Saturday, November 19, 2011

You're Not a Teacher!

That was the look on my son's face when I showed up in his classroom this past Thursday, to teach his first grade class about writing fiction. He averted his eyes with a worried little look, like he wanted to say, "What are you doing here? You're not a teacher."

But I was a teacher. For a few minutes anyway--thirty to be exact, for the Great American Teach In. I had told him I was coming, but he didn't understand what I was going to talk about. I don't get paid to write fiction. SO why would I be at his school, among all his friends, teaching them about a job I didn't get paid for???

Because it's my passion.

That's what I told him, and his class. I love writing fiction so much, that I consider it my job. And that's why I was there. To share it with them.

Here's what my presentation consisted of:

I told them about two different kinds of books: fiction and non-fiction. But they were super smart and that was old news.

We discussed the different kinds of books: hardback, paperback, and eBooks. None of them seemed to know what eBooks were. So I dazzled them with my expertise. *tongue in cheek* We discussed the different platforms for eReaders, and I showed them my Kindle app on my phone.

Next we discussed fiction genres. Genre was a new word for them. So it was cool they learned something. We talked about fantasy, science-fiction, romance, adventure, thriller, contemporary, horror. We went over the types of kid lit, like picture books, chapter books, and novels (MG and YA.)

Then, we got into the meat and potatoes. We decided to build a story. I broke it down to them like this:
Building a story, is like building a house. We need the right materials and tools to start, but we can't just throw it all together and get a house. We have to start with a solid foundation so our house is sturdy and structured, then we can decorate it however we want.

Same with out stories. I showed them the basic materials to build their own stories:

* characters
* setting
* plot 
* structure (the 3 Acts of  beginning, middle, end)

Plot was a little bit tricky for them, so I explained it this way: every story has to have a problem, or conflict. No conflict, no story. Think of the plot as the story problem. So we went on to dissect Little Red Hiding Hood and pick out the basics:

*Characters: Red, Big Bad Wolf, Grandma, Woodcutter
*Setting: woods, Grandma's house
* Plot: Red has to get goodies to her sick grandma but is tricked by a big bad wolf and has to get away
* Structure: (Beginning) Red's goal is to get goodies to her sick grandma. (Middle) She meets wolf and divulges personal information which is later used to trick Red. (End) The woodcutter saves the day by chasing off the wolf and reuniting Red with her grandma.

These kids were on the ball. They understood and asked questions. Once they got the hang of it, we were ready to build our own story... we needed to gather our materials, but they needed one particular thing first ...
I handed each of them an index card with the word "imagination" on it. I told them it was their license to use their imagination. The freer they set it, the better. I let them in on a little secret that sometimes I get a crick in my neck from all the rules everywhere. EVERYWHERE. But there is one place in the world where there are no rules. And that is our imagination.

We went on to build our story, which turned out to be about an orange starfish with blue eyes named Tommy. He lived on the beach, where our story took place, and Tommy's most fave thing to do was train dolphins. (These are all answers from the kids.) But Tommy had a BIG problem. There was this whale who tried to eat dolphins and chased all the dolphins away from the beach until there were no more dolphins for Tommy to train. So how does Tommy get the dolphins back to continue doing what he loves?

Well, that's where the story became the children's to take home and finish and build however they wanted. They were so clever with their ideas... I really hope at least one of them was inspired.

My son already told me his fave "teacher" from the day was the policeman who showed off his Taser gun. But hey, that's understandable ... I mean, who can compete with a wand that emits purple electricity and shocks people??

Anyway, just wanted to share my teach-in day. I left having such a natural high from the class's eager participation and bright minds. And boiling down the story telling basics really simplifies it in my mind as well. Goes back to that solid foundation thing ... and how every story needs one.

How about you? Done any teaching lately? How do you build your story?


Mary said...

Wow! Sounds like you had a blast. I hope the teacher shares some of the story endings with you-- it would be so cool to see where these young minds took the story you started together.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds like you imparted a lot of wisdom.
Next time tell the kids you know JK Rowling personally. Bet you're the favorite teacher then!

Norma Beishir said...

That's one scary-looking teacher, PK!

But it sounds like you had a good time with the kids. Great post!

Sarah Pearson said...

This sounds like such a great experience. You never know, you might have sparked one of those creative minds. In twenty years time there'll be a message in a book 'to the woman who said I could use my imagination ...'

erica and christy said...

EVERYONE teaches something. Only us lucky ones get paid for it, though! Sounds like a great lesson, PK, and don't worry, inside your son was thinking "My mom is the best teacher in the world." :)

William Kendall said...

It sounds like you had lots of fun!

KarenG said...

It's so funny that your son was embarrassed. Sounds exactly how my kids would have responded in that situation :)

Jane Isfeld Still said...

GOOD JOB! You completeed your most important mission--embarrass your son. LOL
My children would have been sqirming in their seats. MOM did you have to say that!" It wouldn't matter how innocuous it was. :)

Nick Rolynd said...

Sounds like you had some great success with them! Congrats! It's always good to see people teaching the fundamentals of creative writing. The current school structure has sucked almost all of it out out the system by this point. Bring it back, I say!

And really, this is where it begins, when you're young.

So good work! <3

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Sounds like you had a good time.
I haven't done anything like that.

Enjoy your Sunday.

McKenzie McCann said...

In school, people come to me when they need English help frequently. But, that's more like 'how do I use subtle in a sentence?' or 'can you edit this?'

I wouldn't go so far as it call it teaching, but I'd like to think I'm a resource for my classmates.

Richard said...

Good job. It does more than bring you close to kids, it brings you closer to your son.

Old Kitty said...

Awwww I wish you were my teacher!! LOL! Awww what a fun lesson and remember - the pen is always mightier than the sword - or taser gun!

Take care

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

Oh you were awesome!!! I love what you did with the kids -I may have to save this as a template!

Jess said...

This is so cool! It makes me wish that writing had been a twice a week class in elementary school, like art, and that you had been my teacher :)

Heather said...

PK, that is awesome! I just love that you did that. I bet Alyson's class would have loved to hear you talk as well.

fOIS In The City said...

PK, his reaction now will be double when he remembers all of this later :) I can tell you got as much out of the experience as the kids, perhaps a bit more. Closest I came to this was teaching creating writing in our after school program. We even produced our own "magazine" complete with illustratios from the kids. Love the drawing by the way.

DL Hammons said...

I'm sure that left you with an awesome buzz! I've done that a couple times, but never about writing. I've shown the kids how we make lunchmeat. The real cincher is when you give each of them a package of their own.

The experience is a rush! :)

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

You sound like a great teacher to me.

Romance Reader said...

Great writing and teaching post! I printed it out, thanks for sharing! Consider me a student.

Barbara Kloss said...

Um, HOW AWESOME WAS THAT? I wish I was sitting in that class. I bet you had a BLAST talking about what you love and it was probably the fastest thirty minutes of your life.

Nas Dean said...

But you're a teacher if you taught all these great points!

Awesome post.

Angela Ackerman said...

When my kids were in elementary school, I came in and taught writing too. I remember I was terrified the first time, but quickly I fell in love with it!

My kids took it pretty good--I think it weirded them a bit at first, but once they saw that the other kids were having fun, they relaxed and had fun too. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

J. A. Bennett said...

Wow! That sounds like a great experience! I think you would make a good teacher (if it was about writing anyway) Loved this post :)

Eric said...

This sounds like such a good time. I've often wondered if I'd enjoy teaching, but my greatest concern is how much work it takes LOL. You really gotta be dedicated to do it right. Oh, and I gave you a badge today on my blog, so congrats!

alexia said...

What fun! You are a cool mom to talk to your son's class about books.

DM said...

What a fun idea. I love what you presented.

The Happy Whisk said...

What a fun post. Good for you.