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Junior Authors

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lower school creative writing reinforces core skills while cultivating originality and personal voice.

Revising sentences and paragraphs helps students develop their own voices.
Revising sentences and paragraphs helps students develop their own voices.

Perched on the “author’s chair,” a fourth grade student finishes reading his poem aloud. He looks up at his classmates sitting on the floor around him who begin to comment. “I liked how detailed your description was,” says one. “It really helped me imagine your feelings.” 

Another adds, “I wonder if you could use more figurative language.” 

“What could be an example of that?” prompts the teacher. 

The poet listens to their discussion and then trades places with the next writer ready to share. These critiques combine the fun of salon-style readings with the analytical engagement expected of a rigorous program. 

Writing is a core component of Harlem Academy's curriculum, and creative writing in particular helps students develop skills and confidence in the power of their own words. 

Each creative writing project in the lower school corresponds closely to a reading unit. In grade one students write short, detailed paragraphs about an experience or sensation – such as the moment of blowing out candles on a birthday cake. To prepare, they read short prose that focuses on emotional language and the author’s voice. Grade two explores fables and folk tales before writing their own. Grade three examines character traits and perspective in chapter books and then writes original monologues for characters in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Grade four analyzes the figurative and descriptive language in poetry before writing their own. 

Whether the unit is fables or poetry, the model is largely the same. Students learn to identify the defining characteristics of a genre or character type and use evidence to describe how they operate in specific examples. It is not until students master these reading skills that they begin writing their own work.

Teachers use the literary concepts covered as a rich platform for creativity. When grade two studies fables, they identify the moral in each story. Students must use evidence to explain their answers and articulate the subtle differences between genres. With this knowledge in hand, they craft their own stories, outlining in advance what moral they wish to express and the character traits and actions that will accomplish this.

Second grader Ronan, who titled his fable "Never Stand Behind a Horse," noted, “I liked reading fables to see what I wanted to write about.” His classmate Eve-Marie (who reworked "Cinderella" from the stepmother’s point of view) added, “We have already read fairy tales so we can connect it to writing our own stories.” 

“Part of the value,” says Lower School Director LaShonda Davis, “is giving our students a fun, creative outlet that connects directly to their core reading and writing skills. But part of it also is the practice developing their own voices. How can a sentence be stronger, or a paragraph, or a story? How can students plan what they want to say and say it better?”