Why Did They Write This? Exploring an Author's Motivation
- Grades: 9–12
Recently I had students do an author project to help them look past the surface issues in a book and in an author's life and get to their motivations and the book's deeper meaning. Understanding the author's experiences and point of view is important to understanding the context for and motivation behind a book. It's interesting to research authors and notice how their life experiences influenced their work. While the project encouraged students to build critical-thinking skills, I hope that they also came to understand how their own life experiences can influence their future pursuits. In addition, most students select a particular genre of literature or a favorite author and fail to explore others. By listening to each other's presentations, students might be more willing to explore other genres and authors.
For this project, students were allowed to choose the author that they wanted to study. Of course, I had about ten students who wanted to research J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, but I didn't allow students to study the same authors. The first student to turn in an author selection form for a particular author was assigned that author. In order to get a mixture of contemporary authors, I created a list for one of my class sections to choose from. Some students were excited about this, but others were not.
In choosing and researching authors, Scholastic's Author and Illustrator Index is a great place to start. Biblio, another great resource, has over 327 author biographies, and Scholastic's Author Study Guide Collection features discussion guides, author interviews, book trailers, and more.
Project Criteria and Checklist
The project included three elements: a typed essay, a multimedia presentation, and an in-class presentation. The goal of the project was for students to inform the class about a particular author that interested them. At the beginning of the project, I supplied students with an "Author Project Criteria" sheet so they would know exactly what was expected of them.
In order to keep students on track, I also created an Author Project Checklist, with the criteria for all three elements. Students were required to turn in their “checked off” checklist in order to receive a grade.
Before students began putting their presentations together, I had them research and write their essay. Conducting the research first meant that students had the important background information they needed as they prepared for the more formal presentation.
Most, if not all, authors have had a particular influence that caused them to express their feelings and experiences through writing. In addition to focusing on the childhood and adolescence of an author, I wanted students to look at the author's accomplishments, contribution to literature, and family life in the essay.
The essay was due ten days before the multimedia presentation. As with any of my presentation projects, students were free to use Google Presentation or Prezi. Most of my students still chose to use PowerPoint because that is the software they are familiar with. For their multimedia presentations, students had to include at least three photographs and a citation slide.
Author Project Presentation
For the in-class project presentation, students were required to teach the class about their author. This activity helped students get more comfortable presenting in front of people and provided the rest of the class important information about famous authors. Each student presented for three to five minutes. Public speaking, even in a class, can be intimidating for some students, so it was important to discuss public speaking strategies beforehand. It was also important for students to respect one another while they are presenting. [ Since this presentation was probably their first as high school students, I met with students individually to help them prepare and be successful.
I also shared four Web sites and online articles with students so they could read about overcoming speech anxiety:
What ways do you learn about authors in your classroom?