I’m thrilled to welcome Natalie Dias Lorenzi back to the Mixed-Up Files. Natalie’s first novel for children, Flying the Dragon, was published in 2012 and has been honored on best-of-the-year lists from the International Reading Association, the Cooperative Children’s Books Center, the Bank Street College of Education, and the New York Public Library. Her next novel, Someplace Like Home, will be published in 2016. It’s a companion novel to Flying the Dragon and follows the journey of 10-year-old Ravi as he leaves Pakistan with his mother and sister to live in the United States, not knowing if his father will ever be able to join them. Ravi adapts to a new country and a new school and meets his friend Hiroshi, one of the protagonists from Flying the Dragon. While Hiroshi’s story had kite-making and kite-fighting woven through it, Ravi’s will be filled with the love of his favorite sport back home, cricket, and the one that replaces it in the U.S.: baseball. Natalie has taught elementary school and English for Speakers of Other Languages in Virginia, and in international schools in Italy and Japan. She is currently a librarian at an elementary school in Fairfax, Virginia.
Thanks again for joining us, Natalie. I’d love to know why you think it’s important to have teacher’s guides.
Having a teacher’s guide increases the chances of getting your book into classrooms and into the hands of kids and teachers. With state testing, teachers have loads of paperwork, documentation, data collection and reflection….all of which put a squeeze on their time. Teachers are busy people! But it’s not just teachers who will use your guide—homeschooling parents, book club facilitators, and public librarians use them, too.
As a teacher myself, I use discussion questions and activities that authors and publishers provide on their websites, and it makes my job a lot easier. Especially with novels and longer works of fiction, if I have to choose between two equally-appealing books, I go with the one that has a guide every time.
How detailed should they be?
As detailed as you’d like them to be. Some discussion guides come in the form of bookmarks with a few discussion questions, some are more like a pamphlet, and others can be 50 pages long. It really depends on how much time you have, which leads me to the answer to your next question…
How did you create the teacher’s guide for your middle grade novel, Flying the Dragon?
The mistake I made with the guide for my own book is that I waited too long to put something up on my website for teachers. I’d envisioned a detailed, activity-packed, standards-based resource that I simply didn’t have time to put together. What I should have done was to start small—a bookmark, or pamphlet-style guide at first, and then added a more detailed guide later on. As it was, it took me over a year to post a completed guide for Flying the Dragon on my site! In the meantime, I gathered links that I thought would be helpful for teachers and created this Pinterest page. It’s a quick and easy way to provide resources for your book–background knowledge, other activities, etc.–while you’re working on your own guide.
Wow, I took a peek at your Pinterest page, and I love the videos and the 20 Easy Bento Lunch Boxes article. You put together such interesting sites and guides. Can you share some tips for creating amazing teacher’s guides?
1. Know the curriculum standards for your audience. Keep in mind that while Common Core has swept the country (except for these states), current testing is based on state standards, not Common Core. No matter which standards you use, find the commonalities and stick with those. For example, every grade studies plot and characterization on some level, so find out how deep this standard goes with your target age group, and go from there.
2. While you want to keep standards in mind while writing activities, don’t feel like you have to list every single Common Core standard addressed for each activity. I’ve seen guides with pages and pages of standards. While I appreciate the time and effort that went into compiling such lists, I can tell you that, as a teacher, I don’t even look at those. Teachers know the standards they’re required to teach. When I preview an activity, I automatically know which standards it addresses, and I decide from there if I’m going to use the activity or not.
3. Create a user-friendly layout. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just easy to follow. Have a table of contents for longer guides.
4. Do some research—find guides that you like online and bookmark them. Note the different formats, content, and delivery and then decide what you’re most comfortable with.
What are the biggest pitfalls to avoid when creating a teacher’s guide?
I know I’ve mentioned lay-out already, but I’ll say again here. If your guide is just a long list of questions, it’s fine to have it written in list format. But if you’ve got chapter-by-chapter guides, or if you have distinct sections like pre-reading questions/predictions, a vocabulary section, etc. then make it easy for a teacher to quickly scan your guide to find what she needs. Have clear labels for each section, leave white space and have a table of contents for longer guides.
Can writers create good teacher guides on their own if they don’t have a teaching background?
Yes, they can. I’d have an educator or two look it over and provide feedback if you can. When creating questions, familiarize yourself with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and let Howard Garner’s Theory of Intelligences guide your activities.
Thank you for sharing those links! Do you have any tips for using teacher’s guides?
Every teacher knows what his or her students need. The best way to utilize a guide is to dip in and try out questions or activities that fit the academic, social, and behavioral needs of your students.
That’s great advice. How well do teacher’s guides work for book clubs?
I think guides may work even better for book club facilitators than they do for teachers. Oftentimes, book club leaders aren’t teachers—they’re parent volunteers, or even students themselves at the high school level. Having access to questions and activities makes it easier for them to get a discussion started with readers.
Do you keep a future teacher’s guide or Common Core in mind when writing or revising a middle grade novel?
Never. I write with readers in mind, not standards. If your book has a science or social studies tie-in, then it may seem like it will fit best with curriculum, but language arts standards apply to any book. Don’t worry about standards as you write; write the best book you can, and teachers will figure out how to use it!
What’s the best way to let people know you have a teacher’s guide for your book?
Provide a link to the guide on your website and make that link easy to find. Let your publisher know about your guide and ask that they post it, as well. Send the link to anyone requesting information about author visits. If you have bookmarks or postcards printed, include the fact that there’s a link to a teacher’s guide on your website and make these available at all your author appearances, school visits, and teacher/librarian conferences.
Where can teachers find guides to their favorite books? If there isn’t a guide available, is there some way they can request one?
The first place I’d check is the author’s website, followed by the publisher’s site. If you don’t have any luck there, places like Teachers Pay Teachers often have activities up either for free or for a reasonable price. If you can’t find a guide for a book, by all means email the author and/or publisher! They may have something in the works. If not, hearing from you is good incentive to get started on a guide for educators.
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer is another author/educator/guide creator, and some of her guides can be found here.
Thank you for visiting the Mixed-Up Files again, Natalie. You shared a wealth of knowledge about teacher’s guides, and I’m sure it will be a huge help to writers, teachers, librarians, and many others.
* If anyone has questions for Natalie, ask in a blog comment and she’ll stop by to answer them!
If you’re searching for teacher’s guides for great middle-grade novels, here’s a list of links to check out:
Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
The Map of Me by Tami Lewis Brown
Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School written and illustrated by Ruth McNally Barshaw
Ellie McDoodle: Friends Fur-Ever written and illustrated by Ruth McNally Barshaw
Fiona Finkelstein, Big-Time Ballerina! by Shawn Stout
Penelope Crumb by Shawn Stout
Fudge series by Judy Blume
Mallory series by Laurie Friedman
Chet Gecko series by Bruce Hale
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
The Ballad of Jessie Pearl by Shannon Hitchcock
This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson
Trouble in the Trees by Yolanda Ridge
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
My Very UnFairy Tale Life by Anna Staniszewski
The End of the Line by Angela Cerrito
The Multiplying Menace by Amanda Marrone
The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante
Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson
How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart
Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart
A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk by Jan L. Coates
The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff
Soar, Elinor! by Tami Lewis Brown (Woman’s History Month Activity Kit included in the link)
In addition to the lists of great teacher’s guides for picture books through young adult novels listed on Natalie Dias Lorenzi’s site, you can also find more at these websites:
*As Natalie said before, don’t forget to check out the websites of your favorite authors and publishers. You should be able to find great teacher’s guides and activities there…and if you don’t it can’t hurt to request them!
Thanks again for all your amazing responses, Natalie—and for offering TWO generous giveaways!
* Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below, and you’ll have a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Natalie’s novel, Flying the Dragon.
American-born Skye is a good student and a star soccer player who never really gives any thought to the fact that her father is Japanese. Her cousin, Hiroshi, lives in Japan, and never really gives a thought to his uncle’s family living in the United States. Skye and Hiroshi’s lives are thrown together when Hiroshi’s family, with his grandfather (who is also his best friend), suddenly moves to the U.S. Now Skye doesn’t know who she is anymore: at school she’s suddenly too Japanese, but at home she’s not Japanese enough. Hiroshi has a hard time adjusting to life in a new culture, and resents Skye’s intrusions on his time with Grandfather. Through all of this is woven Hiroshi’s expertise and Skye’s growing interest in kite making and competitive rokkaku kite flying.
* Natalie is also giving away a 10 page critique! It can be up to the first ten pages of an MG/YA or one picture book. Let us know in a comment if you’d like to be entered for the critique giveaway.
The lucky winners will be announced on Thursday, April 24. Good luck!
*You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the Flying the Dragon paperback giveaway, but anyone can enter for a chance to win the critique.
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Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.