Wednesday, October 14, 2020

From Research to Revision, Ick! Part 5

On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses step-by-step. (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)

Last week I discussed writing the proposal and how my plan transformed from three 48-page books into one 112-page book. You can scroll down and read that post. Today, I’ll begin a description of the drafting process for the spread that focuses on flesh flies. 

Believe it or not, there are more than 2,500 species of flesh flies living on Earth, and as I discovered during the research process, they’re icky in all kinds of ways. 

For example:
—Some flesh flies drink juices from rotting fruit. Many sip liquids from animal poop and animal carcasses. 
—Some female flesh flies place their worm-like maggots (larvae) on dung. Others choose rotting carcasses or the open wounds of living animals.
—Some flesh fly maggots burrow into live animals, including other insects, snails, and toads.
—Some flesh fly maggots eat their hosts from the inside out and eventually kill them.

I could have tried to cram all this information into the book, but I knew that would be a mistake. Anytime writers use too many general words like “some” and “many,” the writing gets less interesting. I wanted my writing to be lively and full of fascinating, specific details.

But what should I focus on? I just couldn’t decide. Luckily, I remembered a technique I learned from Ryan Scala, a fifth-grade teacher in East Hampton, New York.

When students are done researching, Ryan encourages them to review their notes and circle facts and ideas they consider especially important or interesting. Then he invites them to choose one of the following prompts and jot some thoughts in their writer’s notebook:
—The idea this gives me …
—I was surprised to learn …
—This makes me think …
—This is important because … 

I chose the second prompt and wrote the following in my notebook.

Until I wrote that sentence on paper, I hadn’t really thought about the irony of a fly eating a toad. I decided that would be a fun focus, so I did some more research to learn as much as I could about Lepidodexia bufonivora, the flesh fly that targets toads. 

I highly recommend trying Ryan’s technique the next time your students are writing nonfiction. Finding a focus of personal interest forces writers to be specific, and it helps them stay engaged, both of which result in prose that’s interesting and unique. 

Next week, I’ll continue to discuss the drafting process for this flesh fly spread.

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