Check out the Guitar Notes website.
If you’d like to set up a free 15 min skype session with me, take a look at the dates that I’ve posted for Dec-June. Teachers, librarians, and parents of homeschoolers can sign up now! First come, first served.
Math teacher Mindy LeBlanc had a great idea for a resource for her classroom: a creative writer showing that even writers need to learn math. Here is my video. Teachers, if you can’t access youtube in your classroom, please let me know if you’re aware of a better option than TeacherTube. TeacherTube isn’t processing my videos well for some reason.
ISBNS for Mary Amato’s Books:
Good Crooks Book One: Missing Monkey
Good Crooks Book Two: Dog Gone!
Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook (Holiday House, 2010).
Invisible Lines (Egmont USA, 2009).
Take the Mummy and Run: The Riot Brothers are on a Roll (Holiday House, 2009).
The Chicken of the Family (Putnam, 2008).
Stinky and Successful: The Riot Brothers Never Stop (Holiday House, 2007).
Please Write in this Book (Holiday House, 2006).
Drooling and Dangerous: The Riot Brothers Return! (Holiday House, 2006).
The Naked Mole-Rat Letters (Holiday House, 2005).
Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All (Holiday House, 2004).
The Word Eater (Holiday House, 2000).
Every October, I choose one school in Maryland (as long as it is 31 miles or less from the intersection of Colesville Road and University Boulevard, Silver Spring, MD) to receive a free author visit (one or two assemblies) to be scheduled on a mutually-agreeable date/time during the December, January, or February.
Who can enter? Teachers, librarians, administrators, parents, and/or students (with a parent and using a parent’s email address).
When to enter: You may enter only in September or October.
To enter, send me an email with the following three items:
1. Your school name
2. Your school’s complete address, including zip code
3. Your name, phone number, email address, and how you are connected with the school.
On October 31, I will put all the entries into my hat and draw a winner.
Please note that the previous year’s winner has to wait three years to enter again. The 2011-2012 winner: Westover Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD.
The following contests and magazines have run in the past and may still be open to submissions from students. If you are interested in any, please check with the source. Let me know if any contests have been discontinued.
The Imaginormous Challenge offers a range of fun contests–from writing a book to creating your own candy. Teachers can also download classroom materials.
Time for Kids is holding a poetry contest. You must be a subscriber to get info.
The Gaithersburg Book Festival often holds a short story contest for students in grades 9-12 living in the Washington metropolitan area. Short stories must be no longer than 1,000 words and must begin with one of three lines provided on the contest website.
Washington Post KidsPost Annual Poetry Contest occurs every April in honor of National Poetry Month. See their website for rules on how to enter.
Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are for students in grades 7-12. Awards in many categories include: film, design, short story, poetry, and more.
Scholastic Bookfairs Kids are Authors Contest is an annual competition open to students in Grades K–8 in the United States and U.S. international schools and is designed to encourage students to use their reading, writing, and artistic skills.
Letters About Literature is a state and national writing contest sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Arts Council that encourages young readers in grades 4 to 12 to respond to an author through a letter expressing how that author and book changed their worldview and themselves.
American Pet Products Association is sponsoring a poetry contest about animals called Pets Add Life for grades 3-8.
NASA is planning a new contest, The Nasa Careers Poetry Contest. Find out more at: http://spaceflightsystems.grc.nasa.gov/girlscouts/gsusa_poetry.html
SOMIRAC (State of Maryland International Reading Association Council) sponsors a Young Authors’ Contest for Maryland students in Grades 2-12 at the local council and state levels. All entries must be original work and include a completed “Submission Form” signed by the student author and sponsoring teacher. To find out more, please see your school’s reading specialist or contact SOMIRAC.
Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (MD) Fran Abrams Creative Writing Award for high school seniors.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY (MD) STUDENTS HAVE OPPORTUNITY TO BE PUBLISHED with BETHESDA YOUTH WRITING CONTEST. The contest is open to students in grades K-8 who live or attend school in Montgomery County. Students can enter the contest either as individuals or through their teacher, if the whole class would like to participate. For an entry form and more information, please visit www.bethesda.org or call 301-215-6660.
Creative Kids magazine is the nation’s largest magazine by and for kids. The magazine bursts with games, stories, and opinions all by and for kids ages 8–14.
New Moon Girls Magazine focuses on girls, women, or female issues. New Moon Girls was created by girls and women for girls who want their voices heard and their dreams taken seriously. It is edited by and for girls ages 8 and up. New Moon Girls takes girls very seriously; the publication is structured to give girls real power. The final product is a collaboration of girls and adults. An editorial board of girls aged 8-14 makes final decisions on content for the magazine and website.
Stone Soup is made up of stories, poems, book reviews, and art by young people through age 13.
Teensite, a website for teens through Montgomery County (MD) Public Library, invites Montgomery County, MD, students to submit original writing to their ongoing site. They also hold an annual contest: Understanding Diversity through Creative Writing. Contact your branch librarian to find out more.
Children have a lot of writing assignments in school. Often, time for creative writing is squeezed out of the curriculum. If you are a teacher who wants to introduce/encourage more creative writing, here are some ideas.
Keep a Writer’s Notebook. See my Tips for Keeping a Writer’s Notebook for more info.
Create a Writer’s Corner. Stock it with pencils, paper, materials for making mini-books, a mirror for looking at facial expressions (in order to be able to describe them), a phone book or baby naming book for character name ideas, and more. Encourage kids to write a poem or story during free time. Encourage kids who are upset about something to write about it.
Try a “collaborative” journal with your class. In my book, Please Write in This Book, the teacher leaves a blank book in her room asking students to please write in it.
Be open to “silly” writing. Students may be inspired to write a story that you think is ridiculous or silly. Remember, creative writing is not about creating something perfect or something necessarily profound. Be open and encourage creativity, and the child will want to keep writing.
Encourage all kinds of writing. Stories, poems, songs, plays, cartoons, comics, etc.
Allow reluctant writers to dictate to you or a volunteer/assistant. Be a scribe, not an editor. Use the child’s exact words.
Embrace and encourage mistakes. The goal is to increase creative fluency and make writing fun. Save the grammar and spelling lessons for later. The truth is that my rough drafts are riddled with mistakes. I’m pushing myself to get something down without trying to edit as I go…children should be allowed to have the same writing process.
Ask questions if the student gets stuck. What is the story or poem about? If it’s a story, who is your main character and what does your main character want?
Talk it through one sentence at a time. If the student has trouble organizing or keeping track of thoughts, ask him/her to tell the story aloud one sentence at a time. Write down one sentence at a time.
Write yourself. Model enthusiasm by writing and sharing your own creative stories and poems– especially your “mistakes” or the ones that didn’t turn out as well as you’d like or the ones that you’re having trouble finishing.
Encourage the child to use his/her own voice. Rather than trying to “be poetic,” or to cram lots of big words into a story, it’s important for a child to learn to capture his/her own voice.
Create venues for sharing writing.
- Have a “literary reading” and invite friends and family
- Create podcasts of work
- Publish work on a website
- Encourage students to submit to writing contests.
- Establish a young author’s club
- Hold a Young Authors celebration, publishing and sharing books
Try “dialogue journals” between students. Link students who enjoy writing by encouraging them to write to each other by passing a designated notebook back and forth.
Give the gift of the written word. Model meaningful writing. Write real, meaningful messages to your class in your own voice on special days or for special events. No hallmark cards. Say what is really in your heart. This will make a big impression.
Create special “Everybody Writes” Sessions. Help kids to get in the mood by playing an unusual piece of music, lighting a candle (if your school allows this), dimming the lights, asking everybody to sit in a different seat, etc.
Shake things Up. Ask your students to get their creative juices moving by first dancing to an awesome piece of music and getting their bodies moving. Then sit down to write…
For encouraging story writing, use my WOW story technique to get started.
What is a WOW story?
WOW is an acronym that I created to help kids remember a simple story structure.
- The story has a main character who Wants something. This is the beginning of the story.
- There is an Obstacle that gets in the way of the main character. This is the middle of the story.
- The main character either Wins or loses. This is the end of the story.
How to make up WOW stories
- Choose a main character. This can be a person, an animal, or even an object: for example, a boy, a grandmother, a soccer star, a sock, or a paintbrush!
- Decide what the main character wants. What might a paintbrush want? Some paint to play with? To belong to a famous artist? Try unexpected ideas. A grandmother might want to ride a motorcycle!
- Decide what will get in the way of the main character’s desire. Brainstorm lots of obstacles and decide which one is the most fun or engaging. Obstacles can be simple. A rabbit wants to eat grass on a hillside, but a tiger lives on that hillside. The tiger is the obstacle. A boy wants a new bike, but his father says no. His father is the obstacle. Obstacles can also be emotions. What if a girl wants to ice skate, but she is afraid that she’ll fall down? Fear is her obstacle.
- Decide how/if the main character will “win or lose.” Does your main character get what he or she wants in the end? How?
Write or perform WOW stories
Write or dictate your story: Write your stories on paper. Or make a book by folding pages and stapling them together. If your child hasn’t learned how to write yet, ask him or her to tell you the story and write it down word for word.
Act your story out: For reluctant writers, try acting out the story first. After you have brainstormed the basics for a specific WOW story using the steps above, act out the story. Choose a narrator who will tell the story and provide cues for the actors. This can be the job of the parent or a child. The narrator should be very clear and say “The End” so that everyone knows when the story is over. After acting out stories, the child may be more interested in writing them down.
Copyright © 2011by Mary Amato. Permission granted to copy for educational use.
Ana Otaru, graduate student in the writing program at Johns Hopkins University, has started a book/writing blog. Her interview with me appears in a February post.