Ellen Potter visits Princeton with her “Brain Bag”

Ellen Potter never disappoints! IRW brought Ellen to Princeton Elementary School to visit students in Grades PreK – 8 last week, and gave signed copies of her books to over 130 kids.

At the school, Ellen and IRW staff were surrounded by a colorful array of student projects based on Ellen’s books, including magazines about her book SLOB, illustrated reflections on Piper Green, earmuff crafts and activities, a Nemesis model in the hallway, reproduced vintage magazines, and even 3D printed Oreos (pictured above) and boulders (two items from SLOB).

To kick off the day, Ellen showed students the mysterious (and sometimes surprising!) contents of her Brain Bag, and fielded a few questions from students about where her ideas come from, and how she came up with certain characters. All-school presentations are an energetic way to start the day, and encourages community building within the school – we’re all here to learn from the same author, AND we’ve all read her books, too!

Ellen visited students in Grades PreK and K and read aloud from her latest book, Piper Green: Pie Girl (which she dedicated to IRW and Maine SeaCoast Mission).

Students in Grades 1-2 built a Poet-tree with Ellen, using their senses to describe an object or activity of their choice. Kids wrote about Halloween, baseball, and -of course- their pets!

Ellen also led a Grades 3 – 4 workshop, during which students wrote down a line of dialogue, then wrote down a place, and added these ideas to two separate containers. They each chose a random slip from each container, and Ellen instructed them to connect the two ‘ideas’ into a short story.

Students took on the creative challenge, and were able to use their imaginations and connect ideas such as “the moon” and “My teacher is smart,” and “pizza!” and “Look at that!”

Ellen prompted the Grade 5-6 group with the same exercise. They also engaged in a lengthy Q&A session where Ellen encouraged them to write about what they want to know about because researching an idea is a great way to learn. When the question of writer’s block came up Ellen turned it back on students and asked what they did to get “unstuck.” “I think of the most faint ideas I have because they’re not strong and you have to really think about them,” was one student’s response. Another said, “When I get stuck, I have to go back and draw a picture to help me remember.” Great ideas from some inspired students!

Ellen wrapped up the day by leading a collaborative story workshop with students in Grades 7-8, and telling them about a new IRW program created just for them – WordCraft – an online learning experience that’ll connect students with Ellen for three weeks after her visit so they can learn more secrets of being a writer and receive one-on-one feedback from Ellen via Skype on their creative work and process.

Thanks for the warm welcome, Princeton! We’ll see you again next spring.

PS: After Ellen and IRW Program Director Ruth Feldman visited Woodland Elementary the next day, they stopped off at the Alexander Art Trail (http://www.arttrail.net) to see some of the painted rocks the younger students at Princeton had made to add to the trail.

These were done in the spirit of the Fairy Tree in Piper Green and the art trail has a whimsical, mysterious and creative feel to it, tucked into the woods of Alexander.

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