Archive for Broadview-Thomson

Story Problems: Learning Narrative through Pictures

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , , on April 7, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Greg Stump, WITS Writer-in-Residence


Comic by Maya, a 1st grade student at Broadview-Thomson K-8 School.

As a teaching artist who helps students of all ages learn to make comics, I’m often fascinated by how a single lesson or exercise can be just as useful for the very young as it is for teens and adults. Short comic strip stories, humble though they may be, seem to be especially effective in teaching story structure to anyone. This is because all parts of the story (introducing a character in a setting; throwing a conflict/problem or disruptive event into the scenario; heightening the drama/tension; and resolving the matter as the character is restored/transformed) are not just visible, but adjacent to each other as well. In a comic, we can see all at once how the story ends and begins, or we can read it piecemeal or in reverse order — unlike text narratives, which are inflexibly linear, or movies, which can only show us one part of the story at a time.


Anyone who spends time with young children knows that they can tell stories even before they’re able to write them down, and this is never more evident to me than when teaching them comics. As a WITS writer-in-residence this year, I was very happy to get to teach the first graders at Broadview-Thomson, in part because it’s so much fun to see what little kids (who are still learning how to write) will come up with when asked to draw out their stories. The comic you see here, drawn by a first grader named Maya in Jeanne Medalia’s class, is a great example of how a simple six-panel comic can demonstrate both a solid grasp of narrative structure, and a delightful imagination to boot.


As the story begins in the first panel, our butterfly protagonist leisurely flaps past a flower. Suddenly, disaster: the butterfly collides into a tree (the “disruptive event”) in the second scene. The “rising action” in panels three and four show our hero laid out on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a hospital bed, where it lies miserable and injured. Fortunately, a nurse mends the butterfly’s damaged wing, and the comic ends much as it begins — with the butterfly in flight, only now with relief after having gone through a dramatic ordeal.


Again, this is a simple exercise, but the use of a vertical six-panel grid to tell a story in pictures can be quite powerful in getting kids — or anyone, really — to see, quite literally, that what makes a story engaging is how it introduces and resolves problems. And when assigned to students as young and creative as Maya, it leads to work that is as charming as it is instructive.



Creating Emotional Space with Words

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on February 26, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Imani Sims, WITS Writer-in-Residence

It was day five and my eighth grade students were still writing about an inside joke that had something to do with pears and noodles. As you can imagine, after the fifteenth poem about pears, I sat down with my classroom teacher to brainstorm how we could adjust Monday’s lesson to inspire some emotional response from these eighth graders. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to give them a list of emotions, ask them to silently reflect on specific times when they felt that way and simply write them down. We turned the lights off. Asked the students to close their eyes and simply think. After five minutes, we asked them to list all the instances that came up for them, during reflection. Hands flew across pages. It seemed to be working. Students were jotting things down and dumping real responses onto the page. After a few minutes, the chatter began and I knew it was time to move into the next phase of writing. I asked students to choose one emotion or one instance they had written down and begin to list details:

“What room were you in?”

“Who was with you?”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Maybe the cars outside or yelling?”

“What were the smells around you?”

A hand flew into the air, “Ms. Imani, can sterile be a smell?”

“Absolutely!” I responded.

“Keep working. What colors were around you? Give me as many details as possible. Put me inside of the moment with you.”

As the students crafted their moments, my classroom teacher and I circled the room like shepherds, gently guiding sheep to pasture. Each question was inspired. The eighth graders were finally coming into their own as writers and the bell rang. The next day, we took their moments a step further. I asked them how they could begin to craft these details into a poem. We displayed an example from a creative writing course their classroom teacher took, years before. She used provocative images to describe the day her father left. Everything from Legos to doors slamming placed the students in the moment. We asked the eighth graders to pick the imagery they thought would transport the readers to whatever moment they chose.

Over the next 50 minutes, the Broadview-Thomson eight grade class crafted some of the most beautiful poetry I had read in a middle school setting. For the culmination, I asked all of the students to present their work to the class. As students read, the eighth graders bore witness to their classmates’ stories with grace. They responded in a way that was supportive and loving. They held space for every emotion that surfaced. A few students cried, as some told tales about struggles with self harm and others boiled up with passion as they described the injustices the black community, in America, faced. These are the moments that inspire me to continue my work as a WITS Writer. Here, my work as an educator and artist has purpose.

My Future Self is Now

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , on February 19, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Katy E. Ellis, WITS Writer-in-Residence

On February 2nd, I started my first ever WITS residency, a two-week intensive at Broadview Thomson K-8. My mission: to teach memoir to 78 kindergarteners. The idea of teaching memoir to five- and six-year-olds mystified and tickled me at first. Not only did I wonder how much personal history they might have to recount (seeing as almost half of their lives they couldn’t even speak understandable words), but how in the world were they going to physically write about their memories on the page?

I mostly used techniques I’d learned from working with my daughter’s phenomenal K-1 teacher at Pathfinder K-8 and from my experience teaching very young, emergent writers at The Family Learning Program, a West Seattle home school organization. Lots of empty boxes for drawings that will help the writer get started and to remember what he or she wants to write. Beginning sentences or poetic lines that the writer completes. Modeling my own writing on a large piece of paper, sounding out the letters and “reading the room” for frequently used words (e.g., and, the, my, is, friend). We did “My Six Word Memoir”, a list of “I Remembers” (using a kid-appropriate selection from Joe Brainard’s classic book length poem), a repetitive poem called “A Version of My Life as [my favorite animal]” and other exercises. I asked students to rely on the fact that they are the experts of their own lives since they are the ones living it. Even though fine motor letter making was a challenge to most students, they understood the lessons and put their best kindergarten selves forward.

But then, things went a little wonky. I asked the kids to look into the future. Memoir by definition is a story from a person’s life, an experience of a story that has already happened and the person has lived to tell about—usually in great detail—so it’s no wonder “Letter to My Future Self” was the toughest lesson I taught in this residency. Now, the students’ task was not only to move their small hands in tiny movements to make shapes that represent the sounds in each word, but to also dream up something that may or may not happen in his or her future! Yes, a tough writing assignment but one that eventually generated a lot of excitement in the room and seemed to turn a lot of wheels and cogs.

It started with a math lesson. The kids helped me figure out how old I would be in 10 years (we don’t need to talk about the sum they came up with), and then we calculated how old they will be in 10 years. When they discovered they’d be teenagers, most students were nonplussed and hard pressed to tell me what life would be like for them. I told them that they would be in high school, old enough to drive and maybe have an after-school job. Slowly they began to see it. They sat “knee to knee” and talked with a friend about what they might be doing when they were 15 or 16. Would they drive a car? If so, what kind? (For Brian it would be a “kuhmaro”!) Would they have a job? Friends? Long hair? How would they feel? Soon, being a teenager seemed to some students the same as being a fifty-year-old, with a steady mad scientist job. For others, it meant sleeping all day or traveling. Most everyone hoped they were happy, healthy and employed.

Future Soren

Dear Future Me, Age: 15,
When you read this I think you will get a job. It’s going to be a policeman.
I hope you get a job.

Soren, Age 5

Future Sierra

Dear Future Sierra, Age: 15,
When you read this I think you will knit a scarf.
I hope you get a job.

Sierra, Age: 5

Future Dasha

Dear Future Dasha, Age: 15,
When you read this I think you will be in Russia.
I hope you will be happy.

Dasha, Age 5

Future Fatimah

Dear Future Fatimah, Age: 80 [some kids wanted to go far into the future]
When you read this I think you will drive a car.
I hope you don’t get sick.

Fatimah, Age: 6

For years, I’ve imagined what it would be like working with so many children, learning their names and teaching something that I truly love and that I believe in. I’ve hoped that I would do right by my students (i.e., not scar them for life or totally turn them off of writing). I’ve looked forward to being a writer in the schools for a long time. And now it has happened!

I keep mulling over one student’s words, “I hope you love myself,” and how her sentence wrestles with the shift of tenses and the shifting self in the confusion of trying to understand something new. In my head I’ve been saying “I hope you love myself” and it feels like a little reminder from my future self telling the present me to keeping loving myself despite the tough lessons. Or maybe it’s the present me forewarning my future self to stay present. We still have one last day together, me and the kindergarteners at Broadview Thomson K-8. It will be our celebration day, and it will always be something I’ve looked forward to.

Smashing Expectations: Kyle Bolton Reads at Broadview-Thomson K-8 School

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 17, 2014 by writersintheschools

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate 

When I think back to the week before winter break when I was in elementary school, I remember things like “mailing” cards to friends in other classrooms, a mess of a candy cane and its wrapper leaving my desk sticky for days, and extended periods of time spent bundling up and bundling down every time we went outside. Amidst the inevitable chaos and distractions that surround such a week in an elementary school, I would hardly expect to find a group of sixty fifth graders sitting quietly on the floor in the library, listening to someone read.


As unlikely as it seems, this was a real scene at WITS partner Broadview-Thomson K-8 School this week, when Seattle comic artist Kyle Bolton visited, to read from his brother Chris Bolton’s and his book, Smash, Book One: Trial By Fire. All eyes were on the author as he animated the story of a ten-year-old boy who finds himself bestowed with superhero powers using a thorough assortment of voices and sounds to match each action. Building up to a critical moment of realization, the entire library gasped when Kyle unveiled the final, “To be continued…” slide of his reading; the cliffhanger was severe, despite only hearing a small part of a story the Boltons have planned to fill five books.

The kids sitting around the lingering “To be continued…” slide did not see this as an end but as an opportunity. Their imaginations ignited, when Kyle invited questions, every third hand raised brought ideas for the next four Smash books. Methods for defeating villains, suggestions for co-conspirators, new narrative twists and potential wardrobe ideas were floated for consideration. While it is hard to know which directions the authors might find best suited for the next iterations of Smash, it was clear that no outside distractions were too much for this room full of story tellers, who found new suggestions to share through the end of the hour—ideas that I hope to run into again someday, when these creative students put their pencils to the paper and let the inspiration flow.