Tips for teaching poetry writing to kids and teens

Along with all the author visits and book signings I do, I also spend some of my time teaching poetry and other writing forms to kids and teens. I often have teachers express to me how hard they find it to teach poetry (or any kind of writing) to the kids in their classroom, so I figured I would offer a few tips that I have found work for me when it comes to getting kids excited about writing in general and poetry in particular.

*First off, allow kids freedom with poetry writing, especially when they are first starting out. Free verse tends to be the most accessible and least intimidating form to begin with. If you try to force your students to rhyme or follow a form, you will quickly have a room of frustrated kids.

*Show your kids how much variety there really is in the poetry world. For many children their experience with poetry is limited to nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess. Make your classroom a poetry-friendly zone. Hang up posters with different kinds of poems on them, stock your bookshelves with an assortment of kid-friendly poetry books and make sure you include great examples of poetry in your curriculum throughout the year.

*Read your students poems that were written by kids their age. Before a child will feel confident that they can write poetry, they need to know that other kids their age have been successful with poetry writing and have even gotten published. A few great resources to find poems by kids and teens include the magazines Highlights for Children, Teen Ink and Stone Soup.

*Make it fun. Allow kids to play poetry games. One fun medium that has always seemed to be popular with kids and teens is magnetic poetry. If you have never played with magnetic poetry yourself, feel free to check out www.magneticpoetry.com to see what it is all about.

*Use prompts the kids will actually care about. The fastest way to lose your students’ interest is to give them boring, stuffy prompts. Don’t ask them to write an ode to spring or something predictable like that. Instead, ask them to write about bullies, pets, friends, dreams, things they love, things they hate, what makes them angry, etc. Just because kids are young doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and emotions every bit as strong as adults do.

*Make your class a safe, constructive review zone. Encourage kids to share their poems with the class so that they can receive feedback, but make sure all the kids know that only kind, helpful comments are allowed. No teasing, jeering or laughing at a fellow student’s work (unless the poem is meant to be funny of course).

I hope you have found these tips to be useful. Feel free to let me know what works for you and what doesn’t. You can contact me at Shojobeatgirl@live.com if you have any comments or questions, or you can simply leave a comment below. Also, feel free to contact me if you are interested in having me visit your library, class or school!

Being indie isn’t easy!

There is one thing I have sure found out in a hurry, in the world of writing, if you aren’t one of the bigwigs, there is a definite stigma and many doors are slammed in your face. “Indie” writers is a term that you often hear used to refer to authors who self-publish or publish with a small publisher that isn’t well known.

There is some argument about whether authors published by small traditional publishers are really “indie” or not, but in the business, they are often considered so. I have self-published and signed contracts with small traditional publishers, so I figure I definitely fit into the “indie” group one way or another. Anyhow, here are a few things I have learned in the short time I have been a “professional” author:

  • Getting your book into a big chain bookstore is almost impossible. I figured Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million would be happy to have me sell my books at their local branches and do author events. Boy was I wrong! I mean, I knew that the entire chain wouldn’t carry my books unless they became popular enough, but I figured at least the local stores would work with me, but the corporate powers-that-be won’t let them.
  • Getting your book into an independent bookstore isn’t much easier. Yeah, they are normally more willing to take a chance on local authors, but with the way the economy is right now, many of our local bookstores are barely keeping afloat or are in the red, so they just aren’t willing to take those chances right now.
  • Libraries can be kind of snobby, at least some of them. They will carry crappy quality books from major publishers (why else would they carry books by Paris Hilton, Snooki and the like?), but they can be EXTREMELY picky when it comes to unknown authors and publishers. They may turn you down with a reason that seems flimsy and ridiculous, but swarm to the newest fluff put out by celebrities. Of course, not all library systems are like that and sometimes they turn indie books down for good reason (like lack of funds).
  • Getting into local schools isn’t a piece of cake either unless you know someone personally. Many schools seem almost suspicious of authors they have never heard of, maybe because our society has become so crazy and schools have to be extra-careful about what kind of people they allow near their students. I can totally understand their point of view, but it still makes it difficult on us children’s writers.
  • Lastly, if you really want to be a success, you have to take advantage of every opportunity you DO get. Most of the businesses I have found who are willing to hold author events aren’t the ones I expected. Try coffee shops, art centers, community organizations and anywhere else you can think of. After all, the worst they can do is say no, right?

A week of good and bad…

This week has been a bit crazy.  On the negative side, I caught the stomach flu from hell.  I should have known that this virus was bad when all the people at my grandfather’s nursing home started wearing face masks to avoid catching it.  Unfortunately, nobody offered face masks to us visitors, so both my mother and I ended up catching the crud after visiting.  I must say it was the sickest I have been in at least a decade.  However, I powered through and am now on the mend…kind of.

Now, on to the positive stuff that I would much rather dwell on.  First of all, I just signed a contract for a 3rd picture book!  It’s funny how after years of submitting manuscripts and receiving rejections, that I finally seem to have broken through.  Within the past year and a half, I have had three picture book manuscripts accepted by three different publishing houses.  I consider this a real victory, especially considering how the economy is doing right now!

Other good news:

*I will be reading my recently released picture book, “Ode to Icky” to my first elementary school classroom this coming Wednesday!  The plans were finalized this week, so hopefully it goes well and I sell a few books there too!  I will be talking to a couple classes at the same school that day, so I’m excited!  I also have another school lined up to do an author meeting with, so I guess I need to learn to be a little more outgoing and leave the hermit side of myself at home.

*The Dayton Metro Library system is considering stocking each of their library’s childrens departments with “Ode to Icky”.  They also might have me come in to do some author readings/talks.  This is great news since the Dayton Library system is pretty big and reaches a large population here!

*Since my grandfather’s physical condition has stabilized somewhat for right now, I am slowly returning to my full workload, and just this past week decided to start doing book reviews for other children’s authors again.  I love reading and reviewing children’s books, so I’m excited to have the time to do so once again.  I already have accepted a few author requests for reviews, but I do have a couple spots left.  Feel free to contact me at Shojobeatgirl@live.com if you have written a children’s book and need a review (right now I am requesting physical copies rather than ebook copies whenever possible, so please keep that in mind).