The Right Brain Initiative


Insects write books at Free Orchards

January 26th, 2012 by Right Brain Team


As our 31 partner schools return from winter break this month, Right Brain programming is moving at top speed. At Free Orchards Elementary in Hillsboro, teaching artist Addie Boswell is helping  3rd grade students imagine life from the perspective of an insect to create original, illustrated stories from their new vantage point.

Addie knows that by treating students as author/illustrators, they are excited and motivated to learn about story line and character development and improve their writing and drawing skills. At Free Orchards, classroom teachers used the information students studied in their life sciences unit as topics for their books, and helped with writing in between sessions with the artist.

Mrs. Rooke’s class of 3rd graders learned about several species of insects and created fact sheets about them. They then chose their favorite species and transformed their fact sheets into character bios. Students brainstormed details about diet, habitats, and personalities for their insects. Addie introduced the students to the bookmaking process. She talked about how authors and illustrators take “artistic license,” turning facts into fiction.

A student uses his thumbnail sketches to draft illustrations for his book. Photo by Holly Renton.

Addie read Diary of a Worm with the 3rd grade classes, and they discussed text layout and composition. Students then created a series of guided thumbnail sketches of their characters in different poses: close-ups, from all sides, and in a variety of movements. Now the fully-realized characters were ready to be placed in scenes. 

Students examined other books to think about how stories unfold, both visually and with text. Photo by Holly Renton.

Students were then told to imagine the passage of a typical day in two to four “spreads” and create them in a dummy book. During this process, students had to decide which scenes in a day were important to illustrate and then how to visually depict them.

When the artist returned the next session, they shared their drafts with one another and went on to explore the idea of “the big spread,” a moment in the story line that would be scary, funny, or surprising, with a very dynamic composition. Partners shared their completed “big spread” compositions with one another decided how to make them better, later drawing their final version on watercolor paper.  

Addie Boswell looks with a student at her use of negative space. Photo by Holly Renton.

When this was finished, the artist oriented students to the art of the book cover, examining sample book covers in the library so that they could better imagine their own cover design.

The next step in the bookmaking process involved students learning about color theory and use of a limited palette for their covers and pages. Addie showed them how to use pastels, crayons and vibrant New Zealand dyes to bring their drawings to life.

Finally, when books were complete with illustrations and text, students read their stories with classmates and learned to write positive reviews for one another. To complete their books, classmates wrote their reviews on the back covers of one another’s books.

Now Kelly Rooke’s 3rd graders have a large collection of books written by a very experienced assortment of insect species, revealing a peak into the world from a bug’s point of view, and a glimpse at how children grow their creativity and critical thinking.

See our full set of images for this Right Brain residency on Flickr.


Right Brain Team