December 16, 2013 @ 6:01 PM

Last year, when my colleague and I told our seventh graders that we would be starting another writing project, we endured the groans for a few seconds and then turned those groans into cheers. We told them that for this assignment, they would work together in teams, and they would be entering a contest! 

Scholastic holds an annual competition called Kids are Authors. In teams of at least three, students write and illustrate their own children's book.   We knew there would be several steps to take to churn out polished picture books from our seventh graders, and we were aware that it would take some time.    We began the work in October. 

First, students would need to complete a study on children's books. How could they become authors of children's books if they were not readers of children's books?   Students would need to pay attention to an author's craft, common themes in children's books, interesting characters and plots, and so on.  After completing our study, we were ready to begin.  As we worked through the process last year, we developed some resources and guidelines that we would like to share! 

  1. We created a form for analyzing the genre of children's books, and required our students to read at least ten children's books prior to writing their own.  We held group and class discussions on our findings.
  2. We read some of the former winning books to our students.  These are listed on the scholastic site.  One of our favorites is Penelope's Amazing Imperfect-People Eating Machine, which was written by a group of fourth graders.
  3. We created a "Children's Book Application" for students to fill out prior to putting them in teams.  On this application, we asked them to tell us about their strengths, to list three other students they would most like to work with, to draw something, and to write a short character sketch.  Along with a few other questions, this information helped us to form the writing teams.
  4. We created several forms for brainstorming because the first and largest challenge in this project was deciding what to write about!
  5. During the first few group meetings, students shared their brainstorming ideas and narrowed down topics for their books. 
  6. Once final decisions were made, students mapped out their plots and began deciding what to draw to accompany each page of the plot. 
  7. We taught mini-lessons throughout the process to help teach skills for writing and to fix problems that we saw in their efforts. 
  8. A deadline was set for a first draft, and the students diligently worked to finish them. 

We are working again this year to complete this authentic writing project, and our students are so excited!    

Shannon & Tammy