Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Literacy Tips from Literacy Specialist Author Carol Boles

Welcome to day four of Carol Boles’ 6-day NWFCC March Specialist Showcase tour.

Responding to Literature - With Your Children

Fluent readers, or rather good readers, are those children who make logical predictions about what is going to happen next in the stories they are reading. The strategy of reading, then re-affirming predictions made during reading, not only helps children maintain an interest in what they’re reading, it also improve their comprehension. The following reading activity is used with chapter books, and even picture books. Parents play the role of the teacher, guiding and talking to their children about the literature their reading.

Begin- Have your child preview the story they’re going to read. This involves analyzing the cover, flipping through the pages, looking at the pictures, the chapter titles, and any other written or pictorial clues provided.

Provide- A copy of the “Responding to Literature” form (below). Know that reading and writing are intertwined in learning to read. This guided reading strategy can be used with elementary, middle school and secondary books, and can be adapted for use with picture book stories. This activity can take a day, several days or a week, depending on the book chosen. Parents just need to pick-up where the reading has stopped, then begin working with their child the next day.
Parents will find, when their children respond in writing to what they’re reading about, they become better readers—as well as good writers. If parents use this learning activity often, they’ll find their children concurrently learn the elements of literature, as well.
Responding to Literature


1. After looking at the book cover, the pictures, chapter titles throughout the book, I predict this story or book will be about:

2. After reading the first couple of pages, or the first chapter of the book, I now know my prediction was: (circle one) Correct Not Correct

Explain Why:

3. The main character(s) in this story are:

4. The setting for my story is: (where the story takes place)

5. After reading chapter two I now have a new prediction about what’s going to happen next in this story:

6. After reading several more chapters I now know that my prediction was: (circle one) Correct Not Correct

Explain Why:

7. The Problem the main character(s) is having in this story is:

8. I have read half this book. I now have a new prediction:

9. After reading several more chapters I now know that my prediction was: (circle one) Correct Not Correct

Explain Why

10. Right now what I like best about this story is:

11. I have read most of the chapters in my book and I am almost to the last chapter. I predict the story I am reading will end this way:

12. Was your prediction correct or incorrect about the ending of this story? Explain:

13. If I were going to tell a friend about this story, I would tell them this:

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Carol Boles' tour tomorrow at www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com. Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center. www.tips-fb.com

Monday, March 28, 2011

Homeschooling Resources from Homeschool Specialist Amy O’Quinn

Welcome to day four of Amy O’Quinn’s 6-day NWFCC March Specialist Showcase tour.

In our homeschool, we use many different types of resources and media. I do utilize textbooks (Saxon) for math and my older son’s science program (Apologia). But for the most part, we incorporate literature and trade books whenever possible.

There are many different companies and curriculums that focus on using literature as a learning base. In the past, I have used Sonlight, Winter Promise, Beautiful Feet, and most recently a website called Guest Hollow which features free lesson plans for ancient history, American History 1 & 2, the Human Body Science Study, etc.

Here are some examples of how we incorporate literature in our homeschool. My youngest daughter is currently studying the 1930’s and the Great Depression in history. In addition to using Joy Hakim’s History of US series Volume 9 as a ‘spine’ book, she is also reading the novel Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and the non-fiction book, Dust To Eat: Drought and Depression in the 1930’s, by Michael L. Cooper. When she was learning about the Roaring 20’s, she read biographies of Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, a novel entitled Moonshiner’s Son by Carolyn Reeder, and a picture book called Angel Coming by Heather Hensen.

I also have several reference books on my shelf that match up time periods or locations in history with novels and trade books. Several of these titles include:

Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson
All Through the Ages: History Through Literature Guide by Christine Miller
Honey For A Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt
Let The Authors Speak by Carolyn Hatcher
Turning Back the Pages of Time by Kathy Keller

As far as a great one-stop resource for ALL homeschooling products, books, and resources, I highly recommend Rainbow Resource Center. They produce a huge catalog, and it contains almost everything and anything pertinent to homeschooling. Cathy Duffy’s website at www.grovepublishing.com is another great place to visit. As I’ve said before, the number of choices, products, and resources available to homeschoolers is amazing!

Follow Day 5 of Ms. O'Quinn's tour tomorrow at www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com. Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center. www.tips-fb.com

Sunday, March 27, 2011

ESL Tips for Parents from ESL Specialist Dorit Sasson

Welcome to day four of Dorit Sasson 6-day NWFCC March Specialist Showcase tour. After visiting with Dorit and reading her insightful article, please feel free to leave your comments and questions, for she will be stopping in throughout the day.

Ways to Use Children's Books to Build Reading Comprehension for ESL Students

Recent research has established that effective read-alouds contribute to students' comprehension development (Fisher, Flood, Lapp, & Frey, 2004; Hickman, Pollard-Durodola, & Vaughn, 2004) and background knowledge, language, and listening comprehension skills (Beck and Mckeown, 2001).

When teachers and parents use comprehension recall techniques for example, they use direct questioning to encourage students to try to recall and recap information in their own words. Similarly, the tiered approach of modeling outlined below uses questions to assist teachers in teaching a heterogeneous class of ELL students. Parents can also do this at home with their ESL children.

Sample modeling scheme for Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson (2003).

Modeling Tier #1: Level of response anticipated: simple identification

Now, let's try and remember our story character. (Teacher points to the cave shown on the book's cover) Where was Bear and what was he doing?

Modeling Tier #2: Level of response anticipated: recall-knowledge

Modeling lead-in. Teacher reads the passage: A gopher and a mole tunnel up through the floor. Then a wren and a raven flutter in through the door!

Which animals dug a tunnel? Which animals came in through the door? Does this example work for recall-knowledge?

Modeling Tier #3: Level of response anticipated: inference

When you tunnel up through the floor, are you on top of the ground or underneath? The teacher might want to draw attention to the fact that the word 'tunnel' can be both a verb and a noun.

Modeling Tier #4: Comprehension and Concept Understanding

Lead-in 1. Look at each of the animals in Bear Snores On. Okay, let's see what they do. This story is written in rhyme scheme. A rhyme scheme is where words sound the same, usually at the end of each sentence. Here's an example: "Mouse sips wee slurps. Hare burps big BURPS!"

Which two words rhyme? Teacher or parent gives yet another example (ie. bear, lair, explaining the term homophones) Now let's take a look at the mouse and the hare. Which word describes what the hare does? Which word describes what mouse does?

Lead-in 2. Explaining the Concept of Cause-Effect (a step-by-step procedure)

When your mother tries to wake you up in the morning to get up for school, she is trying to causeyou to wake up. Something happens in our story to causebear to finally stop his snoring. Do you remember what it is? Let's read it again together and see if we can pick out the word (or words) that causes bear to suddenly wake up.

Hare stokes the fire.

Mouse seasons stew.

Then a small pepper fleck

Makes the bear...RAAAAA-CHOOOOOO!

Further explication on the concept: What does this noise causeall the animals to do? Students look at the pictures. (they hide away from the noise, they run away, they cover their heads and ears)

Discuss the term effect. What effect do the animals' reactions have in the story? If bear's sneeze causes the animals to hide from the noise or run away, what is the effect, or what happens, because of those actions? Does this work, then, for young ELLs?

Now, back to you. When you first wake up, are you grouchy? Let's take a look at bear here? Does he look happy to you? What does he do? Teacher reads the part about the bear's reaction ("And the bear wakes up! Bear gnarls and he snarls. Bear roars and he rumbles! Bear jumps and he stomps. Bear growls and he grumbles.") Teacher draws attention to the fact that these are in fact, rhyming words)

Lead in 3. What do the animals first say to bear when he starts to cry?

The criteria for bridging reading and early literacy is based on the language teaching principle that the story elements and vocabulary naturally lend themselves to being taught inductively. Using the questioning approach may seem a bit tedious, but when used to model comprehension strategies, parents and teachers have a variety of options in which to do this.

Works Cited

Beck, I.L., & McKeown, M.G. (2001). Text talk: Capturing the benefits of read-aloud experiences for young children. The Reading Teacher, 55, 10-20.

Fisher, D., Flood, J., Lapp, D., & Frey, N. (2004). Interactive read-alouds: Is there a common set of implementation practices. The Reading Teacher, 58, 8-17.

Wilson, K. (2003). Bear Snores On. Simon and Schuster.

This article is only part of a presentation regularly offered by Dorit Sasson as part of her in-service training programs for teachers of English language learners. For more information about speaking engagements and in-service, contact Dorit Sasson at sassondorit@gmail.com or visit the Teachers' Diversity Coach, at http://www.DoritSasson.com and click on the "speaking" page.

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Sasson's tour tomorrow at www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com. Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author Suzanne Lieurance

Thank for you joining me here today for Day 4 of my 6-day virtual tour for my new middle grade historical novel, The Locket: Surviving the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Today I'd like to offer some writing tips when it comes to writing historical fiction.

Bringing The Past to Life: Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

The most important thing when writing historical fiction is the research. If you don't have plenty of accurate information it will be next to impossible to create a fictional character from this time and place come alive for readers. Try to find as many primary resources as possible. Primary resources include quotes from people who actually lived through the time and/or event you're using as the basic for your fictional story. You can find these kinds of quotes from old letters, journals, and diaries.

Next, when writing historical fiction, try to create a main character readers will care about so they'll want to read your story to find out what happens to this person.

For more tips for writing historical fiction, listen to this short audio:

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Lieurance's tour tomorrow at www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com. Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center. www.tips-fb.com

Friday, March 25, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author Sherrie Madia

Welcome to day four of Sherrie Madia’s 6-day NWFCC March Author Showcase tour and climb into the all important content or meat of an effective story.

For anyone interested in writing a children’s book, know that it all starts with content. When I begin to write, the ideas simply pour out. Some days, I can’t write them down fast enough. But then, I stop to consider, “How might this contribute to children’s literature?” It’s important for any author to ask basic questions such as, “How does this book fill an existing void? What is it similar to in terms of what’s out there? How is it different?”

Once you have worked on a draft, fine tuned, stepped away, tried the story out on family and friends, edited your work, and repeated the process, you’ll then want to gather an actual target audience. Your local elementary or preschool might be the best place to start. Ask the principal if you might share your story and if he or she might be willing to let you read it to a pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten class. Only then will you learn what no one else but your audience can tell you about elements in the work that must be turned up, turned down, or taken out.

This process, too, will supercharge you toward producing a stellar work. Ultimately, the secret ingredient to any successful children’s book is you must understand your audience, and you must genuinely care about how they will react, what they will experience, and the nuances that will engage and captivate young minds. I have worked with authors who are writing for the wrong reasons—thinking they will make a quick profit, or not stopping to care about the audience. These authors tend to get only so far.

Those authors who care about their craft, care about the end user, and when it comes to writing for children, this is a powerful statement, because we have the ability to foster creativity, and engage young minds in thinking through what little they know of the world. And as anyone who has ever enjoyed a favorite story as a child can attest to, these stories can shape the lens through which we begin to see the world.

Writing for children is both an honor and a privilege, and if you’re fortunate enough to be an author whose stories children want to read, consider that you’ve played your own small part in changing the world.

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Madia's tour tomorrow at www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com. Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center. www.tips-fb.com

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author M.E. Fink

Welcome to day four of M.E. Finke’s 6-day NWFCC March Author Showcase tour and join Ms. Finke as she discusses the all important HOOK of a story.

Think about what HOOKS you on a story. Then compare it with what I think makes a great story. I want to write them. You want to read them.

#1 – Get the action going on the first page.

#2 – Don’t waffle on. Waffles are fine for breakfast – not for writing.

#3 – Create characters a kid will root for and identify with – the good, the bad and the ugly!

#4 – Powerful and active verbs are a writer’s best friend. Use your Thesaurus to dig them out.

#5 – Analogies only work when they fit the time, the character and the setting.

#6 – Tight writing is the name of the game mates - tight as your granny’s new girdle, mates.

#7 - Keep a tight focus on your plot. Sidetracks that lead nowhere slow the pace.

#8 – A few short and punchy sentences UP the tension. Long rambling ones KILL tension.

#9 – Find a good critique group. Pick the brains of the advanced members. Their feedback and support will prove helpful.

#10 - Learn to network among other writers. Join online writing lists and groups that write for the same age as yourself.

I write and tweak as I go along. I have to watch out for the word GREAT. It pops up everywhere. Do you have an overused word that needs an exterminator? I love to track down super powerful verbs that make a scene jump off the page.

Getting carried away with a descriptive passage is one of my faults. I have to consider it for a while, and then decide if it is there because it strengthens the story, or just because I fell in love with my own words.

Self-editing is one of the hardest tasks a writer can tackle. We are so close to the characters, and involved with the plot, that weaknesses and side tracks are often entirely missed. This is where a critique group is a wonderful asset. I rely on my group to jump on my “waffles,” point out plot weaknesses and give me an overall opinion – thumbs UP or thumbs DOWN.

Rewriting and then putting it aside for a few weeks (months) is an excellent way to discover obvious problems, and weaknesses you missed when working on it every day. I recommend this to all my clients. The answer to that nagging feeling that something didn’t quite jell will jump out at you the moment you reread those pages with fresh eyes.

I think the biggest problem I see in beginner’s manuscripts is overwriting. Tight writing doesn’t have to be stilted. Let it flow. However, make sure the story flows in the right direction and at a good pace. Practice and experience will help you master tight writing, good pace and focus. Until then, there’s always that critique group to point out the error of your writing ways.

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Finke's tour tomorrow at www.nancyisanders.wordpress.com. Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center. www.tips-fb.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five Tips for a More Marketable Children’s Picture Book Manuscript

The world of children’s picture book publishing is extremely competitive. If you’re an aspiring children’s author, you need to make sure your manuscript is in excellent shape and has all the elements editors and agents look for before you begin the submission process.

Here are five tips to make your picture book manuscript more marketable:

Start right with the problem.

Many times beginner writers begin a picture book with backstory. It’s okay to have this backstory in the first draft, but be sure to get rid of it when you edit. Backstory is unnecessary 90% of the time and it only serves to slow down the beginning of a story, making it weaker. You want to grab the reader right from the start. So don’t be afraid to begin your story at the heart of the problem. It’s okay to set the stage with a sentence or two—but no more!

Have a protagonist readers can relate to.

Generally, children like to listen to stories about other children or animals with children’s characteristics. They don’t want to hear about a grandma or grandpa looking back to the time when they were young. Create characters kids can identify with. When readers can identify with the protagonist, they are drawn into the story and become emotionally involved with it.

Make sure the problem fits the age group.

Be sure your protagonist is facing a problem young readers can relate to. If they can’t relate to it, they won’t care. Losing a toy or losing mommy, being lost, having a tooth pulled out, going to the hairdresser for the first time, having too many freckles, planning a first party... these are all problems kids can identify with. Sure, these subjects have been done a million times. But so what? By creating a new angle about a familiar topic, you can give the topic your own fresh and original slant

Add rising action.

Rising action creates tension—the good stuff that keeps readers glued to the story, turning those pages. After you have created the first big problem for the protagonist, and as he tries to solve it, toss a couple more obstacles into his path to make readers wonder what’s going to happen next. The more readers care about the character’s predicament, the more compelling they’ll find the story.

Leave them with a punch.

Endings are always important, no matter what the genre. But they’re especially important in picture books. Once the protagonist solves the problem and everything falls into place, you must find a way to make the ending memorable. This can be achieved by adding an unexpected twist or by having the character say or do something witty. At the same time, it must feel natural, a perfect and logical progression that has evolved organically with the story. This can be hard to achieve. Try different possibilities until you get that “Aha!” feeling. Don’t be afraid to come up with crazy, over-the-top ideas while you brainstorm.

Keeping these tips in mind when creating your children’s stories will help you make them more marketable and appealing to editors and agents. Like with any craft, writing for children is a never ending learning process. I hope you’ll keep at it and enjoy the journey.

© Copyright 2011 by Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. Her nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, co-authored with Anne K. Edwards, was a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner. She’s had over 300 stories, articles, interviews and reviews published. She reviews for The New York Journal of Books and SimplySharly.com. Visit her website at www.MayraCalvani.com. For her children’s books, visit www.MayrasSecretBookcase.com.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to Set Writing Goals with a Family

“Nothing has a stronger influence

psychologically on their environ-

ment and especially on their children

than the unlived life of the parent.”

--C. G. Jung

You want to start your career as a writer, and you have young kids at home. How do you find the time to write and actually produce something while your children ask you for sandwiches, demand you play with them, or refuse to take a nap. Writing with kids at home isn’t easy, but it can be done.

The following are 7 tips to setting writing goals with a family:

Be realistic

If you set your goals too high, you’ll crash and you’ll be left with feelings of failure, frustration and bitterness. This will have a strong impact on the way you feel about yourself as a mom and wife, and will affect the time you spend with your loved ones. Face it, unless you have a nanny, you won’t have a lot of free time until your kids are old enough to go to pre-school. If you’re not able to set your writing goal to one hour a day, or even half an hour, what about 15 minutes? Start small. Take baby steps. Persistence is vital: If you stick to it, a lot can be accomplished in just 15 minutes a day over a long period of time. In 15 minutes, you can plot a scene, profile or interview a character, write dialogue, do research on a specific topic for your book, etc. Everybody can set aside 15 minutes of writing time.

Get organized

This is the key to succeed! Buy a planner or calendar and schedule your week in advance every Sunday. This way, come Monday morning, you’ll know what to do. What’s the best time to set aside those 15 minutes? Does your child take a morning or afternoon nap? Do you have the type of child who would be happy playing in a playpen by himself while you write? Could you hire a teenager to look after your child twice a week for an hour, while you write in the next room? Perhaps you know other moms who are in a similar situation and who would be interested in taking turns taking care of the kids? Brainstorm various possibilities. When there’s a will, there’s a way.

Stay flexible

You might not always be able to follow your daily writing goals. You know what? That’s perfectly fine. Life often gets in the way. In fact, it feels as if life always gets in the way when you have a family, doesn’t it? The planner is there to keep you motivated, focused, and steered in the right direction. But those words aren’t set in stone. If you can’t meet your writing goal for that day, just try to get back in track the next. Pat yourself on the back and tell yourself, “I tried my best.” It’s like with a diet. You don’t have to quit the whole diet just because you broke it one day by eating pizza.

Be consistent

Books are made of words, sentences, paragraphs. Depending on how fast a writer or how inspired you are, you can write words, sentences and even a whole paragraph or paragraphs in 15 minutes. The key here is to keep doing it regularly over a long period of time. You have heard it many times: write a page a day, and one year later you have a 365-page book.

Stop procrastinating

If only I had more time!

I’ll write when my kids start school.

I’m always so busy!

When I’ll retire, that’s when I’ll write that book.

Blah, blah, blah. Listen: there’s never a perfect or right time to write. You just have to stop whining and you have to do it. Why leave for later what you can start doing now? Life is short and unpredictable. You have no control over the future. But you have control over the now.

Love yourself

You work hard. You’re always there for your children, husband, parents, relatives and friends. Why is it that you so often forget about yourself? Treat yourself like a precious jewel. And I’m not talking about being selfish—though being a little selfish is often the best thing you can do to be able to give yourself to others. Reward your accomplishments, however small. When you love yourself, you’ll find the time to set aside those writing times because you know your goals and dreams are important. When you do what’s important to you, you feel accomplished and fulfilled emotionally and intellectually. When this happens, you’re able to give yourself to your family without reservations. Mostly importantly, the quality of those family moments will increase because you won’t resent them.

Set Your Priorities

How badly to do want to become an established author? Can you live with your home not being spotless or dust-free at all times? Or with letting the laundry accumulate once in a while? Because this is exactly what will happen once you’ve made your decision of becoming an author. You’ll face times when you’ll have to choose between writing or doing the laundry. I’m not saying you should neglect your family and put your writing first. What I’m saying is you don’t have to be a ‘super’ mom at all times.

You have the potential to make your dreams come true. But you have to believe in them and you have to follow a plan. You also have to make them a priority in your life. Keeping these tips in mind will help you achieve your dreams and become a happier writer. As I always say, a happy writer is a happy mama.

© Copyright 2011 by Mayra Calvani