Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Publishing Student Writing -- and Your Own

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

When I was a classroom teacher, my kids published a lot of books. We carefully finished our pages and then used the plastic spiral binder in the teachers' room to bind the pages into book form. We would put them on display in the classroom or in the library.

Publishing was important. It gave me the opportunity to take the moral high ground and ask the kids to do their very best because their writing was headed for publication. We all know that real audiences make a difference. And you've probably seen this when a classroom assignment goes from being something that only the teacher will see to something peers and the whole school will see. Effort and results go up.

Easier Than It Seems

But publishing a book doesn't only bring the best out of our students. For more than two years, I had been carrying an idea for a book in my mind and in my heart. I had the text mostly written but needed an illustrator and a publisher. I finally opened my eyes and found the illustrator living right here with me -- my wife. Now, all I needed was a publisher.

This is when I remembered talking with people who had self-published their books online through a Web site called Lulu. Two of those folks, David Warlick and Doug Johnson, I highly respect for their thinking on the effective and innovative use of technology to support schools, students, teachers, and their communities.

So it was now time to get this thing done. I got serious about cleaning up the text, and my wife got serious about doing the illustrations. First, I created my account on Lulu. As a frugal Yankee, I appreciated the fact everything was free and that I would have to pay only if I ordered hard copies of my book. I read forums on the Web site about what works and installed NeoOffice on my MacBook.

When the text and images were ready, I put them together in a NeoOffice document and exported it as a PDF file. Of course, I had to spend a bit of time figuring out how the numbering of pages works, where to put the title page, and other things a real publisher would have done for me. But I was learning, and the sense of empowerment when I uploaded the finished document was palpable -- I had done it!

Next, I used the supplied templates to create a cover. I inserted a photo of my wife and me on the back and a picture of a California gray whale fluking off the coast of Oregon for the front, along with the title. With the cover uploaded, the project was complete.

Hard Copies, or Virtual?

Credit: Jim Moulton

I was tempted at this point to put a link on my Web site and order a bunch of the books to sell at conferences. But Lulu has obviously worked with many rookies, and the site warned me to begin by ordering only one hard copy to make sure it really was the book I had carried in my mind and heart for so long. I listened to the site's counsel, ordered one, and waited impatiently for a week or so.

When it came, I read it, achieved a new level of humility, and set about fixing the multiple mistakes I found. Trust me, I have a new respect for editing. Yeah, I've edited stuff before, but this was our book. I made the changes, uploaded the updated files, and ordered another hard copy. That came, and I found one last flaw. I then uploaded one more set of updates and called it finished. But I still worried, just like a student. When the audience is real, the quality matters so much more.

So, there you go. Our published book is called Computers Can, Computers Can't.

Students as Published Authors

Ever since I used the Lulu Web site to create our book, I have been actively encouraging teachers to publish their books. I'm interested to find out how many educators there are out there like David, Doug, my wife, and me. Have you used Lulu or any other self-publishing utility to put your kids' work into a book? Are you an elementary school teacher who took that ABC book to a new level or a social studies teacher who has made oral histories of local old-timers part of the community collection of text in the school and local libraries? What about doing Anytown Middle School: Our Writing, 2009 and including in it one piece from each student?

And, of course, when you publish online, you can make your book available to anyone, or you can restrict access. So, how about creating a book with your class and sharing it with a class across town, across the state, across the nation, or across the globe?

The bottom line is, you can do so much. The only limit will be your creativity.

Remember, if you've self-published with your students, please share. I'd love to know what folks are doing and, as always, what you think are the best technology tools out there.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
Related Tags:

Comments (52)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Kristi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love all of the information you gave here. My husband and I are both English teachers, and I am also a former art teacher. We have many great ideas for children's books, but we really have to get serious about doing it.

As for publication of student work, I run a program at my school called Project WRITE. We publish student work from across the curriculum and distribute it to the community. If anyone's school doesn't have a program like this, then start it! It is amazing for students to see their work published!

Sue Sheffer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our English 11 classes have published many poetry anthologies using Lulu. You can find them here:


It has been a bit challenge at times to get everything formatted properly with over 100 students contributing. However, it is something the students all look forward to doing and they do work harder on their poems than they would if the teacher would be their only audience. You can make the books available free for download or a cost. We sell ours at the cost Lulu specifies. Some students buy the hard copy, others print them.

We have also had some of our student authors publish this way. They love it. Give it a try - it is much easier than you would think!

Kristin Childress's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just got done going through a training myself on writing! The main theme of the writing class was as a teacher to write and to have kids be creative in writing. This blog really helped me in getting an idea in how to publish a book with my classroom. Thanks for writing with the ideas of how to edit and why editing is important!

Becky Polzin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I appreciate the feedback. I'm anxious to give it a try. This is all new to me, so it's good to hear from someone who has already made it work!

Regina Conroy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that publishing may be a very big motivator. I also would like to use this idea to help my students improve their editing skills. Most of them feel that their first copy is just perfect. I will share this story with them tomorrow!

Brandy Bray's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think is a wonderful idea to do with my students. My students have learned to love writing. They would really enjoy making their books.

Sandy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Allowing students to write and to publish their own writing empowers students to feel very successful and confident! I teach fourth grade and every marking period we concentrate on a specific literary genre and by the end of each marking period, students publish their own writing piece. This marking period, my students are in the middle of publishing their realistic fiction stories. It's coming out great! They are adding a variety of crafts and skills that they learned throughout the marking period, and it's a great assessment for me to see where each of my students are in their level of writing.

Ashley Coughlin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I was younger, my elementary school would do school-wide publishing. Every student in each class would learn how to make pages on the computer and then carefully illustrate each page. The PTA moms would sew for hours, binding the books with wallpaper covered cardboard. Each year, I would put my heart and soul into my book. My parents still have all of them! Publishing is a great tool to get students fired up about writing. I never thought about using a publishing site but I love the idea! I will definitely use it.

Kosmer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You would think that by the 8th grade no student wants to look like they are doing well in the classroom. I have taught my students how to show off their accomplishments and be proud of what they do in the classroom. I have a big board where I place and make a huge deal about student work that is wonderful. They all ask when they get A's if I can place their work on the board. It is called "A Sea of Good Work." Showing off their work makes the feel good, challenges them to do better on the next assignment and promotes positive feedback from not only me, but their classmates. After reading this blog I am thinking more about publishing peices of their work and possibly placing them in the library. I have pondered the idea about it. Does anyone have any thoughts or ideas?

Anonymous (not verified)

How cool was this blog?!?!!!!
I am a first year 3rd grade teacher and as a grade level, we do everything together. A few of the teachers that were on the team last year told me about a classroom book they had published and the kids loved it, so we tried it again this year. Each classroom allowed each student to create their own story based on a theme we selected for our classrooms and create their own story and illustration to accompany it in a published book that could be purchased as a keepsake. I was a little hesitant because truthfully speaking, my day doesn't allow for very much time to exactly TEACH writing, so I didn't know what to expect. Before we started the project, we discussed the writing process, looked at sample student writings and hoped for the best.

At first, many of the students were hesitant about writing because they were still trying to get a 'feel' and develop an understanding for writing. I chose to give the students the option of writing for the class book, which eliminated an excessive amount of revising and editing. However, once they saw a few of the finished illustrations and heard the the short stories read a loud by the other students, they soon became interested and wanted to be a part of the class project. I allowed a few of my higher level student writers to help the lower level student writers with their stories and they actually showed a significant difference in their writings when they were able to receive help from a peer, create their own story and their own picture.

Once the book came back, the students cheered and those that didn't order the first go round, definitely ordered the second go round. It was such a success that I'll definitely do it again next year! I think this is something that really encourages the teacher to make mor time for writing in their lessons (if they don't) and it also gives the child something to work towards, knowing that only the BEST writings are worthy to be put the published book for all to see!

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.