GETTING THE MOST FROM A SCHOOL VISIT
Generally I find that when kids are prepared for a school visit, they get more out of it. So I ask that students have access to some of my books beforehand, and read (or are read) at least one of them. I also have downloadable pictures of me and book covers to make a poster for your hallway. These efforts alone will evoke kids’ interest and enthusiasm, making the visit more memorable for them.
Some schools have the time or staff to do even more. Any kind of author study that introduces students to my writing will enrich their experience, let alone satisfy many of the new CCSS standards. Reading Rockets has a thoughtful downloadable guide to tailoring an author study to the needs of any classroom.
Over the years, I've gone to schools that used my visit to extend their students' learning in other unique ways. I'm sorry I don't have pictures of more of them, but I'm starting to take my camera with me. Check out some of the wonderful ideas they have had.
I like to keep programs as informal as possible so students can participate. This is why I prefer smaller groups of one or two classes to auditorium-sized ones. That said, I also understand that budgets often dictate how visits are orchestrated. Writing workshops, however, are limited to one individual class at a time. I typically do three presentations per day that are about an hour long. Kindergarten programs are a little shorter. Fees depend upon how many presentations and days are requested, and the distance of the school from my home. Skype visits and Google Group chats are also available. For more information or to book a visit, please contact me.
A NONFICTION AUTHOR'S VIEW OF SCHOOL VISITS AND THE COMMON CORE:
In June 2013 I finished a three-year stint as an artist-in-resident in a Boston public school. And, I got as much as I gave. I learned so much from being with kids in the classroom on a regular basis and becoming part of a school’s community. I also gained a better understanding of what teachers want from an author, including “value added” and complementing the current unit rather than extra work and a loss of valuable teaching time. With Common Core looming… see more
The Writing Life
presentation for grades 4-8
Studded with entertaining stories, this talk answers many questions students ask about being an author: Did you write a lot when you were a kid? Did you always know you were going to be a writer? Where do you get your ideas? Do you just sit in front of a computer all day? It also addresses a few that kids might not think to ask, with answers pointing out how similar the writing process is for everyone from an elementary school student to an author of 30 children’s books. Drawing examples from my books, I discuss how to do research, outlines, and drafts–even how to find fun and inspiration in the revision process!
Nature Did It First!
presentation for grades K-3
This very interactive program uses Nature Did It First! to introduce the idea that people have made their lives easier by borrowing ideas from the rest of the animal kingdom. Students and I work on a possible sequel as the group comes up with ideas, and maybe even a book, of their own.
Off to the Rain Forest
presentation for grades K-5
Bringing pictures and piranha, I take my audience down the Amazon with the kids chronicled in Ultimate Field Trip 1: Adventures in the Amazon Rain Forest. Students explore this exotic environment through the eyes of children their age. Pictures of plants and wildlife illustrate a discussion of rain forest ecology, adaptation, and biodiversity.
A Journey Back Through Time
presentation for grades 1-5
My book On This Spot began as I eavesdropped on a girl’s angry conversation with her mom in a movie line. How did a book about tracing a spot in New York City back to the beginning of geologic time evolve from that? This interactive presentation explores the process of writing a book—from refining an idea to research, writing, and the all-important revision process. It also amazes kids with the realization that New York City was once covered in ice, home to dinosaurs and part of a tropical sea. Lower grades end the visit by making another, exciting timeline.
Countdown to Adventure
presentation for grades 1-5
Here I take students into space for a future (and futuristic!) vacation, via my book How do You Burp in Space? And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know. I introduce kids to the fun but challenging experience of living in microgravity, including how to eat, sleep, and move about while floating like a satellite. I also explain many science mysteries from why stars don't twinkle in space to why burping in space isn’t always comfortable—or pretty!
presentation for grades 3-6
Most schools no longer have a regular “civics” curriculum to teach students how our government works or to encourage their participation. Sprinkled with fun facts and stories from my book, See How They Run, this presentation pulls out a secret ballot box and teaches kids the political process by campaigning and voting on an age appropriate, nonpolitical issue.
From Brainstorm to Bookshelf
presentation for grades 3-6
This talk is often commissioned to kick off research projects assigned in 3rd to 6th classrooms. As I explain the process I use to create a nonfiction book, the kids come to discover that it is basically the same route they will use to complete their projects: come up with ideas, gather information, organize it, and express it well. After all, exciting nonfiction differs from the encyclopedic stuff that no one likes to write or read. Writer’s notebooks, marked-up manuscripts, and designer’s proofs show that even professionals need many drafts to perfect their work.
STUDENT WRITING WORKSHOPS
Learning to Write the Life Back into Nonfiction
a workshop for grades 3-6
Susie Goodman has turned in her report on the brown bat. Wow, is it boring! She needs help bringing the facts to life. In this workshop, students band together to help poor Susie by rewriting her paper. They learn how to harness the exciting parts of information and organize their writing around them, starting with a lead paragraph that makes the reader want to know more.
These workshops can be folded into a school visit or scheduled independently.
Use of Dynamic Nonfiction in the Classroom
Here, I discuss the characteristics of good nonfiction writing, ways to teach students to wed writing mechanics with the creative process, and then demonstrate an exercise teachers can adapt to their own curricula.
Teach your Students to Love Writing: Start a Blog
I was the author-in-residence and blogmaster at Boston’s Michael J. Perkins School for three years. A blog “publishes” students’ work and makes it public; it is a tremendous way to motivate students to take ownership and pride in the writing/revision process. Who wouldn't be proud, for example, of what Ms. Murphy's class was able to accomplish?
This presentation discusses setting up a blog, the things you must know about doing it in a school setting, the advantages and pitfalls of using it as a teaching tool.
For the first several years that I did school visits, I never suggested signings because it seemed like shameless self-promotion. I have come to believe, however, that they are a valuable part of an author’s visit. Kids are usually thrilled to have a book, autographed and inscribed to them, by a “real live” author they have met. It gets them excited about reading and doing their own writing. Sure, there’s some work involved for the school, but over time I’ve developed a streamlining process that I’m happy to share with any school that doesn’t have one of its own. An order form is sent home with students in advance of my visit. Then, I autograph the ordered books on the day I come to your school. You can buy books from the publisher at a 40% discount and pass any amount of that savings to the kids, making them more affordable. And, all unsold books are returnable. Or you can buy local, enlisting the help of an independent bookstore that makes things much easier and might offer a bit of a discount as well.
LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS!
Dear Susan, Thank you for a marvelous Skype visit yesterday during our Bluestem Club!! The kids were so engaged and absolutely loved it. My parent volunteers were especially thrilled to hear about your connection to Christa McAuliffe. We're all so grateful for your kindness in giving up so much time to encourage our students to read and to think about becoming writers themselves. Personally, I was so excited to see so many students with great questions and hear all of your fascinating answers. You have a wonderful gift for interacting with students and drawing them into your subject matter. Karen Siwak, Learning Center Director, McAuliffe Elementary School, Tinley Park, IL
Dear Susan, On behalf of the administration, staff, and more importantly, the students of Lincoln Street School, I would like to thank you for your wonderful presentations on April 1st & 2nd. Your enthusiasm and love of writing allowed for thoroughly engaging programs. Many of the staff members have commented on how much they enjoyed your visit, but more significantly, the children remain excited about your presentations and are eagerly reserving copies of your books to read. In Sincere Appreciation, Helen Burnham
Dear Susan, Just wanted to say THANK YOU so much for coming to the Ohrenberger last Friday; students & teachers alike are still all abuzz. A bit of feedback to share:
The music teacher came up to me yesterday and told me he was so inspired that he is going back to work on his book. A kindergartner leaped at the chance to go to a Fancy Nancy event so she could meet another 'live author.' A fifth grader went home and started talking about character development with his parents.
I could go on and on. Please know that you deeply impacted the school and we will always be grateful. Mayre
ps. One more to add, Nick (SG: Mayre’s son) was putting On This Spot (SG: my book that I read to the kindergarteners) to music Saturday night—at the top of his lungs!