Grade 5 and 6 Students WOWed by Writers Workshop

Language Arts and Reading are among the Lower Schools’ most in-depth curricular commitments. Faculty dedicate extra long periods each week to fostering a lifelong love of reading and fearlessness when facing a blank page for academic or creative writing. For inspiration beyond what students are learning and discussing in the classroom, successful authors make the trip to Oak Knoll throughout the semester to immerse students in their creative process and encourage them to share their own stories confidently.

Grade 5 and 6 participated in a lively writer’s workshop on Friday, April 19, 2024, and they were indeed “WOW”ed by Mary Amato, an award-winning children’s and young adult book author, poet, playwright, teaching artist, and songwriter. WOW stands for “want,” “obstacle,” and “win/loss.” Her formula for concocting an engaging tale is to settle on a specific character with a want or desire, think up some obstacles that stand in the way of that desire, and determine how the character will overcome the challenges.

Amato shared the inspiring journey she underwent to become a successful author. This journey included a profound childhood fear of writing and a reluctance to create because her perfectionism held her back. She shared how her mother’s death eventually led to Amato discovering the healing nature of journaling, which defeated her perfectionism and opened up a world of creativity for her.

Using her WOW formula, she had the entire group brainstorm together to select a character, desire, obstacles, and a successful outcome. Volunteers stepped forward to improvise dialogue for the characters in the story, and Amato demonstrated how she could keep the action going as the “author” of the improvisation by inventing stage directions and descriptions of scenes between dialogue segments. Then, she selected a student to come forward and play the role of author.

Amato also encouraged the students to consider multiple scenarios with the WOW components and likened the creative writing process to any discipline that requires practice and repetition. “Excercise your creative muscles,” she advised. “When I was young, I thought I had no imagination, but I have an amazing imagination. I just didn’t let it come out to play, and I didn’t exercise it enough. And now I exercise it all the time. Be kind to yourself, don’t be a perfectionist, and push yourself to exercise your imagination muscles.”

On March 15, 2024, the Lower School imparted similar advice to PK-4 students when they attended a notable author-visit assembly with Katrina Moore, award-winning author of the Teeny Houdini series and other children’s tales. 

“Here at Oak Knoll, that’s what you are learning to do: to have this strong confidence and this belief in yourself that you can do hard things,” Moore said. “Just like when you were a baby walking for the first time, and maybe you fell 500 times, but you got back up 501 times until you were successful and kept going. And it’s the same thing with writing books.”

Not every Oak Knoll student will choose to write professionally. Some may choose science, technology, medicine, law, sports, or any of a plethora of exciting futures. But those who do choose writing as a career path will have had the creative seeds planted here, and their courage to write will be watered and blooming in the years ahead.