Friday, November 21, 2014

Writing Prompts for Young Writers


Writing Prompts for Young Writers
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Ask anyone to sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper and write, and you’ll likely elicit desperate looks and head-scratching. Most of us need something to get us started, whether that be a spontaneous idea, a sentence fragment, an image, or parameters within which we must write. Young writers, even those who love to write, might find some of these ideas helpful.

Make Your Own Prompts

Making our own prompts for writing is lots of fun. Better still, have kids make them for someone else. Sometimes we tend to choose easy prompts for ourselves, but being given a tricky prompt can be just the spur our creativity needs.

Ask kids to:

* Go outside/look inside different places for things to photograph that would make intriguing prompts.

* Bring in (or photograph) unusual objects others can use as story starters.

* Find a photo of an interesting character and ask a friend to describe them.

* Set up photos by acting out a simple story with friends or use toys/figurines and created scenery. Choose one of the photos to spark a different story idea.

* Do a supervised search for CC licensed images they can use as prompts or give to others to use.

* Write down a character, that character’s big problem, and a setting a story must take place in.

* Write down an unlikely hero, a clumsy villain, and a strange world the story must take place in.

* Create an unusual line of dialogue someone must use at the start or end of their story e.g. “I told you pelicans hate pineapples.”

* Improvise (act out) a short scene based on two characters meeting (or any prompt you like). Stop the scene after about 60 seconds and write the rest of the story.

* Create a scene out of LEGO or other objects and then have a friend bring the scene to life by writing about it.

* Give a friend the title of any well-known tale and a format to re-write it in e.g. The Three Pigs as a space opera, The Lion and the Mouse as a horror story.

* Paint/draw/create a picture of the illustration to accompany a story and give it to a friend.

Use Others’ Ideas as Prompts

Scholastic has a Story Starter machine where kids choose a type of story, spin the wheel, then are able to customise the resulting text prompt by spinning more wheels. My example: Write a postcard from an awkward spider monkey who ignores orchestras.

Toasted Cheese, a Literary Journal and Writing Community, maintains a calendar of text prompts. Although aimed at adults, they’d be suitable also for teens.

The Literacy Shed has great videos that kids can use to inspire their own creativity. There’s also a special Story Starter Shed with text story starters.

If kids need to write an opinion or persuasive piece and they’re stuck for a topic, The Blog Post Ideas Generator might help. It’s also useful for bloggers who need a title to write about.

The Writer’s Plot Idea Generator is aimed at adults but children could use it with supervision. It will generate character names, plot twists, plot ideas, first lines etc.

Two writing prompt generators especially for kids can be found in K5 Computer Lab.

The British Council’s Learn English Kids site has a Story Maker. Kids follow prompts and generate a simple story. Challenge kids to improve the basic story by re-telling it.

Bruce Van Patten’s The Story Kitchen has children choose story elements, then it generates a story beginning for kids to finish.

Some iPad apps are specially designed to encourage kids to start writing. In Creating Digital Stories with iPad I mentioned Shake-a-Phrase, Write About This, Tell a Tale and SparkleFish, four apps that provide digital prompts for children to go on and create their own stories.

Remind kids that prompts are just a way to get started. Perhaps a story might take off in a totally different direction, and that’s okay. Just go with the flow!

If you're interested in more articles with ideas to help young writers, try these:

My series of Creative Prompts

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Children’s Book Review, Being Jack


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Being Jack was written by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox, and published by Harper Collins Australia, 2014.

From the publisher:

Jack is in Year 6 now and still loves his photography, surfing, and crazy family. Things are going well for him, particularly at school where he isn't bullied any more. But he notices that his best friend Christopher is being taunted and is starting to miss school and hiding out and avoiding everyone. And when a football match turns ugly and Jack and Christopher witness some unfair dirty play, they know that, again, the bullying has to stop. Ages: 9+.

I very much enjoyed the earlier Jack books: I am Jack, Super Jack and Always Jack. I also adored Monkey Baa Theatre's performance of I am Jack. Being Jack, the final book in the series, sees our hero Jack at almost 13, an immensely likeable and believable character. I think that’s one of the reasons kids relate so well to the Jack books - they can see themselves in Jack. His life is like theirs. He interacts with good friends, kids at school, teachers, and relatives. Jack loves his family but is often flabbergasted by their behaviour and their idiosyncrasies.

Gervay knows how to make kids laugh, and humour there is, as well as drama and lots of moments for kids to think about and discuss. We see inside Jack’s head and feel what he feels. The present tense makes everything immediate, often almost like a stream of consciousness as Jack is bewildered by chaotic thoughts and real problems. How can he best help his mate, Christopher? Should he try to find and contact his real dad? How will that impact those he loves?

The illustrations by Cathy Wilcox are minimal because this is a novel. But the little black and white sketches add a real charm to the story, and may help younger readers not to be daunted by the amount of text. I hope so, because this, like all the Jack books, is such a great read!

In Being Jack, Gervay challenges us to think about bullying in all its forms. No longer tortured by bullies as he was in I am Jack, nevertheless, Jack has hard decisions to make about being a witness to bullying. For children, for all of us, these are important issues to think about, making Being Jack not just a book kids will very much enjoy, but one that nudges them towards taking responsibility for their own actions.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Children’s iPad App, Screen Chomp


Children’s iPad App, Screen Chomp
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Screen Chomp is an app I’ve seen mentioned in lots of app lists. The general consensus is that it’s very useful in an educational context. Basically it allows kids or teachers to make a quick and easy video of a kind of digital whiteboard, complete with markers. The video might be to explain or demonstrate something, or relate in some way to images from the Camera Roll or Dropbox. The user is then able to get a link to share that video.

From the developer:

1. Touch RECORD to capture your touch interactions and audio instructions on a plain background, or an image from your iPad camera roll.

2. SKETCH out your ideas and talk the viewer through the "how" and "why" of it all.

3. Stop and SHARE your video snack to ScreenChomp.com to generate a simple web link you can paste anywhere.

Why share to ScreenChomp.com? Because…
… it serves up a short URL that’s easy to share anywhere.
… you can download your video as an MPEG-4 file.
… there’s no account to manage. Just post and go (perfect for schools and teachers)!

Users at every skill level can create bite-sized teaching morsels they can share online, again and again, with this delectable app.


What I liked:

It’s free. It was developed by TechSmith, makers of Camtasia and Jing. It works well for what it’s designed to do. I love that it encourages collaboration between peers. If Tristan can’t understand part of his homework, Tiffany can show him what to do without leaving home. If Mum or Dad need to be away, they can still help with their kids’ problems, or check out the latest invention they’ve designed. Kids can record themselves drawing and talking about what they draw, then send it to their parents or teachers.

I know I am usually on the lookout for apps that encourage kids to create. I’m not going to try to persuade you that this is an app kids will create snazzy artwork or descriptive stories with. What I believe they will do is use it for the purpose for which it was designed: making a quick video to share with someone significant in their lives.

Check out my other iPad App Reviews on Pinterest.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Using Padlet in Education


Using Padlet in Education 
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


A while back I discovered Padlet and thought it looked a useful tool for teachers and others. More recently, Padlet emailed me about a browser extension for Safar and Chrome, called Padlet mini. It sits in my browser window and makes a cinch of adding things to a Padlet wall.

What’s so good about Padlet? Well, for me, its stand-out feature is ease of use. Having Padlet mini in my browser means I can use Padlet to collect resources, adding another in 1.5 seconds! I can already curate resources with Pinterest, ScoopIt and Listly. They all do it well, and all have a browser extension. Padlet just does it slightly differently.

Padlet is free and looks like a wall. You can add links, videos, text and images to the wall.

To show you what a Padlet looks like, below I’m embedding a Padlet I made - about Padlet. It took me all of five minutes to find and add resources that would help teachers use it. After that I tweaked the settings a little, via the cog icon on the far right side menu. You can choose a background pattern for your wall, choose an avatar to represent yourself, choose layout options, ensure privacy settings are the way you want e.g. password protected, and tweak the address you want for your Padlet. I love that even if you set privacy to public, you can still choose to moderate any additions to your Padlet.

Padlet might be a really useful platform for teachers to gather resources all in one place. Groups of teachers could share ideas and resources this way. Students could also search for and add to a teacher’s Padlet. Kids could use it to collaborate on a project. A Padlet could be built as an author fan page, with books and book trailers collected. The collaborative aspect is ideal where students want to create a digital story, plan a party or organise a special day. Users can upload documents, add pictures taken via webcam, add images, maps, slideshows, videos. There are all sorts of options for exporting and sharing a Padlet, and you can get an embed code to add it to your website or class blog, the way I did below.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Children's Book Review, Friday Barnes Girl Detective


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


R. A. Spratt has a book with a new heroine. Fans of Nanny Piggins books will grab the first of this new series with alacrity. Friday Barnes Girl Detective is a novel, written by R. A. Spratt and published by Random House Australia, 2014.

From the publisher:

Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl!

When girl detective Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.

On arrival, Friday is shocked to discover the respectable school is actually a hotbed of crime. She's soon investigating everything from disappearing homework to the Yeti running around the school swamp. That's when she's not dealing with her own problem – Ian Wainscott, the handsomest boy in school, who inexplicably hates Friday and loves nasty pranks.

Can Friday solve Highcrest Academy's many strange mysteries, including the biggest mystery of all – what's the point of high school?


Friday is an unusual eleven-year-old. Her fierce intelligence is evident in her mature vocabulary, outstanding observation skills, and logic. She lacks common social skills and fashion sense. From the first pages where we see that Friday mostly raises herself, and that her friends are the books she reads, we’re firmly in her camp and hoping that she will make some friends. Boarding school does bring friends, but also a line-up of quirky characters who embroil Friday in hilarious situations.

Spratt is a master at bringing characters to life, and knowing just what older primary and early high school kids want to read. Young readers will enjoy trying to solve the mysteries, and perhaps go on to read more books with puzzles or problems to solve. There are teacher notes to accompany the book.

The book ends on a cliff hanger which I know will have kids clamouring for more of Friday’s own adventures. Do look out for Friday Barnes Girl Detective for your libraries, or as a gift for a child you love.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.
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