Booklist Star of The Whispering Trees!

“Crosses and double crosses abound in this second volume, and the twisted plot is perfectly matched by the twisted atmosphere. White has hit his stride in this follow-up to A Path Begins (2014), in many ways surpassing the series opener.” —Booklist (starred review)


Using Specific Details to Show and Not Tell

If there is one concept I want my third graders to understand by the end of the year, it’s the difference between showing and telling. Of course, the goal is that they’ll be able to incorporate this crucial technique into their own writing, but not every child will be ready for this major step. (They are, after all, only 8 and 9—some of the cute little tykes can’t even tie their own shoelaces yet.) My goal for all students, however, regardless of their ability level, is to make them aware that there is writing that “shows,” and writing that “tells.” Hopefully they’ll begin to notice these different forms in the books they read, and this awareness will eventually parlay itself into better writing.

Again, that’s my theory. I also think that unicorns were probably real at some point. Caveat emptor.

A good starting point when teaching showing vs. telling, especially with struggling writers, is the inclusion of specific details. True, including specific details doesn’t always mean a student is necessarily showing (that comes more through demonstrating a specific perspective, in my humble opinion), but it’s an easy enough concept to grasp and it pays quick dividends.

And I made a Powerpoint, which means it’s super easy to teach! Powerpoints are fun like that, though I apologize that there are no cute graphics or other such flashiness. Truth be told, I’m a pretty boring Powerpoint maker, so if you like the content, feel free to jazz it up!

The final two slides present quick writing assignments (for grades 3/4 and 5/6) that can easily be done in a journal. In my school we have a show don’t tell competition every other month: a new concept is introduced, and there is a follow-up writing activity to be judged by the teachers. The winner from each grade gets to read his/her entry over the loudspeaker, because what writer doesn’t want to be heard?

Show Don’t Tell


Teaching Multi-Step Questions Creatively

Wow—it has been a LONG time since I updated this blog. I intended to get back to it when school began in September, but I was in the midst of finishing Thickety 3 and that, along with the usual start-of-school craziness, pushed this blog to the bottom of my to-do list. Things are a little more stable now, however, so hopefully I’ll be able to share some ideas with more regularity.

As a teacher, one thing I try to do is make those “necessary evil” skills somewhat more palatable. For example, I teach my students to re-state questions by asking them to create imaginary answers to ridiculous queries. If you’re interested, the link to that lesson—and a worksheet—can be found here:

Another skill I’ve found that my students need to work on is answering multistep questions, a perennial favorite of standardized exams. You know, the kind of question that seems to exist purely for the reason of cruelly fooling 8-year-old children? Here’s an example:

In the story “Baby Sister’s New Shoelaces,” Nicole learns a valuable lesson.

  • What lesson does she learn?
  • Do you think she’ll treat her baby sister differently from now on?
  • Have you ever learned a shoelace-related lesson in your life?

As you can see, that is three freaking questions, and many children will gleefully answer the first part and, in the process of formulating their answer, forget that the other two questions exist. It would, of course, make sense to split up the three questions with answer blanks so that this doesn’t happen, but we all know that’s not how standardized exams roll.

(“Why the heck not?” is a perfectly reasonable question; “Because they are evil, soul-crushing tests manufactured by malevolent trolls” is my not-so-reasonable response.)

Anyway, there are several very good techniques for tackling this type of question

  1. Crossing out each question as you answer it.
  2. Numbering bullet points so you remember to answer each one.
  3. Teaching students to proofread questions before they proofread

I think any of these approaches would definitely work, but I also like my students to practice answering multistep questions with purely imaginative responses (just like my restating the answer activity). There often isn’t enough time for creative writing in the day, and this is my way of cheating. (“Yes, they’re using their imagination, but they’re really practicing for exams.” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

I hope the attached worksheet can be of some use to you. This is a repeatable activity, so after the initial introduction just change the questions and it can be used as a writing center. Also, more advanced writers often enjoy making up their own questions!

Multi-Step Questions Worksheet

Interviews and Guest Blogs

Brazos Bookstore Interview: Why I Write Books for Kids by J. A. White

Why I Write Books for Kids by J. A. White

…While I don’t necessarily miss being a child, I miss being a child reader. I still treasure books, of course, but my enjoyment of them is somewhat hampered by an understanding of their origins, the knowledge that books are written by talented men and women who love to tell stories but also need to earn a living. This inevitable realization—that the once mysterious workings of the world are composed of mere practicalities—is one of the true curses of adulthood. As a child, the thought that an author was paid for his or her work never occurred to me; books were simply truths that fell from the sky, as mysterious as ancient doors leading to far-off kingdoms…