What can be better than reading an engaging and mind-opening book with children? Right, helping them to write their own pieces based on the book they’ve read. This is exactly what I did along with other writing coaches and leader Anna at Mitchell Elementary School this fall. Twenty students from various backgrounds who attend 6-8th grades took part in ReadThenWrite program and became published authors at the end.
The book that we read holds a special place in my heart. “Wonder” by R.J.Palacio is a story about a boy who was meant to stand out. Auggie, a sweet and tough 10-year old, who was born with distorted facial features, has been homeschooled by his mother. When his parents decide to enroll Auggie in a regular school, a beautiful story of challenges and acceptance begins. R.J. Palacio said that the book was inspired by a real-life encounter of her own kids six years ago with a girl with a serious facial deformity. You can read a great interview with the author here. The book is written from the points of view of Auggie, his sister, sister’s boyfriend, sister’s best friend, and Auggie’s new friend Jack Will. This helps to remind us that there is always more than one side to a story…
During this program we focused on developing reading strategies and building engagement with the literature. We taught our students that there are six Active Reading Strategies(ARS) they should use in order to become successful readers:
Strategy 1: VISUALIZE. Readers create a picture or image of what is being described in the story. This strategy is good to use when people or places are introduced and/or described in a story.
Strategy 2: CLARIFY. In their own words, readers restate what they just read in the text. This helps readers better understand the main idea of stories, as well as simplify dense text.
Strategy 3: CONNECT. Readers identify connections between their lives and the events of the story. They can also find similarities between the current stories they are reading and previous stories they have read. These connections are referred to as text to self (TS) or text to text (TT), respectively.
Strategy 4: PREDICT. Readers make predictions, or educated guesses, about what will happen next in the story. This encourages readers to synthesize the events that have been occurring in the story.
Strategy 5: QUESTION. Readers ask questions about what is happening in the story. This strategy is useful when new characters or information are referenced.
Strategy 6:EVALUATE. Readers form their own opinions and /or conclusions about characters and events in a story.
The students filled out many knowledge quizzes along the way and earned points for completing their homework. At the end of the program they could redeem the points for free books, candy, or stationery.
For our writing assignment students wrote two narratives. The first one had to be written from their point of view and tell the audience about a conflict they had with another person at one point. The second narrative had to be written from the perspective of the other person in the conflict that they had, and tell that person’s side of the story.
The students used Venn Diagram where “A” was a private(1st person) POV, and “B” – public(3rd person) account of the event, to find out what they share and how it would affect their narratives.
We also explained the importance of inference, when the author uses details to show the character’s personality and traits vs. just telling the readers about it. We used “Mystery bag” activity to illustrate it. Site leader Anna brought a bag with different objects in it to the class. She let the student who picked one object from the bag infer about a person who owns the object. For example, a notebook with lots of neat notes might make one think it belongs to an organized person.
With the help of their coaches and peers the students completed outlines for their stories. And then my favorite part started: writing, editing, dealing with writer’s block, more writing, spicing up the language, final editing…and completing author’s bios.
“Two Sides of Every Story”, an anthology of their stories, was published by Open Books. In December the students of Mitchell Elementary came to the Open Books Bookstore for their Author Launch.
I should say it was an honor to work with Mitchell Elementary students! It was great that every coach was assigned a small group of students and could make sure that everyone got an undivided attention. Together with Diane and Kassandra, my ReadThenWrite students, we formed what we called “Only Girls Club”. We became not only a strong academic group, but also friends. And that is what matters the most to me.
In winter 2014 Open Books will launch ReadThenWrite program in different schools in the City of Chicago. If this post has inspired you to try yourself as a writing coach in this program, please feel free to follow this link and browse for more information. Or you can email Ava Zeligson, Volunteer Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask her to contact you in regards to the program.
Thank you and Good luck!