Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Have Fun Going Back to School by Cheryl Carpinello

If you are a children’s/MG/YA author and haven’t done school visits, you are missing out on fun and inspiration. As a MG author, I have visited many classrooms over the last 3 years. I have been an inspiration for and have been inspired by those would-be writers/readers. A high school English teacher, I never had the opportunity or desire to work with younger students. When I decided to write for middle grade readers, a new world opened up for me. Today I regularly visit classrooms as a paid speaker and as a volunteer. My presentation is greeted with enthusiasm by teachers and students. (Hint: Not feeling appreciated? Walk into an elementary classroom and announce you are the visiting author for the day.) My whole purpose for focusing on elementary students is to keep those students and for them to realize that they can write.

Medieval Writing Workshop Grades 3-6

My elementary school presentations centers around writing Medieval stories. I have found that the Arthurian Legend has tremendous appeal to students of all ages, but particularly elementary students. Using my book Guinevere; On the Eve of Legend as a guide, I walk students through the steps I took to write my story. We utilize the TAP (Topic, Audience, Purpose) method which most of the schools in my state follow.

TAP: We begin by brainstorming medieval topics. I honor each student’s suggestion by writing it on the board unless the topic is way off base. This gets them all involved and sends the message that their topic is just as important as the others. Next comes who they are writing for. I have them narrow this down to specific grades, ages, or people. Last, we decide on a purpose other than ‘To Entertain’.
Characters: We brainstorm different characters and animals found in medieval times. Students choose 1 or 2 human characters and at least one animal. We also have fun trying to name their characters.
Setting: The most common places students come up with for their story are castles, dark forests, and villages.
Events: After viewing posters of medieval times, students then pick 2 or 3 events to include in their story.
Ending: I have students decide how their story will end before they begin. We discuss the possibility of writing stories that just end and stories that are part of a series. Sometimes I stipulate, particularly for older students, that their story cannot end happily ever after.
Story Starters: The last piece of pre-writing is for the students to write out a couple of ways for their story to start. Depending on the time we have left, this could be actual sentences or just a listing of events for the beginning.

Before ending the workshop, I read part of my book Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend to students. I also give students my email address and ask them to send me their stories. Over the last couple of years, I have received a number of stories and a few emails asking for help. Sometimes I sell a lot of books at these events, but sometimes I sell nothing. My reward comes from students’ the enthusiasm for writing their own story.

Medieval Writing Workshop for Grades K-2

When I talk to the younger students, we focus on painting pictures with words. For this, I read a scene from Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend. I ask the students to picture the story as I read. When I’m done, students are asked to draw the picture they saw when I read. Their teachers will usually ask that they write as much as they can about their picture. I always preface this activity by telling students that they will determine how well I did my job as an author. They love that.

Tales of the Arabian Nights Writing Workshop for Grades 7-9

In this workshop, students work on writing a short story based on the Tales of the Arabian Nights. I follow the same workshop outline as for the medieval workshop with a couple of exceptions.

Reading: I start out with oral storytelling. I tell students the background story for the Tales. Then I either read or tell the first tale in the series.
Characteristics: Before students start writing, we list the elements of an Arabian Tale found in my storytelling.

Once done with these, students then begin outlining their own short story using the guidelines above.

Author Visits

Author visits are a great way to involve students in writing and reading. These workshops can be given in 45-50 minutes to one class or a number of classes. Teachers and students appreciate the time authors spend in the classroom. I have found these visits to be invigorating and inspiring both for my audience and for myself. If you have any questions about visiting classrooms, please contact me at


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This is a great idea and something the Federation of BC Writers encourages. To have the likes of Margaret Lawrence visit my school would have be awesome.

Thanks for sharing, Cheryl.

ccarpinello said...

Thank you, Joylene. Author visits are such fun!