A reader recently asked me if I have any suggestions for summer academic enrichment activities, specifically in the area of English, for her middle school age son. She doesn't want to send him away to a writing camp or spend money on an online writing course.
Coming up with a good writing enrichment activity is more challenging than finding fun STEM activities. After pondering her question for a couple weeks, I remembered a co-op enrichment class I have taught a couple times that students really enjoy. My recommendation for my reader, Jennifer (and you, too) is to have your children write and illustrate a book.
Using the method given here, a wide age range of students can write and illustrate a book and have a finished product they will cherish.
Using the book, Creating Books with Children by Valerie Bendt as my guideline, I guided my students to write a story, illustrate it, and publish it using a photo book publisher.
My class met for one hour per week for ten weeks, with students doing most of their writing and illustrating at home. As a summer enrichment activity, students could work on the book an hour per day for several weeks or a similar schedule.
Basic outline for making a book:
Start with a stack of books
Go to the library and check out 20 or more children's books and biographies about authors and illustrators. Some suggestions: Bill Peet, An Autobiography, books by or about Eric Carle, H.A. Rey, Hans Christian Andersen, John Newberry, Beatrix Potter, Louisa May Alcott, Dr. Seuss, Don Freeman, A.A. Milne,Robert McCloskey, Bill Martin, Jr, and your student's favorite authors or illustrators.
Older children might wonder why they are reading children's books this week. Remind them that most children's books are written by adults. They will be reading these books from a different perspective. They will be studying the writing styles and illustration methods. Have students notice the illustrations and medium used. Have them pay attention to how the story is written- what is the conflict or setting? How are the characters described? Is there a mystery? Have your student find passages that demonstrate the basic elements of writing a story.
Reading aloud during this whole process is a fun family activity, too!
Determine what to write about.
This is difficult for some students. Will it be a mystery story? A humorous story? Historical fiction? A poem? An alphabet book? Retelling a favorite memory or Bible story? An adventure story? Fantasy?
Brainstorm as many ideas as possible to help your student see the possibilities.
Write, Edit, Re-write
Once your student has settled on what to write about, it is time to start writing. If your student is young, it is certainly acceptable for them to dictate their story to someone to write for them. As the draft is being written (or when it is finished) you will want to read it and offer suggestions to help make the story clear. Often students will leave out details that the reader needs to understand the story. Ask questions so your student can include important details in the story.
Make a Mock-Up Book
Making a mock-up of the book will help determine the pages and text lay-out. Because most photo books include 20 pages in their price, students were encouraged to have 18 pages of story, plus a Title page and Author page. Sometimes a student needed more pages and paid the extra charge for the extra pages.
Eighteen pages of story does not necessarily mean a lot of words. When you look at many children's books, often there is only a sentence or two on a page. If an older student wants to write a longer story, several paragraphs can be on each page.
Students need to determine the layout of their text and illustrations. To do this, make a mock-up of the book. Take 10 pieces of printer paper, fold them in half and staple the 'spine'.
Using a pencil, label each page of the mock-up book in this order:
Front page - Title Page.
Back of title page- blank
Inside right hand page - Page 1
Number the rest of the pages through 19
Page 20 - Author page where you will put a photo and info about the author.
Use the mock-up book to decide where the text and illustrations will go on the page: top, bottom, middle, or whole page. Pay attention to a two-page spread if any illustrations will cover both pages.
After deciding where the text will be placed on the pages, decide where the page breaks will be in the text and mark your story by page number.
Time for illustrations
Based on the text on the page, decide on your illustrations. Look at more children's books to decide your medium. Will it be pencil? Pen and ink? Collage? Photography? Water color? Colored pencils? Computer drawing? There are many options. It is always fun to see how the students choose to illustrate their stories.
|This illustration was designed to cover a two page spread. Photo books today would not have the big gap you see here. Photo book technology has come a long way in nine years!|
There are two different ways you can choose to put the text with the illustrations.
- Type and print the text on a page where you want it. Do the illustration directly on the printed page. Scan the page to your computer as a .jpg file. Upload it as a picture into a photo book publishing program like Shutterfly or My Publisher.
2. Type the text on the page directly into the photo book publishing program. Scan the illustration and save as a .jpg file. Upload it as a photo and put it with the correct text page.
I have only used the first method, but I think the second method may be easier.
Design the Book Cover
Design a cover for the book that includes the title and the author. This can be done on paper and scanned or made directly in the photo book publishing program. Don’t forget to include an illustration for the book cover. This can be an illustration from the book if the student doesn’t want to make something different.
|When this book was published we didn't have the option to print the cover directly on the book, but now you can!|
Make the Author Page
The author page will have a photo of your budding author and information about the author. The information might include how or why the author chose the story, what the author likes to do, age, where he goes to school, etc.
|You can design your author page any way you want.|
Publish the Book
Upload all the illustrated pages into the photo book publisher.
Proof-read again for errors. It is always good to have a couple people read to catch any errors.
Choose your book size and format (softcover or hardcover).
Order your book.
Be proud of your hard work!
|Some pages might be illustration only or text only.|
Many photo book publishers offer discounts on photo books when you sign up at their website. You can find some good deals, so this can be an inexpensive project.
If you try this with your student(s), I would love to hear how it turns out.
The book I used by Valerie Bendt has some very helpful tips for guiding your student in their writing and illustrating. Since she had the students hand bind the books, I did not follow her instructions for that. I really prefer the photo book method for a professional looking book.
I did this with my now 17 year old son when he was 8 years old. His book, How the Tiger Got His Stripes, is a wonderful keepsake.
I hope this inspires you to try this writing enrichment activity.