Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday 25 July 2015

Creating Stories with Preps

Tasmanian author Johanna Baker-Dowdell visits her son's classroom and inspires and leads the students into creating a wonderful story about a tiger and a puppet.

As a child, do you remember how thrilling it was to meet an adult whose job was something really special, like a singer, an artist or TV star?

When my youngest son, Ethan, started Prep this year he excitedly told me his class would focus on a specific author every few weeks. Everything excites him about school (which is great), but the idea of finding out more about an author really delighted him. I chuckled to myself and said, “I’m an author too.” He said, “I know mum. Why don’t you come to my class and talk to us?”

I wasn’t sure whether the classroom of five- and six-year-olds would be interested in hearing about how I wrote a business book, but I did think they would like to hear about how a story comes together. And so did their teacher.

Not quite sure how I was going to talk about storytelling with this group of 25-odd kids, I fell back on a trusted activity both my sons have enjoyed over the years and one I’ve started using myself when writing creatively – writing prompts.

I enlisted Ethan’s help and together we collected a box full of interesting prompts to kick-start even the most stubborn creative streak. Our box of goodies included: a flower, an autumn leaf, an Indian tiger puppet, a small wooden spoon, a ribbon, a pair of blue sunglasses, a gum nut, a round stone and a jigsaw puzzle piece.

Armed with my prompts, some butcher’s paper and coloured pens I shared the items with the class and we talked about how we could use what was in the box to create a story. Before long we had a central character (Rosie the tiger) and had filled three pages of paper with her story. I hadn’t planned on using all the items as prompts, but the kids were so excited and their ideas flowed so freely that we just kept going until every item had played a role in Rosie’s story.

The class was so enthusiastic that we extended the storytelling session. I placed a few items from the box on each group of desks and every child wrote their own story using these as prompts. Some used the characters we had created together and others started fresh with new characters, but every child created an individual story. A class full of engaged children all scribbling with their pencils on blank paper to create something unique was an honour to witness.

Their enthusiasm was contagious and I came back to my office to type up their class story, laying it out so each page could be accompanied with a picture. Within days Ethan proudly showed me the illustrated and bound story displayed in his classroom. You can read the text of the story online. 

Since then I’ve spoken with several of Ethan’s classmates at school pick up about the stories they have written. And one wants to be a Star Wars author when he grows up! Parents also told me how excited their children were to write a story together, so I’m chalking that up as an inspiring experience – for all of us.

Johanna Baker-Dowdell
Freelance journalist and author of the book Business & Baby on Board.

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