Revision Strategy #3: Rubber Banding

Posted July 18, 2017 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.


With younger children, this concrete activity called “Rubber Band Stretching” works well.  Demonstrate how a rubber band starts out small and can be stretched much larger.  Read a simple sentence out loud, and ask for suggestions about how to expand it.  After a student successfully stretches a sentence by adding new words, hand her a rubber band ball.  When a second student stretches the sentence further, the first student passes the ball to the second.  The game continues until it is impossible to stretch the sentence anymore!  Students then apply the lesson to a piece of their own writing.

With older students, the rubber band can be used to discuss sentence length in more complexity. Bring in a strong piece of writing that includes short, medium, and long sentences.  Discuss the various effects.  If you have a geo board, you can actually record or map out the sentences using rubber bands.  Show how the rhythm of a piece changes depending on sentence lengths.

As a spinoff activity, ask students to map out sentence lengths in advance.  Then, try to write a paragraph that fits, and notice how the paragraph sounds.  For older students, it is empowering to see how they can control the rhythm of their piece just through sentence length.

-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston

If You’ve Always Wanted to Write a Novel, This Post is For You

Posted October 28, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, gather your WITS this week. NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month begins on Friday, Nov. 1st. WordPress Blogger Cheri Rowlands breaks it down for us:

Who: You — whether you’re a seasoned novelist, novice writer, wannabe author, or a blogger up for a challenge.

What: A project in which you work toward a goal of writing a 50,000-word novel.

Where: On your laptop. At your desk. In your favorite café. Wherever inspiration strikes.

When: Kicking off this Friday, November 1, and ending at 11:59 pm on November 30.

Why: You’re creative and passionate about words. You’ve got a story to tell. You want to participate in a fun, rewarding project and push others to stretch their imaginations, too.

How: Sign up at, where you can plan your novel, track your progress, and join a community that offers support, encouragement, and advice — online and off.

The idea of the project is to help you with the discipline of writing. You have a daily goal of a set number of words until you hit 50,000 by the end of the month.  The Official site has tools, tricks, graphics, and even pep talks!

There is a separate site for student authors and their teachers called the Young Writers Project. The concept is the same, but the goals are not quite as strenuous.

So if you’ve been waiting for the nudge to write YOUR story, now is the time. Ready… Write!


Sign up for the WITS Fall Writing Festival 2013

Posted September 10, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


WITS Fall Writing Festival for Educators: Teaching Writing from Experience
This conference is presented by Writers in the Schools (WITS). The keynote speaker will be Andrea White. The conference is specifically:

For educators, grades 3-12 who want to:
  • Improve their own writing skills
  • Explore creative brainstorming methods
  • Support their students’ writing
  • Experience the WITS method of teaching
Participants will:
  • Attend two workshops
  • Work with professional writers
  • Gain hands-on writing experiences
  • Discuss classroom applications
  • Receive 6 hours of TAGT-approved G/T credit

Please join us!

Saturday, October 5, 2013
Houston Baptist University
8:30 AM-2:30 PM
Cost: $125 {Lunch is included}

Creative Writing for Teens

Posted August 20, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

m4 kidsWord! is a series of 9 poetry/creative writing workshops provided by Hope Stone and Writers in the Schools (WITS). Students will work with a published WITS writer to explore ideas and get inspired by literature.  As a community of writers, we will workshop these inspirations into polished poems, stories, or memoir.

When: Fridays from 6:30-8:00pm

Where: Hope Stone, 1210 West Clay, Suite 26, Houston, 77019

Ages: 12-16

Cost: $185 for nine workshop sessions

Dates for 9 classes:

September 13, 20
October 4, 11, 18
November 1, 8, 15
December 6

To register, click here.  See you in class!


Calling All Writers!

Posted July 8, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

yayWriters in the Schools (WITS) is now hiring part-time writers and educators who can share their passion for creative writing during the 2013-2014 school year. If you are interested, please complete our online applicationIn addition to the application, we ask that you include a cover letter, résumé with 3 references, and 10-page writing sample. Read more about the position hereApplications are due Monday, August 5, 2013

“Thank you, Writers in the Schools, for giving me the best job I ever had.”   -Katherine Center, former WITS writer and best-selling author

Public Poetry Reading

Posted May 31, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

13_publicpoetry_springseries_juneJoin us this Saturday, June 1st, at 2 PM to hear a fantastic line-up of poets at the Oak Forest Neighborhood Library, 1349 West 43rd Street, Houston, TX, 77018.

Participating poets include James Adams, Darla McBryde, Dustin Pickering, and Charlie Scott. A WITS student also will perform, so come out and support the arts at this Public Poetry event!

Public Poetry exists to bring the public and poetry community together and to create a buzz about poetry. Public Poetry was awarded the Best Reading Series in Houston by the Houston Press.

The Watchful Eye: A WITS Student Reading

Posted May 15, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

WITS students visit cultural venues such as The Heritage Society year-roundJoin Writers in the Schools (WITS) and the Menil Collection for an evening of student readings, Thursday, May 23 at 7:00 PM at  the Menil Collection. The Watchful Eye feature the poems and prose of WITS students, grades K-12, inspired by works exhibited at the Menil Collection.

A collaboration that began in 1989, WITS and the Menil Collection combined their knowledge and resources to create a program that uses art to construct a dialogue that inspires creative writing in Houston’s youth.

When: Thursday, May 23rd, at 7:00 PM

Where: The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross

Free admission, open to the public

Poetry Around Town

Posted May 1, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

Houston is Poetry Town.  Every weekend there are events featuring poets young and old.  Don’t miss the fun!

Here are two free WITS-related poetry events on Saturday, May 4th:

13_publicpoetry_springseries_mayPublic Poetry, the award-winning monthly reading series, will be at Oak Forest Neighborhood Library at 1349 West 43rd Street, Houston, TX, 77018, at 2 PM.  Featured poets include WITS Associate Director Bao-Long Chu.

Pluto Wild-Card Slam will be at Heights Neighborhood Library, 1302 Heights Blvd., Houston, TX 77008, from 10 AM-12 PM. Youth ages 13-19 are encouraged to participate.  A poetry workshop will kick off the morning, followed by a slam competition.

Young Authors @ the Menil Community Arts & Houston Indie Book Festival

Posted April 17, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


Please join us this Saturday, April 20th, at noon to support young authors at the annual Writers in the Schools BLOOMS reading event.  BLOOMS is part of the Houston Young Writers Reading Series, and these young writers were chosen from thousands of children across the city of Houston.  Children in grades K-12 will read original poems, stories, and essays on the lawn of the Menil Collection. Please clap loudly for these brave voices!

We invite you to bring a blanket and a lawn chair and spend the entire afternoon with us enjoying poetry, music, film, and yoga at this festival for the whole family. For more information about the festival and a timeline of events, please visit the Menil Collection website.  See you at 12 noon on Saturday!

Public Poetry Event on April 6th!

Posted April 3, 2013 & filed under Poem of the Day.

This is going to be fun!  Join us this Saturday, April 6th, at 2 PM at the Oak Forest Neighborhood Library for a memorable event.

There will be four fabulous poets who read their work, plus a special guest appearance by a young author from Writers in the Schools (WITS). Afterwards, meet and greet other poets at Plonk. Don’t miss the chance to catch Public Poetry in a new part of town!


Public Poetry exists to bring the public and poetry community together, and to create a buzz about poetry.

A monthly reading series is presented at various library locations in partnership with Houston Public Library.

Between the Lines: An International Writing Program

Posted March 28, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

BTL 450x388 2010 Boys writingIf you are a writer between the ages of 16-19, don’t miss out on a opportunity to apply to Between the Lines, a program that brings youth to the University of Iowa for a creating writing program with youth from around the world.

This year features two sessions, one connecting youth from the US with writers from 17 countries in the Near East (June 22-July 6) and the second connecting youth from the US with writers from Russia (July 13-July 27).

Young writers get the chance to be exposed to world literatures and improve their writing skills.  Classes and workshops are taught by prize-winning poets and writers.

To create a vital creative community, all writers live in a dorm on the University of Iowa campus and share in evening cultural activities.

The deadline to apply is April 20th!  Visit the University of Iowa’s Between the Lines website for more information and to see if you or your child qualifies for a full scholarship.

5 Writers Tell Us How WITS Teaching Transformed Them: Stacy Parker Le Melle

Posted March 21, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

stacy-plmFormer WITS writer Stacy Parker Le Melle, author of Government Girl: Young and Female in the White House (Ecco/HarperCollins) and founder of The Katrina Experience: An Oral History Project, describes what she learned in the WITS classroom and how it translates to her current work as workshop director at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Her essay is the first in a series of five installments where former WITS teachers tell how their WITS teaching taught them valuable life lessons.

On the Struggle to Truly Be Present

by Stacy Parker Le Melle

Be present, we’re told.  I’ve always accepted this wisdom.  However, acceptance is one thing, implementation another. As a Writers in the Schools teacher, I learned that on any given day in the classroom, if I could just be present, for a few students at least, I could call my day successful.

I don’t just mean being present as an instructor, leading my class through that day’s lesson.  That is crucial, of course.  What I really mean is being present for the one-to-one interaction, those moments spent crouched next to a desk, really trying to listen.

I think of the classrooms, the rows and rows of kids.  It takes hard work to deliver the lesson, all the while making sure there’s enough order in the room that everyone can participate.  My mind wants me in five places at once, tending to ten kids at the same time.

But split attention is weak attention.  When it’s time to write, and students have questions, or don’t know to begin, I learned that I couldn’t just repeat the directions and hope to be understood (though I often did that). I needed to really listen.  Zero in.  Focus.  Not rushing to the next raised hand, not trying to quiet the back row.  At least, not for the time it took to think through the question and respond with a thoughtful answer.

The time spent paying attention yielded results: increased trust, better developed work, more enthusiasm the next time around.

I bring the problem of presence to my current role as workshop director of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP).   I work for a nonprofit organization that connects American writers and teachers to Afghan women writers via secure online workshops.  Nearly 95% of my work is done via email.  When I feel overwhelmed, the desire is to scan emails.

But scanning is not reading.  Scanning is hoping that you’ll learn by osmosis.  I have yet to learn by osmosis. Maybe I get a feel for what is happening, but I don’t process content.  Just like in the classroom, when you must take the moment to pause, to truly listen to the one child and not the several, I now find that if I can consistently be present as I read emails then my understanding of issues facing our work deepens, as do, hopefully, my relationships with all those involved.

I reread this and my advice feels painfully obvious.  But I find it is advice I work to implement on a daily basis.

For writing teachers, there is one last benefit to presence that I wish to share: that moment you discover one of the students wrote something extraordinary.  At AWWP, we are working a Fetzer Institute-sponsored “Love and Forgiveness” project.  Many of our writers are writing on these two themes.  I will never forget how I felt when I opened Massoma’s email.  Here is a portion of her poem:

I’ve Forgiven All

My head was exploding

It was full of their talking

They talked and talked and sold me

They were happy and laughing

I was sad and crying

I had no ability to do anything

I played and was playing

But I had to go towards life

My head was exploding

It was full of new talking

They talked and talked and talked

I was not a good bride

I was not a perfect woman

Because I was thirteen

My head was exploding

It was full of their talking

They talked and talked and beat me

My head was exploding

It was full of hurts and their talking

I was a mother but with nothing

I’ve forgiven all I love my life

I move towards the future

I am happy

My head was exploding

For the moments I read and imagined Massoma, visualized what she went through, sat mesmerized by the power of her love and forgiveness, I didn’t need to push myself to focus.  The rest of the world had already fallen away.

*For more about the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, please go here:

Jokes and Jingles and More!

Posted June 18, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Do you ever wonder what goes on at Creative Writing Camp?  Some folks think that campers spend 3 straight hours writing stories (a good thing, for sure!), but so many other kinds of writing happen, too.

In school most children learn that the main purpose of writing is to persuade.  During camp kids love to explore all the ways to use written language, including to entertain, surprise, explain, amuse, and delight.

Here’s a list of some of the kinds of writing that we do during camp:



advice columns










puppet shows



movie scripts

want ads





travel logs

tongue twisters


I Want to Write

Posted June 14, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Campers in 5th and 6th grade read Margaret Walker’s poem “I Want to Write” as inspiration for thinking about the subjects that they might want to cover during Creative Writing Camp.

Here is a poem that uses anaphora to highlight what kind of writing this camper wants to do:

I want to write

I want to write for my fathers and forefathers

I want to write about war across the universe

I want to write words coated with light

I want to write hope for my people

I want to write

By Ben, 6th grade

Collage Poetry Game at Camp

Posted June 13, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Rob Kimbro, a theatre director and educator, is co-teaching with WITS writer Kiki Przewlocki a class of entering 3rd graders at the Creative Writing Camp this summer and shared this about his first day:

Writer John Looking for Inspiration

The 3rd grade class at Travis Elementary got off to a great start with a game of Everybody Who…  This game is similar to Musical Chairs.  The person without a chair has to share something true about themselves, and everybody else for whom that thing is true has to get up a find a new chair.  When the chaos dies down, a new person is left in the middle. That person shares a true thing about themselves, and we’re off again.  After learning a lot about each other, we wrote poems based on what we’d shared.  Here’s a collage poem made of lines from each of the young writers.

Collage Poem

I am poetic

I am an illustrator

I like sushi

I know how to write in cursive

I am really, really strong

I have been on a plane

I hate sushi

I like to read and write

I want to be awesome

I like chocolate marshmallows

I am a great artist

I love sports

I have an ear for everything

I can ride a bike

I have good parents

I have a good sense of humor

I like math

I have a bunk bed

I love the computer

I ate chocolate ice cream last week

My dance style is snazzy

Horse Barn

Posted April 26, 2012 & filed under Poem of the Day.

When we get there

the horses in their stalls

paw the dirt.

I cough in the dust.

We grab the feed,

and they whinny at me

when I pass by.

I get a brush; very tenderly

I scrape off the dirt.

They are as dusty and steamy

as a train when it chugs

down the track.

When we feed the mares,

their babies skip after us.

They run so fast

they fall.

by Isabella, 3rd grade

Click the link (above) to listen to the poem read on KPFT radio by Gabriel Arnold, a 4th grade student at Parker Elementary in Houston.


This poem is featured as part of the 2012 A Poem A Day campaign, a National Poetry Month celebration by Writers in the Schools (WITS) that features a different poem by a WITS student every day during April. Click here to learn more.

PBS Kids GO! Writing Contest

Posted February 3, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

HoustonPBS presents: PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest
Here is an announcement from our friends at HoustonPBS about the 2012 PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest:

Calling Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Grade Authors and Artists to enter the 2012 PBS KIDS GO! Writing Contest!

Children write and illustrate their own stories and enter for a chance to win great prizes at both the local and national level.

Entry deadline is Monday, March 19, 2012.

For Official Entry Form and Rules click on the link below or pick up a copy from the children’s librarian at your local public library.

Every child who enters will receive a certificate of achievement and 1st Place winners for each grade will represent HoustonPBS in the national contest.  Have fun writing and illustrating!

2012 Entry Form | 2012 Rules

National Playwriting Competition

Posted January 2, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Young Playwrights Inc.

Do you know a young playwright,
under the age of 18?

National Playwriting Competition

Deadline: January 2, 2012

Young Playwrights Inc. is holding a competition for playwrights under the age of 18. The winners will receive an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to attend the Young Playwrights Conference and collaborate with professional theater artists on an Off-Broadway staged reading of their plays.

For submission instructions and competition rules:WWW.YOUNGPLAYWRIGHTS.ORG.

Humor Contest 2011

Posted July 28, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

From the website of Amazing Kids:

Attention all Amazing Kids!

Do you love to make people laugh?  Do you have some hilarious and creative stories that you’d like to share?  Are you excited about trying out a new type of writing? If this sounds like you, show us what you can do by submitting your humorous short story to our humor contest!  We want to see your hilarious and creative stories that integrate jokes and funny moments!  Put a smile on everyone’s face and get a chance to win some fabulous prizes.


Who: Kids and teens, ages 6-17

What: Amazing Kids! Humor Contest – Kids ages 6-17 can submit an original humorous short story of 1500 words or less.  One entry maximum per person so pick your best piece!

When: July 1, 2011 until August 30, 2011, 11:59pm PST.

Where: Email (preferred method) to [email protected] with Humor Contest and your last name and age in the subject line.  Attach a word or pdf document with your submission with your name, age and title of your submission at the top of the document. Videos retelling your story (not as a separate entry) may be included as a link to the video online to a site such as schooltube to your entry.  The videos must be the child’s original creation. Schooltube instructions and features for posting can be seen here:  Videos are not necessary but may be considered as a creative addition to your entry.

Creating Community through Spoken Word

Posted November 22, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

The 2010 WITS Writer Orientation featured special guests Michele Kotler and Keith Kaminski from the Community Word Project (CWP) in New York. Our friends at the CWP have given a great deal of thought to preparing writers to teach in classrooms. We at WITS Houston invited them down to see what it was all about. As you might guess, we were very impressed.

One of the cornerstones of CWP is creating poetry and art as a group. Michele and Keith led our writers in an exercise to help us produce a community performance. The process was fun and exciting. Have a listen?