EAGAN, Minn. -- "Today we're going to talk about one of the trickiest parts of writing stories," said author Jacqueline West as eager eyes stare up at her.
West is in residence for the second year at Glacier Hills School of Arts and Sciences in Eagan. From the looks of it, the fourth graders who are working with her consider this the best subject of the day.
"I just feel like I could never do this before," said 4th grader Owen Mitchell. "Like I was never able to do this until Jacqueline West came in. She told me all these little tips."
Such as detail. Owen says that means a term like "brown hair" is ok, but "chocolate brown hair" is so much better.
"We take an inquiry approach to teaching," explained 4th grade teacher Dan Gasteazoro. "They formulate questions, and they investigate them, and they set up how they're going to go about finding the answers."
Gasteazoro says it's a very effective method for science. Now, teachers are finding it also works well for other areas, such as language arts.
In this particular area of inquiry, students are asked to imagine themselves as authors who will write a spin-off of West's series, "The Books of Elsewhere."
In addition to learning how to write a story, students must understand the elements of West's plot, including the fact the heroine of the first book, "The Shadows" enters secret worlds through magical paintings.
The fourth grade teachers are using that plot point to bring art and even history into the equation, as the spin-off students create has to be based on a painting they have created based on the study of masterpieces of art.
"So the Elsewhere artist is researching painters, from expression, to realism, to surrealism and on and on," said Gasteazoro. Students then used the techniques of the masters to create their own painting. From there, they begin their story.
"It looked like it was going to be easy to do," said 4th grader Jaleesa Shields. Her painting of a single flower turned out to be not only difficult to create, but also tough to build a story around, but she's turned it into a magical flower, and that was enough to get the budding writer on the path to a story.
"Today is my 1000th birthday," reads 4th grader Kiara Dent, who is sitting in front of her painting for inspiration. She sees this residency as an opportunity to advance a dream.
"I've always wanted to write stories and share them with people, but I've never got the chance to actually it down and start writing, so, this is my chance," said Kiara.