrated point of view and perspective.
In order to create the Instagram posts, I shared a template with the students in PowerPoint. It had a permanent background with text boxes layered on top. The students clicked in the text boxes to create the usernames and three comments.
The first comment was from the Inca or Aztec leader. The second comment was from the conqueror, and the last comment was from a person who would have been at the scene. The students were also allowed to create related hashtags.
After students typed their comments, they printed the Instagram post. I set up the template, so the Instagram post filled the left side of the paper only.
Using a paper cutter, I cut the paper into a strip about 4 1/4 inches wide. I also trimmed about 1/2 inch off the top. I cut colorful construction paper into strips that were 4 3/4 x 11 inches. With scissors, the students rounded the corners of the construction paper. They also had the option of rounding the corners of the printed Instagram post. They glued the Instagram post to the construction paper centering the white strip closer to the top of the paper. With a Sharpie, the students drew a circle for a home button at the bottom of the construction paper to complete the effect of an iPhone.
Students colored a profile picture and drew a scene that matched the comments. The details in the drawing were based on information from the readings and unit of study.
The finished Instagram posts have been so much fun to read and have made the material much more personal for the students. The activity idea is great because it can be adapted for almost any historical figure or time period you may be studying. CLICK HERE to make a copy of the electronic template via Google Docs. If you would like a PDF version of the template and have students handwrite their Instagram posts, CLICK HERE.
Students can always write or type on a plain piece of paper for their writing, but what is fun about that? If you want student writers to really feel proud of something they wrote, publish it on special paper or in a unique way. It makes the writing stand out and look fresh. Ignite students’ interest in their writing by showing them how professional their writing can be.
One of my favorite ways to publish student writing is on glossy brochure paper like THIS ONE by HP that has the same texture as a magazine. The printed product has a quality finish to it that makes it seem as if we went to a professional publisher to print. I won’t even make teacher marks on the paper when grading! It’s that special. We recently completed a magazine article style writing project, but you could complete any style of writing. To see more about the magazine feature article activity, CLICK HERE.
Another fun paper option is a cardstock weight tri-fold brochure paper like THIS ONE. The paper is pre-scored, so when you are ready to fold, it bends into 3 even sections every time. I opt for the matte finish on this one, but the tri-fold paper is available in glossy finish too. We created state brochures that we folded and mailed to our school alum. The final product looked like a real mass mailing from a legitimate business. We were all impressed.
If you don’t have access to a color printer (or any printer), antiquing paper can be fun. I usually have students type their writing and choose an old-fashioned looking font. We print with a laser jet printer (ink-jet will smear later) and then stain the paper with wet tea bags. If you do not have a printer, or you would prefer that the students hand write the assignment, you can stain the paper first and have students write by hand after the paper dries. For full directions about staining paper, CLICK HERE.
For more fresh ideas, click the logos in the picture below.
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