Summer Writing Camps

During the summer time, I have the privilege of working with Writers in the Schools for their week-long writing camps. This year, I did one in June for 5th and 6th graders, plus one in July for 6th and 7th graders. My goal with these classes is to take the children through the full writing process to publish a book on the last day.

Naturally, “publish a book” really means create a DIY book out of a short story we write during the week, but it is a great project. The hope is that the writing process from pre-writing to publication will become clearer, and they can experience how an author feels having their book in their hands.

You may be asking, “How on earth do you get kids to do something like that in one week, Fern?” Good question. So here’s how the week goes:

Monday starts off with pre-writing. The fastest way to create a story is to generate a world. So Monday, we create a brand new world and draw a map for it. As they draft the visual aid, students begin to brainstorm who lives here, what kinds of problems might they have, and other such ideas. They jot them down and then keep drafting the map.

Tuesday, the class works on building characters. We make profile dossiers of the main characters and create a supporting cast. We also take time to look at monsters and other creatures that inhabit the world. We add to the map locations where these live and the realms of our characters.

Wednesday, we begin by exploring magical objects that could be hidden on our world. Then we discuss conflicts and story arcs. The last part of the day is devoted to drafting a first go at this story. They draft by hand as we generally don’t have access to computers. I have the students write only on the front side of the page. This is important for downstream when we revise and publish.

Thursday, I model giving and receiving feedback by sharing a section of first draft material of my own story and letting the class provide feedback for me. Then I show the class how to ‘revise’ without having to rewrite by hand the full story.

Sadly, during the summer camps we don’t usually have access to computers so it is important to use a methodology for revision that won’t have the kids groaning and mutinying. The way I show them is to look at the feedback and decide what text they want to add to the story. They write this on a separate page and then they put a letter next to the spot where the text would be inserted. They label the new text with the same letter.

The remainder of the time is the kids workshopping their story. Some have to finish the first draft. Some are ready for critique and revision. As they move through the afternoon, students get their story ready for publication the next day.

Friday opens with us cutting the pages and pasting them together on a fresh page so that we join the draft and revision sections in a fluid piece. Once the story is ready, we produce a cover, interior front and back matter, and gather it all up to publish. We staple the pieces and use some color masking tape to create a binding for the book.

At the end of the day, students exchange their final books. They read their fellow students work and deliver a sticky note review that highlights what they loved most of their colleagues work.

And this is how we do a DIY book in a week at summer writing camps with Ms. Fern. It’s not an easy road, but rewarding for these kids who sign up because they truly love to write.

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