Heck on All Things Madison Podcast!

Heck-o! October is definitely on my Top 12 Favorite Months List. To celebrate this Season of Scaring, here is a podcast I had the pleasure of being on: All Things Madison. Who is Madison, you may find yourself wondering to yourself? Madison Lauren is a savvy 9-year old on a mission to educate kids around the globe about the cool stuff they should know! And I was, luckily, part of this valiant quest. Listen here!

Kip and the Great Food Cart Feud

Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 3.15.02 PMA few years ago, I contributed a story to Oregon Reads Aloud: A Collection of 25 Children’s Stories by Oregon Authors and Illustrators. To celebrate the book’s release in paperback—and to help bring the notion of “story time” to kids sealed away at home due to social distancing—the authors are contributing videos of themselves reading their Oregon Reads Aloud stories. Here’s mine…

Oregon Reads Aloud

Killer Review of Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck

cover2“A work of great imagination, featuring wonderful characters, an exciting setting, and a plot woven to a thrilling finish.”

Read the review here.

Not the Same Old Story: Tech and Text Work Better Together

shutterstock_728371537We are the stories we tell. And we always have been, ever since we first started grunting our tales of the day’s hunt to one another around the campfire. But stories that once started as conversations and cave paintings have evolved into Snapchats and interactive videos.

Sure, the technology has changed, but the overriding need to tell our stories certainly hasn’t. And this urge is especially crucial to kids. Stories are a child’s personal curriculum: a way of processing the world around them while simultaneously defining themselves. And while today’s technology is a far cry from the usual pen-to-paper, it needn’t interfere with the storytelling process. In fact, technology opens up exciting new opportunities for students to create rich, dynamic, and meaningful stories and express themselves like never before.

The Critic: Mulling Over Media Literacy

Telling your story in this age of digital media requires media literacy. Tweens and teens are digitally saturated—spending six to nine hours daily, respectively, on devices of some kind—making it critical that they have the skills to distinguish digital wheat from chaff. This, of course, involves the ability to detect fake news. But it also requires the ability to discern more subtle ways of crafting information: in video, for instance, where lighting, the use of sound and music, framing, and camera angle all transmit information and intent.

Just as deeper reading creates better writers, this skill helps students to break down narrative as media consumers so that they may become more skillful creators. Students must navigate, interact, and critique the text they encounter on-screen. There are hyperlinks, annotations, sticky notes, and a host of other digital-specific distractions that could impede comprehension if not fully understood.

How do we teach this skill? For a start, find high-quality examples of blogs, book trailers, and online discussions to share with students to help them discern what makes for a fulfilling digital learning experience. Teach students to closely read images and video just as they are expected to with a piece of text. Remember that strong traditional readers aren’t necessarily skilled digital readers, as reading digitally is a different experience from reading print.

The Creator: Interlinking Literacies

Even more powerful are when multiple literacies are woven together. For instance, a movie might merge writing, performing, illustration, music, editing, and camerawork to impart information and influence a viewer’s emotions. Students see many examples of this on social media, with music, imagery, and words appearing in a Facebook video to have the maximum emotional impact. Ask students to explain the convergence of these different mediums: why use all three? What effect does it have?

Equally powerful is the realization that we as learners might prefer intersections of media. If students are reading online, have them take notes on paper. If they are reading on paper, students can track their thoughts on a device. Afterwards, discuss what made reading successful—either in print or on screen—so students understand how comprehension can be affected across platforms.


Digital tools promote equity, as not every storyteller is adept at traditional writing. Technology allows students to tell a story in the way that makes sense to them, be it through words, video, audio, art, or even interactivity. Most importantly, they learn that their voice truly matters.

Technology amplifies their stories so that students anywhere and everywhere can connect their experiences. Once a story—be it written or, filmed or recorded—is shared online beyond the classroom, viewers and readers can provide feedback, with the student revising and refining their understanding. Digitally publishing a work can also be tremendously satisfying, as students can produce stories that are consumed by people from all over the world.

In the end, it’s about a focus on the process, not the tool: anything that gets students reading, researching, writing, watching, questioning, creating, and sharing! Allowing students to express different modes of storytelling engages them on a deeper, more personal, and ultimately more satisfying level. It also moves us beyond 20th-century views of literacy and equips students for a future workforce that values creative use of multi-modal storytelling! In this way, we encourage a creative mindset that makes anything possible, fueling students’ confidence and creativity.

Get Sadia for Less

The devil is in the details. Well here’s a detail to get a devil of a deal. GET 20% OFF your purchase of Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck…the latest installment in the popular Circles of Heck series! That’s almost 1/5th of the cost! Simply use the code GO2HECK at checkout. But hurry: this promotion ends when January ends, which is at the end of January. BUY HERE ON BOOKBABY!

Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck!

Sadia_CoverAt long last, the next chapter in the mildly diverting Circles of Heck series is finally here! Yes, Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck is now ready for ocular consumption. Buy it NOW, HERE!

Here’s the “sin-opsis” (see what I did there?):

After the War of the Words competition forever alters the afterlife, siblings Milton and Marlo Fauster are separated and whisked away to the deepest bowels of the underworld. Guilt-ridden, Milton agrees to work for Principal Bubb in hopes that he can locate his sister and somehow free her. But his nefarious mission—to “character assassinate” the reigning vice principal of Sadia: Where the Really Mean Kids Go—runs afoul when he learns the true identity of this mysterious individual. Meanwhile, Marlo wakes up to teenage paradise that may or may not be what it seems.

There’s also a mutiny brewing in Heaven while the underworld is turned into a tourist destination for the living. Can Milton follow through with his mission: navigating a nest of history’s cruelest tyrants in the process? Can Marlo hold on to her identity amidst a nuclear self-esteem assault? Will they discover the secret history of Sadia before it is potentially used as a weapon against none other than the Big Guy Upstairs?

Breaking News: Helping Students Navigate a Post-Truth World

Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby! Macedonia Manufactures Metallic War Spiders! Ted Cruz Father Linked to JFK Assassination! The National Enquirer

Not so long ago, The National Enquirer was the bastion of almost joyfully fake news. Then things started getting, well… weird. Now we now find ourselves in a world of “post-truth” —the 2016 Word of the Year according to the Oxford Dictionary—where emotion and ideology are more powerful sculptors of public opinion than facts

shutterstock_115472515.jpgSo what is real? What is a lie, and what’s merely a joke? Is a fact, in fact, a fact? These days, it’s hard to tell.

Even though fake news isn’t new, more and more Americans are getting their news from social media, not legitimate news sources. And a staggering amount of this news isn’t news at all.  According to Buzzfeed—a popular online source covering digital media and technology—“fake news” outperformed mainstream news in the days leading to Election Day.

By now, most everyone has heard President Trump use the term “fake news.” Yet even this term isn’t exactly true, as he and his administration tend to use the label to mean anything that they don’t agree with versus what is proved to be untrue. While some fake news has a political purpose, most often the goal is to simply get a reader to click or to visit an advertiser. The more inflammatory the headline, the more clicks it often receives and, therefore, the more money is made and the more prominence that article is given. The “click-bait” phenomenon has gotten so bad that even Facebook and Google are trying to get a handle on curtailing it.

This is especially worrisome for kids and teens, who get most of their news from social media feeds and who haven’t developed the “site-smarts” to discern fake news from legitimate sources. This is, in many ways, the defining issue of our time. And it’s vital that today’s students develop the capability to become shrewd consumers of information.

Fake Checks and Balances

Media comes at us so fast that it often rushes past our ability to gauge its credibility. And viral content is exactly that: a virus that can spread beyond anyone’s ability to contain. This means that both kids and adults alike need to view news as an editor would: as fault-finders constantly questioning the validity of the information presented.

This chart by patent attorney Vanessa Otero shows where popular news media fall in terms of skew and quality of reporting, helping students to be better aware of their sources.

As a response to the fake news phenomenon, the State of California has already drafted legislation requiring “civic online reasoning” be added to curriculum as a response to a troubling study conducted by the Stanford History Education Group showing that young people are particularly susceptible to fake news stories.

The Stanford researchers studied middle school, high school and college students in 12 states and found they had difficulty distinguishing ads from articles and fake accounts from real ones. More than 80% of middle schoolers assumed that sponsored content was real news. High school students accepted photographs as fact. Most college students didn’t question the potential bias behind tweets from activist groups, or identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.

But it’s a challenge to wean children off fake news when their parents are so easily fooled.  Even if a story seems false, if it fits the reader’s particular ideology, then it’s often filed away as true regardless. This is, perhaps, the scariest part of all of this: even if something turns out not to be true, it is quickly dismissed as the lie has already been accepted.

Tools for Truth


So it’s up to the educator, in many ways, to create media savvy students. And questioning what you read begins with questions. How believable is the story? If it seems fake, it often is. What do you know about the source? A little research can go a long way.

Other tips for helping kids to sniff out falsehoods include:

  • Start by looking at the address. Is it a .com? Is it a .gov? Is it a .edu? Be sure that students understand that .com represents the word “commercial” (businesses) and .org means “organization” (such as charities and non-profits) and that countries also have their own domain extensions. Unusual URLs—especially if the content is trying hard to appear as another legitimate source—are to be viewed with a grain of salt.
  • Consider the point of view of the source. What are they attempting to have readers believe? What do they have to gain through this viewpoint? Some Google sleuthing into the source could reveal possible motives and/or biases. Are the authors qualified to write about this issue? Are there any facts that are conspicuously missing?
  • Follow the money. Who paid for the content? Or, if content is clicked, who stands to get paid?  Spending a little time investigating a source—such as their About Us section—can be illuminating. If a site doesn’t include such a section, that’s a red flag in and of itself!
  • Double check the facts. It’s a good rule of thumb to compare three sources to gauge the validity of a fact, being sure that one of those sources is from an opposing viewpoint. Snopes, FactCheck.org and Wikipedia are easy ways to test the validity of wild claims. Also, see if mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news. If not, this could be a clue.
  • Looks can be deceiving. A lot of fake news outlets employ professional-looking graphics and design to convey a sense of reliability. Kids need to learn how to separate the information from the presentation. Helpful signs are grammatical errors, sensationalist images, outlandish claims and a lack of sources.
  • Read beyond the headline. Does the story itself match the intent of the headline? Is the date current? Is the site a satirical news site such asThe Onion?
  • Gain a foreign perspective. Another interesting approach is to have students consider how events are reported in different regions of the world. Looking at the same event through the lens of various foreign countries can reveal unique viewpoints.

When in Doubt, Head for the Library

Chicago librarian Kylie Peters is on the front lines of the war against fake news.

“Librarians are the original search engine,” says Peters. “People think they don’t need libraries because of Google. In fact, they need us more than ever to help them combat information overload, and sort and evaluate the current glut of information.”

Here are a few of her tips for helping students navigate a world of falsity.

  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and look at who owns the copyright. Is it an individual? A business? A smaller division of a large business? What makes this site qualified to provide accurate information on the topic the site covers?
  • Does the website cite its sources? Are the sources reliable? Does it link to reliable sites?
  • Poor graphic design may be an indicator of low-quality material.
  • Watch for “bias words” that indicate emotion, opinion or slant.
  • Don’t use Google search rankings as an indicator of accuracy. There are a lot of tricks people will use to make their Google search rankings go up. Google also pushes its own properties to the top of the search results.

Peters also suggests that students test their media manipulation skills by Googling the phrase “Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus” and clicking on the site that comes up first. This site was specifically designed to teach students digital literacy and has some built-in clues to help identify false information.

And Peters advises that if a student feels overwhelmed, that they can always seek out a librarian to help them with essential media literacy skills.

Other tools for combating fake new include these Google lesson plans for evaluating the credibility of sources and an irreverent syllabus called Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data created by two University of Washington professors tackling critical thinking in regards to “data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.”

The News is Fake but the Threat is Real

Ignorance and propaganda are a threat to the American way of life as democracy depends on the acknowledgment of facts to help steer our government through a sea of opinions and self-interests. Even more so, fake news can strip away faith in our institutions, effectively making them useless.

It’s up to the educational system to help create a more savvy generation of citizens to lead our country forward. This entails not only the ability to more accurately sift through fact and fiction, but a better understanding of constitutional democracy and the structure of government.

Perhaps a push for media literacy and more comprehensive civics education could help mend our fractured political landscape. And while creating a civics curriculum can be a touchy thing—walking a tightrope to avoid the potential ire of parents—it is essential in giving students a unifying foundation and hope for the future. This skill would also offer students strong examples of how powerful “true” journalism can be in revealing societal ills, thus encouraging solutions.

As Chris Berdik recently reported in Slate, preliminary research suggests that students who receive media literacy training are better able than other students to evaluate the accuracy of political claims and distinguish advertising, entertainment, and advocacy from news.

With social media’s popularity as a news source, it’s more important than ever that we equip students with the media literacy and critical thinking skills to distinguish fact from fiction. Admittedly, it’s a challenging task. But our civil society depends on a well-informed citizenry— including tomorrow’s voters—that have the tools to make up their own minds. As Thomas Jefferson (purportedly—I’ll have to check three sources) said: “An ignorant people never remain a free people.”

Check out these resources for incorporating “truth-seeking” into your classroom:

From Reluctant to Triumphant: Turning Wary Writers into Writing Winners

Part Two: Reaching Auditory Learners

shutterstock_318745259 (1)

A reluctant writer comes in many guises: a student who is good at telling stories but lacks the skill (or desire) to put them down on paper; someone who is never satisfied with what they write; a poor speller; someone who thinks that writing is just grammar and rules; someone who abandons their writing easily; or someone who is simply scared to push themselves or risk appearing foolish.

A simple strategy is to not make writing seem like writing to the reluctant writer. Not tricking them, per se, but cleverly building up necessary skills to help make writing more productive and satisfying.

Now You’re Talking (and Writing)

Some children are auditory learners. You know: the ones that you are constantly hushing (it’s odd: we spend so much time trying to get children walking and talking as babies only to force them sit down and be quiet when older!). In any case, many of these “chatty” students simply must process thoughts through their lips.

In terms of writing, verbal learners might prefer talking another student through their story before committing pen to paper: verbally formulating their plot and solidifying characters. This helps young writers put thoughts in order beforehand to better avoid writing frustration.

Auditory learners have the tendency to read out loud, repeat information and ask a variety of questions for clarification. They understand the world by talking about it, tend to like music, would rather listen to and talk about a story than read, and demonstrate good oral spelling.

All Ears

Auditory learners remember what they hear and tend to process by talking aloud. They are the vocal students who hum, tap their pencils to a beat, or can’t go throughout the day without singing or sharing a story. These students can often have a hard time concentrating in a noisy environment.

Headphones can act like mufflers for students who are easily distracted by sounds and side-conversations. Non-intrusive music can also be used to set a “mood” in the learning environment. This can help students better focus on the task at hand. Long periods of silence when reading, writing, or testing can be difficult for auditory learners. Classical music can help calm students during an exam, while upbeat music might prove motivational during certain lessons or exercises.

These students thrive in group discussions and read aloud activities. They often need to read out loud, ask questions, or talk through problems they are having with their work

Persuasive writing exercises can be engage auditory learners by getting children together in groups to form and present persuasive arguments. These types of learners often make strong debaters, so enabling students to build persuasive arguments can be an emboldening experience. Students can begin by determining a goal, then identifying reasons to support that argument then finding facts or examples to validate each reason. Persuasive lessons help students discover the power of writing to serve their needs. When they recognize what writing can “do for them,” they are motivated to write and to work at making their arguments clearer and more persuasive.

Set the Stage for Collaboration

Sometimes students simply work better together. Pairing children or putting them in small groups for a set amount of time should help keep them focused (though be prepared for some noise!). Pairing up students to help them brainstorm their stories can ignite creativity on its own, with each child helping one another to fill in gaps or take their ideas in exciting new directions. Students can even “role-play” their characters and situations! Partners can write and switch too—building their stories line by line—or one person can transcribe what the other dictates and then switch, turning an evolving conversation into an actual story. Their stories don’t even need to be formally committed to paper and could, for example, be recorded as a podcast. Listening back to their podcasts and either honing their stories verbally or through the act of writing can kick-start healthy writing habits.

Children don’t even need to be in the same room when brainstorming stories. Online collaboration tools such as Padlet can help with collaborative ideation. Padlet works like an online sheet of paper where students can put any content (e.g. images, videos, documents, text) anywhere on the page, together with anyone, from any device.

Correcting a peer’s writing (or a teacher’s, for that matter) is also far less painful than correcting your own. This helps a reluctant writer learn how to revise and correct without it feeling too personal.

Make It a Habit

Making writing a fun and frustration-free part of a student’s daily life is important. Timed free-writing exercises—no more than ten or 15 minutes at a time—help to ingrain good practices. Ideally, students will begin to consider this “their special time” to reflect, let their imaginations run rampant, vent frustrations, or capture life-moments. It’s also important to let students write about what engages them the most before nudging them into specific directions. If they are passionate about a topic, this passion will ultimately come through in their writing. This could even take the form of “fan fiction”: where students continue the adventures of beloved characters from books or movies.

Setting up a class blog, with teacher-penned prompts (such as quotes, snippets of dialogue, or even photographs), can also prove successful. Be sure to promote short bursts of productive writing: save the editing and spelling for later. The worst thing for writing flow is to have issues such as spelling and grammar impede that initial gush of creativity.

Again, for the verbal learner, this could be simply recording their thoughts for a designated period of time, and making use of those ideas later when writing. Students can capture ideas—either alone or with collaborators—while on walks by dictating into their phones. It’s a great opportunity for students to talk their stories out while releasing restless energy! Even recording recollections of dreams can be a powerful way of building vocabulary.

And, since reluctant writers are often reluctant readers, have students make reading a part of their daily routine. This could even be listening to audio books or magazine podcasts on an iPod: anything to fill a young writer’s head with well-chosen words.

Peer Pressure

Students are often more inclined to step-up and brave that blank page if they know that their writing will be shared with peers. Hold a reading at a local coffee shop for student work, or simply a weekly “open mic” in the classroom where students read what they have written that week. Student stories can also be published in a book, blog or eBook. Be sure to teach “tactful” commenting and critique. Even those who are shy to share will likely be inspired by those who aren’t.

Resistance is Futile (and Fuel)

Even resistance can be used as writing fuel. If a student doesn’t want to write and, instead, would prefer to play outside, let them write about what they’d do outside. If they want to scream and throw a tantrum, have them write about that. Let them write about how much they hate writing until they have run out of words. This will reinforce that all-important pipeline between brain and fingers.

The Write Tools

There are a number of online tools to help get auditory learners writing.

ReadWriteThink is a handy online resource that provides educators, parents, and afterschool professionals with free, high-quality reading and language arts instruction materials.

Another way to help students organize and arrange stories is through Adobe Spark Video. This free tool allows students to quickly create animated videos featuring their own narration. Not only do the app’s prompts help children with story structure, but Adobe Spark Video can also be an empowering tool for students who are uneasy with giving formal presentations to their peers.

Other tools include: PodOmatic, where auditory learners can create, find and share podcasts; Playlist, a resource for auditory learners to access free music to play in the background while they learn; Natural Reader, a way to read text stored on your computer; Audacity, easy-to-use audio editing software; Librivox, providing free access to nearly 1,500 free audio books recorded by Librivox volunteers; Project Gutenberg, a collection of human-read and computer-generated audio books; Lit2Go, a collection of free stories and poems in mp3 format; and Read With Me, a student literacy and reading tool for grades K-2 (and their teachers).

With these and other writing tricks and tips, reluctant writers will eventually overcome feelings of past failure and begin to develop the skills crucial to strong writing: building confidence, pride and perseverance!

From Reluctant to Triumphant: Turning Wary Writers into Writing Winners

Here’s a post from my side project, Write-Craft-Edit, where I try to help young writers get over common obstacles and release the stories trapped inside!

Part One: Reaching Visual Learners

shutterstock_212468167I can’t write. I’m not good with spelling and grammar. I don’t know what to write about. The letters get all mixed up. Writing is boring.

The excuses are many. But there’s really no excuse for students not writing. Every child has a story to tell. It’s just that, oftentimes, the words get lost on the trip from the brain to the fingers.

The key is to make the experience of writing engaging and relevant: helping students to overcome either imaginary obstacles or very real obstacles such as dyslexia.

It’s simply a child’s nature to develop a “block” to something that frustrates them. But teachers and parents must help coax strong writing habits by creating a climate of expression as opposed to one of correction. Writing is a process. And by making this process enjoyable and fulfilling, the young writer will work at his or her own pace to develop essential skills.

The Eyes Have It

Visual learners are often the most resistant to the practice of writing. Giving them the time and the strategies to visualize their writing beforehand is not only a way to get students creatively thinking about their writing, but is a great tool for all writers: helping to solidify thoughts, settings and details before pencil touches paper. Drawing a picture before writing can help set the stage for imaginative storytelling. This could be a map of a make-believe world, a comic strip, or a crude sketch: anything it takes to get creativity flowing. Visualization exercises also work for reports, essays, and other nonfiction-type forms of writing.

Concept mapping tools and index cards are a simple and compelling way to help young writers overcome the hurdles preventing them from organizing their ideas. Concept mapping tools—such as the Learning in Context: Concept Mapping app—give children a chance to experiment with ideas and possible outcomes in a fun, hand-on way. This allows free exploration of most any idea, with the strongest ideas forming a visual outline. An outline can be as simple as a brief character sketch, that character’s motivation, a list of other characters and/or antagonists, and how–in general—the story will end.

1) Have your student pick a theme, topic, or even a sentence that could form the basis for a story. Have them put this in a circle or square at the center of their screen.

2) Have your student brainstorm ideas related to their central topic, generating as many as possible. Next, they should pick the ideas that work best with the general theme or idea, and put them in circles or squares around the center circle, connecting them with a line.

3) Have students repeat the process—branching out of subtopics—until their screen looks like a constellation of ideas: enough to form a general outline for a story.

4) Students can use their concept map to organize their ideas to create optimal “story flow”: arranging connected plot points closely together, pacing ideas in a way that conveys a satisfying arc, and removing ideas that don’t seem to fit anymore or are too similar to other ideas. A concept map tool makes this easy (and fun!).

5) Have students consult their concept map often while developing their stories so they stay on track and feel as if there is a visual “support” for their writing. An outline or template can provide structure for writers who don’t know where to begin. Knowing that there is scaffolding in place, students can relax a little and allow their creativity to take over.

All a (Story)Board!

Creating storyboards can also help young writers to visualize how their story might unfold. This makes the ebb and flow of a story seem real to visual learners. When a student is fully immersed in their creation, their imagination kicks in and inhibitions begin to loosen their grip!  A storyboard should, ideally, visualize a key scene or milestone from a story, and not necessarily be a comic book (though that is fine too!).

There are a number of storyboarding apps and tools. Some popular storyboard creators areStoryboard That, Storyboard Generator, and ReadWriteThink: Story Map. These tools function in much the same way: creating a number of panels to be filled any way the student wishes: some allowing for drag and drop characters, conflicts and/or settings to help a writer organize their story.

A teacher can also hand out sheets with pre-drawn panels or even index cards, which add the ability to reorganize scenes much like a concept map.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (Give or Take)

Another tool to help jump-start writing for visual learners is photographic prompts. Show your students a series of photographs and ask them to imagine whom the people in the photographs are, where the photographs were taken, and how the photographs makes them feel. Then have them begin to imagine what sort of story they can make from what they see. This can really help relieve the pressure of starting a writing project from scratch. You can either grab kid-friendly photographs from Google, Flickr, Pics4Learning, Photos For Class, or your favorite photo resource.

Blanking on the Blank Page

Students often have no idea what to write. By telling them who their audience is, you can help students better connect the dots between reader and writer. Have them choose a topic that might be of interest to their specific reader, and choose their language accordingly. This audience could be a person (Abraham Lincoln or the child’s best friend), an animal (a squirrel or family pet), or even a thing (a robot or talking dragon).

Another technique is to have students write within a particular form, such as a diary-entry or even a recipe! These formats imply a certain structure, which can birth creative ideas (sometimes nothing is as daunting to writing as complete freedom!). Giving students a choice also makes them feel empowered and valued, and can make a big difference in helping a student get their words out into the world.

Switch It Up

Sometimes creative writing itself can be too intimidating for some writers. Persuasive writing exercises can not only seem more “relevant” to certain students, but also help develop crucial skills such as supporting ideas concisely and comprehensively. Begin with subjects that students are passionate about, such as food (free pizza and ice cream being served in the cafeteria), freedoms (later school start-time or no curfew), and favorite pastimes (why skateboarding is the best or why a certain band or recording artist is the best). Some students may not even be really sure what, exactly, they are passionate about. Ask them questions and ferret out their personal stories. Their personal interests—and subsequent writing opportunities—should emerge. Once they feel confident that they have something to say, they will feel more confident in their writing.

Next, help students to understand the distinction between opinion and fact (unless, of course, they are running for political office). One pre-writing activity could involve flipping through magazines and analyzing advertisements to better understand the distinction, as well as incorporating colorful, persuasive phrases and language.

Other times, switching up the typical tools—such as pencil and paper—can help to inspire and engage. In addition to laptops and writing platforms such as Microsoft Word, blogging sites likeWordPress or Blogger can help shake up writing routines by making the process more fun. Students can also continue their writing or make revisions at home or even share their work with others for feedback.

The Write Tools

There are a number of other online tools to help get students writing, such as: Storyjumper, a tool for creating online books; Story Starters, a selection of interactive story prompts; Zoo Burst, 3-D pop-up book creator; Storybird, a visual storytelling community; Pixton, comic book creator; andMy Story Maker, a simple storybook creator.

Educators need to follow a student’s lead whenever possible as opposed to imposing rigid expectations. Weave writing exercises and prompts naturally during the course of their day, every day. Make writing a shared journey that either your child or your entire class can share together.

Happy Heckoween

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 5.20.14 PMIt’s that time of year again, when children wear cumbersome, restrictive costumes and wander in the dark to eat food handed to them by total strangers. What could go wrong? How about…getting the Circles of Heck series! Yes, imagine the looks of mild confusion when, instead of getting some fun-sized candy (as if “fun” could ever be properly measured!?) your young boys and ghouls receive fresh copies of the Circles of Heck series!


Read what real people could possibly be saying about the highly affordable Circles of Heck series!

“So frightening that I soiled someone ELSE’s pants!” — Stephen King

“I laughed so hard that I broke all of my ribs. Seriously, I am in incredible pain, please help me.” — Will Ferrell

“Basye uses many of the same words that appear in classic pieces of literature.” — Harvard University

“The [Heck series] is the [best series] [ever written].” — [New York Times]

“You will laugh, cry and cherish every page of Dale E. Basye’s exceptional Circles of Heck series!” — Not a Real Magazine Magazine