I had the distinct pleasure this week to conduct a Biography Writing Workshop for Mrs. McClymonds' 4th grade class. The class of 25 was attentive and very interested in the writing process, which was a wonderful experience.
The children knew more about writing genres than I expected, including the difference between fiction and non-fiction, biography and autobiography. They practiced asking each other some of the interview questions that I provided. They asked excellent questions about how to interview someone for their stories and even wanted to know if they can interview themselves. That might sound a bit unusual, but that is exactly how I help people write their own stories. The only difference is that they don't have to ask the questions out loud. ;-)
The goal before our second writing session was for each of the kids to interview an adult in their family circle (which includes all their friends and family) in person, write down their answers and be prepared to start writing a cohesive story about the person. After they write their stories, they will practice reading them aloud to themselves and to their small workgroups. On the final day, each of the students will present their story to the class and several visitors, then a few adults will judge their presentations for appropriate awards.
The part that I love about this process is getting the kids to think of their elders as "real people" instead of just "old people." Once they understand the concept of the interviewing process, they will be able to carry on a conversation with family members they don't really know.
There is one example that almost always captures their imagination. At a previous workshop, one young boy learned that his grandmother never saw a television until she was 10 years old. I asked them to imagine what they would do with all their time with no TV, no computers, no video games and no iPods.
One boy said he'd be bored to death. But another said he could play outside and a young girl said she could read. The important thing is to encourage children to use their imaginations and to write their own stories. In the process, they will hopefully have fun while they do it.