Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Behind the Books: Starting with a Question

Here’s the question I left off with last week: How do we give students the tools and opportunities they need to become passionate nonfiction writers?

I think the key is to make the process as authentic as possible. And that means looking at the process behind passionately written professional writing.

While every professional writer has his or her own unique process, my guess is that many start the same way I do--with a question.  Something I see or hear or read makes me so curious that I want to know more. And once I know more, I’m so excited that I want to share it with other people.

Here’s an example. One day, I read a magazine article with a fact that blew my mind—a hummingbird’s eyelashes are the smallest feathers in the world. Wow! Who knew birds had eyelashes? And can you believe that they’re made of feathers?

That incredible fact also inspired me ask a broader question: Do birds use their feathers in other unexpected ways? It was such an intriguing question that I knew I had to explore it. And eventually, the information I accumulated during my journey of discovery turned into the book Feathers: Not Just for Flying.

What can educators take away from my process story:

--Self-generated ideas are powerful
--It’s important to be open to ideas all the time. (When I read the “hummingbird eyelashes” tidbit, I was working on another book, but I still paid attention.)

--It’s important to keep track of questions we have or things we wonder about. (I tacked the “hummingbird eyelashes” article to the idea board in my office.)

Recently, I saw a great classroom Wonder Wall, and I thought, “This is like my idea board, only better.”

Imagine having a Wonder Wall bursting with sticky notes in every classroom. When it’s time to do a nonfiction report, students use one of the sticky notes to fuel their own journey of discovery and then write about the most interesting things they learn.

When natural curiosity guides the research and writing process, and when children are encouraged to zero in on what they find most fascinating, their final piece is bound burst with passion and personality. Why not give it a try?

1 comment:

  1. Oh my gosh, I LOVE the idea of a Wonder Wall - I'll have to do one for my home office! And hummingbird eyelashes are feathers? Fascinating. I need to go get a copy of your book!