Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Children's author school visits with... (gasp!)... 5th Graders! How to warm them up...

So you've interacted with warm, fuzzy uncritical kindergarteners and 1st graders, had a lots of laughs with 2nd thru 4th graders, but now your fretting about interacting with 5th graders? Well sometimes it is a little like warming up a tough bar crowd, huh? LOL! Yeah, that's the cut-off point when they start worrying about being cool -- although sometimes the 5th graders aren't too bad while the 6th graders are hard. Seems like it's whoever are the upper classmen who are tough.

The way I handle that is, I don't generally have a Q & A time for the older ones, knowing they're all too bashful to come up with their own questions. What I DO do ("Tell me Dr. Frahnkensteen, what is it exactly that you DOOO do?" ) is... I ask THEM questions. And I have goodies (like foam stickers) as rewards for answers. So far, that has worked.


It's a GOOD thing.

And funny. Funny is good. It loosens them up. But it takes a while, I know.

But wait! You ask: What do I do to get them to interact with me in the FIRST PLACE, so they have a chance to WIN a sticker?!

Well, one thing that often gets their hands in the air is asking them to guess how long it took me to sell something. (Like the poem in the Meadowbrook anthology, which they bought after keeping it on file for 7 years. Everyone is always floored by that.)

I try to formulate questions that have them guessing things; dates, number of times rejected, number of revisions, number of revisions the artist did, number of years/months from acceptance to publication.

If I use a half-way big word, (like "protagonist" or "metaphor") I stop and ask if anyone can tell me what that word means.

If you DO get a question from a fairly quiet crowd, you can always turn it around and have them guess the answer. Like, if a kid asks you how much money you were paid, you can ask the crowd if they'd like to guess. (I wouldn't recommend that for the age question. LOL!)

I have a prop I often bring; my key jar, which is filled with a bunch of antique keys I found at my grandmother's house. I tell them I use it for inspiration. When I ask, usually someone in the crowd is clever enough to figure out how keys represent stories to me. Then I have them guess how many keys are in the jar. (231)

All these questions are just a way to break the ice. If you can get them actively participating in answering the questions YOU ask, they'll often start to open up and ask their own... if there's time.

Kim Norman

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