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STEM Tuesday — Ecosystem Recovery– Writing Tips & Resources

STEM Tuesday – Ecosystem Recovery

Visual information is everywhere we look. Think about the bright red, octagonal stop sign the traffic guard holds. Everyone knows at a glance that means stop! Or, look at a set of assembly instructions for a desk or a LEGO set. They rely on pictures and few if any words to explain how to put things together.

Graphics are an important part of informational writing. Sometimes a graphic (a picture only or a combination of words and pictures) is a better choice than words alone.

This month, we’ll focus on reading, understanding, and creating info graphics, using mentor texts from this month’s book list. As they say, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Comparisons

graphic of a burmese python's diet

First, let’s look at the Burmese Python Diet info graphic from Kate Messner’s TRACKING PYTHONS. The graphic itself uses hardly any words. Yet you can immediately see the devastating effect this non-native animal has on native species in Florida. Just look at all that it eats! That’s one hungry python.

Now imagine if Messner had chosen instead to convey this information using only words: 72 mice, 30 cotton rats, 15 rabbits, etc. It doesn’t have nearly the impact. Plus, it’s boring to read. In situations like these, graphics are a great choice.

Step-by-Step Processes

Trying to explain ocean acidification? What about how telemetry works? You can use graphics to break down complicated step-by-step processes. We have two great examples from this month’s book list: an ocean acidification graphic from Patricia Newman’s PLANET OCEAN and the telemetry graphic from Messner’s PYTHONS.

Ocean acidification graphic

This is an image of how telemetry works

Unlike the previous, wordless graphic, these use a combination of words and pictures to help us understand what’s going on.

To understand the impact of the pictures, cover them up, and look only at the words. Or you could even try typing them out into a document. How well do you understand what’s going on? Now uncover the pictures and “read” them. How do the images aid your understanding?

If you are explaining a step-by-step process in your writing, consider whether a graphic could help.

Descriptions/Labeled Diagrams

Like the step-by-step graphics above, labeled diagrams combine text and images. Let’s study this adorable otter graphic from Patricia Newman’s SEA OTTER HEROES.

This is a labeled graphic of a sea otter.What information do the text boxes provide on their own? Imagine if there was no picture of the otter at all, and this information was conveyed in writing only. Would it work? How does the image of the otter add to your understanding of how the otter is built to hunt?

If a reader isn’t familiar with an otter, it would be difficult for them to call to mind what an otter’s ears or whiskers look like. And even if they had seen an otter, their memory might be inaccurate. A picture ensures the reader gets all the information they need, both what the otter’s features look like and how they are used to hunt.

Your Turn

Now it’s time to put what we’ve learned into practice. Have students read through a piece of their own informational writing and identify an area where a graphic might help their audience gain a better understanding. It might be a comparison, a step-by-step process, a description like the otter, or something else.

Next, have them create the infographic. They can draw something by hand or use online tools like Google Slides to arrange photos, clip art, arrows, text boxes, or more.

Finally, have students inert their graphic, and then revise their text accordingly.

headshot of Kirsten W. LarsonKirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA and now writes about women in science and much more. Her books include the WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illus. Tracy Subisak and A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illus. Katy Wu. Learn more at kirsten-w-larson.com.

Make an Impact on the World! — Book Giveaway

It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity that seems to be prevalent in the world lately.

Sometimes we may even struggle to have hope.

Hope that things will change.

Hope that we will have a better tomorrow.

Hope that we can make a difference.

 

As the saying goes in Ted Lasso, “It’s the hope that kills you.”

Of course, Ted, as the eternal optimist, rebels against that and instead focuses on one word:

                                                     BELIEVE

And yet, one wonders–How can I- one person- make a difference?

Is that even possible?

                                                                  YES! 

That idea is of my new book, Footprints Across the Planet (Reycraft Books)

Footprints Across the Planet book

 

You are already making an impact on the planet, each time you take a step.

Like you, every being on the planet leaves an imprint

with their feet

their words

their actions.

 

@Reycraft Books

@ReycraftBooks

Image from Footprints Across the Planet Book

@ReycraftBooks

 

 

Whether human or animal, voices or activity, each mark has a purpose.

To remind us of our history, give us a glimpse of our future, and maybe even inspire us to change the world.

 

@ReycraftBooks

 

 

@ReycraftBooks

 

So how can YOU do this? How can we help kids to do this?

 

Start small.

When we try to tackle a big problem, that is the best way to start.

While no one can solve all of the problems, try taking just one step.

When taken in the right direction, it makes a world of difference.

 

And understand that just like every living being on this planet, you ARE making an impact with every step you take.

 

So the next time you see a child– or an adult– overwhelmed with life, encourage them to just take one step.

Towards kindness

Towards acceptance

Toward happiness

THAT will be their impact on the world and it will be amazing!

 

Leave your mark below and tell me what type of steps you take by sharing what kind of shoes you wear and you’ll be entered to WIN a FREE copy of this book for all ages.

(I’ll go first, I wear running shoes).

 

WNDMG Wednesday – Guest Post by Jorrel Brinkley

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Wednesday Guest Post by Jorrel Brinkely

We Need DIverse MG is delighted to host a new author this week.  Jorrel reached out to WNDMG a few months ago with an idea for connecting his work as an author and school psychologist to the importance of diverse representation in middle-grade fiction, and we were excited to be able to feature a fresh voice on this always-timely topic. Thanks for your post, Jorrel!

My Journey, by Jorrel Brinkley

Hey everyone! I’m so excited to write a blog post this month for “From the Mixed-Up Files… of Middle-Grade Authors.” Having written a middle-grade novel and working as a school psychologist, I’d like to take this time to talk a little bit about the importance of diverse books and early literacy in reaching children in high-needs elementary schools.

Stereotypes and Microaggressions

As a teenager and in my adult years, I’ve been on the receiving end of various stereotypes and microaggressions:

“Do you rap or play basketball?”

“Imagining you riding a horse is like imagining Tupac riding a horse.”

“You look like someone I saw on a ‘Most Wanted’ billboard.”

I would say, “C’mon guys, read a book!” But given the small amount of prominent diverse books available when I was a kid, I guess I’m not surprised. I’m not disparaging any of those books, but we definitely needed more.

The White Default

Growing up, I can recall only a few books that I read in school featuring Black authors or characters. More often than not, the ones I read featured historical figures (e.g. think days of slavery or around the Civil Rights era) or were African folktales. Important for sure, but not always relatable. Most of the books that I’ve read centered around White characters. I remember that while I was writing my debut book, Gus & Major: Obedience School, I had an idea for another story. As I imagined what the cover of that book might look like, I realized that I had envisioned a White protagonist. Why was that? In my head, I saw a main character that fit with most of who I’ve seen my entire life in books, TV shows, and movies.

“This Boy Looks Like Me!”

It is important for children to not only see characters or authors who look like them but are also relatable. There can be much encouragement and hope for children when they read a book and realize they are not alone. It also gives them an idea of what they could be besides the stereotypical representations found in media. On a personal level, my three year old son was looking at a picture book. He is half-black, half-Latino. As he perused the pictures, he looked up with excitement and said, “This boy looks like me! And this is you, Daddy!”

Lacking Early Literacy Skills

As I mentioned earlier, not only am I an author, but I am also a school psychologist working in a high-needs elementary school. Most of the evaluations that I conduct with students deal with reading difficulties. Many times, I’ve found that the students I’ve tested do not have a learning disability. Rather, they simply lack the early literacy skills that are usually acquired before entering Kindergarten. Now, there are a multitude of factors that play into this, but that’s a discussion for another time. As they go through school, what I’ve typically seen is that they lack foundational reading skills. These skills build on each other every year as the curriculum becomes more challenging. The issue is that by the time the students are in their middle grade years, many have been unable to overcome the ever-increasing gap; that is their expected performance and their actual performance. Mix in a grade retention or two, and we have a serious problem. The students are over-age and seem to have lost interest in school, especially in reading. They do not see its importance; many have told me that reading is too hard. On top of that, when you place a book in front of them with characters that do not look like them or with an unrelatable story, reading it is the last thing they want to do. And let’s face it, smartphones and social media are stiff competition.

Enter diverse middle grade books.

Relatability in Diverse Books

Admittedly, my debut book features animal characters, BUT I was very intentional in writing a story that the students at my school and similar schools would find relatable. Why? In my experience, the children I’ve worked with are more interested in stories with diverse characters or those with similar experiences. They also seem to be more invested in the outcome of certain characters. In addition, when they can empathize with the author, that is a bonus. Not only are children interested in the story, but they are more willing to read other books by said author.

BookCoverWebImage_500x800

Each year at my school, I typically mentor a group of fifth-grade boys in which we discuss music and think about the messages conveyed in songs. When I ask them about their favorite rappers and why they listen to their music, I’m often told that they can relate to some of the rappers’ struggles. They feel like they’re not alone and that there’s hope that they can make it past their own personal struggles too. Without examining the veracity of some rappers’ statements, it’s important that we don’t miss that gold nugget. These boys connected with artists that looked like them, talked like them, and had relatable stories. I can almost guarantee that they would read a book written by their favorite rapper!

((For more articles on why representation matters, check out our WNDMG Wednesday archives))

Making Connections

What does this have to do with diverse middle grade books, Jorrel? I’m glad you asked. It’s all about making connections. Making connections with children through diverse books can help them process their emotions, provide language to what they are experiencing, and may even provide a framework for overcoming various challenges.

How do you attract students who don’t find curling up with a good book on a rainy day as exhilarating as you do? Give them diverse authors and/or characters and a relatable, compelling story. What if they are a struggling reader? Well, if they’re sitting and engaging with the book, that’s half the battle! It’s easier to target some of those foundational reading skills when interest and motivation are high.

On a few occasions, I’ve read part of my book, Gus & Major: Obedience School, to a group of third graders at my school. In it, I touch on topics such as fatherlessness, behavioral problems, and forgiveness. Most of the story is drawn from my time working with children. The students were immediately able to relate to the story and characters, saying things like, “So-and-so does that in my class all the time,” or “I used to act like him in the beginning of the year.”

I’m grateful that there is an increasing number of diverse books being published. What messages do we want to send to our children? How do we ignite a love of reading in children lacking basic reading skills and maintain their interest? Let’s expand their imaginations to what else is out there, and let’s introduce them to more diverse voices early.

About Jorrel Brinkley

Jorrel Brinkley is a school psychologist and the author of his debut chapter book Gus & Major: Obedience School. He has worked with elementary school-aged children from a variety of backgrounds for over 15 years. His goal is to engage children’s imagination through entertaining, relatable, and thoughtful stories. When he is not writing, he is spending time with his wife and two boys.

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