East Prairie second graders help inspire stories for freshman writing assignment

Friday, May 18, 2007
East Prairie High School freshman Lindsey Peebles reads Harley Wallace the book she wrote about the second grader.

EAST PRAIRIE -- Harley Wallace smiled when she heard the book's title: "Harley and the Tribe."

Not only did the title feature the name of the Doyle Elementary second grader, the story's main character was actually based on Harley.

As author Lindsey Peebles, a freshman at East Prairie High School, began reading her work to Harley, the second grader listened carefully as her best friend, Kenzie, and her interest in collecting arrowheads were mentioned in the story.

"It's kind of like Pocahontas," Peebles said about the story, which begins with Harley and Kenzie having a sleepover in a treehouse. An American Indian, who is in an argument with someone, shows up at the treehouse, and by story's end, the two girls wind up bringing the two people back together. When Peebles was finished reading the 11-page book, Harley smiled with approval.

"I liked that I got to ride in a canoe because I've never got to do that," Harley said. "And I like all the stickers on the pages."

For Harley, the story was an adventure she'd never experienced, and for Peebles, a semester-long project came to a close Thursday.

Peebles, along with 77 other freshman and 12 journalism students, had worked since January on their English class projects to write a story about every second grader at Doyle Elementary in East Prairie.

"The idea for this project came from when I was in the second or third grade and our library would make stories and put your name in a book," said Jennifer Douglas, freshmen English teacher at East Prairie High School.

With this being her first year teaching at the high school, Douglas thought she'd give the project a try.

Douglas chose second grade because she thought it was the most appropriate grade for the project.

"Second graders are not as sophisticated readers like third graders but further developed than first graders," Douglas explained.

Early in the semester, the second graders filled out information sheets, which asked about themselves, such as their names, birthdays, hobbies, favorite colors, food, etc.

Then the high schoolers selected one student to write about.

"The only rule I told them was your child has to be the main character -- the hero or heroine of the story," Douglas said.

Peebles said it was hard trying to figure out what someone likes, and not having met them first made it a challenge to write the story about Harley.

"Writing for second graders was hard because it's been so long since I was in that grade," Peebles said, adding she changed her story at least six times.

The authors made their own book covers, which were laminated and spiral-

bound. They could illustrate the book themselves, use clip art or get someone else to illustrate for them; Peebles used scrapbooking stickers.

Douglas said her students were receptive to the project.

"This is one of the few times high school students do something beyond themselves," Douglas said. "It's not just for a grade."

Douglas said she explained to her students if they didn't finish their assignments, there would be a second grader who didn't get a story.

The high schoolers also learned about the writing process. The stories started as a free write, then first, second and third drafts were written followed by an error draft and the final copy, Peebles said.

"It was hard at times, but we all had a blast," Peebles concluded.

The second graders found out on Thursday the information they filled out was being used to write books about them.

"It was exciting and a lot of fun. When we walked into the library (to give them their books), their faces lit up," Peebles said.

Overall, Douglas thought the project was a success.

"Stories ranged from three pages to 20, and every book had a good plot," Douglas said.

Douglas said she will consider doing the project again next year, but learned things she would do differently, such as scheduling staggering deadlines.

"I just hope this has a long impact on all of them," Douglas said.

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