Feature

Write to Give

Amy Dow McLaren

In the tiny community of Jarvis, Ontario, children from the grade 1 class of Jarvis Public School huddle in small groups to discuss a story they are creating together. The kids are excited as they begin to let their imaginations run wild with ideas for how to begin their story.

Should the story be about a lion? Or maybe a princess? Maybe it should take place in a magical castle?

Some students think it should include Justin Bieber, while others talk about a monster with five legs, big black eyes, and 10 arms. The more their ideas are shared, the more creative the children become. No answer is wrong in this environment, and some students who normally wouldn’t participate are eagerly joining in. Writing is actually fun. Who knew?

This initial brainstorm is part of the Write to Give program, which gives students a chance to become published authors while helping other kids in a developing country. A minimum of five classes collaborate to create a story that is then published and turned into a real printed book. The classes can come from across Ontario and from several other countries, including the United States, Japan, England, and Hong Kong. Each class contributes an element of the story, with the first class establishing the characters and setting. The second class then creates the problem, the third class provides the solution, and the fourth class wraps up the story with the conclusion. The only trick is that each class is limited to 100 words so they have to carefully plan their part of the story. The fifth and final class completes the illustrations for the book. It really is a true collaboration, and in the end anywhere from 80 to 100 students participate in the creation of a book.

The students then sell the book to family and friends, with the proceeds supporting educational projects in Kenya for a Canadian charity called World Teacher Aid. The Write to Give program is dedicated to empowering young children in their reading and writing skills, and to giving back to students and teachers in developing nations. Participants learn about African culture, become published authors, receive a certificate, and attend the annual Write to Give Day.

The program began in November 2008, with Sir Blur and the Giant Dragon as the first published book, with a total of 80 students participating. Now more than 1,500 students participate every year. Students love it because writing and reading is a blast, and because along the way they learn the critical parts of a narrative. Teachers love that it has been designed to meet Ontario’s curriculum guidelines.

After the initial brainstorming session, the teacher directs students to bring three of their best choices from their own small-group brainstorms to share with the whole class. Anticipation builds as some of the kids wait their turn to share. The teacher collects all the ideas and writes them on a big pad for the class to evaluate as a group.

By the time the list is complete, there are a dozen different “settings” to choose from. Already, the teacher can tell which are the favourites just by the cheering that follows as each idea is shared. After the class discusses each setting, they are asked to vote on their favourite.

Narrowing the choices down is probably the hardest part for the kids. They want to include everything, and you can see their busy minds working hard to select their number one pick. The teacher then tallies the results with the children. A drum roll breaks out and the teacher announces that the setting of their story will be the “Amazon Jungle.”

Homework that night? The kids must think of three characters that could take part in the story.

Hmm, who will it be? Justin Bieber? Miley Cyrus? The Scary Monster with big black eyes? I’m sure as a teacher you can imagine the conversations around the dinner table that night.

Fast-forward to the next day and another brainstorming session begins. The characters are selected, and it is not a huge surprise that Justin Bieber is picked as the lead. And so the story begins...

It was a rainy day in the Amazon rainforest, but the animals were not disappointed as Justin Bieber was scheduled to stop over to perform a concert that evening. The forest was abuzz with excitement...

Inevitably, the first class wants to write more but at this point, their job is done. Now they have to begin editing their opening and making sure they stick to the 100-word limit. As a class, they carefully go through the opening to ensure that their sentences make sense and have the appropriate punctuation.

Once the editing is complete, the teacher heads to the Write to Give website (writetogive.com) to post the beginning of the story for the next class that is tasked with the responsibility of creating a “problem” for the story. The teachers are aware of who will take over the book but they don’t know what direction the next class will take. What makes this process unique is that this isn’t necessarily another class within the same school; it could be a class in Japan or Norway or Switzerland (or any other class in Ontario that may be participating). Write to Give helps elementary school children from all over the world collaborate on a book. This process naturally creates tremendous intrigue as the students who start the book eagerly wait to see how the other classes run with their original ideas.

What will happen to Justin Bieber in the rainforest? Will he perform the concert as planned?

Who knows? That’s all part of the fun of writing a Write to Give book!

The Jarvis students now have to sit tight as the story they started travels around the globe and back again while four more classes must contribute their parts. About a month passes and Jarvis Pubic School students are excited to send home their order forms. The day has come where they can now order their books. At this point, they still don’t know how the story turned out but many students order copies as Christmas presents for friends and family, while others just want a copy to show that they are officially published authors.

It doesn’t take long before the books finally arrive and the teacher cracks open the box. The students look on as she pulls out a glossy-covered book with the title Amazon Adventures written by students from Canada, Japan, and Norway. The kids are beaming with pride.

The class gets together on the carpet and the teacher starts the story by reading the authors’ names. As each child’s name is read, the class claps and cheers. Then she dives into the story to find out what actually happened to Justin Bieber during his tour in the Amazon jungle.

The students love discovering how the story developed and the twists and turns of each class’s contribution. They begin signing each other’s books – after all, they are celebrities now!

Writing and sharing the book is just the beginning. The exciting end to the adventure of becoming authors is taking part in the annual Write to Give Day.

It all takes place at the Sanderson Centre for Performing Arts in Brantford, Ontario. Once all the students have arrived (usually over 1,000), the big timer comes on and the students join in the countdown. The kids belt out “five, four, three, two, one” and then the lights go out. In that moment all that can be heard are the sounds coming from the African drummers as they make their way through the audience.

Imagine having more than 1,000 JK to grade 4 children all dancing, singing, and cheering to the African music, videos and pictures. The theatre is electric throughout the entire 90 minutes.

From live drumming to African dancing to  presentations on where the proceeds have gone (and even pictures of the kids in Africa with their books), Write to Give Day is a memorable experience for all the students. They leave educated, entertained, and celebrated.

As the children leave the Sanderson Centre, they are given a hand- made African W2G bracelet. It’s a reminder that with a little creativity, they can make a difference. The seed has been planted, and the hope is that through this experience the children will become a little more aware of conditions in developing countries while increasing their love of reading and writing.

The Write to Give program has now published over 115 books, involving over 5,000 students from around the world. For more information on the program please go to writetogive.com.

Write to Give and World Teacher Aid

The Write to Give Program is dedicated to empowering young children in their reading and writing skills and at the same time giving back to students and teachers in developing nations. When participating in the program, students get a chance to contribute to a fiction or non-fiction text. Together with their teacher, they also get a chance to learn about African culture, become published authors, receive a certificate and attend the annual Write to Give Day.

Write to Give raises money for World Teacher Aid, which is a Canadian charity committed to improving education  through- out the developing world with a focus on settlements of Internally Displaced Persons in Kenya and Ghana. We accomplish our vision through the renovation and/or construction of schools.

Get your students involved by going to writetogive.com. Register for next year’s program by February 1, 2014.

Purchase books at writetogive.com. They make great holiday gifts while also contributing to educational programs in Kenya.  

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