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.

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