I give presentations to intermediate and high school students as well as to adults. I’ve spoken at the Vancouver Writers Fest, travelled with TD Canadian Children’s BookWeek, and visited schools across Metro Vancouver. If the workshop descriptions below don’t suit your needs, please feel free to contact me directly.
Writing to Change the World (ideal for middle-grade students)
I love to write about people who’ve taken risks and achieved great things. In this fast-paced presentation, we look at why people decide to pursue unusual goals, what characteristics help them succeed, and how their actions change the world. Along the way, there are plenty of questions and answers, a chance to act out one of the stories, a crime tableau in which the audience serves as jury, and plenty of crowd-sourced sound effects. I work hard to ensure different learning styles are represented, and every student is engaged. In the last portion of the presentation, we decide what wisdom we can take from other over-achievers, and I share ways I’ve used risk-taking and grit in my own writing life. Then we look at ways all students might work toward embracing opportunities and achieving their own dreams.
Science Superheroes (for middle-grade and high-school students)
This is a tour through decades of DNA discovery. With skits, silly sound effects, and some highly scientific (?) pipe-cleaner props, we examine the lives of history’s genetic geniuses. Students explore the basics of DNA and heredity, compare some of their own traits, and learn what happens when genes go rogue. Then, by examining our collection of DNA stories, we look at which scientific breakthroughs were made through actual genius, and which were the result of extreme dedication. It’s possible that the heroes of DNA research made their world-changing discoveries with pure old-fashioned obsession.
Survival 101 (for middle-grade and high-school students)
All great stories – fiction and non-fiction – rely on conflict and problem-solving. And people face problems in predictable ways. They act or they freeze; they seize control or they panic; they put their own skills and knowledge to work or they look to others for salvation. In this hands-on writing workshop, participants are assigned a crisis situation and asked to set the scene. They might find their character stranded on a desert island, at sea in a lifeboat, or lost in the wilderness. After some time to write, students draw cards from my When The Worst Happens deck of trouble, and things grow more dangerous. How will their characters react when attacked by wild animals, when delirious from dehydration, or when all hope of rescue seems lost? Have the students created people who will pull through in the end, or destined their characters for tragedy? Between writing exercises, we’ll discuss what personality traits might help or hinder people in threatening situations. Students leave the workshop with a new understanding of how conflict raises the stakes in storytelling, and how characters develop through the choices they make.
Fake News (for middle-grade and high-school students)
As a non-fiction writer, I have to sort great sources from sketchy ones. In this interactive workshop, we look at sites and sources to trust, those that might lead us astray, and ways to tell the difference. Between playing true-or-false with baby-snatching-bird videos and partisan political websites, we explore the cues that make stories seem true. We then script breaking TV news stories and see if our fellow sleuths can tell fact from fiction. Finally, we craft our own newspaper articles, either with New York Times-worthy seriousness or with tabloid flair. While this workshop includes lots of dramatics, it’s also a crash course in media literacy. Student leave with a solid understanding of fake news and how to spot it.
Storytelling Outside the Box (for teens and adults)
Stories have certain things in common: great hooks; interesting characters, and tricky problems. Fiction writers invent their story elements, but non-fiction writers have to find them in real-life events. Fortunately, once you know how to spot the ingredients, you’ll see storytelling everywhere — in family histories, media events, court cases, advertising strategies, and political campaigns. That means the ability to spin a good tale is not just a talent for writers. It’s essential for anyone who wants to see the world in new ways and influence others to do the same. This is the grown-up version of “Writing to Change the World,” above.