Archive for the ‘Writing tips’ Category

Hi everyone,

Due to increasing writing commitments, I’m unfortunately unable to maintain so many blogs.

So Teachers Writing Helper has moved to my DeeScribeWriting blog http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com where I will be having writing tips, classroom and literacy activities, author interviews and reviews.

I’m also the new kid’s book blogger at Boomerang Books and you’ll also find author interviews, reviews and activities there at my Kids’ Book Capers blog http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog/

Hope to catch up with you there.



Read Full Post »

Meet Rebecca

Meet Rebecca

It’s great to have Rebecca here today. Rebecca is the editor of a Alphabet Soupt, a great magazine for kids who love reading and writing.

The Spring Issue of Alphabet Soup is out now, and Rebecca has some great tips on how it can help teachers in the classroom.

Wonderful to have you here, Rebecca.



What are the benefits to teachers of using your magazine in the classroom?

 Alphabet Soup is an Australian magazine, so content includes the voice, language, idioms, and settings familiar to Australian students.

A magazine with a variety of genres can be a useful tool for encouraging children to read – some children find a long book daunting, but they can dip into different sections of the magazine to read a short story, poem or article.

Students can use Alphabet Soup for silent reading, or ‘take home’ reading.

Can you suggest a literacy or writing activity for students in prep to grade 2 using Alphabet Soup?

For students at the younger end of this age range

Read ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ to the class and ask the children about how the characters behave. ‘How do you think Jack felt when he heard the giant roaring?’

To gain an understanding of the giant’s scary character, the children stomp about and chant his rhyme in a scary voice:

Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishman;

Be he alive or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!


Older children

Read ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and ask the children questions as a prompt for writing:

What if the magic beans didn’t grow after Jack’s mother threw them away?

What happened after the story, during the ‘happily ever after’ time?

Can you think of an alternative ending for the story?

Can you suggest a literacy or writing activity for grade 3 to 4 students using Alphabet Soup?

1. Ask students to bring in a vegetable.

2. Read the poem ‘Brussels Sprouts’ by Brian Langley as an example.

3. Ask students to write a poem about the vegetable they’ve brought in.


Ways to use the vegetable poems: 

  • Display a copy of each poem (and a drawing or photograph to match) in the classroom or the school library or exhibit at a nearby public library.
  • Use them to make a book of vegetable poems (perhaps called Vegetable Soup!), written and illustrated by class members. Display the book in the school library for a couple of weeks, and/or a selection of the poems could be read at a school assembly.
  • Glue each poem (with illustration) to a card for Father’s Day/ Mother’s Day/birthday/Christmas.
  • If the students have used their poems to make cards, talk about the correct way to address an envelope, and then post the cards. (Australia Post has online instructions for hand-addressing envelopes at http://www.auspost.com.au/BCP/0,1467,CH2092%257EMO19,00.html.)
  • Send the finished poems in to our spring writing competition (if they meet the entry requirements – see the ‘competitions’ page of our website: http://www.alphabetsoup.net.au).

Can you suggest a literacy or writing activity for students in upper primary school using Alphabet Soup?

Read ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, or ‘Garden of Guesses’ and retell the story from another point of view. For ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ students might choose to tell the story from the point of the view of the giant, or the cow, or the beanstalk. For the garden story, they might choose the point of view of the teacher in the story, the potatoes being planted, or a worm in the garden.


issue 4 cover low resUse Alphabet Soup as the starting point for creating a class magazine.

Groups of students take on different pages (or roles) in the magazine (i.e. illustration, creating crosswords, writing book reviews, writing poems, stories etc)  

Display the magazine in the school library (or lend it to another classroom and ask them to review it!).

How do you think that author interviews benefit young readers and writers?

The obvious benefit is that authors offer encouragement to young writers and usually have some useful tips! In addition to writing tips, children discover that an author was just like them once – a child who dreamed of becoming a writer.

If a child finds an interview interesting, they will be more likely to seek out books by that author that they haven’t yet read.

Thanks for visiting Rebecca. There are so many great things for both teachers and students in your magazine.

You can subscribe to Alphabet Soup online at www.alphabetsoup.net.au

Also, visit these other great blogs to find out more about Alphabet Soup, and where Rebecca will be/has been to on her tour:

September 1 – http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale – the background of the mag.

September 2 – http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com – the editorial process.

September 3 – http://ww.letshavewords.blogspot.com – some printing questions.

September 4 – http://belka37.blogspot.com – the submission process.

September 5 – https://teacherswritinghelper.wordpress.com (that’s here!)

September 6 – http://robynopie.blogspot.com

September 7 – http://www.sandyfussell.blogspot.com


Read Full Post »


Today, author Mabel Kaplan is visiting my blog to tell us about how she turned an amazing true story into a wonderful picture book for children.


“Connie and the Pigeons” tells the incredible tale of the discovery and restoration of an aeroplane which used to fly the famous ‘kangaroo route’ between Australia and England in the 1940’s.


Hello Dee, thank you for inviting me to tour Connie and the Pigeons on your blog


Did you know the Connie in your story?
I’m almost too embarrassed to confess I knew nothing about ‘Connie’ when I began writing about her.


How did you hear about the Connie that ended up in the aeroplane graveyard in Tuscan?


Early in 1996 a 4cm wide six line snippet in the West Australian Newspaper jumped out at me. I read how two Australian air buffs had rediscovered a Lockheed Constellation called Connie in an aeroplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona where it had been saved from demolition by a flock of pigeons who had taken up residence inside her. From the information given I understood this to have been the aircraft that had made the inaugural passenger flight from Sydney to London on the 1st of December, 1947.
Did you know the Australian air buffs who rescued her?
Not then, but I later had contact with two of those involved and learned that far from being only two air-buffs there had been a whole team of men – and one woman – mainly retired Qantas pilots, engineers, mechanics who were members of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) in New South Wales.


Why did you decide to tell Connie’s story?


The story would not leave me alone. I have a particular interest in developing stories that have an historical base and this story just begged to be a Children’s Picture Book.
How long did it take you to do the research for this book?

Though I researched aspects of the story on and off for close on eleven years, the story itself took shape very quickly. Realizing that December 1997 would mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first long distance passenger flight between Australia and England I hoped to find a publisher in time for the story to celebrate the occasion. I submitted it to a publisher who held onto the manuscript for the best part of a year and then advised it did not meet their current needs. With only three months before the fiftieth birthday of the great event, in desperation, I sent it off to Qantas Publications in the hope that it may find a place in the in-flight magazine. Too late! The edition to mark the fiftieth birthday had already gone to print.


Can you tell us how you went about gathering the information you needed to write this story?

With the pressure off a publication deadline, between doing other things, creating and writing other stories, I looked back at the text and began a kind of dialogue with or a questioning of the information I had.


Where did the name ‘Connie’ originate? Was my face red when I realised that Connie was short for Constellation – Lockheed Constellation – and that my ‘Connie’ was by no means unique? There were as many ‘Connies’ as their were Constellations. They were all called ‘Connie’. However, by the 1990’s the remaining craft were few and far between and the HARS groups’ search had found the one in Tuscon, Arizona the only available one suitable for restoration. She was indeed restored with the name ‘Connie’ inscribed where once the word ‘Qantas’ had been. Using some creative licence, though I know it is not the case, I infer that this ‘Connie’ was the ‘Connie’ who made inaugural flight from Sydney to London.


What was it about the pigeons invading the plane that prevented it from being used as scrap? Was it just the smell (as I say in my story) or something more? I discovered the pigeon droppings made the metal unsuitable for melting down and reuse.  Although, in the end, I did not add this in my story because I decided young children would understand a bad smell better, the knowledge enriched the story for me. And as I was to discover later, the pilots who read the book were delighted with the way the story was told and did not miss this detail – probably because they knew it already.


Why Tucson, Arizona? My first thought was that there must surely have been a suitable dumping ground closer to home. That’s when I found out quite a bit about the politics behind the acquisition of aircraft.  In this period Qantas was Government owned and up to the purchase of the Lockheed Constellation (an American aircraft) had always purchased from the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). There were some heated exchanges between the then Prime Minister of Australia, Ben Chifley and his British counterpart – but in the end, Lockheed won out. It now made sense that once an aeroplane was passed its ‘use by’ date it be returned to the home of its maker for spare parts or recycling. 


Why did you decide to self publish?

Time was passing and by now I had a better understanding of the time lag between submitting a story and its publication.  I also wanted to test the story so I entered it in a local Writing Centre’s 2001 competition for Children’s Literature. It was listed among the awards. The judge’s comment: ‘This is a great idea and Connie is a lovely character. Another edit and a careful look at the target audience would make it sparkle.’ Over the next two years I workshopped the story at several primary schools and attended some writing for children workshops. The result: for the most part the story remained in tact but was much more focussed on SHOWING versus telling – not that I was unaware of this ‘mantra’ – more that I had a performance background as an ‘oral storyteller’ and sometimes forgot to make the most appropriate transitions for the written form. 


Come 2004 and I knew if I was to meet my self-inflicted deadline of the 60th anniversary of Connie’s inaugural flight, I needed to start submitting it now. I sent it out to an Australian Children’s Publisher and waited! As soon as it came back ‘rejected’, I tried another. In all, I sent it to no less than fourteen publishers. My only consolation, apart from two, all of the rejections came in the form of encouraging letters rather than proforma rejection slips. I was told it was ‘an appealing story’, ‘well written’, ‘read aloud beautifully’, etc but did not meet the publishers’ needs at this time. One publisher even wrote they had tried out some illustrations but in the end decided it was not working for them.  I even revamped the manuscript in what I hoped was the style of a reader and included ‘fact files’. Still no go. 


By now I was obsessed by Connie. I found myself unable to write any other children’s work. I had to get her out of me! I refashioned her as a Children’s Picture Book and looked for an illustrator. I spent most of 2006 editing an anthology of children’s stories for a local Writers’ Centre and in the process of editing a particular piece developed a warm relationship with that writer and discovered her secret passion for art. We cut a deal. She illustrated Connie and I edited her work. I set the book up how I wanted it and found a printer. Then, on the 1st December, 2007 a local school where I’d worked organised the launch of Connie.


And I was free to write again!


Do you have any other stories like this planned?

If you mean, historical fiction, I am working on what I hope will be a contemporary chapter book for older children (10-12 year olds): Paradise Island. It is told against the background of Rottnest Island and the 1899 wreck of the City of York – and touches on preteen depression and adult PTSD. I thought it was almost done but when I reread it the ending doesn’t work well for me. I think it needs a second part. Time will tell.  I also have several others still in the dreaming stage.


I currently have half a dozen or so younger children’s stories on the road in search of a publisher.



Since publishing ‘Connie and the Pigeons’ two HARS members have contacted me. (I have no idea how they found me!) One sent me his book ‘Bringing Connie Home’ by Gary Squire – the nitty gritty story of the search, the bureaucracy and technical hitches encountered; the other sent me a DVD of the pictorial story of the restoration: ‘An Affair with Connie’. He was so enamoured by my book that he took it to the HARS souvenir shop in Wollongong NSW and they ordered 30 copies. A similar order came from the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach Qld.


Thanks Mabel, it has been great to have you visiting my blog. People (including other writers) often ask me, ‘How do you turn fact into fiction’. You’ve given us such an interesting and comprehensive account of how you went about this difficult task.


Connie and the Pigeons is available through Westbooks in Victoria Park WA (08) 9361 4211

Email: orders@westbooks.com.au; online through http://www.justlocal.com.au/clients/book/mabel-kaplan/  or direct from the publisher Stories for the Telling 54 Hudson Avenue Girrawheen WA 6064 Tel. (08) 9342 7150 Email: mabelka@hotmail.com


For those on the Eastern coast it is also available from

HARS Souvenirs
cnr Airport and Boomerang Roads

Albion Park Rails, New South Wales 2527



Qantas Founder Outback Museum
PO Box 737
Longreach Qld 4730







Read Full Post »