________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 26. . . .March 11, 2011


How Bullets Saved My Life: Fun Ways to Teach Some Serious Writing Skills.

Judy Green.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2010.
128 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-255-5

Subject Heading:
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Elementary).


Review by Jocelyn A Dimm.

**** /4



Although the title of this teaching manual might be viewed as inappropriate in this age of terrorism, it should not be held against the valuable, practical information this text has to offer on writing skills. Along with a supportive foreword by David Booth that outlines both who will benefit from the material and what skills will be practiced, Green provides a preface to convince the reader that she has the professional background and credentials to warrant Booth's support of her text. How Bullets Saved My Life is for anyone engaged in the practice of teaching English Language Arts reading and writing skills to elementary school students, and both Booth and Green are accurate in their description of this manual's value.

By inquiring about students' favourite authors, I learn lots from their answers. Better yet, they get reading recommendations from each other. Eventually it helps me lead them from being readers to writers.

As we discuss many favourite writers, I steer our conversation toward the authors' books. "What do you like about their stories?" I ask.

"They make me laugh."
"There's lots of adventure."
"They're interesting." (p. 13)

Kids talk about book characters as though they are mutual friends. Easily, this activity has been the source of wonderful discussions.

Ultimately, we want to make our writing interesting. Good writing is always interesting to read. In my workshops, we develop a shared common vision about the elements of good writing. Those elements include
A catchy title
Interesting details
A great lead
Word choice

     From the very beginning, Green establishes her use of the 'bullet' to make concise lists of valuable information, and, as she puts it, "I was having trouble moving ahead and including everything I wanted. Then I decided to use bullets to add material without burdening the reader. Bullets keep people reading" (p. 11). She is right. The book is organized with the use of bulleted points throughout the chapters. Each chapter focuses on specific skill areas that work together to support students learning reading and writing skills, such as, Chapter 1: Getting Ideas, Chapter 2: Organization, Chapter 3: Voice, Chapter 4: Word Choice, Chapter 5: Fluency, Chapter 6: Conventions, and Chapter 7: Visual Presentation. Along with these seven chapters, Green includes an Introduction with the sections: Let Authors Help You Teach Writing, Have the Right Stuff, and Writing Traits, along with a Conclusion, Acknowledgments, References and Resources for Further Reading and an Index. This additional information is an asset to organizing the provided exercises and to supplementing other quality materials along with it.

      In each chapter, Green organizes skill-building information in a variety of ways to maximize the teachers' application of the ideas and strategies. She provides connecting quotes from other resource materials, personal stories from her professional experiences, pointers on developing writing skills offered in bullet-ed lists, references to children's literature and the authors suitable for activities, visual examples of students' work, strategies for the students to try, and full-page masters, such as the poetry reading log to photocopy for classroom use. All of these materials work together to provide the educator with a solid framework of support in guiding the students' learning of effective writing skills.

      What makes Green's teaching manual such a success is the positive, practical take she has on engaging students' personal ideas with the reading and writing strategies, ideas, and materials she provides in the text. The collection in How Bullets Saved My Life is diverse enough to meet a variety of reading and writing level needs, with enough attention paid to the individual as well as the group experiences.

      It may not be the best title for a writing skills manual, but How Bullets Saved My Life is a book I would highly recommend for any educator working on writing skills with elementary students. There's always 'masking tape.'

Highly Recommended

Jocelyn A. Dimm is a sessional instructor and doctoral student at the University of Victoria where she teaches drama education and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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