Teaching children to write fiction can be a daunting challenge, but Susan Marlow makes the job easy and fun with this 144-page workbook. Reach for the Stars should work great in a group-class setting (even a group of two!) where students can interact and share ideas. But it is designed such that older students might work independently. The target audience is grades 3 through 8. A few activities are written specifically for younger students: e.g., creating a puzzle to remember the five elements of a story and a few examples written to demonstrate what a younger child might write. However, I suspect this might be too much of a stretch for most third graders. But it seems perfect for students in grades 4 through 8, and maybe even older students.
Marlow, a published author of fiction as well as a homeschooling mom and presenter of writing workshops for children, draws on her experience to show students how to write lively, interesting fiction with believable characters. She breaks the process down into manageable chunks with explanations, examples, and activities so that students understand why each step is important as well as how to do it.
For example, in teaching about characterization, Marlow has a series of activities under the subheading, “Show-Don’t-Tell Feelings.” She begins by pointing out that in movies we see the feelings then she asks what characters do to reveal the feelings. After presenting a few examples, she follows with an activity. Students take turns selecting from a dozen “feeling” cards such as “hungry,” “cold,” or “shy,” then acting out the feeling for another person to guess what it might be. This makes students think about what body language and noises they might use to convey the feeling. Marlow adds charts of words that might help convey various emotions with space for students to create a few more of their own. Students are then prepared to complete an activity page on their own where they identify the feeling conveyed by a written paragraph. The section culminates with students writing 4 to 6 sentences describing a situation and their character’s feelings.
You might have caught the need for two or more people for acting out the feelings which might be a challenge for a students working independently. However, there are few such activities, and a parent could easily participate in those few instances. There is a brief note to parents at the beginning of the book and two pages of helpful instructions for specific lessons at the end of the book that someone teaching the course might use. Otherwise, the book is written directly to students and gives them plenty of direction for independent work. Graphically-illustrated worksheets throughout the book are designed such that students complete most or all of their written work directly in the book as they gradually develop the pieces of their story. The last section of the book walks them through the editing process on their “rough draft,” then provides formatted pages for them to rewrite the final version.
Reach for the Stars avoids content problems I have encountered in similar resources from secular publishers. It has that rare combination of great instructional methodology, entertaining delivery, problem-free content, and ease of use.