The Right Brain Initiative


"You wrote this?" Bringing writers to the classroom

November 4th, 2010 by Right Brain Team

What is the value of bringing a writer-in-residence to a K-8 classroom? We asked teaching artists from Wordstock, our literary arts partner, to comment. Below, Nancy Coffelt reflects on the power of mentorship when working artists engage with students on an extended basis.

Kindergarten through 3rd grades at Free Orchards (Hillsboro) worked with Nancy Coffelt to build vocabulary—and were emboldened to find that any drawing can be conquered with shapes.


That’s a common question from children when I visit a school. The book I just read them is suddenly connected to a real life person and I can see by their expression something clicks.

People write books.

And if they’re “people” too, then can’t they write a book as well?

For children it can seem like all those books in the classroom and in the library just magically appeared. There’s no context for how those books came to be. But empowering those children with the knowledge that they too can come up with an idea just as surely as that person, that writer, standing there in their classroom, well that’s a golden “aha” moment.

The excitement I’ve seen in those classrooms could power a city. Kids are buzzing about their ideas – an elephant that wants to dance, the adventures of their pet hamsters, super heroes of all shapes and sizes… And that’s the sort of excitement that can propel them forward into the actual shaping of their stories.

The group process can make for a magical process as far as writing (and illustrating) stories. Children not only benefit from hearing the progress of their classmates’ work but they also get the enjoyment of sharing their own creative endeavors. And that sharing can also show them that others may struggle with trying to complete a story. An author can share their own tales of what they’ve done to help them complete a story – even if it was difficult to do.

“People” have the ability to see a project through.

Young people understand that very well.

Nancy Coffelt is a novelist and illustrator who cites crayons, pencils and felt pens among her favorite childhood possessions. She collaborated with staff at Free Orchards Elementary in Hillsboro in 2009-10 to help students integrate language with images. Read also what Nancy had to say after her first Right Brain professional development session on her blog, Because I Say So.


Right Brain Team