Sunday, November 14, 2010

Giving Something Back

By Mark W. Danielson

Recently, two elementary school teachers told me how their students love to write mysteries. I could hardly believe it. At a time when so many young people prefer texting or listening to I-tunes rather than engage in conversation, to hear that students were interested in developing their creative side was heartwarming. But what makes this even more intriguing is these future writers are third and fourth graders. If their interest in writing can be ignited now, these kids will excel at anything. Stifle it and they will cross over to technology's Dark Side before they reach middle school. As a writer, they asked if I would speak to their students. I gladly accepted.
In addressing elementary school kids, I’ve learned that to be effective, I must hold their attention and keep them involved. I do this by first explaining that story writing is no different from story telling. Too much thought spoils creativity. I then lead the class through a story exercise where ideas flow while the teacher writes them on the white board. Soon, hands reach for the sky from kids eager to share their thoughts. Once we have agreed on the story’s premise, I solicit ideas for the beginning. After a good line is created, we move quickly to complete six or seven more that describe the story, and then wrap it up with a conclusion. Because kids are visual people, drawing the story in picture form can stir their creativity. Any extra class time can be spent on editing and teaching the value of words.

A week or so after my class session, I usually receive an envelope filled with hand-crafted thank you notes. Although these kids were required to make them, some notes show genuine creativity and honesty. The kids who made these are the ones most likely to develop a passion for reading and writing. Few things are more rewarding than influencing kids toward writing.

Kids need role models, and authors fit that category. Each year at Irvine, California's Men of Mystery event, four high school students from Orange County schools are recognized for their outstanding creative writing abilities. During their acceptance speeches, many refer to a single teacher or author who sparked their interest in writing. That’s pretty powerful stuff. Imagine how much better off we would be if every published author reached just one child.

I strongly encourage authors to make guest appearances at schools. Kids need to understand that race, religion, economic status, or physical conditions can never limit their creative writing. They should also know that writing isn’t about book sales, but rather the fulfillment of ideas. If you have been successful in writing, then try giving something back. You can’t reach every student, but the ones you do will never forget your name.


Jean Henry Mead said...

So true, Mark. I once taught in the Poetry in the Schools Program at the elementary level. I'd usually start with a silly poem about an elephant who tried to use a telephone and then asked the kids to write about various animals using household appliances. They found it a fun exercise and came up with some very imaginative stories. You can tell early on which children have writing ability and it's important to encourage them to use their imagination, which have been dulled by TV and video games.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Jean, while it's easy to identify talented kids early on, there are plenty of kids who bud later. Either way, the principle is the same -- ignite their imagination while they're young and who knows where it will lead? I've always believed you can do anything you put your mind to.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm not so sure I'd be that great with the little ones until my book about my dog, Rascal, comes out. I could give it a try with the older school kids, though, and college age.

Morgan Mandel

Mark W. Danielson said...

Morgan, the class doesn't need to tie in with your book. Just the fact that you are there to share some insights is well worth it for any age group.

As a pilot or author, I have spoken at DARE graduations, talked to kids who were considering dropping out of high school, talked to Scouts, and taught grammar school classes, nd the only thing that mattered was being enthusiastic and positive.

If our country is to survive, we must energize every kid about the importance of education. Please give it a try.