Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in the Baranoff Elementary School Young Authors Conference. This was my third year, and as always, it was magical.
Whoever came up with the original concept is a genius. Third and fourth graders at the South Austin school spend a day attending a “conference” that features adults from the writing community, everyone from playwrights to graphic novelists to song composers to patent writers (I’m there as a writer/editor with a focus on magazine content). Each student, armed with a clipboard, blank paper, and pencil, picks two 55-minutes sessions to attend, just like adults do at professional conferences. Each presenter gives her/his spiel and activity twice during the morning.
Talking to Kids about Writing
It is so much fun to see the excitement on these youngsters’ faces and watch them practice the craft of writing. My presentation was about the process that goes on between an assigning editor and a writer, and each child created an assignment for one of three actual magazines (National Geographic Kids, Ranger Rick, or Cricket). The common subject was sloths — I provided them with a fact sheet; you gotta play to the audience, so I made sure to include fun facts (bathroom once a week, at the bottom of the same tree, and it takes four weeks to digest a meal).
Once they had crafted their assignment, papers were traded and editors became writers, creating the specific piece requested by their peer. Watching the back-and-forth between editor and writer was priceless; the articles were fun, and I think I managed to convey the work that goes into print and digital magazines:
- determining focus for the stories that go into a publication,
- crafting a coherent and appropriate assignment,
- writing from a prompt and with guidelines,
- communicating effectively to achieve desired results,
- and creating an entertaining and informative piece on an assigned topic.
We adults returned after our sessions to mingle over a luncheon in the school library, and the chatter was lively and positive. I think everyone felt refreshed, and there was a lot of talk about wishing we could attend one another’s presentations (especially the former FBI guy, who talked about code breaking, among other things).
It’s hard to know who this benefits more — the students or us writers, who — for a brief, magical moment — get to relive the passion of falling in love with words.