Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Yesterday, I spoke to a group of young writers — 10- and 11-year-olds in the fifth grade. Each of them had been pulled out of their classroom for this special presentation because they excelled as writers, and as they filed into the room they signed in and picked up name labels — in an effort to emulate what a real writers’ conference would be like — and then they chose their seats (another perk) and sat quietly waiting for me to start.

I love speaking to students, whether they’re in 5th grade or in college. They are always so enthusiastic and idealistic — my kind of people. But I was blown away by the level of questions put forth by this partiuclar group of young students who had very pointed things they wanted to know about writing.

“When I’m writing,” one young lady said thoughtfully, putting her hands in front of her for emphasis, “sometimes I get stuck, and I’m not sure what to write. What do I do?” (Later on, that same student asked, “I want to surprise my reader with something. How do I do that?”)

The questions just flowed:

“When I’m riding my bike, sometimes I get an idea for story, but then I have to wait till I get home to write it down. What should I do?”

“Sometimes when I start writing, I get so excited but then I can’t finish it. What should I do?”

“I think my story has too many characters. But then when I go to cut some of them out, I can’t. What should I do?”

Hand after hand went up during the Q&A session of the presentation, and after an hour, I went from wanting to squeeze their cheeks when they first walked in to wanting to shake their hands. They were such an intelligent and accomplished group of writers at such a young age. I had the pleasure of reading their work beforehand and was so impressed by the level of maturity in the writing — one young lady submitted 80 pages, broken into chapters with an intro and epilogue — but then was impressed all over again by their interest and seriousness when I met them in person.

Afterwards, one girl sheepishly approached me to ask whether she should show her writing to her family to get their opinion. Part of me wanted to yell “NEVER!” but instead I told her that if she was looking for general advice that, sure, she could do that, but if she wanted specific writing critiques that her teacher or a writing professional might be of more help. She seemed satisfied with that. Whew.

The teacher had also invited the director of the district’s gifted and talented education services to attend the presentation, and I was thrilled that she enjoyed it as well — and she even asked questions.

“Maybe you can do this again next year,” the teacher said to me as I was walking out.

“Sure,” I said. “You know me. I love this.”

“And maybe next time, you’ll have your novel to show the students too!”

Ah, wouldn’t that be nice!

Speaking of which, I’m sure those of you with a keen eye probably noticed that the due date for my revised manuscript of Baby Grand was pushed back — again. Yeah, yeah… Well, I’m sticking to this one! (She types with hesitance in her fingers.) After all, the kids are counting on me. :)

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4 thoughts on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

  1. What a great story! Man are those kids smart. I have to say I’d be totally intimidated to talk with them. Were you able to answer all of their questions?

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