Sunday, February 7, 2010

Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8

Title: Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8

Author: Carol Baldwin

Publisher:  Maupin House

ISBN: 978-1-934338-35-3

Carol Baldwin's book Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8 is a beneficial asset to the upper elementary/middle school language teacher's collection. It provides a series of mini-lessons that can supplement the teacher's writing curriculum, in an easy-to-follow format that also incorporates technology into the lessons.

Within the first chapter, students learn how to brainstorm ideas and to outline their story. Important topics include deciding upon a genre, how to write in a detailed active voice, and how to do background research. Though it is possible for a teacher to change the order of lessons, and possibly even skip a few, these all should be taught, as they are the foundation of writing a story.

Next comes a section on creating a believable character. Lessons here reflect upon creating the character's personality, likes and dislikes, and even naming him/her, though use of questionnaires. A few of these points could be combined, if the teacher is short on time.

Setting and mood are essential to any plot. Teaching the Story spends the third chapter teaching children how to utilize the senses when describing a scene, to show the reader the story, as opposed to simply telling it. The abstract discussions in this section could also be served by real-life practice. For example, a recommendation is to take photographs of a scene to describe. The teacher could also bring in objects, or if possible take a short excursion outside of the classroom, to realistically use the senses to describe a scene.

When creating a conflict, the writer must create a believable problem that the character is capable of solving. This section provides more graphic organizers designed to allow the young author to outline her story. She is required to think out each situation, step-by-step.

Baldwin then takes the teacher through teaching how to write out the first draft. Children must collect all of the data thus collected, and assemble these building blocks into the structure of the story.  They also learn how to keep the story within a reasonable length. The length of time required on this part of the book is going to depend on each individual class. Some children will be able to simply whip right through it, while others may suffer from a bit of writer's block.

Once that first draft has been written, it is time to edit and correct any mistakes found within the story. Now is the time to focus on spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.

In order for children to be effective writers, they will need to learn all of these building blocks. Some are going to find the process tedious. As a young writer, I often had this problem. Nevertheless, the lessons contained within are very beneficial. When possible, the teacher should streamline the process for the children who seem to grasp the concepts, and provide extra help and extra exercises for those who require them. The goal is to not deter children from wanting to write.

It is also refreshing to see such a detailed book on the art of fictional writing for kids. Because nonfiction writing is the trend throughout one's school career, creative writing is often overlooked. Many of the mini lessons taught within this book could also be used by older writers who wish to refresh their writing style.

Accompanying the book is a CD of overheads and printouts that are used to supplement the lessons. This eliminates the need to photocopy the graphic organizers within the book. They are also designed to be used with Smart Boards, keeping in line with the modern technology being used in classrooms all over.

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