writing on strips


Turn your classroom into a writing workshop as students write and illustrate a class alphabet book.  The Build a Book workshop is most effective as an Artist in Residence program.  The classroom becomes a publishing house and student authors experience real life activities from signing the contract to the book launch celebration.  I work with the students in 5-10 sessions (50-60 minutes) to create a class nonfiction book.  Together we brainstorm, research, write and revise (which is rewriting, rewriting, rewriting!)

Third graders at Desert Canyon Elementary School participated in an Artist in Residence program sponsored by their PTO and the Arizona Commission on the Arts.  Each class created an alphabet book for a biome – the tundra, rainforest, freshwater wetlands and ocean.

First step in the writing process is to BRAINSTORM and students used a Circle Thinking Map to organize their ideas.  After searching in books for more ideas, we chose our topics for each letter of the alphabet.

Brainstorming complete with 26 animals for each biome.  On to RESEARCH.

A foldable with six specific questions helps direct the student in their quest for information about their animal and its adaptations to the habitat.  Where do we find information?

The third step in the process is to WRITE and we did it in a creative manner.  We wrote from the voice of the animal and from the voice of the scientist.

IMGP1155  We wrote specific types of sentences on the  colored strips to compose our paragraphs.IMGP1144 IMGP1134

The final step is REVISING and EDITING.  Kids participated in peer editing to make sure everything was easily understood.


The students now switched hats from author to illustrator and using oil pastels and unusual watercolor techniques created colorful and accurate illustrations of their animals.  After completing the illustration, parent volunteers typed the manuscripts and assembled the book for publication.  Children wrote a dedication for their book and students in another grade acted as a Junior Library Guild and wrote reviews of the books.  The books are in the school and nearby public library!


Take a look at the Build a Book workshop at Annunciation Catholic School in Cave Creek, Arizona.

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Books on loan from my library

The 4th grade authors created an Arizona  alphabet book.  Following the writing process that I used to create my alphabet books, these students began with brainstorming or selecting a topic about Arizona for each letter in the alphabet from Ancient People to Zane Grey along with Desert Tortoise, Four Corners, Barry Goldwater, Valentine’s Day and more.  Then it was on to research and collecting information by being detectives searching for answers to their specific questions.  Students are encouraged to look first in the books and follow it up at trusted sites on the internet.  Some interviewed experts, watched movies and even visited a nursery for a closeup look at a yucca.

annunciation build a book_0912To help students think more creatively about their writing (and to not be tempted to erase) thin-point markers and over-sized white paper are used for the rough draft.

Four specific strategies for topic sentences were taught and used as hooks to get the reader to want to read more.  Lessons on writing with sensory details and wiping out wimpy words and writing with wow words help the young authors write so the reader feels like they are at the scene of the action.  After the sloppy copy or rough draft comes rewriting, rewriting and revising.

Once the manuscript is complete, students participate in peer editing.  Then it’s on to illustrating.

We concluded with a Celebrate Writing party where the children received their books.  I shared positive comments about each person’s writing – from their choice of “wow words” to their clear, concise explanations of science concepts, to their use of sensory descriptions or power-punched ending sentences.  Everyone was proud of their work.

“Boom! Another cowboy drops, Frank McLaury dead from a stomach wound from Wyatt Earp’s gun…Tom McLaury dead from a blast of Holliday’s shotgun…Billy Clanton dyring from a shot in the chest…Morgan Earp hit in the shoulder and Virgin Earp and Doc Holliday wounded, and Wyatt Earp left untouched. The fight lasted about 30 seconds on a Wednesday afternoon, October 26, 1881.”
“Just imagine waking up in the morning and feeling the refreshing spray of the falls and catching the fragrance of the cool, crisp air evaporating from them. You can hear the rushing water plunging into the turquoise pools.”
“When he saw Bac for the first time with the delegation from Tucson, Padre Kino imagined a brilliant white church rising against the turquoise blue sky and the sandy, brown mountains and shining in the distance like a sparkling jewel on the desert floor. He built it as he imagined it. It is there still, shining in the desert.”
“A golden sun disappears behind the jagged Sonoran Desert peaks as a lone cowboy on his wild mustang gallops across the sand.”



The PTO at Sonoran Sky Elementary in Scottsdale sponsored the Build a Book workshop in the 4th grade gifted classrooms.  One class focused on the Native People of Arizona in their book, D is for Diné, while the other shared the highlights of what they learned in science and social studies.

Interested in the Build a Book workshop for your class or grade level?  I’ll be glad to chat with you about the time requirements needed for your students to become “published” authors.    Grants for this Artist in Residence program are available through the Arizona Commission on the Arts where I am on the roster of Teaching Artists for Literary Arts in the school and community.


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