If there is a better way to motivate and excite children about books, than by turning them into published authors, I do not know about it.
Publishing books gives children the most authentic purpose and audience for their writing and is an incredible way of inspiring writing in school. Publishing, sharing, performing and celebrating their writing provides a motivating context for their learning which is accessible to children of all ages and abilities. Publishing allows you to explicitly model and discuss the writing process and it gives children the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of how and why books are published. They become authors themselves, experiencing the decisions, methods, challenges and processes that all authors and writers must go through. In my opinion, it is an invaluable learning journey.
Last year, I participated in a project led by the Literacy Trust called Young City Poets. In a nutshell, it gave our pupils the opportunity to visit a famous cultural venue in their city (in our case this was Tower Bridge) and participate in workshops led by poets (both at the venue and back in school), whilst using these experiences to inspire their own poetry.
The project enabled us to excite and engage the children with a meaningful and purposeful writing project, whilst exposing them to a cultural venue/experience and introducing them to writing processes used by real authors and poets (thanks to a brilliant Literacy for Pleasure blog, you can find out more about explicitly teaching the writing process here).
We were able to bring the learning to life by ‘hooking them in’ with a visit to Tower Bridge, where the children were able to climb the stairs inside the bridge and walk over the glass viewing platform, experiencing the bridge for themselves (pictured). A workshop led by a poet encouraged them to personify the bridge, considering its thoughts and feelings, actions and emotions. They even drafted the beginnings of their poetry within the bridge itself before taking these initial ideas back to school to plan their poetry in more detail (part 1 and 2 of the writing process).
Once back in school they began writing their poems (part 3) and then they had the opportunity to revise their poems with input from the poet – who visited us back in the classroom to aid the up levelling process (part 4). Direct verbal feedback from the poet was invaluable. Once children had been given ample time to revise their poetry, they began the editing process (part 5). I actually taught this explicitly, assigning different ‘editing stations’ around the room. Each station was assigned a specific task (spelling, punctuation, capital letters for pronouns etc.) and finally, once published, we were able to share and perform our poems with others (part 6) thus completing the writing process.
Through this experience I also learned about something called Amazon Young Story Teller, which was the ultimate ‘cherry on top’. We used Amazon Young Story Teller (in partnership with the Literacy Trust) to publish our own poetry book on Amazon. Finding out about this unique opportunity was a game changer. After revealing the ultimate purpose of the project to the children (to publish our own book and sell it on Amazon), they sat aghast, mouths wide open. They couldn’t believe they were going to be ‘real authors’. Then, I showed them this video and the room erupted with excitement:
The result was amazing. They were instantly more focussed, more motivated, more excited about and committed to their writing. They took the editing and re-drafting process very seriously and showed real maturity in discussing each other’s poetry and choice of language. As we were typing up the final drafts in the ICT suite, the room was silent. It was clear how hard they were working and how much they wanted to succeed with this writing project. The writing they produced was some of their best yet and I could not have been prouder of them.
On the day that the book went live on Amazon, I’ve never seen my children look so proud. We took some time to reflect on how it felt to become published authors and the children’s responses utterly wowed me. The impact of this project was unquestionable.
Even my less confident writers were beaming with pride.
At first, the experience was a bit daunting and I had my doubts (Am I technologically savvy enough to self-publish? Will we have time? Will the children be engaged? etc.). I could have been put off by all of these initial concerns, but it was worth the risk. It absolutely paid off. I discovered that you can simply follow Amazon’s own manuscript and front cover templates and once I realised how simple it was to sign up and publish a book, it was easy. We even ran a front cover competition with our year group to produce a front cover image. This was yet another way to inspire and engage the children in another part of the book making process: illustration.
The book itself is now available to buy via Amazon and, after sharing this news with parents and carers, sales rocketed! At one point, we even made it into Amazon’s top 10 poetry anthologies and sharing this news with the children was a very memorable moment. In addition, for each copy sold a small profit was given to the school which we will use to invest in more reading books for our library. Of course, we also purchased a few extra copies of our own book for the library too!
This was, without doubt, one of my favourite writing units of the year. For me, it truly encapsulated what Writing for Pleasure is all about. Not only were the children thrilled to be published authors and proud of what they had achieved, they had a memorable book of their own to keep for life. There was a palpable buzz of excitement around the school. We even held a book launch and signing to celebrate our achievement on National Writing Day.
All of the parents were engaged too. I had an influx of emails and comments thanking us for sharing their writing in this way. Some of the children really surprised their own parents, who simply had no idea what they were capable of. We encouraged reviews and comments from parents on the Amazon website and shared these aloud in class.
The finished product was truly something to cherish for all the family. The project was so successful that, later that term, two other classes had embarked upon their own book projects and we soon had 3 school books available to buy on Amazon.
Useful book making resources and guides:
- For our Literacy Week staff CPD, I created this simple Inspiring Writing – Book Making PDF for staff.
- Although the Amazon Young Storyteller project has now expired, you can still self publish eBooks and paperbacks for free with Kindle Direct Publishing, allowing you to reach millions of readers via Amazon. I definitely recommend giving it a try, you will reap the rewards.
- I also love the ideas on Susan Gaylord’s blog MakingBooks.com. She has a love of making simple handmade books from recycled materials and has posted about a variety of bookmaking skills and projects. Susan also has tutorials available on Youtube and you can download these handy PDF book making guides for your classrooms too:
- Wish Scrolls – Small scrolls are made in Ethiopia, rolled into metal or leather cases, and worn around the neck or tied to a belt. They usually contain prayers, cures, or talismans to ward off evil. These instructions can be used for a making a wish scroll (containing personal, imaginary, or global wishes).
- Accordian Books – Accordion books have a rich history around the world. They are made in many parts of Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, India, and Burma. They were also the book form of the Aztecs and Maya in Mexico and Central America. Book artists frequently experiment with this form.
- Step Books – The step book can be held vertically or horizontally. Each step page flips up to reveal a section underneath which gets larger as you move down the pages.
- Palm Leaf Books – Palm leaf books are the traditional book form of India, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia. Their long narrow shape comes from shape of the palm leaf. The leaves have one, two, or three holes and are strung together on a cord. Knots, rings, beads, or coins at each end of the cord keep the book together.
- Hot Dog Booklets – The Hot Dog Booklet has a front and back cover and six pages inside. You can use any size paper.
- The passionate folk at the CLPE are big advocates of book making and also have some brilliant guides on their website. I can highly recommend:
- The Literacy Trust has a wonderful guide for making All About Me Books with KS2. This resource is a fantastic way to engage pupils and parents with book making by exploring their unique family stories, resulting in the production of a family history book. The resource contains step-by-step instructions for planning and running workshops with Key Stage 2 pupils and their parents, drawing upon the work of Paul Johnson. The workshop encourages parents and pupils to work together, seeking to develop a motivation to write, whilst helping to build relationships between home and school, extending those reading and writing for pleasure communities beyond the classroom (to access this resource you will need to sign up to the Literacy Trust website).
Book making workshops and visits:
- The House of Illustration organises exhibitions, workshops, competitions and events for schools with some of the country’s leading illustrators. You can sign up to their newsletter to keep up to date with new events here.
- You could even take your class to a Make a Book Workshop at The British Library for Free! This workshops is a practical, hands-on 90 minute session suitable for Years 3 – 6. First, the children will develop an understanding of the evolution of the book form. They will have a chance to explore the galleries with a special ‘treasure hunt’ which will lead them to illuminated manuscripts, Eastern printed books, and even a book that’s 5ft tall! Then, back in the Learning Centre, they’ll spend the final hour creating their own book using basic bookbinding techniques. They will decorate the cover using a range of art materials, taking inspiration from the many treasures on display, and will return to school with their finished book!
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