Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What do you do as an Author Visiting a Classroom?

I visited an elementary school class and have decided that one of the best things about being an author is visiting a classroom! Here I am on the playground with the students and their teacher (I'm the blonde adult, in case you're wondering).

This was not my first classroom author visit. It was my second! But I felt rather trepidatious--what does an author do when she visits a classroom? I remember a poet visiting my elementary school classroom. But I couldn't tell you what he did, except that I felt so excited to have him--an actual poet--in our classroom. Now that I have two class visits of experience, I will tell you my opinions on How To Visit A Classroom As An Author.

1. Bring something-Not only do kids LOVE to have something to take home with them, but really, this is a great marketing opportunity. These kids just met a real life author. They heard one of your books. They want to have one of their very own. Bring something so they know how to buy one. 

I bring a bookmark. My illustrator made them and they are super adorable. I feel sorry for you authors that don't have an illustrator as a wingman--err, wingwoman in my case. Make sure it's colorful and most importantly, it has contact information: your website (you have one, right? You should!), your email address, and where people can buy your book ("Find my books on Amazon"). Kids will line up to get one. And they will ask you to autograph it. It happened both times. I signed the bookmarks and the students treated me like a rock star. Don't just sign your name. You could. But you're missing an opportunity to be a mentor. I sign things like, "Keep Reading" (great general advice) or the more specific, and these tie into my WantsToBe children's books series: "Accomplish Your Goals" and "Do Hard Things." You are a writer. You can figure out what to write, but be prepared for it. And prepare to enjoy it, it feels very exciting.

I also bring coloring pages. My illustrator made those too. I bring four kinds, and the students pick out their favorite very carefully. So fun!

2. Be prepared to read your book (or a portion of your book, if you've a novel). The classrooms I've been invited to visit had already read my published books. So I bring a pdf of a yet unpublished version. They get pretty excited to see a book that Hasn't Been Published Yet. And one of the students gave me some good feedback that I used before I published it. 

3. Make sure you know the classroom equipment. Both classrooms I visited had a projector and cord so I could just plug in my iPad and everyone could see the book at the same time on the screen. But I don't imagine that all classrooms have that equipment. 

4. If you ask a question, wait for a response. Don't ask rhetorical questions to these students. Think about questions that will add to their lives and this "Meeting an Author" experience. I ask things like, "Have you ever accomplished a goal?" "How did that feel?" Have you ever tried something and failed? Did you keep trying?" These kinds of questions sparked a great discussion and add to this opportunity to actually mentor these kids.

5. If you have time, take the opportunity to teach them to write. The best writing pattern EVER (and I teach writing to kids ages 8 to 18 in a once a week class) is from The Institute For Excellence In Writing. I use All Things Fun and Fascinating to teach Beginning Writing, and U.S. History Volume 1 for Intermediate Writing. So I used the IEW pattern to teach these kids how to write a story of their very own. I "Borrowed a Conflict," which means taking a fairy tale that everyone knows and then changing elements of it to make it your own. We took Little Red Riding Hood and set it in space with Grandma on the far side of an asteroid belt. Yeah, these kids are imaginative and creative and could hardly wait for me to leave so they could start writing their own stories.

I look forward to my next Author Classroom Visit. You can be sure I'll bring coloring pages and bookmarks, and that I'll leave reinvigorated to write some more!

~Valerie Harmon

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