“I can’t wait ‘til journaling time. We get to start our books!” The class they’ve been anticipating for the past few weeks has now arrived. First grade students will embark on their big writing project of the year as we explore what it means to be an author and an illustrator. They will write their own stories, illustrate their work, and find success in being a “published” author. This project is always a favorite of mine and (most of) the students.
Some years back I sat in a workshop at a teacher institute and listened to Pat Roy share about her career of working with underprivileged students in her Washington, D. C. public school classroom. Having them write and illustrate their own books was one of the ways she connected with her students. As she detailed her method of book-making, I realized that this was a project I could get excited about. I’ve adapted and streamlined her methods—she didn’t have the computer programs we have that make it easier. It still takes some work and effort but I’ve found the project rewarding to students and teachers alike.
I do this project with first graders. However, it can be done with any grade level and can be adapted to suit any manner of needs. My ideas are just a spring-board to launch your own authorship project.
The project has several simple steps.
- Build enthusiasm and structure for the project.
- Students write their stories and edit them.
- The teacher puts the stories into book form.
- Students turn into illustrators and illustrate their works.
- Students share their books with others.
Those are the simple steps but let’s flesh each one out a little more.
- Build enthusiasm for the project. We start talking about the project several weeks in advance. I read some of the books that previous students have written. I also try to keep my ears open for stories they may be sharing with others. If I hear a story that sounds like book material I may comment to the student, “That could be a good idea for your book.” It is important that they already have an idea about what to write before the actual writing time, otherwise they may panic. We also explore picture books and discuss what an author and illustrator do.
- Build structure for the project. Talk about characters and the setting. Have students name their characters and identify their story setting. Invite them to think about the problem or main idea of the story. They could also think about what they might put in the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story. (These are all concepts that we’ve worked with in reading and writing so they are familiar with the ideas before this class.) Having students think about their project and detail some of their thoughts will help them know better how they want their story to proceed. However, first grade stories seldom follow the initial plot line and that’s okay. Their creative juices have been primed and the ideas can start flowing.
- Students write their story on regular paper. It’s not a book yet, it’s just the first draft. They will need at least four to five sentences. More is better but for some first graders this is all they can accomplish. I help with spelling as they need. Sometimes I need to help with ideas. And sometimes a child is off and writing for several pages. Some students finish their stories quickly. Some need several journaling periods.
- Teacher and student edit the story. I recommend light editing during a second journaling period. First the student is to read their story to themselves. I will often send them out of the classroom to read it aloud and catch any words they have missed or sentences that don’t make sense. Sometimes they may want to add more to the story or realize that some changes would make it better. After they think they have the story like they want it I will go over it with them. We make sure that periods are where they belong and the capital letters are in the correct places. I may suggest a few changes such as rearranging the sentences into better chronological order. I’m not too critical of spelling mistakes. This is not a highly polished project. The book is to be the student’s work, not the teacher’s. However, if I know a student is capable of fixing their mistakes, I will point them out and let them make the changes.
- The teacher puts the story into book form. To do this, I first start by dividing and numbering the story into seven parts. Each part is a page in the book. I have created a Power Point template that I use when I type up the stories. (See the attached file.) You can set up your own form using text boxes. Divide an 8 ½ x 11 sheet in half (landscape view). Each half of the sheet is one page in your book. The first sheet is the cover so the title and author are on the right half. The second sheet will have the last story part on the left half and the title page on the right half. On the third sheet, part one will go on the left half and part six goes on the right half. The fourth sheet has part five on the left and part two on the right. Sheet number five has part three on the left and part four on the right. I type up and print out each book, printing on both sides of a paper except for the cover which is printed on one side of a piece of cardstock Then I fold and center staple the book.
- Students turn into illustrators and illustrate their books. We spend the next journaling sessions illustrating the books. We look at library books with good illustrations, including various styles of illustrations. We discuss the covers and the title pages and then the students are allowed to let their creativity flow. Provide encouragement to the child who thinks they can’t draw. Recognize any commendable effort.
- Students share their stories with others. When the books are finished allow a share time. Read the books to the class. Encourage them to read the story to their grandparents or other interested listeners. Celebrate being an author!
I do not typically give first grade writing projects a grade and neither do I score their book. It’s my opinion that allowing creativity fairly free rein at this grade level is better than polishing their work to a high degree. At the same time, I do encourage growth in the writing process as a child is capable of accomplishing more. However, if you needed a grade for the project, you could create a simple rubric to check their progress. A rubric allows for growth without stifling the child’s own creativity in the project.
Doing this project in the fourth quarter with first graders always shows me how far they have come since the beginning of the year. I am always encouraged by the progress they’ve made and the students enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishment. They have written their first book!
Download the book template now or view it below.
CONTRIBUTOR: Carolyn Martin