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J. Aday Kennedy Writing for Crumb Crunchers
Monday, 19 May 2008
Carol J. Amato Interview: Writing a Teacher's Guide
Topic: writing a teacher's guide


 Carol J. Amato hosted an online chat at the October 2007 Free Muse Online Writer’s Conference on writing a Teacher’s Guide to accompany a fiction or nonfiction book. She held a chat on "How to Start and Run a Critique Group" in 2008. 



Why not write a teacher's guide? It seems like a no brainer. If you can get your books into schools, your sales will increase.

Carol J. Amato is the author of 19 books and 175 articles. Her many memorable books for young people include the acclaimed series Breakthroughs in Science (The Earth, Astronomy, Inventions, and The Human Body), 50 Nifty Science Fair Projects, the Super Science Project Book, and 50 More Nifty Science Fair Projects.
Firmly believing that kids’ fiction can be educational as well as entertaining, Ms. Amato has applied her Master of Arts in Anthropology to creating an exciting middle-grade mystery series, The Phantom Hunters™. Each mystery takes readers to a different culture. The first book, The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun, published in 2005, takes place on the Navajo Nation. Book #2, The Secret of Blackhurst Manor, set in Lincolnshire, England, will be out this fall. Her other recent titles include How to Start and Run a Writers’ Critique Group and The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun Teacher’s Guide, both of which came out in 2006. Her articles have appeared in national magazines, such as PC Novice and Smart Computing.
Ms. Amato is a board member of the Writers' Club of Whittier, Inc., a professional writers’ critique group, and a member of the Children’s Literature Council and California Readers. She is listed Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in the West, the World Who's Who of Women, and Who’s Who in America.

Here is this accomplished writer’s advice about writing a Teacher’s Guide.

Q: What is a benefit to writing a teacher’s guide?
A:Writing a 32-page teacher’s guide can open whole new markets for your K-8 books; teachers and home-school parents are the major one. They will want the kids to read the book because you have created ready-made activities, which saves them time from creating them.

Q:You can take the setting from your book and the time period and create a teacher’s guide that goes beyond the story itself.
For example, The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun, which is the first book in my middle-grade mystery series, The Phantom Hunters, takes place on the Navajo Nation. I created a teacher’s guide that not only had activities about the actual story, but also had activities and information on the Navajo Nation, Navajo culture and language, the Code Talkers, the Grand Canyon, Arizona geography and history, Arizona deserts and desert animals, other Arizona tribes, and American Sign Language (one of the characters is deaf).

Q: What steps should you follow to see how to write a guide?
A:This is really a multi-step process. The first thing is to go to a teacher supply store and look at all the teachers’ guides that are currently out on the market. You will want to create activities across the curriculum, so look at all types, such as history, math, social studies, etc., to see what kinds of activities they include.
The second step is to research the educational standards to see what curriculum matches the target age group and the subject of your book.
The third step depends on whether or not you have any teaching background. If you do, you should be able to determine what other kinds of activities you can include to make your teacher’s guide different from those on the market. If you don’t, you want to find a teacher at the grade level to which you are aiming to cowrite with you.

Q: Should a writer conduct research standards for the state and area and stage of mental development it is designed to strengthen?
A: This is absolutely critical. Ideally, a writer would research the standards first to find out what is in them, then create a story that incorporates them. I lucked out writing a middle-grade book about the Navajo Nation, since I didn’t discover until after the fact that kids in Arizona study the Southwest in the 4th grade and California kids study it in the 5th. What if this had been a 7th grade topic? I would have had a novel geared for ages 8-12 but a teacher’s guide for grade 7. That would never have worked.
I had already had the idea for the second book in the series, The Secret of Blackhurst Manor, which takes place in England, before I looked at the standards. I didn’t start writing until I did research them, however. I discovered that kids don’t study Great Britain per se in grades 4-6, but they do study Ancient Rome. The Roman Empire extended to the Scottish border, though, and the Romans built many English towns. Julius Caesar was a silversmith in Britain before he became emperor.
I changed my original setting of Yorkshire to Lincolnshire; specifically, Lincoln, the town my ex-husband came from and which was founded by the Romans in 46 AD. The castle and cathedral there date from Norman times. The castle’s dungeon provided a super opportunity for some great scenes and plot twists, and of course, since my main character can see ghosts, the book had to have some who were Roman soldiers. This will allow me to create activities and research projects that deal with the Romans in Britain.
These days, in order to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers must teach to the standards. Anything that will help them to accomplish this task more easily will be welcomed.

Q: Should you reference the curriculum covered by exercises that support specific state guidelines or mental development?
Doing so is absolutely critical. You will probably notice that a lot of teacher’s guides have the standards referenced at the front or the back of the guide. Teachers to whom I have spoken state that this is useless to them, since they can’t tell at a glance what activity is for what standard or development level. Instead, they want to see the standards printed on the page to which they apply. I have included mine in the footer of each page.
In addition, you need to include activities that not only target the average student, but also the gifted students, the slow learners, and the students for whom English is a second language. I have coded my pages with G for gifted, R for Resource (slow learners), and ELL (English Language Learners). It’s assumed that all the activities can apply to the class in general.
Also, put the word “Reproducible” on each page that the teacher can freely photocopy and distribute to students.

Q: What types of exercises will work?
The types of activities can include word games (like word searches and crossword puzzles), quizzes, and art, writing, and research projects. In one activity, I have the students creating a newspaper with articles about “trips” they’ve taken on the Navajo Nation and things they’ve seen there, researched from the Internet. Having a technical component (using the Internet to conduct research or software programs to create projects) is also critical.

Q: How would you promote the guide?
A: If your publisher publishes it, it will no doubt be sold through the same channels as your book. The publisher should also offer it to teacher supply stores. Bear in mind that public libraries will not buy it (though school libraries might), since it’s considered a “consumable” book; that is, it falls in the workbook category. Libraries don’t want to carry anything that might tempt a young reader to mark up the pages.
You can offer it on your website, but if your publisher agrees to publish it, be sure not to violate any terms of your contract; e.g., are you allowed to sell it on your site via a shopping cart or do you have to refer buyers to the publishers’ website?
You can also buy a list of teachers and send them direct mail. I would avoid e-mailing them. Many teachers don’t even have e-mail, and even if they do, many school district servers filter out most e-mail from the outside. Your publisher should also let the buyers of your book know that it’s available.
I exhibit at trade shows and book fairs, and another step I intend to take is to get the book and teacher’s guide adopted through the school districts. Once a book is adopted, it will be on the curriculum list for all the schools in that district.

Q: Can a book be fiction and still be a teacher’s guide?
A:Yes, it certainly can. Mine are, as I’ve mentioned above. It’s a great way to get the students to learn about the setting of your story, other famous people who lived there, historical incidents that have taken place in that area, etc.

Q: What do you do if your publisher won’t publish it?
A: The answer is simple: Publish it yourself. How you do so depends on your budget. I’ve seen freebie teacher’s guides that consist of a few typed pages. Don’t be this simplistic. Get a program like Nova Development’s Publisher Pro, which is a very user-friendly page layout program that makes you look like a graphics genius. The program is cheap—about $80-$90—and the technical support is terrific—and free. You can also use MS Word, but it doesn’t handle graphics as easily as a program like Publisher Pro.
If your budget is limited and/or you don’t want to spend the money getting it printed until you find out that there’s a demand for your teacher’s guide, considering making it into a .pdf file and selling it as an e-book. Your cost will be free, if you’ve created the pages yourself. (You can find lots of free information on creating e-books on the Internet.) You can sell the guide for a minimal cost, such as $4.95, and every penny will be profit.
You can also have it printed, if you have enough outlets to which to market it.
Either way, have a professional cover designed. You want the book to look like something the teacher could purchase in the teacher supply store, even if it isn’t being sold there.

Q: Can you give some examples of exercises?
A: Certainly. As I mentioned before, you want to include activities across the curriculum: history, writing, reading comprehension, math, social studies, geography, science, technology, and art.
Here is a page by page rundown of what I included in my 32-page guide:
1 – Inside front cover
2 – Copyright page, which includes a letter to the teachers telling them about the guide.
3 – Table of Contents
4-5 – Story Summary
This is provided for the teacher’s use, so that if the students are doing book reports, he/she doesn’t have to read the whole book to find out if the students’ statements are correct.
6-7 – Story Quiz
This is a fill-in-the-blank quiz about the story, geared for reading comprehension. There is also a section discussing the theme of the story.
8-9 – Another quiz in which the kids guess who said what. The character is talking and the kids have to guess who it is. For example, “I like to tease people. I’ve been riding horses all my life. I also want to be an artist.” The kids have to guess which character this is and write his/her name in the blank below the quote.
10 – A word search using words from the book.
11 – This page is a word matching game. The kids have to match the word to its definition. Again, the words are from the book.
12-13 – These pages have some more quizzes on the story: putting events in chronological order, a true-false quiz, and a section allow the students to state their own opinions of statements about the story.
14 – This page is a recipe for Navajo fry bread. This activity requires parental/teacher supervision and states so at the top of the page.
15 – The American Sign Language Alphabet and the numbers 1-10.
16 – Background information about the Navajo Nation.
17 – An activity in which the kids plan a trip to the Navajo Nation. This incorporates the math element in that it has them calculating a route from their home to the Navajo Nation and finding out how many miles they have to travel.
18-19 – Background information on the history of the Navajo tribe.
20 – Different activities concerning a “trip” to the Navajo Nation. The kids refer to several Navajo websites, then create a newspaper with stories about the places they “visited.” They also draw pictures, make display boards of them, write an e-mail to a friend about the Navajo Nation, and write one-page descriptions of the places they “visited.”
21 – Page on the Navajo Code Talkers and some writing activities on this topic.
22 – Information on Navajo Clans and some writing activities on this topic.
23 – Word matching game on the Navajo words used in the book.
24 – An art activity on making a sand painting.
25 – Word search on more words from the story.
26-27 – Background information on Arizona as a state.
28 – Facts about Arizona as a state (state bird, motto, flower, etc.)
29 – Writing projects on the other tribes in Arizona.
30 – List of other research projects that the teacher can assign.
31 – A quiz about Arizona, based on the other information in the teacher’s guide.
32 – Answer key to quizzes and puzzles.
Be sure to come up with snappy, kid-friendly titles for your activities. If possible, relate them to the theme of your book. For example, my teacher’s guide for the Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun has a southwestern theme: “Research Roundup,” and “Tribes, Trails, and Treasure-hunters” are two of the titles I used. Other kid-friendly ones are “Let’s Make Fry Bread” and “Let’s Learn Sign Language.”

Posted by j.adaykennedy at 11:01 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 26 October 2008 6:50 PM CDT

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