Getting students to write is one thing. Getting them invested and excited about the writing process is another thing entirely. One approach that actually works is to give them an authentic real-world goal: like contributing their work to an actual book!
For over a decade, the Early Harvest youth publishing program has done exactly that, driven by Melbourne-based creative writing centre 100 Story Building in partnership with a growing network of schools. The project’s hands-on literacy lesson planning resources support teachers to revolutionise their approach to creative writing, and support students to become enthusiastic, hardworking authors.
Every year, student participants write, edit and submit stories to be considered for publication on a common theme. Then a smaller group of 15 upper primary students drawn from the participating schools form an extracurricular editorial committee. These die-hard young creatives work together to curate the stories, produce extra features, and make all the same difficult decisions as editors in the real world.
The result: a book produced with industry partner Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, which goes on sale in bookshops across the country, to be read by tens of thousands of children and young people.
‘Providing an authentic audience is a really important part of writing,’ says year 5-6 teacher and Learning Specialist Mat Williamson. His school, Newport Lakes Primary, has been involved with Early Harvest since 2020. ‘Getting your stories out there and becoming a published author is really exciting.’
It’s that excitement which drives the program over 3 terms, scaffolded by professional learning and creative writing workshops from 100 Story Building’s expert facilitators.
A scaffolded literacy program
In Term 1, the Early Harvest project kicks off with students brainstorming and voting on an evocative book theme. Meanwhile, 100 Story Building supports teachers through video and print professional learnin resources which breathe new life into their creative writing curriculum. Students finish the term with a chance to play around with the theme and let their ideas run wild in an interactive writing workshop experience run (remotely or in person) by 100 Story Building facilitators.
‘The most impactful part of the program for us has been the generation of ideas,’ says Mat Williamson. ‘Through Early Harvest, 100 Story Building provides lots of methods for bringing ideas in without cutting out the outrageous and ridiculous. It’s hilarious and amazing.’
In Term 2, students get down to business – refining the plot ideas they explored in Term One into a real story. Teachers put their new instructional techniques into action as well, guiding students through an in-depth process of creative story development. A second 100 Story Building workshop called ‘The Craft of the Draft’ introduces a raft of fun and effective editing techniques to help students fine-tune their stories for submission.
The program also enlists the help of the shining stars of the youth literary scene: each year Early Harvest brings aboard a bestselling children’s writer to share insight into their practice, answer student questions about thorny creative dilemmas, and give their advice for how to make a story the best it can be. Past authors who’ve taken part include Maxine Beneba Clarke, Alice Pung, and Oliver Phommavanh.
The whole process demystifies the work that goes into writing and editing, and provides inspiration and motivation for all the steps in creating a finished piece.
Participating in the Early Harvest program really helped our students develop new creative ways of writing: building characters, story arcs and narratives. But more than that it gave them a framework to work through the process of writing, from an initial idea through to the final copy. – Annie Edsall, former Principal of St. Monica’s Primary School
Publishing the book
In Term 3 students submit the final versions of their work to the Early Harvest Editorial Committee: a team of 15 year 5/6 students drawn from each of the program’s partner schools. These hardworking students select the best stories for publication, provide edits and feedback to authors, and make complex decisions about the book design, content and illustrations. The editors have full control over every element of the book, and they receive expert support from 100 Story Building staff alongside book designers and publishing professionals.
‘You have to make big decisions,’ says Mary, one of the young editors for the 2023 program.
‘And you can’t be scared to share your ideas.’
The editors also choose a professional children’s author to commission as a guest contributor to their book. The 2022 team chose Andy Griffiths, creator of the wildly popular Treehouse series, who contributed an original tale on the students’ chosen theme.
I believe passionately in fostering creativity and imagination in children. 100 Story Building provides wonderful opportunities for both students and teachers to develop and exercise these qualities. – Andy Griffiths
The final step is the production phase, where the children’s finished book is printed and distributed to bookshops around the country. To celebrate all the efforts that went into publishing a book, the editors devise and host a launch event attended by the young authors, professional contributors, and students and families from participating schools. The most recent launches have taken place at the State Library of Victoria, an appropriate venue to ring in the next generation of literary superstars.
While the program is primarily aimed at year 5 and 6 students, schools have reported a positive impact across other year levels. ‘The program has become a major motivator at our school,’ says Mat Williamson. ‘Younger students really look forward to being part of Early Harvest when they get to year 5/6. Having the chance to be part of a published book is an experience that is unlike anything else we can offer. When we announced we’d be signing up again next year everyone was excited. It’s a really really powerful program at our school and we really enjoy doing it.’
The books themselves continue to inspire other young authors. ‘My students love reading work from children their own age and using their ideas to create their own creative stories,’ says teacher Renée Dare. And students agree: ‘I love amazing stories written by children the same age as us,’ says Kristten, aged 11. ‘Some of them are better than the professionals.’
To date, Early Harvest has published original work by more than 165 young authors. Will your students be next?
Bring Early Harvest to your school
Enrolments open for Early Harvest at the end of Term 3 each year, and remain open until the very beginning of the school year. The program’s remote-friendly professional learning resources and interactive video workshops mean that schools in regional Victoria or interstate are welcome to join in. Teachers in Melbourne have the option of organising in-person workshops delivered by 100 Story Building facilitators, but the core of the program is accessible to schools far and wide.
About 100 Story Building
For more than a decade, 100 Story Building has collaborated with Australian children to champion their storymaking and creative discovery. Founded in 2009, the organisation works in partnership with schools to deliver creative writing programs both in-person and online. Over the past 10 years, more than 40,000 children and young people and thousands of teachers have joined our facilitators for learning experiences that encourage idea generation and creative risk-taking. The resulting creative works range from sci-fi choose-your-own-adventure epics to autobiographical comics. Participants overwhelmingly report increased confidence and excitement to keep telling their own stories.
Since 2019, 100 Story Building has also supported schools to co-design and create unique, creative centres called Story Hubs. Each of these wondrous and imaginative new spaces, built within the school, provide an opportunity for students and teachers to step outside the boundaries of their classrooms. In their Story Hub, students collaborate and take creative risks in their learning, and teachers use the space as a tool to transform their practice and support creativity.
For more information about 100 Story Building and info about how to get your class involved, visit 100storybuilding.org.au.