Coming up with a final project for the Creative Writing class you’re teaching can be tough. How do you create a project that is engaging and rigorous? How do you incorporate differentiation and enough mentor texts? One solution to this problem is having your students complete an Author Study Project.
An Author Study Project, at least the way I’ve done it, asks students to study one author’s writing style in-depth. After they have a thorough understanding of their author’s style, they must then replicate that author’s style in an original work.
If you like the idea but want to skip the prep work, grab my Author Study Project here. Otherwise, you can use the steps below to create your own!
Author Study Project Step 1: Let Your Students Explore Authors
The first step in doing an Author Study Project with your students is to have them choose authors to study.
For a truly successful Author Study Project, do some prep work first.
If you ask a class what authors they’d like to study, you’ll probably get a lot of blank faces. Instead, give them the opportunity to explore some different ones.
I recommend having a list of authors from which students can pick. This should help prevent overwhelm in students and speed the process along. You can also make sure that a wide variety of authors are chosen this way.
I recommend avoiding having students study novelists, or at least, authors who are exclusively novelists. Poets and short story writers are better options if you want students to be able to finish this project in a timely manner.
If you specifically want students to write poetry, then limit their options further to just poets. Conversely, if you want every student to write a single short story, then only let them choose from short story writers.
If a student feels strongly about studying a particular author, you can always approach this on a case-by-case basis.
Let Students Explore Their Author Options
Then explain the project to your class. They need to understand that they’ll be reading and studying this author in-depth and for a while.
If you’ve been studying any authors in class, remind students of these names. For example, if you’ve been doing poetry analysis as a daily warm-up, you can list all of the authors you’ve read on the board.
Then, give your students time to explore their author choices. When I did this, I set up a kind of book tasting. Students could walk around the room and each table had a different selection of authors.
This took a whole class period. I walked around the room discussing possible options with students. If there was a particular poet I thought a student would like, I made an effort to show them that author’s work.
For this, I recommend getting your school’s librarian involved if you have the privilege of having one in your building. My librarian was super excited to make me some delicious piles of poets and short story authors.
Author Study Project Step 2: Have Students Study Their Author In-depth
Once students have chosen an author, they need to start studying that author’s style.
It’s helpful to give students parameters for this step. What exactly should they be examining? What should they be looking for?
If you’ve covered any literary terms during your class, now is the time to review those. Have students identify their author’s favorite types of figurative language techniques, mood and tone, diction, and structure. Don’t forget to have students look for any common themes, genres, or topics in their author’s work.
This step will take as long as you let it. Students may have to do some reading outside of class depending on how long your class periods and semesters are.
Author Study Project Step 3: Let Students Write
Once students have identified a few characteristics of their chosen author’s style, it’s time to let them write.
If they chose a poet, writing some poetry should be the obvious choice. If they chose a short story author, then they should write a short story.
This is not a time to abandon any of the writing processes that they’ve learned in your class. I recommend giving students time to brainstorm and outline as needed.
How long you give students will depend on a few factors: how long classes are, your school’s homework policy, how much time you have, etc.
I like to give students lots of time in class, personally. As they work, I like to walk around and generally make myself available for bouncing ideas off or talking through different choices. Remind students frequently to refer to their chosen author’s style characteristics.
Author Study Project Step 4: Offer Time/Opportunity for Feedback
Once students have a rough draft, give them time to share it with others.
If your students are shy and not comfortable sharing, at least have them discuss what they wrote with a peer. Make them explain their chosen author’s style and the decisions they made in their final piece. Encourage them to at least share or read part of their work to another.
Any time you do peer feedback, it’s helpful to give students a guide, process, or checklist for reading through another’s work. And unless a student chose E. E. Cummings, remind them that conventional grammar is still important.
Once students have obtained some feedback, give them just a little bit more time to make any edits or corrections. When they fill their piece is done, they can turn it in.
Author Study Project Step 5: Offer Students Time for Reflection
After students turn in their final piece, give them time to reflect on their work. This is a good practice after any summative assessment.
Ask students to evaluate their own work and, more importantly, their work habits. Did they put in enough effort? Get started early enough? Did they allow themselves enough time to outline, draft, and edit?
At this point, these kinds of reflection questions are too late to help this project, but they will help students establish better work habits for future projects and classes. At least, we hope it will, right?
But also ask them questions that will help you. What did they enjoy about this project? What was the most challenging part? Did they gain an appreciation for their chosen artist?
The answers will be interesting for you to read and will help you structure the project better in the future.
As you begin the arduous process of grading these projects, don’t forget to save some examples for future classes!
An Author Study Project can be a rewarding challenge for students, especially those who enjoy creative writing. It can also foster a deeper appreciation for the art.
As a teacher, this project can be great if you have a wide variety of skills in your classroom. I often recommend Shel Silverstein or Robert Frost to my students with lower skills, as these styles are simple, easy to recognize, and straightforward.
Advanced students may enjoy the style challenge of E. E. Cummings or Emily Dickinson. And offering diverse voices like Maya Angelou, Julia Alvarez, or even Tupac Shakur can add interest and broaden student horizons.
The best part of this project is that you can make it yours.
If you’d like to do an Author Study Project in your classroom but would rather skip the prep work, grab my entire Author Study Project here. Included is everything you need including a suggested authors list, students worksheets, and digital versions.