Minimester Musings: Writing and Illustrating Science Books for Children

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve become quite intrigued by the idea of the minimester recently.  It’s a fascinating idea and I can’t help but think about minimester classes I’d like to offer.  The title of the class I’m describing here is Writing and Illustrating Science Books for Children.

I envision this project having 5 parts:

  • Researching a topic in science to gain the necessary knowledge to write a children’s book.
  • Writing the text.
  • Helping peers to edit their texts and rewriting thier own text based on feedback.
  • Illustrating the book with traditional or digital media.
  • Sharing it with elementary school aged children.

Students would be working on their scientific knowledge, research skills, editing, and writing.  They would get to explore an illustration technique in depth.  They would share their work with an audience beyond their classmates and teacher.  Who knows?  They might even get a publishable result.

I often have high school students write an illustrate short books explaining a particular scientific concept.  I like the project because students find it satisfying and it is a genuinely useful learning tool.  Unfortunately, in the context of a regular science class we never have time to work carefully on the editing and illustrating, so the results are always quite rough.  I believe it would be a very rewarding experience for students to produce a polished piece they can be truly proud of.

Writing a scientific children’s book is something I have a bit of experience with.  Here are some photos of pages from a biography of Charles Darwin I wrote and illustrated a number of years ago.  (My apologies for the poor photo quality; I don’t want to take them out of their frames and can’t figure out how to keep the glass from interfering with the pictures.)

Charles Darwin collected beetles when he was a kid.  Here's some of the beetles he may have had in his collection, with little cartoon birdies providing commentary.
Charles Darwin collected beetles when he was a kid. Here’s some of the beetles he may have had in his collection, with little cartoon birdies providing commentary.
This page is the left half of a double-page spread highlighting the results of artificial selection that Darwin observed in his study of domesticated pigeons.
This page is the left half of a double-page spread highlighting the results of artificial selection that Darwin observed in his study of domesticated pigeons.
This is the right hand side of a double page spread about artifical selection.  It goes with the picture of the common pigeon above.
This is the right hand side of a double page spread about artifical selection. It goes with the picture of the common pigeon above.
Here we have a thinking Darwin on the pampas of Argentina.  Again, little birdies provide insight for the reader.
Here we have a thinking Darwin on the pampas of Argentina. Again, little birdies provide insight for the reader.
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3 thoughts on “Minimester Musings: Writing and Illustrating Science Books for Children

  1. This sounds like a fantastic “minimester.” It’s cross-curricular, since it addresses science and English Language Arts (reading and writing) skills, it’s collaborative (having students peer edit), and it breaks outside the box of “the research paper.” Having a shareable final product would also give students a little extra stake in their research. I’ll bet it could be adapted to work with younger grades too, although they might be creating books with their classmates as an audience, instead of younger kids.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! And yes, one of the things that excites me about this is the cross-curricular nature of the project. So much of what happens in the adult world requires integration of skills and it’s something I think we should expose students to regularly in school.

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