Many schools host reading clubs for their readers. This invites students to come together as a community of book-lovers. Far fewer schools host clubs for their writers. What could creating a writing community in your school do for your young writers?
Marcia Hughes is a 4th grade teacher in one of my schools who began a writing club 8 years ago. She has never received a stipend, she has never expected a ‘thank you’. What she has done is create an inviting place for young authors to try out their wings and fly. Students agree to give up one lunch recess a month and work on pieces at home so that when they meet they can share and immerse themselves in story.
This week I sat in on the 5th grade’s writing club during their monthly lunch bunch. Five students were eager to share the short stories they had written about our school mascot, a two-foot tall cement goose named Georgie. It was donated to our school after the woman who made and dressed Georgie in dozens and dozens of every-occasion outfits passed away. Children who had seen Georgie from their bus window each day, were now being greeted each morning with a differently decked out Georgie by the front doors. These students created story after story inspired by our well-dressed mascot.
The working title “The Adventures of Georgie” would be an anthology of antics, mysteries, and action stories with the cement goose as the main character. On this day, the students were sharing their pieces and getting feedback from their peers. From these conversations, the writers were developing ‘spin-off’ stories that they wanted to write next. Miss Hughes let the students guide the conversation. She helped them plan out next steps by posing some questions and letting the students make the decisions. This wasn’t a writing lesson, it was a writing group! It was fantastic. Miss Hughes made arrangements to have the book printed and bound with one copy donated to the school and another to the family of Georgie’s former owner. Each club member would also receive a copy. These kids looked so excited as they talked about the publishing of their book. They were real authors!
Afterwards I had a chance to ask the students (via their teacher) what they got out of being a member of the writing club. Here’s what several had to say:
“What I got from being a part of the writing club is teamwork and lots of creativity. With teamwork we’re all writing a book. We have to work together and pick out the cover, pick what order its going to be in. We have to use teamwork to do that. For creativity we all had to use creativity and imagination to come up with stories and lots of it. I joined the writing club because I have always loved writing. One time I wrote a 14 page story by hand. Writing has always been fun for me for some reason. When I heard about the writing club I immediately wanted to join.”
“I joined the writing club because I love to write and I wanted to be able to do it more often. Also, since I read a lot of books I wanted to be able to put ideas from my books into a story and be able to share it. I think that one of the things that I have gotten out of the writing club would be speaking in front of a large group of people. When we share our stories we get to stand at a podium. Afterward questions can be asked about our story. Also, last year during our holiday meeting (Christmas) we randomly drew a piece of paper out of a pile and had to write a story without writing it. We told it off the top of our heads! It was really fun!”
“I joined the writing club because I love to write and I want to become a better writer.
By being part of the writing club, I now have more interesting story topics and my beginning middle and endings are more interesting than they used to be.”
No test score will ever tell us if this approach is effective. The payoff is in the joy and pride these young writers feel as they put words to paper and share them with others. Teachers like this are my hero. Students like this are my mission. Community like this is my dream. How might a writing club look in your school?
What’s On My Book Radar?
Young Gerta wakes up one morning to find her city and her family divided in two by the Berlin Wall; her father and one brother on the west, her mother and another brother with her on the east. How could this happen overnight? What would become of their family, their city, their lives as they knew them?
Author Jennifer Nielsen is a master of edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting, twisty-turny plots. She’ll have your heart beating along with Gerta and her brother as they risk their lives attempting an unlikely escape to reunite their family. You will learn so much about the struggles of the people in eastern Berlin during the “Cold War” as you live there vicariously and see how fear can make people act in ways you’d never expect. I’d recommend it for 5th grade audiences and up. Another great one from Jennifer Nielsen.