I enjoy coming to schools to talk with kids about books and writing. Here is plenty of information to help you learn about my visits, which can include sessions with kids and workshops for teachers.
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 invoke kids’ interest and enthusiasm, making the visit more memorable for them.
Some schools have gone the extra mile. They create and engage students in activities related to my upcoming presentations. It’s always wonderful for me to see what they come up with. It also gives kids a personal investment in the author visit; I get to show them things they don’t know, but they have something to show me too.
SCHOOL PROGRAM BASICS
Audience Age Range: K-8
Audience Size: I like to keep programs as informal as possible so students can participate. That is why I prefer smaller groups of one or two classes to auditorium-sized ones. That said, I understand how budgets often dictate how visits are orchestrated. Writing workshops, however, are limited to one individual class at a time.
Number of Presentations: Up to 3 per day, about an hour long. Kindergarten programs will be a little shorter.
Space and equipment requirements: A room that can be darkened for slides and a screen. If I’m traveling between classrooms and the school is on one floor, an A/V cart really helps.
For more information or to book a visit, please contact me.
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 K-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 to Space Academy in Huntsville to learn about astronaut training and space exploration along with the kids portrayed in Ultimate Field Trip 5: Blasting Off to Space Academy. Information from my upcoming How Do You Burp in Space? (coming out in late 2012) will introduce kids to the fun but challenging experience of living in microgravity. How DO you burp in space? It 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 have been the author-in-residence and blogmaster at Boston’s Michael J. Perkins School for two 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. 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.