Archive for the ‘Writing exercises’ Category


Melissa from Walker Books has prepared some fabulous comprehensive teaching notes that you can download from http://www.walkerbooks.com.au – they cover all sorts of things to do with how Letters to Leonardo was written – and they mention some of the themes in the book:

  • mental illness
  • art
  • family relationships
  • emotional control


Themes summarise a common experience that make it possible for the reader to identify with the characters. Themes are the dominant ideas that carry your story forward.  In Letters to Leonardo, I also see friendship and loyalty as major themes.

Matt is loyal to his mum. Dave and Troy are loyal to Matt.

Themes are important because they adds layers – and provide deeper meaning to your story. In Letters to Leonardo for example, the themes make it more than just a book about a boy who gets a letter from his dead mother. This is the basic plot outline, but the themes are what tell us about the characters and also make us care about what happens to them.


This activity can be an individual or group activity. It could be written down or discussed.


  • Write down/discuss an event that happened to you this year.
  • Who was involved?
  • What happened?
  • When did it happen?
  • How did you react to what happened?
  • How did others react to what happened?
  • What was the outcome?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • How did it make other people feel?


From the information you gathered in step 1, see if you can identify themes.


Take one or more of these themes and the event itself and see if you can come up with an idea for a story.

Thanks for having us in your classroom. We hope you will join us tomorrow at http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com to learn all about turning fact into fiction.

Hope to see you there.

Happy reading and writing.

Dee and Matt:-)


And just in case you’ve missed any other parts of the tour, here’s where we’ve been already.

Feel free go back and visit these great sites and find out more about Letters to Leonardo and the writing process.

24th June 2009             http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com        

Dee and Matt talk about promoting Letters to Leonardo online.


25th June 2009             http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com     

Author interview


26th June 2009             http://thebookchook.blogspot.com    

How art has been used in Letters to Leonardo


27th June 2009             http://belka37.blogspot.com

The research process involved in writing Letters to Leonardo           


28th June 2009             http://weloveya.wordpress.com

Guest blogger – talking with Vanessa Barneveld – interactive discussion with bloggers


29th June 2009             http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale            

An author interview covering things like inspiration and perspective


30th June                      http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com

Mentors in YA fiction, and Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement in the book


1st July                         Cyber launch http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com including cross to Robyn Opie’s blog http://robynopie.blogspot.com – hurdles overcome on the way to publication.


2nd July                        http://persnicketysnark.blogspot.com

How the author’s life paralleled Matt’s – her growing obsession with Leonardo da Vinci


3rd July                         http://bjcullen.blogspot.com

Working with a publisher and the editing process


4th July                         http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com

Interview with the elusive Matt Hudson


5th July                         https://teacherswritinghelper.wordpress.com

Class writing activities based on Letters to Leonardo


6th July                         http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com

Tips 4 young writers on how Letters to Leonardo was written


7th July                         http://www.JenniferBrownYA.com

An overseas stop before heading home


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star jumps cover 1239062684026Based on her wonderful new verse novel, “Star Jumps”, about hope in the face of drought, Lorraine Marwood has provided a great classroom writing activity for us.

Thanks so much Lorraine.


Do you have a shed at your place? Or at a friend or relative’s place?

Can you close your eyes and see what is in it? Can you smell the dust or the oil?

Can you feel the nails spilt on the floor, the rough rag of towelling used to mop up spills?

Does light come through a dirty window or is your shed so squeaky clean?

Here’s the description of what Ruby’s farm shed was like;

Then into the machinery shed.

The tall rafters,

the swallow birds nesting,

the rustle mice under corner bags.

I try not to think of last summer’s

long brown snake

hunting those mice, under bags.

Snake as long and thin as an extension cord,

as old as me, maybe.

(From Star Jumps)

A shed can be full of rustling noises too. Here’s a way to write about your shed:

1. Think about your shed again- what really takes your attention when you walk into the shed or garage?

2. Put that down in your opening line- remember I had ‘the tall rafters’- it only has to be four or five words a line.

3. Think about the smell, now the second line is about that- be specific- turps from the paint brush…

4. Add a sound that you might hear in the shed- the creak of the tin roof, the tick of a clock or the old fridge…

5. Then think of a memory to do with that shed- you may have hammered wood, or found a long lost treasure, or seen a mouse, add it here. This can go over two lines.

6. Now re-read your poem- do you have a mini- word photo of your shed/ garage?

7. You can add a line or put the lines in a different order.

8. Now read your poem out aloud- here’s a little snapshot of your life.

9. Try a different location like your bedroom, or a park or your lounge room.

To read more about Lorraine’s beautiful new verse novel Star Jumps (including a review), visit http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

For writing tips based on Star Jumps, visit http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com

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Sally Murphy is the published author of nearly 30 books, and has many more ‘in the pipeline. She is also a teacher, wife and mother, and runs a book review site, www.aussiereviews.com

Sally’s first passion is writing for children, and she loves to encourage young writers in their craft.

Below is a writing exercise based on her gorgeous new book, “Pearl Verses the World”.


At the beginning of  Pearl Verses the World, Pearl writes a poem about herself. You can write a poem about yourself (or a made up character) by following these steps:

Steps To Writing a Poem About Yourself

1. Start by making a list of things that are important to you.

2. Add to your list words or phrases people might use to describe you

3. Now think of one thing people might not know about you – a secret.

4. Using a list is a great way to build a poem. Pick and choose items from the list, thinking about which ones might go together – or create an interesting contrast. Which ones have similar sounds (consonance, assonance, alliteration)?

 An Example

I like purple things

and puppies

and writing stories.

Walking in the rain in summer

and staying warm in winter.

Good books,


and eating Turkish delight.

I like babies

and balloons

and bubbles.

I love to sing in the shower

but no one knows

I wish that I could fly.


Exercise Use the steps that Sally has given you to write a poem about yourself. If you don’t want to share a big secret, share something you wish for.

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jules-smal-pic2Today, Julie Nickerson, author of Aussie Nibble, Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail  is visiting my blog.

It’s great to have you here, Julie.


Julie liked to make her own books when she was young, but didn’t consider a career in writing and became a medical scientist instead. She later spent many years living overseas and has worked as an English teacher, a tour guide, a secretary and a waitress. When she moved back to Australia and started writing stories for her own children, she finally realised that working with words was what she really wanted to do.

Julie has had several stories published in children’s magazines and her first book, Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail (reviewed on this blog), has been released in Penguin’s Aussie Nibbles series. 


1.    Take the main character , Pippa, and write a story about what happens to her after the book finishes.

2.    In the book, Pippa asks the cook, the stable boy and the dressmaker for help with her perfect ponytail, all with disastrous results. When Julie first started writing Pippa’s story, there was also a gardener who Pippa went to for help, but his character was removed in the editing process. Imagine that the gardener is still in the story and come up with a paragraph about what he might have done with Pippa’s ponytail. Remember that Pippa is a little girl and while your ideas can be funny, try not to include anything that might hurt her!

3.    If time permits, you can also have a go at drawing what Pippa’s ponytail might have looked like if the gardener had done her hair.

Thanks for visiting us, Julie. Hope you enjoyed Julie’s writing activities.


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A picture can be a great story starter.  And you can use it as a writing exercise for any age group, and to help create stories of any length. The exercise can be done singly or in pairs or groups.

Here’s what you do:

Get each student to cut a picture out of a magazine or newspaper, but it can’t be of someone that they know. It can be a man, woman, or child.

Allow the student a minute or two to look at the picture then get them to answer the following questions from their imagination.

  1. Who is the person in the picture? (name, age, job, etc)
  2. What were they doing when the picture was taken/
  3. Why was the picture being taken?
  4. When was the picture taken? (year, time of day etc)
  5. Where was the picture taken?
  6. How did they feel about the picture being taken? (happy, sad, angry etc.)

Now the student knows all these things about the person in the picture, they can use the information to develop it into a character in their story. You could even get them to do a physical description of the person. Some of the  info  gathered from this exercise might even be used as part of the plot.

Hope you and your students enjoy this activity.

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I’m Dee and I’m a childrens’ and young adult author.

Welcome to my teachers writing helper blog. I’ve set this up to try and give you tips and new ideas to help inspire young writers in the classroom.

With the new school year about to start, you might be looking for something different to try. Rotating stories are always fun, and they’re great for teaching students about having  a beginning, middle and end in their stories. They’re also good for students who might find the idea of writing an entire story daunting.

Rotating stories work like this:

  1. Divide your class into groups of about three.
  2. Get each student in the group to write the beginning of a story – it could be a page. It could be more or less, depending on the student and their abilities. It doesn’t matter. The main thing is to get the story started.
  3. Each student then passes their story beginning to another person in the group.
  4. That student then writes the middle of the story. (If you have more or less than three students in a group, it doesn’t matter. It just means that the story might vary in length.)
  5. Each student then passes the beginning and middle part of the story to someone in the group who hasn’t had any involvement in writing it until now. It is up to that student to fnish off the story.
  6. The complete stories are then shared amongst the students – and can be read aloud.

The students love finding out how others have finished their stories off. Rotating stories are a great way to have fun in a group, and encourage students to consider that there is more than one direction to take a plot. It also helps them to think about how a story is made up.

Hope you have fun with these stories. I’d love to hear how they go.

Also, if you’re looking for some specific tips or ideas for your students, let me know, and I can cover these topics in my blog.

Until next time, happy writing!


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