How to Manage a Successful Skype Author Visit

I’ve enjoyed several wonderful skype visits with Carla, so I asked her to share some tips on how she makes it so successful. I hope teachers and librarians will find this helpful


Skyping with an author is a great way to get your students excited about reading and writing!

  1. Research author websites to find out about their willingness to Skype. Check out Kate Messner’s great web page that has a list of authors who Skype for free:
  2. Contact your author and find out what times might work for them. (If they’re not available this year, ask to be put on the list for next year!)
  3. Determine which grade level is the best fit for your author and time slot.
  4. Check with your principal as needed for final approval.
  5. Let your teachers know about the Skype visit with plenty of lead time.
  6. Consider doing a book order for your students. Some authors have a relationship with a local bookstore and will work with them to sign books for your students, so check with your author first. If not, contact your local bookstore and ask about any discounts they might offer for a group order. Some authors may be willing to sign book plates (Yay Rob Buyea!!) so ask! It’s extra-special for students to have a book personalized by an author that they admire. **If working with a bookstore in another state, check to be sure that they will accept checks from parents as payment for the books. If they need payment through your District office, be sure you check with them to see what they need from the bookstore before proceeding (tax ID number, etc.). Some out-of-state bookstores may only accept credit card payment and that can be tricky.
  7. Distribute your book order form. Decide if your students would do better taking the order form home the day of the Skype visit (when they’re really excited about just talking with the author) OR if advance notice is better. Your call.
  8. The week before the author visit, confirm their Skype name with the author, and also check to see if you should initiate the Skype call or if the author will call you. Make sure your computer is set up with an updated version of Skype, and check both your audio and video settings.
  9. The week before the visit, e-mail your teachers and ask them to brainstorm with their students and come up with questions for students to ask the author. Challenge them to think beyond “what’s your favorite book you’ve written.” Have teachers choose designated students to ask questions, and have them write their questions out ahead of time.
  10. Consider asking teachers to have some students create “Welcome _______” posters to hold up during the Skype. Always festive and appreciated.
  11. The day of the Skype – remind teachers to come a few minutes early to get settled.  Have the students asking questions sitting near the computer.
  12. ENJOY the Skype! Be sure to introduce yourself and your students, and have them say a big thank you when your time is up.  Respect the time limits of both the author and your teachers. Take lots of pictures to post on Facebook and Twitter. (Check that you have the author’s Twitter handle when you post!)
  13. After the visit, ask teachers to have their students write thank you notes to the author.  Check with the author to see where they would like them sent.
  14. Book order tip – be sure to include a line on the order form where students can indicate how they would like the book signed. Also, do a quick list of who ordered books and keep that on hand (just in a case a student thinks they ordered a book after the fact).

Your students will always remember this opportunity. Good luck! 🙂

Dear Mr. Peck…

Dear Mr. Peck,

Whenever I’m asked if there was a particular author who inspired me, I name you. I had the great fortune of listening to your keynote presentation at the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference back in 2005. To this day, it is still the best presentation I’ve ever attended. You were incredible.

There’s never been a writer born who wasn’t a reader first. I’ll never forget you saying that. I share that piece of advice at all of my school visits. What we write is about our characters taking steps toward change, so that they are somebody different on the last page than they were on the first. No words have helped me grow more as a writer and storyteller. Mr. Peck, how important was your talk? I’m not sure I’d be a published author if it weren’t for your presentation.

I was just beginning work on my first novel, Because of Mr. Terupt, when I sat in your audience that day. Because of Mr. Terupt is a fifth-grade school story told from the viewpoints of seven distinct kids. At the time, my story opened with my character, Jessica. I had her character and first day of school nailed and I thought I was all set until you said, “You’re only as good as your first sentence.” That piece of advice was a game changer. Right then and there I opened my writing notebook and wrote down Peter. I knew he was the voice I needed to start my story. I wrote down his first sentence. It’s our bad luck to have teachers in this world, but since we’re stuck with them, the best we can do is hope to get a brand-new one instead of a mean old fart. Fast forward to almost two years later and I was at an SCBWI conference where there was a first-pages panel. My opening with Peter was among those selected and shared, and the editors sitting on the panel offering critiques loved it and gave me permission to send them my manuscript. My journey took off.

Mr. Peck, thank you. Not only have you made a difference in the lives of countless young readers, but you made a difference in mine—and I’m sure I’m not the only writer who would say that.

With admiration and deep appreciation,

Rob Buyea

Writing with Multiple Voices


This post was inspired by questions from early readers of THE PERFECT SCORE (scheduled for release on October 3rd).


THE PERFECT SCORE is a sixth-grade school story featuring a new cast of characters (a mix of boys and girls) who take turns telling you about their year. The kids find themselves in the same after-school program for different reasons. They’re not necessarily excited about the program—or each other. But through their work in the program, and events in and out of school, they find themselves in a tricky situation where they wrestle questions of right and wrong. They’re not sure what to do, but decisions will be made and things will change for them and for the people around them. The question is: Will it be for the better? Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons.


I’ve been asked many times how I keep track of my characters. Do I write the entire story for one character and then go back and do a second voice, and so on? Or do I juggle all of them as I go along?


Before I answer that, let me be clear. While some have said I have a talent for writing in multiple voices (thank you for the compliment), I don’t see it like that. Maybe I have a knack for it. I certainly love it. But it is not easy for me. It’s not talent that gets the job done. It takes mental endurance, patience and persistence, and tons of revising. It takes good old-fashioned hard work—and lots of it.


Now, to answer the specific question about how I write with multiple perspectives. Keeping track of a cast of characters and their many back stories does take organization. I use a grid (see picture #1 for an example from MR. TERUPT FALLS AGAIN).


I do not have the grid completely filled in before I start. There are empty squares, but I have enough that I’m excited and can’t wait to get going. So I begin, writing with all of my characters as I go along, weaving their stories together. As I write, I learn more about the story and the characters, and eventually the grid is completed (see picture #2).


All that being said, I must admit, when I first wrote THE PERFECT SCORE I only had four characters telling the story. My first revision involved adding a fifth voice (Trevor’s). I already had Trevor in the story, but now I had to insert and weave his chapters throughout. I started that process by making a new grid and then going from start to finish with all five kids. I’m so happy I did this work because I can’t wait for my readers to meet Trevor and the rest of the kids in THE PERFECT SCORE (pre-order here)!


Happy Reading!

Rob Buyea

Picture #1

Picture #2:

Tip #12: Get Serious about Sharing

Throughout the past school year I had the opportunity to work on writing with students in many different schools and classrooms. It is always a fun and rewarding experience, and one that I look forward to. After a brief mini-lesson the students turn their writing switches on (see Teaching Tip #7) and get started crafting wonderful scenes and sentences. I always like to give the students the opportunity to share their creations with each other. My observations during sharing time have prompted my newest tip.

Tip # 12:  Get Serious about Sharing     

Oftentimes writers share their work for one of two reasons: (1) in celebration, or (2) in order to get a reaction and honest feedback for help with revising.  It has been my observation that our students are well-versed and good at the former, but do not always have as much experience with the latter. (Also true, is the fact that getting our students to revise remains one of the bigger challenges.)

It is important for our students to know that writers share for different reasons, and they need opportunities to engage in purposeful sharing that is meant to help with future writing (revising) and not always sharing that is done in celebration. Students need to understand that sharing in order to get feedback is a part of the writing process that is just as valuable and important as everything else. Sharing can be done in a critique group setting (see Teaching Tip #9), or in a pair situation. Either way, our students need instruction and practice so they can improve in this area, and grow as writers.

How do we improve sharing time to make it more purposeful?  Start with additional mini-lessons on what good sharing looks and sounds like.  It will require attentive listening.  When the author is done reading the “listener” needs to first say something positive.  What did you like?  Then move on to critiques and questions. (Again, see Teaching Tip #9 for more on sharing.)

How do you know if the sharing session was beneficial? The writer will use some of the feedback in his/her next round of revising. You might even consider having your students write a response explaining how the share session helped and how they used it in their revising.

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at and visit me at  Follow me on twitter @robbuyea.

Happy Summer!


A Few Writing Strategies

For this month’s post I’ve decided to address a few writing questions that I often hear from kids during my school visits.

Tip # 11:  A Few Writing Strategies

Question: How do you create your characters?

Answer: My characters are bits and pieces or many different people (former students, teachers, coaches, friends, enemies, my wife, my children, bus driver, etc.), bits and pieces of me, and my imagination all glued together.

I don’t necessarily know everything about my character (or my story) when I start, but as I write my character continues to end up in new situations and then I always have to ask, “Why? Why are you going to do this? Say this? Feel this? React this way?” As I get answers to those questions I learn more and more about my character. When I finally get to the end of the story I know my character better and I’m ready to go back and revise!

Question: What do you do if you have an idea but don’t know where to start?

Answer: Start anywhere, but start—that’s the key. It doesn’t have to be the beginning. If you worry about having everything figured out and making it perfect the first time, then you’re setting yourself up for writer’s block. It’s never perfect the first time, so just get started. Many times I learn more about my story and characters by doing the writing than by sitting and thinking about it. Revising is the part of the process that’s about trying to make your writing the best. So just get started anywhere.

Question: What do you do if you get stuck in the middle?

Answer: I have two strategies: (1) Leave the part where you are stuck and jump ahead to a different section (maybe the ending) and start writing that. As you continue to work and craft sentences ideas will evolve and you might suddenly figure out what needs to happen in the middle, or (2) Share what you have. Read your piece aloud to someone and then wait and listen to what they say about it. What questions do they ask? This conversation should help spark more ideas. If you have questions you want to ask your reader, then you should ask them after they are done talking.

This type of focused and purposeful sharing is just as important as everything else that makes up the writing process, so I intend to devote next month’s teaching tip to this topic.

Happy Writing!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at and visit me at  Follow me on twitter @robbuyea.  Look for tip #12 to be posted in June .

Knowing When to Stop

Over the course of the last month, while working on a revision, I was reminded how knowing when to stop is something that helps me to keep going as a writer.

Tip # 10:  Knowing When to Stop

Many writers will agree, getting started can be the biggest hurdle in front of you each day, but once you manage to get going, the work tends to keep going. So how can you make the getting started part easier for your students?

For me, knowing when to stop in my writing is something that helps me start up again the next day. I might stop:

  • When I have the next scene I intend to write completely outlined.
  • After I’ve worked on a scene and have it figured out, but before I have it completely written.  My next day’s work will start with finishing that scene. (This strategy works well for me.)
  • After I’ve shared my writing with someone and have feedback to help me with my next day’s revising.
  • After I have a new chapter written and I know the next day’s task will be rereading it. (See Teaching Tip #1 for more specifics on revising and rereading.)

I encourage you to talk to your students about this way of thinking. Writers don’t just plan the piece, but we’re careful planners about the process, too.  We have plans for what we’re going to do as writers and in our writing on a daily basis. It might not be practical to allow your students to choose when to stop writing each day—that might be hard to manage—however, you can definitely have them start thinking ahead as writers.  With the last ten minutes of writing time, ask your students to start thinking about what they will be doing tomorrow.  Have them make plans.  If desired, you can have them write their plans down and maybe even share with the rest of the class—because every opportunity we give our students to talk like writers is valuable (see Teaching Tip #9).

Happy Writing!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at and visit me at  Follow me on twitter @robbuyea.  Look for tip #11 to be posted on Monday, May 9th.

Implementing Critique Groups in your Writing Classroom

As promised, this month’s teaching tip is about implementing critique groups in your classroom.  WHY do it?  Because critique groups provide your students with valuable opportunities to talk the talk of writers, which will only help them walk the walk later.  If done right, critique groups will become something your students look forward to, thus motivating them to produce writing that they can share.  Lastly, the friendships, support, and encouragement that exists in a successful critique group is invaluable, and will promote and foster a positive classroom community.  So HOW do you make it happen?   

Tip # 9:  Implementing Critique Groups in your Writing Classroom 

First, let’s talk about what a critique group might look like.  Picture a small group of people sitting around a table.  There are snacks in the middle (candy, goldfish, etc.) along with small scraps of paper (¼ sheets or smaller, and maybe different colors).  The first author reads his piece to the group—without interruption—while everyone else listens and jots down notes on a scrap of paper. Once the reading is complete group members will take turns commenting, sharing things they liked, questions they had, etc.  The author only listens.  After everyone shares the author may ask the group one or two questions, if desired.  The author collects the notes and staples them to his piece so that he has them to refer back to when revising.


1. How do you introduce this concept?

Consider modeling it during a whole class lesson.  Take a piece (one you’ve written or a student’s) and read it to the class.  After the reading have students share critiques.  During this time you can discuss what makes good feedback (I liked this . . . I was confused when . . . I want to know more . . .) and emphasize one important point, which is to always start with a positive comment.

2. How long is a piece and how many people are in a critique group?

The answer to this depends on how much time you have for writing.  Assuming you have an hour, you could have 5 students in a group.  Each person would get 10 minutes to read and collect feedback.  This would leave you with 10 minutes to use between the start of class and for closure.  How much can be read in that allotted amount of time determines the length of the piece to be read.

3. When do you fit it in?

This will be different for everyone.  Try doing it once per unit.  Have groups meet a week or two before final drafts are due, because the idea is for your students to use the feedback gathered when revising.

4. What if a student doesn’t have writing to share?

I would suggest still allowing the student to participate because he will benefit from hearing the talk of writers in the critique group, and if all goes well, this student will be left wanting to share in the future, so his writing will be done for the next time.  If this is a chronic problem, then other steps will need to be considered.

5. What happens when a student comes to you and says he didn’t get any helpful feedback from the group?

Chances are, this will happen the first time you do critique groups, so be prepared. In this situation, it’s important you let the group know they didn’t do their job, and then I suggest you take the student’s piece and read it so you can provide him with valuable feedback.

If you want to try this in your classroom, but are still feeling leery about the idea, then let me remind you of Teaching Tip #5: Do Not Be Afraid of Failure.  It won’t be perfect the first time, but if you get your students excited and stick with it you will be inspired by your community of writers.

Happy Writing!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at and visit me at  Follow me on twitter @robbuyea.  Look for tip #10 to be posted on Monday, April 4th.

Attend A Critique Group

After turning my writing switch on (see Tip #7), there came a day when I got hit by a story idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. It was that first idea that started me on this journey.  I went to the bookstore and found a book on how to publish.  From there I learned about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  I joined.  And from there I discovered a local critique group—which turned out to be more than I ever imagined.

 Tip # 8:  Attend a Critique Group 

Of all the professional development I did as a teacher—and I did a lot—attending my critique group was the most valuable.  The only rule the group had was that you couldn’t share writing your first time attending.  So I went just to listen.  And it was amazing!  The group was so welcoming and encouraging, the writing was beautiful, and the comments were so smart and insightful.  It was incredibly inspiring to hear passionate readers and writers sharing their stories. But here’s what’s most important:  The conversations that took place in my critique group made me a better writer and a far better teacher of writing. 

I became so excited about my critique-group experiences that I went back to my classroom and implemented critique groups with my third graders.  We were authors!  That too, was an awesome experience!  Look for implementing critique groups in the classroom to be next month’s teaching tip.     

Happy Writing!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at and visit me at  Follow me on twitter @robbuyea.  Look for tip #9 to be posted on Monday, March 7th.  

Turn Your Writing Switch On

I’ve previously written that some of my very best sentences and ideas happen in my head when I’m far away from my writing desk (see Teaching Tip #4).  It’s important our students understand that this happens for authors.  Why?  Because it can happen for them too—and you!  How?  You need to turn your writing switch on.

Tip # 7:  Turn Your Writing Switch On    

Imagine a light switch on the wall.  You can turn that switch on and off.  Each of us has a similar mechanism in our head—it’s what I call the writing switch.  Most likely, our students flip that switch on at writing time and turn it off when writing is over.  For an author, the writing switch is never off.

So what does it mean to have the switch on?  What does it look like?  Simply put, it means you go through daily life thinking like a writer.  Your stories and characters go with you everywhere and you think about them throughout the day, but you must also pay attention to the world around you—much like a scientist using his senses to make keen observations—so that you notice, and then you need to take time to wonder:  How could that be used in a story?  With my character?  What if this were to happen?

Once you’ve turned the writing switch on, you’ll have ideas come to you when you least expect it—on your walks, in the grocery store, in the shower, driving your car—which is why I recommend taking your writing notebook with you wherever you go.  If that’s not practical, then consider using your phone to record a voice memo.  (This has saved me on several dog walks when deep in the woods.)  When one of those ideas grabs a hold of you and doesn’t leave you alone, it’s time to get serious.

Happy New Year!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at and visit me at  Follow me on twitter @robbuyea.  Look for tip #8 to be posted on Monday, February 1st.

Tip #6: #JoinTwitter

Last month I talked about not being afraid of failure and challenging yourself to try new ideas.  In an attempt to model this attitude, I admitted to taking the plunge and joining Twitter, something I had been hesitant to do.  My only regret now is that I didn’t join the Twitter community sooner.  I’ve been so surprised by what I’ve learned on this social media network that I’ve decided to make it my next tip. 

Tip # 6:  #JoinTwitter    

Here’s why:

1. Readers love to talk about what they’re reading, and this is happening all the time on Twitter.  You will learn about new and upcoming releases (like what I’m working on now) and you will discover new authors and titles that are creating buzz.  You will find new books to recommend and potentially use in your classroom.  It’s amazing!  Believe me, this alone is reason enough for you to join the Twitter community.  You won’t be disappointed.

2. You will hear about author events and literacy conferences—potentially in your area!  Who wouldn’t want to hear favorite author or panel of authors talk about their work?  It’s all happening on Twitter!

3. You will find motivating, thought-provoking, and enriching blogs posted by terrific writers and educators.     

4. You will discover other teachers and educators who are using the same book in their classroom.  What are they doing with it?  This is a great chance to network and share ideas and projects.  Or maybe even to collaborate!

5. I have been in many classrooms in which there is a school and/or classroom Twitter page, and the students are motivated by it.  They like to see their project work being tweeted.  And they love it when they get retweeted!

There are plenty of other reasons to do it, so stop waiting.  Join the Twitter community.  Start to follow a few of your favorite authors and/or organizations.  Start out by doing some retweeting until you get the hang of things.  And remember Teaching Tip #5: Do not be afraid of failure! 


I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  My Twitter handle is @robbuyea. 

You can also email me at and visit me at  Look for tip #7 to be posted on Monday, January 4th.