The Children's School at Stephens College

Because big dreams start early.


August 2019

Memoir: Writing from the Heart

“I don’t know what to write about” is something teachers are used to hearing from students. The blank page can be an intimidating sight for writers of all ages and skill-levels. We see students make up elaborate stories and games with their friends at recess, but it doesn’t always translate to the paper.

We decided to start the year by collecting “writing territories”. We asked the elementary students: What are the most important people, places, and things in your life? Why are they special? What do you remember most about them? Mr. Lamear showed the students a map of the mountains outside his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. He described what he remembered about many of the landmarks on the map and special memories he has from his camping and hiking adventures. When it was the students’ turn, quantity was the goal. We hoped this would give our writers an abundance of topics to write about throughout the year, and a possible focus for our first genre study.

Our students listed parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, pets, teachers, hobbies, memorable vacations, stuffed animals, toys, and summer adventures. We will encourage them to add to their writing territories throughout the year. The next step was to choose one thing from this list and dig deeper. We hoped to help them uncover important memories. What is special about going to Grandma’s? What happened on the vacation you took to Colorado this summer?

Mrs. Parks’ literacy group also created their own heart maps. This is another way to list writing territories. In this approach, the writing territories are identified as contents of the heart. Georgia Heard, author of Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, uses heart mapping as a way for students to map out their lives in a concrete and visual way. Each section can be a different category. For example, people, places, things, and memories. This helped some of our young writers understand that a memoir comes from the heart.

“No, they come from your brain because they’re memories,” was a response from a second grader. True. They live in our brains but are alive in our hearts.

Next week we will continue to challenge our students to unpack these memories. They will also continue to be immersed in published memoirs by authors such as Donald Crews, Cynthia Rylant and Patricia Polacco. We love to learn about our students through their writing. Our goal is always for them to see themselves as writers and that beginning from the heart will take them there.

Our first week in Preschool

This week, students focused on understanding routines, developing friendships, and came up with our classroom “I Can Rules.” Below, you will find pictures of students hard at work during this first week of school.

Elementary Classroom Expectations (a.k.a. The Actor’s Toolbox)

Which statement is more helpful and motivating in the classroom?

“Be quiet.” or “Show you are in control of your voice.”

“Pay attention.” or ” What should your focal point be right now?”

Certainly, the latter two are more motivating and encouraging. Students in elementary will be learning to use the tools in the actor’s toolbox found in Sean Layne’s Acting Right to respond to these statements. Teachers will be creating an environment for students to use their reflective brain instead their reactive brain.Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 8.28.04 PM

When students use their reflective brain, true learning can take place. Students will learn to develop the following skills found in their toolbox to use the reflective side of their brain. By practicing behaviors, students gain control over their choices and and choose how to react. These are our classroom expectations also known as the actor’s toolbox.

Control my BODY.

Control my VOICE.




These tools will be practiced daily to help students take ownership of and be responsible for their own behavior while building the skills necessary to establish a sense of self control, accountability, and team building in the classroom. These activities are theater based and support the mission of CSSC to integrate the arts across the curriculum.

We also add one more expectation in the spirit of valuing the dignity and worth in all people:


Each morning, we practice and review our 6 expectations. Throughout this semester, we will build upon the actor’s toolbox, bringing in acting games, improv, cooperation challenges, and concentration circles.

Ask your child to show you to motions that go with each expectation in the toolbox. Ask your child in various situations which tool is helpful to practice. For example, when she is bouncing off the walls, ask “Are you in control of your body? Let’s do the body motion together.” Engage you child in practicing right behaviors instead of reacting to what is wrong.

As always, feel free to drop by during morning meeting as see what the actor’s toolbox is all about. We are honored to get to work with your child. Please let us know if you have questions or if we can help you in any way.

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