Authors of all stripes – fiction or nonfiction, picture book to YA – have a fantastic opportunity to create a Win-Win-Win for themselves, teachers, and students, alike, by crafting quality teaching aids to supplement their books.
This is exactly what Marcie Colleen and I had in mind when we set out to design the drama-tically new, hot-off-the-presses Curriculum Handbook for Beware Madame la Guillotine.
Here are some tips we picked up along the way that might help you turn your book into a teaching tool too…
Tip #1: Start by focusing on learning outcomes for your grade or age group.
Educational systems the world over – and I’ve had access to those on four continents! – lay out learning goals for students to reach and the desired milestone dates and times for attaining them. Teachers use these goals when developing their classroom curricula. So you should too.
The best place to start, therefore, is by researching the desired skills and learning outcomes of your particular target audience. To help get you started, here’s my personally developed general outline of skills-based goals shared by both the US Common Core State Standards as well as the International Baccalaureate Early Years, Middle Years, and Diploma Programmes:
Learning Outcomes, Primary:
Developing visual literacy: What does a picture communicate?
Recognizing text features: Action words vs. describing words, for example, as well as metaphor, simile, personification, alliteration, etc.
Understanding voice and point of view
Identifying connections and relationships, both within text as well as between texts
Comparing multi-media examples of text, such as the book vs. the movie
Learning Outcomes, Secondary (add the following to the list above):
Critical thinking skills
Intellectual inquiry: Asking inquiring questions
Research skills: Finding answers to your questions
Scientific process: Developing a hypothesis and trying to prove it
Interpretation, analysis, synthesis, and communication of meaning in text
Communicating understanding in writing and other presentation formats
Tip #2: Consider the steps a student might need to take to reach those goals.
Tip #3: Then prepare tools that will guide them there.
To make meaning of a text, students need to be able to recognize the key ideas and supporting details.
Trick #1: Create a set of discussion questions to accompany each of your book’s chapters. Cue these questions off scenes and/or illustrations in your book to inspire students to make predictions. Asking them to guess what might happen in a story not only verifies baseline understanding, but also exercises the comprehension of story structure in a non-didactic way. Always a plus!
To understand what’s happening in a book as you make your way through the plot, you need to be grounded in the setting.
Trick #2: How about a simple word-search game whereby students are asked to identify the phrases and vocabulary that provide clues to your story’s place and time?
Similarly, to really empathize with a protagonist – to walk in her shoes and see the world through his eyes – a reader needs to have gleaned many details from the text:
The main character’s age, and that of the secondary character(s);
The historical time in which the characters live;
The main character’s personality traits;
His or her motivations;
The conflict, problem, or challenge he or she is trying to overcome.
This lends itself the to the examination of “voice” in a story or text, and asks students to focus on such literary elements as word choice, point of view, language devices, and, once again, story structure.
Trick #3: Here’s where an author could create a worksheet— or even better, a smart board-compatible graphic organizer—on literary features and how they are used. Include examples from your book. Students may then be asked to write their own scenes, using these features, perhaps even in the “voice” of your story’s main character. Fun!
As for activities that aid in interpretation and finding deeper meaning in a text, point students to web-based aids that will enable them to design treasure hunts – my specialty!
Trick #4: Send them to Google Maps, for example, to plot the course of your main character’s journey. Invite them to search Google Images for pictures of how the story world might have looked, especially if it's historical, and what clothing styles were worn. Allow them to continue to explore from there. You may find them on YouTube searching for examples of popular music from that time. It may seem like play, especially to your students, but research shows that compiling visuals and playlists extend and deepen a reader’s sensory experience of a story. Besides, we learn through play. Even adults. So it's all good!
Finally, suggest other texts or media that students and teachers can view as a complement to your story. Movies and plays are especially fun.
Trick #5: Ask them to highlight the connections between these media as well as the contrasts. Compel them to explore the differences in voice by considering the personality of the writing in each format: Who is speaking? How do you know? How does the writing in each make you feel?