Parent Corner: Magical Doorways

Build your improvisation muscles

Often, I start a writer’s workshop with the question, “Who has found themselves staring at a blank page, not sure what to write?” In nearly every classroom, at every age level, hands spring into the air. The way to avoid the blank page problem is to practice improvisation. Improv is all about creating something out of thin air.

Here’s a playful activity that will help you (and your young writers) build your improvisation muscles.

Parent Corner: Magical Doorways

Parent Corner: Magical Doorways

Activity: Magical Doorways
Where to Play: Anywhere
Materials Needed: None
How to Play:
  1. While you’re out and about, stop for a moment and take a look around.
  2. Each player should choose something in eyesight that could be a magical doorway. Many objects might be a doorway: a clock, a music box, a painting, or even an abandoned shoe.
  3. As you continue on your way, each player should share a few details about the magical doorway he or she has chosen. How do you go through? What is immediately on the other side? What kinds of adventures can you have in the world on the other side? How do you return home?

May 2017: Featuring Author Kim Culbertson

The Ink Splat: Monthly Activity Letter

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Kim Culbertson.

The Challenge: Party Time

Our featured author, Kim Culbertson, talks to us about setting.

Pick one of your favorite places. Grab a pencil and paper or a new page in your word processor and describe it in detail (what does it look like, sound like, smell like?). Now, make that place the location of a party and describe it again. How did the party change your setting?

Submit your responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!

 Ink Splat: Spotlight On...

The Wonder of Us ” and Kim Culbertson


Kim Culbertson's The Wonder of Us

Kim Culbertson’s The Wonder of Us

An Interview with author Kim Culberston

1. When did you claim the title of being called writer? What about author?

What an interesting question — I love it. This is ultimately an identity question: how we define and label ourselves. It is one of the subjects I most love exploring in my work. I think that deep down I always knew I was a writer. I used to think, falsely, that you had to be published to call yourself a writer or an author and that is definitely not true. Being a writer or an author is a mindset, a lens — our own specific voice and interpretation of the world. And it is also doing the work. You are a writer if you are actively writing. Not necessarily every day, but in a way that you find meaningful and motivating. My daughter gave me a postcard with a quote from Picasso that says, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” Being a writer, for me, is doing the work.


2. This month we are talking about setting and descriptive language. How did you select the many different settings for your newest book “The Wonder of Us” released in April?
How would you describe your favorite setting/place in 3 juicy words?

I love to travel — everywhere I go in the world changes me in some way. I also love a good road trip novel, so for The Wonder of Us, I wanted that road trip feel but set in Europe, a place where I love to travel. In the novel, Abby, one of my main characters, is obsessed with the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, so I knew I needed seven cities to parallel that. I wanted to set part of the novel in Florence as it’s one of my favorite cities, so that came to me first. My editor, Jody Corbett, and senior editor, David Levithan, suggested Berlin, which ended up being such a significant setting for this story. The other settings — London, Zurich, Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and the girls’ fictitious Northern California town of Yuba Ridge came from places that are special to me.

I don’t have a favorite setting or place — but I love any place that includes a vast, surprising, color-drenched sky.


3. If Riya and Abby of “The Wonder of Us” had to live in different time periods when would they live? How would it change them?

Abby is obsessed with Ancient History so I feel like she would choose to live somewhere with a significant culture of change, like Ancient Egypt or Greece. But she knows that life would be difficult in those times and as a girl she would not have the rights she has now, so that would be a big impact on her. Riya would undoubtedly live in the future, perhaps somewhere in space. And she would wear killer space shoes.


4. Would You Rather: Would you rather have to write stories ALWAYS in the same place? Or ALWAYS with the same characters?

That is such a difficult question because I love both so much. It’s also a question that seems to hint at asking if I’d rather write a series or stand alone novels. So, for the sake of this question, I’ll choose new characters. For now, I’ve always wanted to start over with new characters, which is why I’ve written stand alone novels so far. I write very much to understand people, so changing characters continues to allow me to live in new perspectives.


5. It has been about a year since the release of your last book “The Possibility of Now“. What have you learned about your characters or the story now that so much time has passed?

I wrote this novel very much from my teacher heart, from seeing so many of my students stressed about their futures. I’ve been surprised and touched by the many emails readers have sent me to tell me how much they related to Mara. But I’ve also had emails from readers saying, “Wow, these sorts of kids always annoy me, but now I understand them more.” And this makes me so happy because I don’t think we should just read books because we relate to a character. It’s equally important to read about people we don’t relate to — it builds our empathy and compassion to see into the viewpoints of people who are unlike us.

6. Is Amazon the best place to purchase or do you have another preferred retailer?

I’m a huge indie bookstore girl. My local bookstore The Book Seller in Grass Valley, CA has been so wonderful to me, so I alway encourage people to get the books from their local independent store. Also, if they’d like a signed copy, they can order through the Book Seller and I will happily go sign their book. Check out my bio and photo at

A special thanks to Kim Culbertson!

Locate your local independent book store to purchase The Wonder of Us, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.

An Improvisational Mindset

This post is by our founder and executive director, Naomi Kinsman. She has been sharing about the Society of Young Inklings teaching method called Writerly Play. To read more about it, see this previous post.

An Improvisational Mindset

Writerly Play started as an experiment.

In theatre class, my students were using improv games to develop a collaborative script. They each wanted the story to go a different way. As their director, I needed them to find a compromise. However, as a writer, I saw their point. The games lit up their imaginations, connected with their hearts, and created ideas for plot lines that spiderwebbed out in hundreds of directions.

I decided to try using the improvisational games in a writing class. Success! Weeks one and two were an overwhelming success. However, by week three and four, each writer had started his or her story, and we needed to move beyond idea generation. What, I wondered, might the role of improvisation be in a writer’s process?
In theatre, improvisational games are often used to explore possibilities. Actors work on skills such as the ability to say yes to ideas, to physicalize characters in believable ways, and to deliver dialogue with excellent timing and clarity. My writers didn’t need to perform their stories for an audience. It didn’t make sense to take the improvisational games in the direction I’d been trained to take them: toward stronger performance skills. We needed to use the games to capture and develop ideas on the page.
Through experimentation, my students and I learned many things about how improvisation can inform and facilitate the writing process. We’ll explore more of what we discovered in coming weeks. Today, I want to focus on one of our first discoveries, which had to do with the questions, “What if…?” and “How might I…?
One of the fundamental differences between a writer who stares at a blank page and a writer who simply starts writing is the ability to ask oneself, “What if…?” or “How might I…?
The first writer waits for an idea to show up. She’s expecting the idea to look something like the beginning of a story, something along the lines of “Once upon a time, a frog…” Or, she may be searching her mind for a possible character, such as a giant or a dragon or a chef. If we could peek inside her mind, we’d see that the writer is concentrating deeply, rummaging around in her imagination for shreds of ideas, hoping to catch hold of something promising. If she does land on an idea, the first thing she does is launch an interrogation. What are the details of this possibility? Will it be interesting and exciting? Will she be able to write a whole story about it? Are there any weaknesses? If the idea doesn’t live up to her expectations, it’s tossed out, and she’s back to searching for the perfect idea.
No wonder she struggles to write anything down on her blank page.
Now, the second writer doesn’t start by waiting or rummaging. Instead, he asks himself, “What if…?” or “How might I…?” and fills in one of those two blanks with a question. “What if a dragon showed up on the school bus?” or “How might I start a story about a girl and her dog?”
The second writer doesn’t worry about whether this story will work out in the end. He might write for a few minutes, exploring the question he’s posed and decide he wants to start again. His questions are still there waiting for him. This is an important distinction, because with his questions, he can try again. “What if a mouse carved a boat out of cheese?” or “How else might I start a story about a girl and her dog?”
One of the most important skills improvisation teaches is the ability to ask productive questions without worrying about where the answers will lead. An improvisational scene need only take a minute or two to play out. After it is done, the actors can try another one. Improvisation is quick and requires very little commitment. When writers feel as though every idea they choose will take weeks to complete, of course they will labor over finding the perfect option. If, instead, a writer approaches his or her work with an improvisational mindset, writing becomes a series of fast-paced experiments. When an idea runs into a dead end, the writer can determine what didn’t work and start again with new information. The idea develops over time with each iteration.
Both writers may take a while to commit to a story. However, the writer with the improvisational mindset has much more to show for his thinking process. He has snippets of ideas that he can now weave into his work, while the writer who sought the perfect idea is still staring at her blank page.
The ability to ask these powerful questions, and to explore a story with an improvisational mindset is key to overcoming obstacles and blocks along the way. The creative process is always bumpy and a writer’s chances of getting stuck at some point are nearly 100%. That’s why Writerly Play focuses on helping writers learn to ask questions and to explore options. Over time, we’ve learned that in addition to traditional theatre games, there are many other improvisational games that tap into other kinds of play. Drawing, collage, question games, and many other activities develop mental flexibility and the ability to ask questions and play with possibilities.
What are your favorite games that stretch your ability to explore options? Feel free to share your ideas in the comment section below. Or, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. We always love hearing from you.
To read more thoughts on how improv can play a role in your creative life, read this.

Patron Post: Earth Day

Do One Thing Today

by Patricia Newman

We writers write about our passions, the injustices we see, or things that make us say, “Wow!”. For me, that’s the environment because we need it to survive. Endangered animals, such as sea otters, help us in ways we’re only just figuring out. The ocean makes 75% of the oxygen we breathe and is responsible for our weather.

I translate my passion into stories for readers like you. My most recent books are about animals on the brink of extinction, an ocean polluted with plastic, sea otters who save an entire ecosystem, and the deadly Ebola virus that also attacks endangered wild apes.

I discovered a wonderful Twitter and Instagram hashtag called #DoOneThingToday, which encourages us to be more aware of how we affect our environment. In honor of Earth Day, I challenge you to choose the one way you will become more Earth-friendly. I’ve listed several ideas below, but I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you decide to do, write about it. Draft a story, compose a poem or a song, make a poster, draw a picture, write a script and make a video, send a letter to the President of the United States. No matter what you write, share it with others and challenge them to follow your lead.

Without fresh air, clean water, and wildlife, Earth would be about as habitable as Mars. #DoOneThingToday (and send me a picture of what you do).

#DoOneThingToday Ideas

·      Read about nature.

·      Go for hike to see now much wildlife you can spot. Ask questions about what you see.

·      Visit a zoo or a nature center. Better yet, sign up to volunteer.

·      Drink water from reusable bottles. Refuse plastic water and soda bottles.

·      Pack your school lunch in reusable containers instead of plastic bags.

·      Bring reusable utensils to school instead of using plastic utensils.

·      Say no to straws in restaurants and on juice boxes.

·      Save energy by turning off lights to reduce climate change.




Patricia Newman is the author of Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of a starred Kirkus review; Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Green Earth Book Award winner; and Ebola: Fears and Facts, a Booklist Editors’ Choice selection. In fall 2018, Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will be released. Visit her at

Inklings Book Contest 2017 Winners & Finalists

Announcing the Inklings Book Contest 2017 Winners & Finalists

We had so many amazing entries this year it was hard to pick.  Thank you to all who submitted their stories and congratulations to our winners and finalists! We look forward to working with the winners on the book and posting the finalists work on our website!


Amanvir Parhar (grade 6)
Andrew Chu (grade 7)
Ann Yang (grade 6)
Camille Chu (grade 2)
Claire Lignore (grade 5)
Claire Wong (grade 5)
Dylan Lefever (grade 5)
Elena Garcia (grade 4)
Jude Lewis (grade 2)
Lauren Crawford (grade 4)
Lauren Meier (grade 6)
Lila Tierney (grade 3)
Lily Shi (grade 3)
Louisa Pflaum (grade 3)
Oliver Jackson (grade 8)
Saketh Elumalai (grade 1)
Samuel Teoh (grade 4)
Shannon Ma (grade 6)
Tiffanie Huang (grade 8)
Toby Jacob (grade 7)
Zachary Marinov (grade 7)



Aarna Patil (grade 2)
Adelle Kang (grade 3)
Alaina Fox (grade 8)
Alexa Friesel (grade 6)
Alexa Zhang (grade 3)
Alvina Mastakar (grade 4)
Alyssa Wheat (grade 3)
Amy Gillson (grade 5)
Anika Knowles (grade 6)
Annabelle Lee (grade 3)
Audrey Edel (grade 8)
Audrey Manley (grade 4)
Ben Hayes (grade 6)
Callum Yeaman (grade 7)
Carson Redifer (grade 7)
Chloe Choo (grade 2)
Claire McNerney (grade 8)
Collin Goel (grade 5)
Ella Stahl (grade 7)
Ember Summer (grade 7)
Emily Ericson (grade 7)
Erin Chang (grade 7)
Harshita Dasot (grade 4)
Helena de la Carcova (grade 4)

Ines Garcia (grade 7)
Jason Choi (grade 6)
Jordan Johnston (grade 4)
Julia Vajgel (grade 5)
Julie Shi (grade 5)
Kaia Lucas (grade 2)
Kamila Perez Salgado (grade 4)
Kendra Pang (grade 5)
Kyra Yu (grade 6)
Laasya Babbellapati (grade 7)
Larabee Mitchell (grade 2)
Laura Chen (grade 8)
Maia Goel (grade 7)
Mira Aradhya (grade 4)
Natalie Sharp (grade 5)
Natalie Wong (grade 5)
Ninabella Arlis (grade 7)
Owen McNeely (grade 5)
Padma Madhyasta (grade 2)
Phoebe Clifton (grade 7)
Rhea Jain (grade 5)
Rithik Atreya (grade 3)
Sahana Srinivasan (grade 3)
Samantha Vargas (grade 3)
Sarah Skaggs (grade 3)
Seb Koglin (grade 2)
Shelby Sandford (grade 5)
Somi Hyun (grade 4)
Sophia Hinshaw (grade 5)
Timothy Leung (grade 4)
Zach Cutshaw (grade 6)
Zachary Walcott (grade 3)

Parent Corner: Supporting Your Young Writer

Family Activity: The Surprise Me Story Swap

Paying particular attention to how another writer puts together a series of words is an excellent way to develop a love for language. As readers, when we lose ourselves in the plot of a story, we definitely learn on one level. If, later, we return to beloved books and pay attention to the writer’s craft, we can learn how writers worked their magic. At Society of Young Inklings, we group the skills of identifying a writer’s craft and applying those strategies to our own work in a mental room we call the “Library.”

Here’s a playful activity that will help you (and your young writers) pay closer attention to the words a writer has chosen.

Activity: The Surprise Me Story Swap
Where to Play: Anywhere
Materials Needed: A book (ideally fiction)
How to Play:
  1. Flip to a random page in the book.
  2. Choose a medium-sized sentence and read it aloud.
  3. The next player uses the sentence as a starting point for a story, and adds a sentence of his or her own.
  4. Pass the story around your small group, each player adding a sentence to the story as you go. See if you can build the story to a climax and then come up with a resolution.
  5. As a fun extra challenge, try a new sentence and see if you can take the new story in an entirely fresh direction. Consider swapping genres, settings, your cast of characters or anything else that will push you into new territory.

March 2017: Student Showcase

Snapshots from our Classes!


Highlight on our Youth Advisory Board!

Welcome to the first installment of our “Youth Advisory Board Series” where we interview the awesome members that make up our Youth Advisory Board.

This Month: Sahana S.

Creative writing with Young Inklings is full of freedom and chances to step out of your comfort zone with support and encouragement from mentors, and everyone in the Young Inklings family.


How were you introduced to Inklings? How old were you?

I was introduced to Young Inklings through intersession in 6th grade at the Girls Middle School. Naomi Kinsman was teaching an intersession on writing, and by the end of the week, I realized I wanted to challenge myself to complete a full piece of writing. Through Naomi, I learned about the Your Name in Ink program, and was instantly interested in the opportunity to work with a mentor and publish my own novel. Naomi agreed to be my mentor and I started January of 6th grade.


When did you start considering yourself a writer?

I started considering myself as a writer in 1st grade, when I first developed a love for writing. I would write stories about my adventures on weekends, girls jumping into their bathtubs and turning into mermaids, and girls with blue eyes and blonde hair before binding the pages together and adding illustrations. I was ‘published!’


What were some of your favorite moments from publishing your book, “A Scoop of Sour”, with Young Inklings?

Some of my favorite moments were picking the cover art, which features a distorted, icky pale green ice cream cone to represent how not everything is how it seems, planning scenes weekly through acting exercises with Naomi, and looking out at the crowd at my book launch full of my best friends and family solely there supporting my crazy dream of publishing a novel.


What is different about creative writing with Society of Young Inklings than creative writing in school?

Creative writing with Young Inklings is full of freedom and chances to step out of your comfort zone with support and encouragement from mentors, and everyone in the Young Inklings family.


Why would you recommend being a part of the Inklings Youth Advisory Board?

Being part of the Young Inklings Youth Advisory Board allows me to revise and share my suggestions and ideas to make this non-profit even better. It has helped me gain the skill of thinking creatively on my feet and solve problems with ease when they arise.


Are you currently working on any writing outside of school? Is there a sequel in the works?

Not currently, as I have been very busy with high school applications, school projects, and extracurriculars! I don’t plan on writing a sequel but I hope to start a new novel soon, perhaps a new style of writing, like poetry, or genre like romance.






A special thanks to Sahana for sharing part of her Inklings experience!

Check out the final cover work for “A Scoop of Sour” and get your copy today!


March 2017 Part 2: A Little Piece of the Past

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Shawn K. Stout and her historical fiction book A Piece of Sky. She provided a great challenge about perception for us.  Submit a response to the challenge to and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Seeing is Believing

In A Tiny Piece of Sky, Frankie Baum is the youngest of three girls and often feels as though people don’t see her for who she really is, beyond her age and family ranking. Seeing people for who they really are, and not for who the world tells you they are, is a prominent theme of the book.

Write about how you think people see you, why they see you in that particular way, and whether they’ve got it right or not.


Submit your responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!


A Tiny Piece of Sky” and Shawn K. Stout



Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children, including the critically-acclaimed PENELOPE CRUMB middle grade series. Her new novel, A TINY PIECE OF SKY, a summer story of three sisters, one restaurant, and a (possible) German spy, is in bookstores everywhere.


An Interview with author Shawn K. Stout

1. A Tiny Piece of Sky is based on true events. How did you come to find out about the true story?

I grew up hearing stories about my grandfather, who died when my mother was a young girl–how he had German parents, how my mother was taunted by classmates because of her German last name, how my grandparents owned a restaurant in Hagerstown, Maryland in the 1930s and 1940s, how my grandfather was accused of espionage, and how there was a subsequent boycott of his restaurant. These were stories that were fed to me at the dinner table, but I only really thought of them as stories. Then, in the late 1990s, my grandmother died, and as we were cleaning out her apartment, we found letters from 1939 addressed to my grandfather. These letters were from various local civic organizations, and they voiced support for my grandfather in light of the German spy accusations and boycott. I knew as soon as I read those letters that one day I would try to write his story.


2. What sort of challenges come with writing historical fiction like A Tiny Piece of Sky?

Oh, lots. I’d never before written historical fiction, so there was a steep learning curve as I tried to figure out how much research I needed to do and how many details I should include in the story. Then, once I worked that out, I struggled with how much of my family’s life I should fictionalize. Many of the characters in the story, and events, are inspired by my actual family members, but they are not necessarily true to life. Ultimately, I wanted to get a flavor and real sense of the time period and the personalities of my characters, and how they are shaped by the events of 1939, and once I felt comfortable in that time period, I was able to let the fiction take over.


3. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a professional writer.

I’ve always wanted to write, but that was something  so personal to me, so full of hope, that it took many years to admit it to myself. Somehow I ended up in writing and editing jobs for various companies, mostly about health care. Although that sort of technical writing was interesting to me, it wasn’t the kind of writing that would leave me with a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. I wanted to write fiction–that’s what had been tapping me on the shoulder for years trying to get my attention. So, I took a writing class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and the first day of class we were assigned a writing prompt. What came out, to my surprise, was the voice of a young girl, and I knew soon after that I wanted to write books for young readers. I took more classes, wrote and read as much as I could, and then I heard about the Masters program in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I applied, and by some miracle was accepted, and my life changed. I got a contract from Simon & Schuster to publish my first book in 2009, and I’ve written seven other books since then.


4. Is there anything else you would like to share or would like us to know about A Tiny Piece of Sky?

Because the movie “The Wizard of Oz” came out in 1939, the same year that my story takes place, and because I’d named my main character, Frankie Baum, after L. Frank Baum, the man who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book and the movie would play an important part in my story.As the youngest of three girls, Frankie wants to stop being cast aside as someone who is not quite old enough to really matter. She doesn’t feel as though she has a real place in the family—her oldest sister Elizabeth is as perfect as a “princess,” which just so happens to be her nickname, and Joan, in the middle, a natural performer, has the best singing voice in town. Perhaps Frankie could get others to see her, she thinks, really see her, if she could clear her father’s name and save his reputation. Like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Frankie lives in a bleak, colorless place and wants so much for her world (and her place in it) to change. The more I wrote about Frankie, the more similarities I began to see in Dorothy’s journey to Oz and finding her way back home.

A special thanks to Shawn K. Stout!

You can purchase A Piece of Sky at most bookstores or online on Amazon HERE.

Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children.

Find out more about her on her website at

Parent Corner: Supporting Your Young Writer

Family Activity: A Trio of Tales

Noticing the interesting things that happen in our lives is a skill, and one that requires practice. That’s why, at Society of Young Inklings, we talk about visiting our mental Attic to practice the art of collecting story material from our lives. If we’re in the practice of collecting story ideas everywhere we go, we are well-prepared to write or tell our stories. 

Parents ask us all the time: How can I support my young writer? Here’s a quick activity that you can do while waiting in traffic, grocery shopping, or having a picnic.  

Activity: A Trio of Tales 
Where to Play: Anywhere 
Materials Needed: None 
How to Play:
  1. Start with the following: “A time I …”
  2. Finish the sentence with one of these prompts (or create your own).
    • invented something
    • belly-laughed
    • felt proud
    • saw an animal in the wild
    • gave an interesting gift
    • challenged myself
  3. Each player should come up with three examples to fit the prompt.
  4. Tell your tales out loud. Swap stories back and forth. In this way, the stories will give each player fresh ideas, and also will keep the energy and excitement high.
While you may be tempted to only come up with one “best” story, brainstorming three is a powerful idea-generation tool. With “best” off the table, ideas will more freely flow. If time is short, I’d suggest coming up with three examples and then choosing the best of the three to tell aloud. 

Writerly Play: A Window into Creative Thinking

Consider these two writing classrooms.


ONE: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will revise our stories. Take a look at what you’ve written and make sure you have juicy words, dialogue, and active verbs.” Then, the teacher shows an example of a well-written paragraph that has all three on the board. The students nod, head back to their desks and begin to work. After about fifteen minutes, some of the students have already turned in their stories, sure they have nailed all three key items with their work.

 TWO: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will be detectives. You will look through your writing and find where you have used juicy words, dialogue and active verbs. We’ll underline our juicy words in red colored pencil, our dialogue in blue, and our active verbs in green.” Then, the teacher shows the students how to find these three items in a paragraph on the board. The students head back to their desks and start underlining. After a few minutes, the teacher gathers them in a circle. They examine their pages and notice which color shows up most frequently. Which shows up less? Then, the teacher challenges the students to add words, phrases and sentences so that their papers are a beautiful blend of all three colors. When the students turn in their work, they know whether they have actually nailed the key items in their work. Why? They can see clear evidence of those items on the page.

At Society of Young Inklings, our Writerly Play approach lines up with this second scenario. In our classes and mentorships, we:

  • Make thinking visible
  • Help writers master complex concepts using practical strategies
  • Use challenges and games to frame the learning and creative thinking process

One of the most important qualities of a successful writer is confidence.

Confidence adds oomph to our word choice and energy to our work sessions. When we are confident, we don’t second guess ourselves or stare at the blank page, afraid that whatever we write will be marked wrong. Confidence also fuels determination. When we know we can master a difficult task, we’re much more willing to lean into the challenging parts. If we feel we have no hope of success, we’re unlikely to try at all.

The Writerly Play approach is designed to build writing confidence.

Through games, activities and strategies, we provide a window into the creative process. When students see how they approach creative thinking, and understand the tools that creativity requires, they see their strengths and the areas in which they can grow. In the same way that the colored pencils help writers see what they’ve included in their writing and what they have not, Writerly Play helps creative thinkers sort thinking skills into categories. a well-designed classroom, Writerly Play offers a series of thinking spaces, each with its own purpose.

In a classroom, you might have a reading corner and a science corner. Each space contains tools and resources perfect to the task at hand.

Writerly Play establishes mental spaces that writers can take with them wherever they go.

  • In the Attic, writers collect ideas, knowledge and experiences from their own life to use in their work.
  • In the Studio, writers play with those ideas and push beyond initial thoughts into new territory.
  • In the Workshop, writers break down complex writing tasks into pieces which can each be tackled with focused attention.
  • In the Library, writers examine works by others, and identify successful strategies to apply to their own work.
  • In the Cafe, writers collaborate with their peers to give and receive feedback.

Once writers establish these five spaces in their minds, they have corners to house all the strategies and tools they collect in every part of their creative lives. Rather than seeing learning as a disconnected series of subjects, they see connections between what they discovered in the Natural History museum over the weekend and the painting they create the next week in art class. They are empowered to see their lives not as a series of to-do items handed to them arbitrarily, but as an adventure to create, experience by experience, thought by thought.

Writing projects are the vehicle, not the destination.

Too often, in writing classrooms we focus on the assignment of the day and neglect the true skills that are being developed.

We aren’t asking the students to write an essay on bees simply to assess their knowledge of bees. We want to see their thinking on the page. We know successful execution of this writing project can serve as a foundation for other writing throughout their lives.

It’s true, successful execution of writing projects DOES serve as a foundation. Unfortunately, if we don’t make the thinking visible for our students, they may not see the bigger picture. They may miss the opportunity to gain powerful confidence from their success. Why? Because we focus on bees rather than on the process.

Making thinking visible isn’t easy.

However, at Society of Young Inklings, we know it’s worth the effort. That’s why we are constantly experimenting, inventing games, and exploring possibilities. How else can we look at this? What other perspective will help us see what’s happening more clearly? Our youth writers help us make discoveries every day. The Writerly Play framework gives us a mutual playground on which to play.

We’d love to learn from you, too! What images and ideas do the Writerly Play rooms create for you? What questions arise? Feel free to comment below! We look forward to a rich discussion.

If you’d like to learn more about the Writerly Play framework, I’ve written a more comprehensive series on the topic here.

This post is brought to you by Naomi Kinsman.

Naomi is the Executive Director and Founder of Society of Young Inklings. Author of the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series and Spilled Ink, the award winning Inklings Writers’ Notebook, Naomi is passionate about sharing her love of writing and creativity with young writers. Naomi’s background in improvisational and story theatre as well as her arts education work in Chicago, Portland and the Bay Area has convinced her that creative play is a doorway through which learners can find inspiration and transformative learning experiences. 

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