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The Power of Author's Talk

Sunday, April 12, 2009
The Power of Author's Talk
By Cheryl Tomlinson

“By way of demonstration, Kiotsch uttered a fearful yell, gnashed his teeth, and dashed up and down the walls. He panted, snorted, whistled, screamed, swung from the light fixtures, and dripped green on various desks. Ms. Lipshutz’s colleagues paid no attention. Worse things happen in Manhattan.” (Excerpt from Flights of Fantasy). “Wow, Mrs. Tomlinson, this is such a descriptive vision of this mythical character. Perhaps I’ll describe my dragon using similar language,” said Cortez. “Yes, Cortez, there is power in listening to and reading about a genre, then writing your very own, using your own words and images.”

Teaching any particular genre takes creativity and effort, but when you utilize effective literary expertise of authors to show students how to structure their writing, there is power in the lesson. I teach a 6th grade Humanities class, and we use the Fountas and Pinnell program that has the component of “Author’s Talk.” On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I read to my students excerpts or whole selections of genre work that we are currently studying.

Recently, we worked on the elements of fantasy, and the culminating piece was writing a fantasy of their own. This was a fun type of writing

Cheryl Tomlinson poses with her daughter 
to teach, but more importantly, students began to see that there is power in listening to great works of various authors and gaining ideas for their own work. Some elements of a fantasy are genre are: mythical characters, imaginative backgrounds, wish fulfillment, and figurative language. The anthology, Flights of Fantasy, has wonderful examples of work that embodies all of these components.

My students are always given a graphic organizer that they use to organize what they are listening for, and one of the columns of this graphic organizer is entitled, What Are My Original Ideas That Are Inspired By What I Have Heard? It is important to have this column because you do not want students to think they can plagiarize in any way. The idea behind author’s talk is to inspire/invoke the writers to prepare them to write effectively and creatively with any genre taught/reinforced. I received some great fantasies with all of these components largely due to “Author’s Talk.”

Therefore, the next time you teach a genre, try using the strategy of “Author’s Talk.” You will be amazed at the results that you will get!

Cheryl Tomlinson is currently a Humanities Advisor with University Preparatory Science and Math Middle School where she teaches 6th grade Reading, Language Arts, and Humanities. She was a 2003 Meadow Brook Writing Project Fellow.