Developing Story Arcs with Sarah Weeks

One of the key and most practical take aways I had this summer from the Teachers College Writing Institute was during my session with author, Sarah Weeks. I attended her class on writing children’s books. She shared with us the importance of a balanced story arc in children’s stories. We examined how the best children’s books out there had really strong story arcs. She had story arcs written out for various well known children’s books. We looked at the story arc of the action in the story, which showed what was happening in the beginning, middle and end. Then, she had us also examine the emotional story that the character went through.

The next step was to start creating our own story arcs for the picture books we would write that week. She shared with us how some teachers, actually had a piece of string that they used to represent the arc. Another method was to use post-its. One color post-it would represent the action of the story, and another color post-it would represent the emotional story arc of my main character. I really loved using the post-its verses just writing it down in my notebook, because I could move around the post-its, add more details, and I could clearly distinguish between the two different arcs. After many hours, I finally had a story arc for my children’s book (still a work in progress).

Last week, I found myself whipping out the story arc I created this past summer, during one of my mini-lessons for our fantasy unit. My students were collecting ideas for their fantasy stories and we had just gone over the story arc of The Paper Bag Princess. I modeled for them creating a story arc of the action and then the emotions of the princess. Then, I showed them the story arc that I created for my children’s book as another model.

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Then, I had them create their own story arcs. I gave them post-it notes, bigger sized white paper, and let them go. I encouraged them to be creative and manipulate the size of the post-its as they needed. I had a few students add another arc, of the setting, with another post-it color. Another student included small drawings on her post-its along with the description. I even had some students layering the post-its on top of each other as they added more details. As the students worked on their story arcs, I kept emphasizing the importance of how having a strong story arc would help them write a better story. Plus, it would make the drafting process a lot easier.  And this was a lesson I definitely learned after spending many hours writing and revising my own story arc this past summer.

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What are you reading?

It’s finally summer time for teachers, which means a lot of free time and hopefully time to rest and travel. One thing that I’m always telling my students is the importance of reading over the summer. So we create summer reading lists, book recommendations, and borrow a lot of books from our school library before the school year ends.

As a teacher I love having the time to catch up on my reading over the summer. I love going to Barnes & Noble and seeing the best sellers and books that are popular in the States.  This summer I’ve gotten some great recommendations that have helped me find some great reads!

Pie by Sarah Weeks

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I just happen to know the author Sarah Weeks, who also wrote So B. It.  I was in her workshop on writing children’s picture books at the Reading & Writing Project Summer Institute this June. I will definitely be posting on that experience soon! This was a fun read, and I will definitely be recommending the book to my new 5th graders, especially if they like a good mystery and baking.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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I hadn’t heard of this series until my cousin mentioned it to me recently. I just started reading it and am having a harder time getting into it than The Hunger Games. The similar dystopian story line makes me appreciate the characters and storyline of The Hunger Games even more. It seems like this book is going to be turned into a movie as well, with Shailene Woodley as Tris. So if you want to be on the “in” when the movie comes out in March 2014, start reading!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Another recommended book by a friend, I couldn’t put it down and read it in a few days. It’s a recent NY Times best seller and originally written for young adults. Yes, it’s a story about a 16-year-old girl with cancer, but it surprises you, makes you laugh out loud in a few places with it’s honesty and wit, and of course touches you deeply with tears. This book looks like it’s going to made into a movie in 2015 with Shailene Woodley (from Divergent) playing Hazel!

The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

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I absolutely love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing. Not only is she a graduate of my alma mater (Barnard), but she writes fictional short stories that I can easily identify and relate to as a Korean American, even though they are stories of Indian Americans.

Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

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I had the opportunity of hearing Tony Wagner give a keynote at the Reading and Writing Project Summer Institute. He was a dynamic speaker and he shared about his book. In the book he shared stories about the lives of people that have really become successful innovators. He interviewed them, their parents, and mentors. He shared how they all had these 3 key things: purpose, passion & play.

I enjoyed watching the links he had of short video clips of the people he wrote about. This book definitely had me thinking more deeply about how to help my students become innovators and the massive need to change in our education system if we really want to prepare them to be successful.

Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

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I mean with a title like that, how could you not buy it? What teacher doesn’t want their school to be exceptional? Paul Bambrick- Santoyo, who is a leader for Uncommon Schools, has written a few different books on education. I’ve always been really impressed with their charter schools. I had a chance to visit North Star Academy in Newark many years ago. I was able to sit down with Paul and hear about the amazing work this charter school was doing. Now, they have many schools across the nation in their network and I knew that the advice and ideas Paul had, whether it be on classroom management or professional development would be radical and effective.

What are some books that you are reading this summer? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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