If you are a teacher of students in grades 3-5 in the US, you might be interested in signing up for The Pen Pal Project sponsored by the United States Postal Service and We are Teachers. Participation is free and each class receives a Pen Pal Project kit. Sign-ups end on December 12, 2021, so be sure to visit the site right away if you want to be included. Although stamps will not be part of the kit, envelopes and stationery will be provided. You can find more information here.
Last week, I mentioned the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Reynolds is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and he has joined with the Library of Congress to make a series of short videos challenging children to authentically express themselves about different topics. The Write.Right.Rite. series currently has over 20 prompts, and each one is a personal invitation from Jason Reynolds to think creatively. From asking you to design an award for yourself to writing a song for the shower, this list of ideas would be fun for any writing classroom – and I really wish I could see some of the responses!
If you haven’t ever picked up a book by Jason Reynolds, you can get a quick idea of his unique voice by reading one of the wonderful, “Grab the Mic” newsletters he has authored. Also, the Library of Congress has curated an impressive list of resources that give more information about this incredible author.
For more innovative writing ideas for your classroom, check out this post about 826 Digital, a project for young writers by another wonderful author, Dave Eggers.
Dave Eggers, award-winning author, founder of McSweeney’s, and co-founder of 826 National, recently invited students in grades K-5 to participate in The Young Editors Project. This is a great example of how students can get involved with authentic learning. Teachers can e-mail the person noted in Eggers’ article to be paired up with a real manuscript that is in progress and matched to their age group. Students can then give comments and suggestions for improvement. Once the manuscripts go to final print, the children who gave feedback will have their names mentioned in the book. This is an opportunity for students to learn about revision, the value of soliciting different perspectives about your work, and what a book looks like before it gets placed on the shelves. Making the editing process relevant and real-world will have a huge impact on your students. Click on the above link to learn more about this unique project!
The Creativity Project is a book edited by Colby Sharp, a 5th grade teacher in Michigan who is one of the co-founders of “The Nerdy Book Club Blog.” For this book, Sharp reached out to forty-four authors and illustrators of children’s books to ask them to send him two creative prompts. After receiving these, he mixed them up and mailed two of the prompts to each contributor, who could then select one to which they would respond. The chosen prompts and results are collected in this book, along with the forty-four unused prompts.
As you read the book, you will be astounded by the imaginative collection of short stories, comics, poems, and illustrations that the creators chose for inspiration, as well as the responses they whimsically crafted. You may feel like you are immersed in an exposition of improvisation that appears on the pages instead of the screen.
I wanted to list some of the authors and illustrators who participated, but then I felt like I would be granting those names more importance than the ones omitted. For the full list, you can look at this page on Sharp’s website.
If you know someone who struggles with choosing writing topics, this book is a great gift to give or share!
UPDATE 1/19/2021: You can still use the lessons from Storytelling School (there are 32 total), but The Moth has a new project for 2021 that I describe in this post.)
The Moth is a program that promotes storytelling. You can listen to stories that have been curated from The Moth’s live shows on “The Moth Radio Hour”, and there are also a few books of story compilations that have been published.
Like many entities during this time of widespread distance learning, The Moth has decided to offer some activities that can be done at home. The stories and activities, offered bi-weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays, have been chosen specifically for school-age children, and include videos of the original storytellers.
The first “Storytelling School” assignment is “The Bad Haircut” by Alfonso Lacayo. This tale is probably quite relevant right now as many of us are questioning the best course of action for maintaining hair styles with most salons being closed.
In the second installment from “Storytelling School,” Aleeza Kazmi narrates her experience creating a self-portrait in first grade, and her eventual realizations about herself and others that came from that event.
“The Care Package” is the third assignment, and a welcome, feel-good story that demonstrates that distance can never truly separate those who love each other.
The most recent “Storytelling School” assignment is “Mushroom Turned Bear,” and it’s one that anyone can relate to if they have tried to follow a YouTube tutorial and it spectacularly failed. There are other accessible themes in the story that make it universally appealing as well.
So far, there are only the four assignments (the latest one was from today, 4/10/2020), but you can keep up with news of more by going to this link. Also, if you are a teacher, be sure to check out the education link on the top menu for other ways that you can bring The Moth into your classroom. For anyone who needs a laugh right now, which I suspect may be many of us, here is a link to their recent “Laugh Break” playlist. (Note: I haven’t listened to this yet, so definitely screen these before you share them with students.)
I have posted before about The New York Times Learning Network, which offers wonderful free educational materials for students over the age of 13. For the first time this year, the NYT is sponsoring a STEM Writing Contest for this age group. Students are asked to submit a 500 word piece of informational writing about a STEM topic which interests them. Submissions are due on March 3, 2020 with the prize of contest winners being published in the New York Times. To access the supporting materials, learn more about the contest, and get a link to their year-long writing curriculum, click here.