Friday, November 16, 2018

Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine

Last month, kids came to the library to learn how to write a "Choose Your Own Adventure" type of story using a free web-based software called Twine. I walked them through the steps of it and they were very quickly writing stories with twists that the reader could choose. Here are my presentation slides, which you can feel free to use or adapt:

I was pleasantly surprised that many kids wanted to know how to code their Twine story to prompt the reader to type his/her name, and then remember that name throughout the story! I had never done that before but did the best I could to find a good code that would work. We used this Harlowe code to create a variable the user could enter:

(set: $name to (prompt: "What is your name?", ""))

The kids were so excited to see that users could personalize their stories! It turned into quite a hybrid STEAM/Creative Writing program after all!

My own story is barely much of a story but it will give you an idea of how the platform works:

Choose Your Own Adventure: Nazis!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Presidential Campaign Videos for Our Favorite Toys

On July 13, 2018, we had a special creative writing and filmmaking workshop for kids between the ages of 5 and 8, to make campaign videos about getting their toys elected president!

The idea came from the book I've published with lesson plans to do writing workshops with primary grade kids: 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing From Aliens to Zebras. In it, you'll find my lesson plan for this writing party and the handouts to supplement this lesson.

First we read the book "President Squid" by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Sara Varon. Then we watched a couple of funny campaign videos on YouTube, and brainstormed a campaign video using a favorite toy as the candidate. We used a handout from my book to start writing our script ideas.

Then we filmed our toys talking about why they should be president, using iPads with the iClips app. It was very easy and smooth to film and edit. Parents took short clips of their kids acting these commercials out, and then combined the clips together in the app to make their films.

I made a film of my own to give kids some ideas for how to use the props or sample arguments to make. Is my video amazing?... Of course not. :) That was the point--I wanted to make something very simple that a five or six year old could make.

I made or purchased props from Michaels and the Dollar Store--it helped that July 4th was fairly recent and there was lots of American flag themed items on clearance!

Most kids brought their own toys, but I also had a few on hand to lend for kids who didn't bring one. I loved seeing the kids get into the filming and parents get really engaged with the filming and editing!

In hindsight, I wish I had encouraged the kids to all do their filming outside, because you can hear me yammering in the background while some of them were filming their videos. The kids who filmed outside the room didn't have that problem.

The kids also got to make campaign buttons for themselves:

At the end, I quickly uploaded all of the videos from the iPads onto a laptop and showed them. We held a vote on our favorite video. That's what it's about right?--elections! The winner was this one, by Abby V., about a Cookie running for President:

Here are the rest of their adorable films!

Isn't it just awesome how these kids are making arguments listing pros and cons, using character and voice, having fun with monologue and dialogue, as well as props, scriptwriting, staging, etc.? I can't wait to do this program again!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

New Research on the Value of Picture Books and the Way Kids' Brains Respond to Screen Media

A new study by Dr. John S. Hutton shows how children's brains respond to hearing stories told in three different formats, and may lend support for the idea that the best format for sharing a story with a child is reading a picture book to them! Kids's brains were imaged while hearing a story with no pictures, hearing a story with pictures, and hearing a story that is completely animated, and the findings show that hearing a story with illustrations (but not animated ones) promotes the most interconnectivity among brain regions.

This could have fascinating implications for makers of tablet storybook apps, most if which tend to be a little too heavily animated to be encouraging of a child's imagination. At the very least, it should be good news to everyone who promotes illustrated books for kids, because the pictures give a child "limited visual scaffolding assisting the child while still encouraging active imagery and reflection." Basically, the pictures should give a child something to focus on while developing their listening skills, but don't have too much going on to take away from hearing the story.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Rewriting Fairytales

A couple weeks ago (right before I left for my vacation) we had a fun Kids' Writing Workshop all about rewriting fairytales. I always try to keep my workshops rooted firmly in books in the library's collection, so for this workshop I had fun gathering up all of the Jack and the Beanstalk retellings I could find, and putting them on display! There were several Old West retellings, including one where the Jack character is a cowgirl and one where the Jack character is a really badass Native American gunslinging bandit, two science fiction ones taking place on other planets or in outer space, a few told from the point of view of the giant, a few longer novel-length works where Jack's character and motivations are much more developed and in which Jack interacts with other fairytale characters from other stories, and more, more, more!!

The kids and I talked about what makes a good rewritten fairytale--that it helps to have some sort of "twist" on the story, either by changing a character's gender, age, cultural background, setting, or even the genre of the fairytale (like those Western and sci-fi versions of Jack). 

Then I had the kids draw slips from three envelopes. One envelope had slips of paper with fairytale characters' names. Another had papers with problems or plot elements. And the third had suggestions for how to make the fairytale different with a "twist." Kids drew two character slips, two problem slips and two twist slips, so that nobody was "forced" to write about any specific character or concept but had options to choose from and could go where the inspiration took them! I took pictures of each child's slips:

This child wrote about Rapunzel's witch trying to make amends by helping Gretel, who was blind.

This was mine--I wrote about the son of the Big Bad Wolf being a nerd who is bullied by the sons of the Three Little Pigs!

This child wrote about Red Riding Hood's Grandma and set the story in a different time in history.

This child told a story about Rapunzel's child and had another character turned into an animal.

It was really fun to see what the kids brainstormed for their rewritten fairytales, and also how they managed to tell their stories with interesting first-person points of view! I know I'll be doing this workshop again and am sure I will once again find lots of inspirations in the books here at the library.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Community Helpers storytime for 2nd graders

Today a class of 2nd graders came to my library for a visit, and I was filling in for the person who normally has this class. They are doing a unit on community helpers, so I did a jobs-and-the-economy-themed storytime for them. And since they're 2nd graders, I was able to involve them in many ways as volunteers reading things and acting things out. We sang, read two books, acted out a play, did a reading and guessing felt board game, and watched a video. Read on if you would like to see these ideas for your next Community Helpers storytime!

First we sang the Button Factory song. It's a great song to get kids singing, moving, and laughing! I usually skip the part about the wife and kids and get right to the point, with the boss asking Jo/Joe to press another button. They loved it.

Next we read the book Weasels by Elys Dolan. In it we see that it takes a lot of weasels working in different roles, doing problem-solving and thinking up plots, in order for the weasel species to successfully take over the world!

Then we did an activity where I took out some felt envelopes and told the class, "I was supposed to help my mail carrier friend deliver her letters today, but they got all jumbled up in the bag and the labels came off. Can you guys help me figure out whom each one is for?" Five volunteers lined up and each one read the short letter that was inside the envelope--things like: "Thank you for healing my ear infection and giving me medicine"--and decided whether it was for a Doctor, a Teacher, a Janitor, a Bus Driver or a Plumber.

We read a West African/Caribbean folktale called Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird by James Berry and illustrated by Ann Grifalconi. In it Anancy makes a series of trades, starting out with a corn cob and ending up with an elephant, but he lets the elephant escape when he gets distracted by a bird he wants to bring home for his son. I like this story for the theme of jobs because it helps the kids understand and explore what it meant to do a job in the ancient days before money was the typical payment. 

Then we acted out a play! It's one of the activities in my book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing, from the chapter on folktales. 

Now, if I had more time, I would have involved the kids in actually writing the script of this play, but since our time was limited I wrote out the scripts in advance. There were five actors, including myself. Each person had an object that they didn't need and wanted or needed something else. I played the role of an alien who had crash-landed here and needed to fix my spaceship. The kids played other roles. 

The props I used were simple: a spoon, a bag, a rubber band, a stuffed toy and a roll of duct tape. I numbered each one and then gave the kids number stickers to wear. I told everyone that I needed to fix my spaceship and only had a spoon. I asked the first kid to act like he was slobbering out of a bag. I asked him why he was slobbering like that, and he said, "I wish I had something to eat with." Then I gave him the spoon, and he gave me the rubber band he was holding. 

I next came to a girl with long hair who was trying to dance but her hair kept getting in her face. I offered her the rubber band and she offered me a toy.

I next came to a boy whose child (played by a girl from the class) was crying. I gave the boy the toy and he gave me the roll of duct tape. Then I announced, "Hooray! This is just what I need to fix my spaceship! I guess it's my lucky day."

They did a great job with it and had fun hamming up their roles!

You'll find this activity and the handouts you can give kids to write their scripts in my book in "Lesson 10: Small Actors Folktale Theater."

Last, I showed an old movie from Reading Rainbow, and it was a big hit with the kids. We watched Fox On the Job by James Marshall. The story is funny and it shows kids that getting a job is no joke--you're expected to do what is needed and not get lazy or careless. Fox doesn't seem to be a very good fit for many of the jobs he has to do, but in the end he finds something suited to his talent for laying around.

Community Helpers storytimes are always in such high demand when you have classes coming to visit you or taking field trips to the library. So I hope these ideas will serve you well!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Congratulations to the winners of the 36 Workshops giveaway!

Over 50 people entered my Rafflecopter giveaway for a free copy of 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing! I loved reading everyone's entries and answers and seriously wish I could give all of you a free copy. You are great parents, teachers and librarians who clearly care about doing creative writing with your kids. So I'm working with ALA Editions to get you a discount off the retail price of the book and will be in touch as soon as I have it.

And, as it turns out, I decided I could afford to choose two winners, sort of a "first place" and "second place" which were just randomly chosen by the Rafflecopter site. Their names are:

1st Winner:

Marissa S.

Marissa is a school librarian who started doing creative writing around 7th grade, but hopes to expose her students to it much younger! She will be sent my book and three of the picture books used in my workshops:

  • one copy of my book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing
  • one copy of How to Eat an Airplane by Peter Pearson
  • one copy of President Squid by Aaron Reynolds
  • and one copy of The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

2nd Winner:

Selenne O.

Selene is an elementary school teacher, and I can't wait to see what she'll do with this in her classroom. She will be sent my book and two picture books:

  • one copy of my book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing
  • one copy of How to Eat an Airplane by Peter Pearson
  • and one copy of The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

Once again, a big thank you to everyone who entered to win, and although I could only pick two, I wish I could send you all something. I will be getting in touch with everyone else who entered to email you a $5 off coupon as soon as ALA Editions has them available!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Poetry Creation Stations Recap and Templates

Sometimes I'll be reading a post about an elaborate or complicated library program and wonder, "Gee, how did he/she manage to have all those things going on at the same time?" So today I'm going to do a recap of my Poetry Creation Stations program last week in our Kids' Writing Workshop, and start with how I set up the room.

We had four tables set up with the four different activities: Paint Chip Poetry, Reverse Poetry, Haikubes and Blackout Bookmarks.

Near each table, I put up a poster with instructions for what to do:

I created template handouts for the kids sitting at the Paint Chip Poetry and Reverse Poetry tables:

The kids had so much fun! Cleanup took a while, but I would definitely do this program again. The games and activities inspired a lot of great images from the kids. One child wrote a reverse poem about killing in self-defense:

Another wrote a reverse poem about telling the truth:

There was a Paint Chip Poetry poem about boundaries being a challenge "like a seedling" that has not ceased to grow:

Kids got a lot of great imagery from the games Haikubes and Paint Chip Poetry, including "red velvet tears" and "a pool of simple riches:

They had a harder time with blackout poetry. Some thought you were just supposed to find interesting words and others had trouble making their lines coherent. That's always been a challenging style for tweens and may be more ideal for teens. But they had fun doing it. I really liked this kid's poem:

Visit to see more photos and videos of kids reading their poems!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Poetry Creation Stations

This Friday, I'll be trying something a little different for my obligatory National Poetry Month session of our Kids' Writing Workshop. I purchased a few cool items that I want to share with the kids:


These are cubes or dice that have a variety of words you can choose from to make a haiku. The game is that you are supposed to roll a red cube that will give you a prompt, but I might leave it more open-ended for the kids. I liked exploring what words were available to me and tweaking them until I felt I had made a satisfactory haiku.

moonlight dripping, shines
her precious fire, licks the
surface of your heart

Paint Chip Poetry

This works even more like a game: first, each player draws twelve paint chips from the deck, and then draws a prompt card. Then you use as many of those paint chips as you would like to make a poem that responds to the prompt.

Blackout Bookmarks

In a twist on blackout poetry, we will be trimming our blackout poetry and laminating them to make them into bookmarks. The bookmarks are larger than standard bookmarks, but still a great size for using with even a small paperback book.

When I prep this for the kids, I grab a few of my favorite middle grade novels and photocopy a few pages from each. I look for pages with a lot of dense paragraphs and rich diction. I always try to encourage kids to scan the page and simply circle a few words that jump out at them. Just make connections, and you don't have to find a relevant word or phrase on every line.

Once they've done their circling in pencil, and tweaked it until they feel they'll have a strong poem, they are ready for the black markers!

Here's my sample. I was so jazzed to find a page that had lots of references to books, stories, and even a library! (This was page 394 from Marvels by Brian Selznick.)

Kids will be moving from one station to the next. I don't have a room with tables to work with tomorrow but we'll use clip boards and try to make it comfortable. I hope the kids have as much fun with this stuff as I did!