First Grade Hosts Authors' Celebration
Some authors wait their entire careers to get published. At Friends Academy, many students are published authors many times over before they leave the first grade.
“From the beginning of the year, the kids are writing little snippets,” first grade teacher Alyson Gangi said. “They want that published piece. I hear so many times, ‘Can I publish something?’ They want to have that final copy, even if it’s just a binding or a lamination.”
“The kids are always reading each other’s stories, which I think is cool,” first grade teacher Katherine Nelson said. “It inspires some of the more hesitant writers to want to push themselves a little more.”
Responses to writing prompts such as “I like to …” are collected and bound into class books throughout the year, but it’s not until the annual Authors’ Celebration in the spring that these little writers have their day.
After several weeks of brainstorming, story mapping, writing, editing, and illustrating, the first-grade authors are finally ready to present their stories to an audience of parents, faculty and friends.
“We’re constantly talking about the elements that make a good story,” Mrs. Gangi said. “When we come to this, they’re ready for it.
“We started talking about different types of writing and showing them different genres of stories before March break. When we get back we really dive into it, and that’s when they decide what kind of story they’re going to write.”
In the past, the authors wrote personal narratives in the style of Lucy Calkin’s ‘Small Moments.’ Now the only limit for the first graders are their own imaginations.
“When Alyson and I started working together, we opened the door to fiction and I feel like the stories have gotten way better,” Mrs. Nelson said. “Even with the narratives, leaving it open-ended has allowed them to express a lot more.”
Throughout the writing process, the first graders are introduced to story elements like plot structure, characterization, dialogue and sensory language.
“We have them map out their story before they start the first draft,” Mrs. Gangi said. “We have them use a graphic organizer to get all their thoughts down, then use that when they start writing to put it all in order. Sequencing is really important. To understand the beginning, middle, and end, and what belongs in each part.”
They workshop with their teachers as well as their peers, learn editing techniques and layout their stories, determining where the text should break on each page and what to illustrate.
“Closure can be a tricky one,” Mrs. Nelson said. “They could just write forever and ever, and not really know how to end it. All of a sudden a new plotline will appear, so they have to decide what belongs in one book and what might be in a sequel.”
Finishing their books is just the beginning for the first graders. At the Authors’ Celebration, they read their stories to those in attendance.
“They were definitely nervous about reading aloud,” Mrs. Nelson said. “‘What will it look like?’ ‘Who will come?’ ‘What if I have to go to the bathroom?’ All the things first graders would worry about. They think about a lot of different moving parts.”
But a little practice reading aloud helped assuage their fears, along with the personal format. The authors sit at a desk and read their books one-on-one to parents, faculty and other honored guests.
“We used to have them stand behind a microphone and read to everyone in the crowd,” Mrs. Nelson said, “but we found this was much more intimate. They get that personal feedback, and people can spend more time looking at their illustrations and really enjoy the book more.”
“It’s really nice seeing the joy in their faces when someone likes their stories,” Mrs. Gangi said. “‘He asked me a question,’ or ‘She laughed at the part I thought she’d laugh at.’ It’s so big to them.
“I had a lot of parents say that they can see the children’s personalities through the stories they wrote. Those connections are really fun to witness.”