A former children's librarian and professional storyteller, George Shannon has worked as a freelance writer and lecturer for over 25 years. Conferences, workshops, and author visits to schools have taken him from Japan to Kuwait, Thailand to the Arctic Circle.
tailored to each age group’s attention span, points of reference,
and amount of writing experience provide a strong sense of immediacy
creative writing does far more than help students improve their communication
skills and pleasures in reading. It widens their lives on a daily basis
as they come to see what makes us each unique and yet alike.
Writing, to me, is like working a large jigsaw puzzle. The pieces must come first, and then I can begin seeing how they fit together and what still needs to be found. This puzzle-making continues through several rewrites which are simply part of the process like trying different puzzle pieces to find the right fit. By focusing on this process of writing rather than the end product, students and I explore the ways writing begins long before pen touches paper. A vital part of this discussion is our exploration of the many ways ideas can be found in our daily lives and interests. We also explore what a story is, how narratives work, and how human emotions are the heart of all stories. Just as the picture on the puzzle box helps guide us in solving the jigsaw puzzle, having a clear idea of what a story is guides us in solving our writing puzzle.
I have found that 20-30 minutes is a good length for K-1 programs. Second and third graders can go 30-45 minutes. Fourth through sixth grade students can easily make an hour disappear. Older students, naturally, have more questions and are more ready to explore writing questions in depth. I strive to help students realize they know more about writing than they think they do and invite questions, especially from the upper grades.
Smaller groups are always the ideal because they allow more interaction. But larger groups are also manageable. In putting larger groups together I recommend having students group in similar ages and attention spans. This allows me to more effectively reach the students by tailoring my examples, metaphors and similes to their age and interests. If needed, I can also do separate brief visits to the kindergarten rooms so that both morning and afternoon sessions can be a part of the day. This also allows us to stretch the programs a bit longer for first and second graders.
An empty library floor is always an excellent location for programs. If groups need to be larger, a clip-on microphone is usually helpful to insure that everyone can hear.
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