Celebrating Student Writing with a Publishing Party
An understanding of the writing process is important for young writers. However, the time involved in editing and revising means that not every piece of writing can—or should—be taken all the way to the publishing stage. So when students put the work into making their writing publication-ready, that effort needs to be celebrated.
Often, students’ polished works will be posted on a class website or compiled into a classroom book. While these are good ways to make students’ work available for reading, students themselves often do not get to see others enjoying their creations. The solution: throwing a publishing party to elevate students from those who have written to those who are writers.
Get students’ writing ready for publication
Before reaching the party stage, students first need to create a polished piece of writing of which they are proud. Allowing students to choose their own topic (within the framework of a theme or genre if needed) gives them more ownership over their writing and will likely inspire top-notch work. Once they've written a first draft, students should self-revise, peer-review and revise, then self-edit and proofread their piece before publication, using a computer for ease of revision if possible.
Create the details of a published book
Once students put together a final version of their writing, have them look at some of their favorite books and note the components, then brainstorm a list of these components as a class. These could include a cover, an “about the author” section, reviews, and a synopsis of the work. Students may also note the dedication page, title page, etc. Have students create these components to make their writing into a book.
To incorporate partner work, arrange students in pairs and have them interview each other. They should use the information they gather to create an “about the author” piece for their partner of about a paragraph or two in length. Next, have each student write a brief review of each piece of writing that they peer-reviewed. These reviews should be very short—just a sentence or two in length—and focus on the best features of the piece rather than providing a synopsis.
Once all the components have been completed, make at least five copies of each for every student (more if time and budget permit), keeping in mind that students will be creating and binding covers by hand. Text should be printed double-sided to facilitate being laid out on full pages or half-pages that can be folded. Though half-pages may take a little more effort to properly lay out, these will result in thicker books that often look better than larger, thinner ones. Binding methods for folded books are also more plentiful.
Turn text into a book
The next step is for students to create covers and bind their pieces. Students may decide how they will bind their books, or you can choose one method for all students to use. As there are a number of ways to turn pages of text into a book—with varying degrees of sturdiness and difficulty—select binding techniques that best fit your time and your students’ capabilities.
The simplest method of binding is to staple the pages together. This can be done along the edges of full-sized paper, or the paper can be folded in half and stapled through the middle. Another simple method is to fold the paper in half and punch three holes in the crease of the paper. Use yarn, twine, or another type of sturdy string to hold the pages together. A similar but slightly more time-consuming technique is to hand-stitch along the edge of the paper, which will work with full-sized paper or paper that is folded in half. This can be done with needle and thread or by punching holes along the edge of the paper and using yarn, twine, embroidery thread, or sturdy string for stitching without the need for needles.
With a little extra work, students’ books can be bound with sturdier cardboard covers made of thick cardboard, although thinner cardboard (for instance, a cereal box) also works well and is easier to sew or punch holes through. In all cases, the cardboard cover should be cut slightly larger than the pages of the book.
Pages that have been bound by stapling or via string through holes in paper creases can be glued to the inside of the back and front cardboard covers, and the covers can be taped together along the spine to make the book sturdier. When using this method, include a blank piece of paper on the outside of the text so the blank paper (rather than the first page of text) can be glued down.
Several methods allow you to incorporate the cardboard cover directly when binding the pages, including the hand-stitching method described above. Another method is to punch a hole toward the top and bottom of the cardboard cover and the pages, then bind them with a stick. To do this, place the stick along the edge of the book and thread yarn, twine, or rubber bands through the holes to hold the stick tight against the cardboard. Any sturdy stick can be used, including dowel rods, bamboo skewers, or even fallen sticks from a tree.
With any of these methods, be sure to leave enough margin so that students’ writing is not obscured once bound. An online search will bring up step-by-step instructions for any of the methods described here, but be sure to try the method yourself before assigning it to students.
Personalize each book
Students can decorate their covers in a number of ways, including drawing or painting directly on them or on a separate piece of paper large enough to wrap around the book. You may want to make copies of each student's artwork so all of their books look the same, or students can do an original design on each one. Students can also use cut-outs from magazines, wallpaper samples, or other paper to cover their books, which can make for an excellent collaboration with an art teacher. The final step involves students cutting out and gluing down their reviews, the “about the author” blurb, and the synopsis for each book. They might reference their favorite books for ideas.
Once students have at least five copies of their fully edited and bound books, it's time to host the publishing party. You can invite parents and school administration, a local seniors group, or another class of students. Younger or older students (depending on the grade level of your students) make a great audience.
Set up the room so there is a gathering place in one area along with a table or desk for each student to sit behind with room for visitors to line up in front of them. The school library is an excellent location for this. At their tables, students should have at least five copies of their book, as well as a sign made of poster board folded into a standing triangle that represents the book. Students can include their name, the name of the book, reviews, the cover, and whatever else they wish on their table signs. Another fun touch is to hang poster “ads” for students’ books around the room.
When the party begins, gather all visitors and introduce the first author. The student author should read a very brief excerpt from their book to the audience that should have been chosen thoughtfully beforehand. Repeat this process until all authors have read. Alternatively, if you have a large class, you can break the reading into chunks. Once all the students have read—or several, if you are using the chunking format—have those students sit behind their tables. Ask visitors to line up in front of a student author to get a copy of the student’s book and have the student autograph it.
To make the experience more dynamic, provide the audience with a “cheat sheet” of some simple questions they can ask the author as their book is being signed. Some questions you might use include: What made you want to write about this topic? How did you come up with this idea? What was the most challenging part of writing this book? What was the most surprising thing you learned when writing this book? Why did you choose this genre? Ask visitors to limit their questions to one or two per person.
Having students read aloud back-to-back will involve a lot of listening, so you can break the readings into chunks in a few ways. For instance, have a few students read and sign their books, then have another set of students take their turn reading and signing until all students have had their time in the spotlight. You can also create two audience areas and direct one student to each area to read simultaneously. Another option is to hold the event on two separate days, with half the class as the authors and the other half as part of the audience. Note that with some formats, each visitor will not get their own copy of each student author’s book, and some may not get a copy of any of the books. This is fine, but you may want to warn the visitors beforehand. The most important thing is to have each student “sell” all of their books—in fact, if a student runs out of books while visitors are still in line, that student can feel great that they sold out!
Although it takes some effort from students and educators, a publishing party is an authentic way to celebrate students' published work. Such a gathering brings students face to face with their audience and gives them an identity as an author through reading excerpts and signing books. Feeling like a true author may help motivate students in future writing tasks, as well as giving them confidence in their ability to create, revise, and publish their writing.
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