Northbrook resident Brett Morris, 23, a competitive ballroom dancer and instructor, fielded questions from 10- and 11-year old student reporters as part of the annual West Oak Middle School Fifth Grade Writer's Conference, a half-day devoted to writing activities developed by fifth-grade teacher Katherine Crawford.
"The conference provides a perspective on writing other than what you would typically consider classroom writing projects," Crawford said.
Prepped during pre-conference sessions on hooks, headlines and quotes, students are assigned topics and conduct interviews with school and district administrators, staff and volunteers.
The result is assembled into the "West Oak Daily," which is displayed in the Mundelein school's library.
Rachel Lamberti, 11, talked about her newly acquired skills. "I'm looking forward to trying out new stuff I learned."
Abby Arvold, 11, said, "The conference has helped me to learn how to write a good article and get good details into it and make sure it's not ever boring."
Trinity Carlisle and Brianna Salazar, both 11, kicked off their article with a response from Morris about his interest in dancing: "It all started with 'Dancing With the Stars.'"
Shalini Patel, 10, talked with sixth-grade resource teacher Carly Sklar about her volunteer work with Save-A-Pet. After putting together an article with her classmates, Shalini advised, "You need a really great closing."
Ricky Villanueva, 10, interviewed one of the school district secretaries about her passion for gardening. "I really liked getting to know the people," he said.
The students participated in three more writing activities. Fifth-grade teachers Stephanie Drakeley and Linda Morris led students through the comic strip storytelling process during "A Comic Life."
"My hope for my students is to have an increased respect for writers and to learn new ways to express themselves," Drakeley said. "They have a better understanding of what they are reading when they are responsible for creating their own writing."
Heather Bernau and Naomi Zepeda led a rebus picture story exercise, a style of picture writing that "Alice In Wonderland" author Lewis Carol used to communicate to young readers.
Teacher Caroline Schaefer joined Crawford at "Author's Chair," inviting students to read novels they wrote to their classmates while sitting around a faux campfire.
"They work hard on these pieces," Crawford said. "They share to a bigger audience than their homeroom. It makes them more excited about their writing and more motivated about their writing pieces."