8 Ways to Improve Your Students’ Writing

Coaching Your Students to Writing Success!


Well, it’s almost September and time for back to school with a whole new bunch of young learners that will teach us as much as we teach them. If you’re like me, one of the toughest challenges we face each year is to find new ways to help our students improve their writing.  It can be a daunting task, but like with anything, if we give our students the right tools for the job, then the path to success is made easier.

What? I can’t just give them a pencil and some writing topics and tell them to write everyday? Okay, Okay, I know you wouldn’t do that anyway, but I do have some tools and tips to share with you that I think will help as you coach young writers.

  1. Plan- Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, good writing starts with a good plan. The author needs to know where they are going with their writing.  What is their purpose? Who is their audience? And what is the mood of their writing?  Each of these could be a quick focus lesson.

Once these decisions are made, it’s time to put a plan on paper. It took me a long time (years, in fact) to come up with a story planner and a non-fiction planner that I really like.  My kiddos find them easy to follow and fill out. Because of this, they actually follow them as they are writing and that makes a huge difference to the creative process. These planners keep them focused.  Yay! ( Don’t worry, I’m going to give you a free copy of these planners with this link and a link at the bottom of the post. Just click  here to get it now.

2.  Content – All good writing starts with a good idea. Teach your students to ask questions about their character or subject. What would they want to know about him/her/it as the reader? What about personality? Quirks? Habits? etc.  Rich details make readers identify with the character and/or subject matter and add to the reading experience. Be careful, though, young authors must be taught to ‘sneak’ the details in context rather than just list them.  Otherwise we end up with the dreaded ‘info dump.’ Not good. Modelling is the best teacher here.  Show your kiddos how to put in the details without explicitly listing them.  Use great examples from authors you love. Kenneth Oppel and Rick Riordan are masters of this.

3. Organization – Kids need to be explicitly taught organization. It doesn’t come naturally to most.  Brainstorm ideas about a topic and write them down, then cut them apart and organize them into topics.  You can set this up in centers and have students do the same.  ‘Sticking to the topic’ is an essential skill in both fiction and non-fiction writing. It’s more obvious in non-fiction, but have you ever read a story that rambled with no clear focus?  Teach your students to keep coming back to the plot line /problem so that every detail, every action and every event have something to do with that plot line/problem.  If it has nothing to do with the plot, leave it out.  Teach them to keep the beginning, middle and end related to the central problem.

4.  Sentencing- Ooh this is a big one, grammar is tricky, but start simple by teaching them big ideas concepts like: Good authors never begin two sentences the same way in a paragraph.  Then have them use colored crayons to underline their beginnings and read them back. Soon they will be able to spot repetitions and problem beginnings.

5. Word choice – Teach your kiddos that a thesaurus is a writers best friend!  Show them how to use it, model using it as you write, and let the kids make a journal/lists of interesting words they’d like to use in their writing during their word work time. Because it’s words they want to use, they will be motivated to find WritingProcessPack_Page_5and use those words. Choice is a powerful motivator!

6. Editing – Students need to have a useful rubric for self evaluating and self-editing their work. I always tell my students that ‘They mark it first’ and ‘I mark it second’.  I created this rubric that helps them go through the process. I photocopy several and they take them as they finish up their stories and go through, mark, and fix their story before handing it in. It’s also wonderfully handy when addressing the next two goals.

7. Set goals to improve your skills- A student can’t focus on everything at once,but needs guidance to focus on just one area that s/he can improve their writing. During conferencing, I use the boxes in the above rubric/marking guide to set a goal each student.  We only focus on one boxed skill area for improvement and set a goal to address that with their next writing project. This keeps students from being overwhelmed and helps them see their progress!

8.  Feedback, feedback, feedback. I can’t stress enough how much students need consistent feedback about their writing.  They need you to care, to listen, to appreciate what they tried to do, and finally, to model how they can improve it.  Give them examples of more interesting ways they could ‘say the same thing.’

Writing is a love of mine, so you can see that I get excited about teaching young people to communicate their ideas more clearly with the written word.  I hope these ideas help you in that endeavour, also. Now for your freebie as promised click on the word below:



Dad’s Daily News Project for Father’s Day

Hey all,

Need a really cool class project idea for Father’s Day? Try this one on for size. I just made this ‘Dad’s Daily News’ template that you can use as a great gift for Dad, while encouraging your students to write a variety of different articles and entries that Dad will absolutely love! How about these ideas?

  • Write a news event that features Dad in it: Dad Catches Biggest Fish Ever, Dad Invents Magic Golf Ball That Never Gets Lost, etc.   Have fun inventing these!
  • Write a how-to article: How to  Make Dad’s Favorite Pancakes, Chocolate Chip Cookies or Desert, How to Build a Tree House, etc.
  • Write a poem for Dad
  • Write a few jokes for Dad.
  • Make a crossword on grid paper and glue it in one of the empty frames with the clues beside.
  • Add a cartoon in the template provided.

These are just a few of the ways that you can use this fun template.  If you find it useful I accept thanks in cold, hard cash. Just kidding. You don’t owe me a thing, but I would appreciate if you would spread the word about Quest Teaching and sign up for futures freebies here : I’d also love to hear about how you used this in your classroom. Send pictures and add them to the comments below.



Exploring the Treasure Box – Writing with Self- Assessment

Last newsletter, I gave away  a treasure box (drop box) full of my teaching resources for free! If you missed out on that, I’m sorry, but be sure to subscribe to the newsletter so you never miss out on more fabulous freebies.  This week I wanted to take a few moments to explore some of those resources that I spent time putting together for teachers, and how I use them in the classroom.


Take a closer look!

First up?  Let’s talk about a subject I’m passionate about; writing!  For a long time, I’ve wanted a student self-evaluation tool in kid-friendly language to give my students more ownership and focus to improving their writing.  I could never find a commercially made tool that I liked, so I decided to make one myself.  Here it is:

I just run this off on both sides and have my students staple it to their story. Now when they say they are “finished” a piece of writing, I have them go through their story one “box” at a time. By the way, I love the boxes! It makes the evaluation process so flexible, yet target.  Here are just a few ways that I use the boxes:

  • Mini-lessons on each box: e.g., Today we are focusing on Content. Take a look at the content box on your marking guide. What are we looking for? What does that look like in a story? Exemplars are great for this. Now look at your story. Focus only on the Content box.  Does your story have quality content?
  • Have the whole class edit their existing story for one of the boxes one checkbox at a time. Break out your blue crayon for one checkbox, a red for another, and so on.  This works especially well when focused on the conventions box.
  • Conferencing and goal setting with a student.  The boxes really allow you to focus in on one specific area that the student needs to work on to improve his/her writing. I use this along with my writing conference sheets. After reviewing a piece of writing, the student and I will discuss a “next step” goal to improve their writing. I ask them which “box” they think they need to work on most.  The process really helps them take ownership for improving their own writing.
  • You Mark, then I mark.  Finally, I love, love, love, the idea that the students always mark their writing first, before I do. Along with all the checklists, there’s a place for them to assign a mark to their work before I mark it.  This gives them the opportunity to evaluate and improve their writing before they come to me with it. It also gives me the opportunity during conferences to point to the checklist and say can you show me where you found examples of this or that in your story?
  • As an added bonus I included new story planners in the package. I was so tired of students trying to navigate the “rising outline” story planner, so I re-invented it with kids in mind. The result is below.  The kids love it.  They are creating much more detailed plans because the spaces direct and focus their thinking.  Several students have all told me that they like it better. It’s definitely a keeper in my writing program.


This is just one of the tools I’ll be highlighting  from our treasure box over the next few weeks. Do you have ideas for other teacher resources you’d just love to have?  Subscribe and shoot me an email about it.  It just might become our next fabulous freebie and you’ll get it free!  What could be better than that?

Until next keep teaching and “treasuring” our special young people.



Writing A Christmas Circle Story

To get my Class in the Christmas mood, we started writing Christmas circle stories last week! (You know, the kind of story that ends in the same place it started).

First we read The Carpenter’s Gift, by David Rubel. This touching story about the huge Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center,  is a great way to introduce the circle story plot.


After reading the story, we used a picture prompt to brainstorm ideas for our own circle story.  Then we used this story planner to plan our stories.  The kids are excited to get writing their stories this week and I am excited to show them how they can develop each story event with “showing” using sensory imagery. I can hardly wait to read the stories they create!


Free this week only. Click on the pic!

If you’d like a copy of this story planner, just click on the pic!   Also included, are bonus story started pictures to get you started!

If you have some students who would like their stories published online, or would like to share with my class, let me know. I love to celebrate student writing.  Message me to see how we can share!

Have fun creating circle stories in your classroom!


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3 Ways to Use Technology to Build Relationships with Your Students

4249170516_b7c72a309a_nIf someone were to ask you, what would you say is the number one thing that makes you an effective teacher?

One word makes all the difference. Relationship.

Oh, I know, I need to be tough in the first half of the year so I will have control of my class, right? Wrong! I am not teaching robots. I am teaching children. They do not look the same, act the same, or have the same likes and dislikes. Some like pizza with pineapple, while others spit it out. There’s the class clown, the shy one who will never ask a question, and the one who constantly trips over his own feet. I love them all. It is not my job to control them so they will learn. It’s my job to watch each of them, get to know them and find out what makes them tick. With each, I need to develop the kind of relationship that builds a bridge of trust between us. They need to know I am here for them and I am always on their side. Then, they can take risks in my classroom. Then, they can learn.

“Wait a minute,” you say . “I thought this post was about technology. What does technology have to do with relationship?”
Stay tuned. In today’s world we need to use every available tool to inspire our students. Here are three tech tools that I love because they help me know my students better and communicate with them more effectively even outside to the classroom.

1. Email: even though I teach elementary school, writing emails back and forth with my students, not only teaches them a valuable technology skill. It also allows them to ask me questions they might be afraid to tell me in class. It gives them a voice to tell me about things that are troubling them. Perhaps they are getting bullied or are nervous about their grades. I’ve had students share these kinds of things with me via email and it provides me great insight so I can help them deal with the problem. The one-on-one nature of email lends itself to some privacy in conversation which allows students to feel they can share.

2. Evernote: As you can tell by my previous posts, I’m a bit of an Evernote FREAK! I love the way I can set up student notebooks and collect assessments to build a profile for their learning. In addition to assessment, Evernote also allows me to collect tidbits of information that I think will interest my students. For example, if I know that one of my students is interested in horses, I can easily capture and keep articles, photos, web games, etc. That I think will interest that child. Then I can show them quickly and easily. I can also share the notes by email with the student and their parents. Just another beam supporting the bridge of trust.Evernotestudentinterest

3. Kidblog: I love Kidblog! Kidblog gives kids a reason to write. Beyond class writing assignments, students can research and share their interests, just like real bloggers do! Kidblog allows you, the teacher, to have your kids give and receive feedback in a safe environment. You control who can and cannot comments as well as the privacy of the posts. Best of all, you can access their posts anywhere so you can interact with their posts at home on your laptop. I have learned so much about my students by reading their Kidblog posts. We’ve also had the chance to connect with other classes around the world, which provides even greater reason for Kids to write! I can’t say enough about the benefits of getting your class on Kidblog.kidblogpage

There you have it, three ways to connect with kids on a personal level, beyond the classroom. Of course with each of these tools there is the added benefit of teaching them about safe on-line practices and etiquette.
If you want to know more about any of these, I’m here and I’d love to help! Shoot me a message via Facebook, Twitter, email or in the comments below. Do you have any favourite tech tools that help you build stronger relationships with students? I’d love to hear about them.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to get more great teaching ideas and have access to exclusive free teaching materials each week please subscribe to our newsletter! Just enter your name in the sidebar or the pop-up to connect!  I can’t wait to share with you!

photo credit: A teacher looks at a student’s work via photopin (license)

Easy Steps to a Differentiated Spelling Program

25waysspellingfunEach September I begin by asking my students why we write? I want them to fully understand that the basic purpose of writing is to communicate our ideas. Grasping this concept is a step in the right direction to having them want to improve their skills.  After all, if they work at developing good writing skills, it will be easier for them to get their message across.

This leads us to the spelling issue. In this day and age of spellcheckers and technology, do we really need to focus on spelling in school?  The answer is yes. Poor spelling leads to miscommunication, so I use an example of poor spelling to get my point across.  After seeing the difference that spelling makes to the clarity of a message, students are eager to improve their skills, but the traditional spelling list does little to actually help them achieve their goals. The trick is tailoring the spelling instruction to individual needs of students.  This is a summary of how I differentiate to meet the spelling instruction needs of my students. I hope it will help you meet the needs of your students, too.

  At the end of these lessons, you will be able to:

*identify and share the different purposes for writing

*identify improving spelling as a way to better communicate in writing

*identify and apply common spelling generalizations in own writing

Write this message to your students on the board or pop this picture up on your smart board.  Turn and talk with an elbow partner:spellingexemplar

Why was it difficult to read the message?

In a whole-group discussion, share the problems with the message: spelling, punctuation, printing.

What would you do to improve the message?

Give students a copy of the message and see if they can work with a partner to make it better.

Hand out new notebooks that the students will use to improve their spelling of the words they don’t know. Label the book with “My Spelling Words to Study”.

Explain to the students that we all have different spelling skills, just like we all wear different shoe sizes. That’s why we all need to work at learning to spell different words, but first we need to know which words we need to work on.

Follow up with a test of the top 300-500 (depending on grade level) high-frequency words. It may take several sessions to complete this diagnostic assessment. I usually give about 50 words at a time. Higher grades may want to use words  500+. I recommend using Rebecca Sitton’s Spelling Sourcebook

After each test, mark the student’s work and circle each misspelled word and write the correct spelling word beside the misspelled word.

Following the tests, have students transfer the first ten of the correct spelling of the words they need to know to their “Words to Study” list included in this package. We will repeat this each week from the 300 words. After that, I will give a new test of the next 100 high-frequency words and/or use the “problem words from their writing”. Students now have an individualized list of words that they need to work from during the year. Each week they will work on these words during their word work time using a variety of generic spelling games and study activities which have been taught.

For home practice,  I give students a recording sheet to make their lists each week.  This is how I set mine up:

Each week the students will refer to their “Words to Study” list to make their spelling list to study for that week. If you are teaching specific spelling patterns each week, you may have them choose five words from the list and five words from the spelling pattern you are currently studying. They make two copies of the list.  One that goes home to study and one that stays at school for the peer test that students give each other later in the week. If students do not spell every word on their  “Word Work/Spelling List Record Sheet” correctly, they must transfer the words they got incorrect, to next week’s list  and continue to do so until they have mastered them. Each week that they master their list, they get a coin for their “Master Spellers” certificate. At the beginning of the year,  I also send home the “25 Ideas” in two page protectors. Students can post these on their fridge for fun ways to practice their words at home.easyspelling25ways

Vital to student success and growth in spelling will be the provision of many goal-setting conferences to identify successes in improved spelling in their writing.  The connection between good spelling skills and clarity of written messages needs to be continually reinforced during these teacher-student conversations.  These conferences should go a long way towards helping students see that their efforts are resulting in progress toward their better spelling and communication goals.

On in my TPT store, I put together a complete package for you to help get you started. In it,  I tried to include everything you’ll need for your word work program this year. Included in this package you’ll find:

easystepsmultisheet* My Word to Study Listwordstostudypic

*Student Spelling List Record Sheets

* Student Spelling test sheets

* Word Work Activity Ideas

* “Master Speller” coin collector student sheet

I hope this is a valuable resource for you in providing a differentiated spelling program for the students in your classroom. The whole package is on sale this week to give you a chance to get it, and try it, for an introductory low price.  Check it out here:


Questions? I’d love to hear from you. What do you do in your classroom to differentiate instruction for students?



Lessons From the Author – Creating Believable Character Voices (and Setting Scenes)

Note: Although the lesson is suitable for 4th grade students, it might be better with 5th or 6th grade students.

Time: Discussion length could vary slightly, especially if you chose to have select students read aloud. Meant to fill one 40-50 minute period.

By Julie C. Gilbert , Author of Ashlyn's Dreams

By Julie C. Gilbert , Author of Ashlyn’s Dreams

When writing a story, you often want to establish your scene quickly. Where is the character? Is he/she safe? Is he/she alone? What does the character’s interaction with the scene reveal about their personality? These details become important in building believable characters.

 What do the details tell you? Think-Pair-Share (~5-7 minutes): Read the following excerpt and pick out 3-5 details that help create the mood for the scene.

Example 1 Excerpt from Ashlynn’s Dreams Ch. 5 Dark Place:Speaker = Jillian Blairington

I awoke in a dark place. My head felt fuzzy like it was buzzing. Rolling over hurt ’cause my hands were tied behind me pretty tightly. My arms had a tingly numbness that said the cords were biting into ’em even through my shirt. My feet were bound, too, but that was less annoying. I grunted but that only aggravated my head, so I quit that. My stiff clothes clung to me like a glove, a cold, uncomfortable glove at that.


The thought brought me wide awake, just like a nice bucket of ice water. I sat up too fast and fell over the other way into a cold wall. I shook my head to clear it, only gaining more pain. On the nice side, whoever the meanie-heads were who kidnapped me, they didn’t bother stuffing nothing in my mouth. Leaning my head against the coolness coming from the wall felt good, so I let myself rest there while I thought.

Repeat the Think-Pair-Share for this new excerpt (~5-7 minutes)

Example 2 Excerpt from Ch. 7 Guest or Prisoner?:

Speaker = Danielle Matheson

You know you’re around real nut-jobs when they treat you like a hotel guest a few hours after snatching you from a suburban home. Following the woman led to all sorts of nice things, like a shower, fresh clothes, and food, wonderful, lovely food. Wish I could say it was a four-course meal, but that peanut butter and jelly sandwich tasted like manna from Heaven. Or at least it would have if I had tasted one bit of it. I think I swallowed the thing whole.

I must have asked a few thousand questions in the short time I was being fed.

The woman pretty much ignored me until I finished eating. If she bothered answering a question it was only with a vague sort of wait-until-later answer.

“I’m tired of waiting!” I finally burst out.

The woman just laughed.

“Why won’t you tell me anything?”

“You don’t need to know right now,” the woman replied.

“Can I at least know your name?” I practically begged.

The woman studied me for the longest moment.

I began to suspect I had peanut butter mashed on my nose or something equally as horrible.

“You can call me Cora,” she said at last.

“That’s not your real name?”

Weirder and weirder.

“It has been my name for a very long time, and that’s all that matters.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose to ward off an annoyance-induced headache. I sniffed with bitter laughter. I think I was starting to crack. It just struck me as funny that I couldn’t really define whether I was a guest or a prisoner here. Then a thought blindsided me. “What do you want with her?”

Jillian. Child. Innocent. Protect.

The random words swirled in my head.

Next, take a few minutes to compare and contrast the details each narrator chose to include. (This part might be a stretch for 4th graders.) Ask the students to guess which narrator is younger and give a reason for their answer. (Answer: Jillian.) What descriptions reveal that Danielle is older?

With first person narration, one character’s observations can easily reveal another person’s character. What does the narrator’s observations show you about the man?

Example 3 Excerpt from Ashlynn’s Dreams Ch. 10 A Place for Science:

The room I stepped into was all gussied up with a thick couch, an overgrown reclining chair, and fat pillows in all sorts of colors. A large desk sat toward the back wall, and behind that, some thick curtains covered the back wall itself. They was all black and kinda creepy. Momma woulda hated ’em.

A man stood behind the desk with arms crossed over his chest like he was waiting for something. His desk was a mess. Nana woulda worn his ear out scolding over the state of that mess. Pens, papers, pencils, small sticky notes, a few dozen paper cups, some icky-looking food, and a couple of real ugly paper weights took over the desk. No one could work there and keep all their marbles straight.

I didn’t say nothing at first ’cause it ain’t fitting to speak outta turn when you’re a guest. I wasn’t sure then, and still ain’t certain, if that applies if somebody up and snatches you right out of your home. Never thought to ask Nana about it.

Can you tell from the wording whether the speaker is Jillian or Danielle?


Additional Exercises: (These are just ideas. I think there should be time for at least one of them.)

Exercise 1: Select 1-2 details from the first or second excerpt (or select from a list provided by your teacher) and use them to create a new scene.

Exercise 2 a: Voice Analysis; small words/ big differences – Look at the list below and choose whether you think the word which narrator would be more likely to say each word or phrase.

  1. That is a horrible thing to say. Circle one: Jillian or Danielle
  2. That’s a rotten thing to say. Circle one: Jillian or Danielle
  3. I gotta go real bad. Circle one: Jillian or Danielle
  4. I need to use the facilities. Circle one: Jillian or Danielle

Exercise 2 b: Write a pair of sentences that imitate either Jillian or Danielle’s way of speaking. If you have time, do both. Possible topics: weather (different ways to say “It was hot/cold.”), food, great game, long school day, etc.

Exercise 3: Describe your classroom twice, once using “young” language and once using “older” language.

Exercise 4: Scene Meets Character (Mix and Match) – I often find that creating a scene and placing a character in that scene reveals a lot about the character. Take one of the following scenarios and character descriptions and try to write a scene that reveals that character trait or emotion.

Possible Scenes Character Traits and Emotions
A park Fear
The mall Bravery
A dark alley Brashness/ arrogance
A funeral Smugness
A family party Shy
A ball game Silly
The beach Anger


Thanks for taking the time to go through these scenes with me. If you have questions about Ashlynn’s Dreams or writing in general, please feel free to email me at or  leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you with an answer. When it comes to writing, enjoy every step of the journey.


Julie C. Gilbert

Learning Objectives:


Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.


Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop

experiences, events, and/or characters.

Link to Ashlynn’s Dreams.

Lessons From the Author – Building Character

Have you ever wondered how an author makes you really love a character? There’s a lot to consider when an author chooses and develops a character for a story.


Click on this for free pdf version of the lesson.

This lesson could take place over several days. Click on this icon to get a free pdf version of this lesson:

  •  First consider age. How old do you want your character to be? Well that will depend on your audience. Who are you writing this story for? How old will your readers be? If they are other students, then they will most likely want a character that is just slightly older than themselves. They want someone they can look up to.
  •  Next you’ll need to map out your characters features. What does he look like?

When I chose Christopher Faramund as my main character I really wanted kids to identify with him, and I was writing for ten-year olds, so I made him twelve years old. I revealed his age and some of his physical features in this excerpt:

Example: A sudden gust of wind tugged at his tricorn, almost lifting it from his blonde waves of hair, but Christopher instinctively grabbed it with his free hand.  The hat had been a gift from his parents—Charles and Alexus Faramund—for his twelfth birthday only three months ago. 

“This tricorn is meant for a true captain,” his father had announced, as he showed Christopher the black felt hat. It was adorned on the left brim with a large round pin that looked like a compass. The pin featured a light blue jewel set at its center.

What a day that was! Peeking out from under the precious black felt brim had been the proudest moment of Christopher’s life. His father had crowned him a captain, a real sea captain. What a feeling! And the proud look in his father’s eyes; he would never ever forget that look. Could anything be more special?

His mother had echoed the feeling with the warmth in her smile. She looked radiant as she’d tipped back the triangular hat. “Never cover those aqua eyes,” she scolded his father. “They are the color of the sea, and meant to see what others cannot.”  Then she winked at Christopher, straightened the tricorn, and nudged Charles. “Just look at him,” she said. “He looks like his father in this thing. My son is a true captain indeed!” ~ The Jewel of Peru, chapter 1

  • Wait! You’re not done yet. Who is your character? I mean what personality traits does your character have? Use these questions to guide you:
  • What is your character’s main goal and what traits will help him or her to achieve that goal?
  • How does your character react to certain situations because of their traits? For example if s/he found out they were asked to do something they didn’t want to do, would they… panic? Laugh? Run? Be curious and want to find out more? Get angry? Does s/he say yes without thinking or does s/he think through the options?
  • How does your character react to others? Does s/he get annoyed? Does s/he laugh a lot or make jokes? Does s/he constantly ask a lot of questions? Does s/he always try to help, Does s/he have any nervous habits? You get the idea.  If you could only use three words would you use to describe your character?

What do you learn about Jada’s personality from reading these excerpts?

Example 1: Jada slipped through the crowd cautiously so as not to be seen. She adjusted her ponytail and tucked a wisp of her dark hair behind her ear to keep it out of her eyes while she scouted. The gang was counting on her, especially the younger ones. A good purse would mean a full belly for the hungry stowaways who eagerly awaited her return to their hideout at the shipyard.

At last she spied her target: A man with a sling over his shoulder; filled with fruit, vegetables, and a loaf of bread. On his shoulder there also hung a canteen of water. That would keep them for a day or maybe two. She inched closer. He was tall, and his red hair made him easy to follow through the crowd until she could make a clean getaway. The gap between them grew shorter. It was time. Lunging forward Jada snatched the canteen and the sling, jerking them from his arm before he had time to react. Not a single orange was lost in the scuffle as she tucked both items under her shirt, and darted away through the crowd.

A few strides later, Jada glanced back. The stranger was giving pursuit. She stretched her long legs, breaking into a full run. At age sixteen, she could outrun most men—her swift legs hadn’t failed her yet—but he was bigger, stronger and faster. Soon he was gaining on her. Still, if she could get to the shipyard, she’d lose him there. ~ Chapter 2, The Jewel of Peru

Example 2: 

“Oh alright,” answered Sheridan “We just need to be careful, that’s all. Did anyone follow you, Jada?”

“No one will find us,” Jada answered. “The man with the food gave chase, but I lost him.” Again a smug grin spread across her face.

“Are you sure?” Sheridan countered.

Jada sighed, rolling her eyes. How dare he question her like this? “Yes, I’m sure,” she said, flatly.

“We can’t be too careful,” Sheridan continued.

“I said—I was sure,” Jada shot back, now glaring.

Hastily, Heidi stepped in to dispel the tension. “The fruit is delicious.” She rubbed an apple on the laced vest she wore over her blouse and took another bite.

“Thank you, Heidi,” answered Jada. “Maybe next time, Sheridan can get the food, since he would be so—much—more—careful.” She directed a scowl Sheridan’s way as she said it.

“I just want us to be safe, is all,” he muttered.

“Don’t you worry about intruders. Jada knows what she’s doing.” Chang patted Sheridan on the back while he spoke. Then he quipped, “But you might worry about dying of starvation, when—I eat your share.” He smiled as he held out an apple, pretending to take a bite before holding it out to Sheridan.

Sheridan stroked his red curls back with one hand while reaching for the apple with the other. “Thanks,” he said, smiling back.

Jada stood. Her eyes rolled as she pinched her mouth and shook her head. Sheridan’s constant worry was so annoying. Didn’t he trust her? ~ Chapter 2, The Jewel of Peru

  • Lastly, consider your character’s point of view. As you are writing, you will most likely want to mostly write from your main character’s point of view. You have to really “get in their head” to help your reader connect with them. This means that you only include what the character sees, feels, hears, etc.. Stick to only one character’s point of view for each event in your story.

What does this excerpt show you about how Christopher is feeling?

Example: As soon as the sailor was gone, Christopher thumped up the gangplank and boarded the ship. Alistair followed Christopher as he bolted to every part of the ship. He was half hoping to find his parents, or at least a clue to their whereabouts—but there was no sign of his father, or his mother—who’d also been on board.

He ended his search in the captain’s quarters, opening every cabinet and every door. Finally, he gave up. His arms fell to his sides and his shoulders sagged. He stood there, staring blankly at the wall.

Alistair broke the silence. “They’re gone,” he said, softly.

It was too much to bear. Christopher felt the heat rising up his face as he clenched his jaw. Turning to Alistair, he glared an accusation. Then he charged. His fists landed on Alistair’s broad chest, pounding. “This is your fault!” he cried. “My father needed you. You should have stayed with him, not with me. You could have helped him in the storm, but no, you wouldn’t go with them. They would’ve gotten through that storm with you as first mate!” ~ Chapter 1, The Jewel of Peru

Now it’s your turn to create a character for your next story. Answer the questions on the free pdf of this lesson to guide you. Have fun inventing someone new and bringing them to life in your story!

Sharon Skretting,


Click on this for free pdf version.

Author of The Jewel of Peru

This lesson teaches the following objectives:

*Apply grade 4 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text [e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions].”).

*Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.