Posts Tagged writing tips

STEM Tuesday — Astronomy/ Eclipse — In the Classroom


What an incredible time to be a young scientist! Yesterday’s total solar eclipse was an exciting and memorable event for students (and adults) across the country. Interest in learning about about eclipses and astronomy in general is at a high. Thankfully, there are a plethora of incredible books on these subjects that students can read and enjoy. These books can be used as a springboard for classroom discussions and activities.


Can’t Get Enough Space Stuff: Fun Facts, Awesome Info, Cool Games, Silly Jokes, and More! by Julie Beer and Stephanie Warren Drimmer
This highly browsable book is sure to become an instant hit with your students. Chock full of interesting facts, such as the moon isn’t round; it’s egg-shaped, 1 Venus day is equal to 5,832 hours, and astronauts’ sense of taste weakens in space, students will be eager to share these fun tidbits with their friends. And the silly space jokes will have your students laughing out loud!
Classroom Activity: After reading about it, have your students take a virtual tour of the International Space Station. Or, watch this video with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover as they offer viewers a tour of the ISS.
The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Poems to Take You Into Space and Back Again by Allan Wolf, illustrated by Anna Raff
This collection of silly and informative poems will surely keep budding astronomers engaged. Personified planets abound, and many of the poems are meant to be read aloud in two voices. The illustrations are stunning and perfectly complement the text. The back matter includes a detailed glossary of selected space terms and notes on each of the poems.
Classroom Activity: Have students reflect on their experiences with the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse. If they saw it firsthand, they can draw upon their memories. If not, have them watch a video, such as Totality in Fredericksburg, to get an idea of what it was like. Then, have students create their own solar eclipse poems.
Casting Shadows: Solar and Lunar Eclipses with The Planetary Society by Bruce Betts, PhD
This traditional nonfiction text provides a general overview of solar and lunar eclipses. Readers will learn the differences between the two types of eclipses, when they occur, and how to watch them. This book is perfect for students who were fascinated by the total solar eclipse and are looking for more straightforward information. The accompanying photographs bring these incredible phenomena to life.
Classroom Activity: Today, we know that solar eclipses are caused by shadows. But in the past, people viewed them as omens of death and destruction. Have your students research the history of solar eclipses.
  • Where did the word “eclipse” come from?
  • When was the first solar eclipse on record?
  • Who are the following people and what is their relation to eclipses?
    • Chinese astronomer Liu Hsiang
    • Greek philosopher Plutarch
    • Byzantine historian Leo Diaconus
    • astronomer Johannes Kepler
    • Edmund Halley


Hopefully, these books and activities will inspire students to continue learning more about astronomy and eclipses long after the excitement surrounding the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse fades.



Jenna Grodziki

Jenna Grodzicki is the author of more than twenty-five fiction and nonfiction children’s books. Her books include Wild Style: Amazing Animal Adornments (Millbrook Press 2020) and I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food (Millbrook Press 2019), the winner of the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction Category. Jenna lives near the beach with her husband and two children. In addition to being a writer, she is also a library media specialist at a K-4 school. To learn more, visit her website at

STEM Tuesday — Animal Perceptions– Writing Tips & Resources


Choose Your Own Writing Adventure

Did you ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure® book? As a kid I devoured those. You would read a few paragraphs and then when there’s a plot point—when a normal book would have the main character make the decision (and learn the consequences)—in these books, you, the reader get to choose.

Choose Your Own Adventure stack of books

It might look like this:

  • If you charge down the tunnel, straight into the dragon’s lair, turn to page 23.
  • If you sneak around the mountain, hoping to slip in through a backdoor, turn to page 42.

What if we could see writing like that? What if we could help students see writing like that? What if we could apply this to the challenge of writing to convey information?

One of my greatest struggles is structure. Finding just the right approach to convey information. I know I’m not the only writer (young or old) who suffers from that kind of paralysis. A great way for me to break into writing is to toy with different approaches, but it can be hard to get started, so I’ve started to play the “Choose My Own Writing Adventure” sort of game.

Play the Game

Let’s take chapter 2 of Rebecca Hirsch’s Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World.

The first section begins:

Two eyeballs swivel on stalks atop the head of a mantis shrimp. Zip! Zoop! The eyes move up, down, left, and right as the critter scuttles across the coral reef. He is keeping watch for enemies and looking for a place to hide.”

Upon reading the first sentence, I am immediately connecting to this writing. That “Zip! Zoop!” provides a sensory experience that brings me into a scene. The action of the eyes and the verb “scuttles” has me picturing this as a movie playing in my mind. The “He is keeping watch” has me connecting with and feeling for a character. This is narrative writing!

But, in the next section, entitled “Eye Spy,” the writing shifts.

“Mantis shrimps, or stomatopods (stoh-MA-tah-pawds) are relative of crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. These tiny superheroes have the most advanced eyeballs on the planet.”

Wait. That’s all expository—information intended to explain. It’s still drawing me in. The fact about mantis shrimp relatives connects them to animals I am more familiar with, thus making the subject relatable. Even if the spread had not included intriguing photographs, I’d be developing a crabby kind of image in my mind—a hard shell, beady eyes and lots of legs. The superheroes analogy has my mind imaging all kinds of fun. The “most advanced eyeballs on the planet” has me experiencing a sense of awe for these creatures.

But it is the juxtaposition of these two kinds of writing, so drastically different, that has me re-reading to learn more about writing craft. Why did the author decide to set up the chapter this way? What advantages do each of these approaches have? If I were the writer and playing the “Choose My Own Writing Adventure” game, what could my other options for these passages be?

Let’s play that game. What if the book began with the same information but that first section was written as expository text? Could I do that? Could you do that? Pull out a piece of paper (or a fresh file) and try it before you read on.

Adventurous Options

When facing this challenge myself, the first thing that occurs to me is that I’d switch the point of view to third person. But, after pondering a moment, I realize that’s not the only option:

  • If you choose to write in third person, you’ve picked a classic approach. Keep writing!
  • If you choose to write in first person—that can be done in expository, right—you’re doing something fresh and exciting!

But also, because I am now writing it as  expository, I feel the urge to begin that first paragraph by naming the animal, i.e.  “A mantis shrimp…” But there are other options, right?

  • If you start with “A mantis shrimp…” plow forward and see where it takes you.
  • If you start with “The enemies of…” be confident because you started with a hook.
  • If you start with “The eyeballs…” consider how that sets up the content.

Isn’t this fun? After you’ve played with the first section for a while, flip this idea and try going the opposite direction. Take the expository “Eye Spy” section and use that content to craft a narrative. At every junction, make yourself aware of the options you are choosing by listing out one or more other options.

Writing is an adventure! Let’s stop pretending it must be boring. Let’s use other people’s writing as examples, but not as a rule book. Let’s be writing rebels!

Heather L. Montgomery likes to take her chances. Adventurous research has led her to publication of 18 books, including: What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures, Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, and Sick! The Twists and Turns behind Animal Germs. When she is not teaching a library full of students or interviewing a scientist, you might find her writing in an outlandish spot. Where will  you join her:

  • If you’re up for a stream stroll, pull on your water shoes and catch some critters with her.
  • If you’re into tree climbing, whip out your journal and scribble from the canopy.
  • If you’re brave enough for dissection, grab your gloves and goggles.

Learn more at .


Sick!: The Twists and Turns 
Behind Animal Germs
Order HERE 

STEM Tuesday — Animal Perceptions– In the Classroom

This month’s books delve into the mysterious senses and minds of different creatures. How do they communicate and use tools? What kinds of sounds do they make and what do they mean? Can we ever know what they think? Endlessly fascinating, these ideas are sure to spark wonder and inspire more questions in the classroom. Here are a few ways to explore animal perceptions with your students.

Beastly Brains: How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel
by Nancy Castaldo

Castaldo delves into the minds of animals like dolphins, dogs, and elephants to explore animal empathy, communication, tool use, and lifestyle through interviews and historical anecdotes. The book also mentions research from some great minds, such as Charles Darwin and Jane Goodall, regarding the behavior of animals and revolutionizes old theories through the lens of modern science.


Worm Jar Activity: In this book, Castaldo describes Darwin’s study of worms to determine if worm’s have intelligence. His observations about how worms moved leaves led him to conclude that they are thinking creatures with intelligence. With this activity, students can make their own observations about worm behavior by making a worm jar and observing the worms inside, recording their data, and coming to a conclusion. To make the worm jar, they will need:

  • mason jar
  • jar lid with holes
  • soil, sand, grass, mulch, or other organic materials from the ground
  • garden trowel and worms
  • very small pieces of vegetables or fruit (such as lettuce, apple, celery leaves)
  • dark construction paper and tape
  • observation notebook

Have students layer different ground materials in the jar until it is around 3/4 full. Dig in wet soil to find earthworms and put a few in the jar. Add the small pieces of vegetables or fruit at the top and then cover with the lid. Then wrap the black paper around the jar and tape so that the worms will be in darkness, just like being underground.

Tell students to think of something they wonder about the worms in their jar and write it down inter observation notebook. Then have them check not heir worms each day by untaping the paper and seeing what is happening inside the jar. Tell students to write their observations each day in their notebook. After a few weeks, ask students to look through their observations to see if they have been able to answer their question at the beginning of the experiment. Do they have a conclusion they can share with others about their worms?

Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World
by Rebecca E. Hirsch

From star-nosed moles to Japanese sea catfish, each of the eight chapters in this book dives deep into the amazing sensory abilities of a different animal. Hirsch’s clear text combines with eye-popping photographs to show readers how these extraordinary animals can sense things in the world that are hidden to humans.


Super Senses Comics Activity: The creatures in Hirsch’s book have some incredible powers, almost like comic book characters. For examples, the star-nosed mole uses its incredible sense of touch to hunt food in the darkness of its underground world. After reading through the book, provide students with a blank comic book storyboard (like this or this) or direct them to free storyboarding software. Here are a few to try:

Tell students to choose an animal and its super power from the book, and to think of a story that involves that creature using that super power. They can then create a comic that tells their story, adding images and dialogue to the panels of their comic strip. What problem does their creature solve? How does it use its special sense? Practice providing feedback and revising to help students develop and share their stories. Then create a gallery on the wall to display students’ comics!


Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. Visit her at