My Pen Mini-Unit

The Mini-Unit Designer

Maria Del Carmen Garcia, MS.ED., Teacher, Kindergarten

Northampton, Massachusetts

Mini-Unit plan created Winter 2017

Introducing the Mini-Unit

This mini-unit was created for a kindergarten class of 20 students in a small college town in Western Massachusetts. The overall political climate of the area is liberal. The class includes a variety of English language learners, and some children with special needs such as language disabilities and developmental delays. The students come from families of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, including parents who are professors and doctors and others who live in public housing and have experienced homelessness. The students represent various ethnic and immigrant groups, including African American, Asian, African, Latino, Arab, European, and mixed ethnicity. The children’s home languages include English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, and Quechua. Some students were born and raised in the area, and others have arrived recently from other parts of the United States or other countries.

The educational climate is mandating that academic curriculum such as the mechanics of reading and writing be taught earlier and earlier. While some students are ready to learn these concepts, other students are not, and as a result can be made to feel like they are deficient. The cost of this push down curriculum is that creativity and critical thinking have taken a back seat. Skills such as letter identification and knowing sight words are valued over the ability to be creative, analyze, and engage in critical thinking.

Goals for students:

  • To use children’s literature as a resource to maintain and develop creativity and critical thinking.
  • To continue encouraging growth mindset.
  • To develop oral language skills and comprehension.

Goals for teaching:

  • How can I make every student feel they have something important to contribute to our classroom community?
  • In what ways do I encourage self-confidence and self-esteem with my teaching? What should I reconsider? How can my choice of books and activities encourage positive outcomes?
Contextualizing the Picture Book

Title: My Pen

Author: Christopher Myers

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher: Disney/Hyperion

Date of Publication: 2015

Genre: Fiction


My Pen is a creative dialogue between the narrator and the reader. The book is a series of drawings with words of encouragement to the reader about the power of the pen. The images are full of feeling and imagination that remind one of the limitless opportunities that telling a story or drawing a picture allow.

About the author and illustrator:

Christopher Myers is an African American writer and illustrator based in New York. His inspiration comes in part from his father Walter Dean Myers, also an acclaimed children’s book writer, who wrote over one hundred books in his lifetime. Myers also attributes his love of storytelling to his grandfather. Christopher Myers has been recognized with a Caldecott Honor (1998) and the Coretta Scott King Award (2000).

Here you will find a series of short interviews with Christopher Myers about his life and inspiration.

They are an excellent resource for both the teacher’s own background knowledge and to share with students.

Geographical Region/Time Period: The story is set in the present time. The setting is left open-ended and varies from page to page.

Cultural Theme(s): Feeling powerless and insignificant but recognizing the hope and possibility of each individual.

Media of Illustrations: Pen and ink.

Critical Analysis: Use visual thinking strategies and critical multicultural practices. The Doors to the World website is a great resource for the application of these strategies and practices.

Other Black and White Picture Books:

A list of books with black and white illustrations resembling the style of My Pen.

Connecting to Family, Community, and Current Events/People:

This unit seeks to encourage critical engagement with the constructs of creativity and imagination. Oftentimes, these processes are explained as individual activities, overlooking how external experiences, communities, artifacts, etc. are resources for our creativity and imagination. We use these shared resources in new ways to communicate or represent new ideas and responses.

The books in this mini-unit emphasize how creativity and imagination are the domain of the individual. They inspire students to respond with their own drawings or stories. Each book reassures the student of their personal potential and honors their unique expression. There are no wrong answers.

My Pen can be used to reinforce and explore growth mindset. For many years our school has had a focus on growth mindset. In this educational philosophy, students come to accept challenges and mistakes as a necessary part of learning. Perseverance and practice are expected as part of the process. This book reinforces the concepts of persistence, trying your best, and believing that your skills can improve.

More information about growth mindset theory is available here:

Simple Growth Mind Set Chart illustrates simple phrases and references to encourage a growth mindset in our students.

This might be a relevant unit to use in the beginning of the year, or when students are having difficulty mastering specific parts of the curriculum or school routines.

Learning Experience Design #1

The book My Pen requires several readings to see all the amazing detailed drawings.

Read the book using Whole Book Approach and Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). I recommend students not spend more then 15 to 20 minutes sitting and discussing. You can split this lesson into two sessions, or break up the lesson with movement breaks. Use the Whole Book Approach to explore three elements of the book—the jacket, the cover, and the end pages. You might choose other elements of the book to highlight.

Here are some questions you might use:

  • Jacket: What is going on on the jacket? Do the front and the back of the jacket seem similar or different?
  • Cover: What colors do you see? Does the cover image remind you of anything?
  • End Pages: What do you think is going on on these end pages? What images can you find?

Next do a picture walk. Remind students that writers write about what they love and things that are important to them. (This is a basic concept of the Writers and Readers Workshop model used in many schools.) What do they think are some things this writer loves? Notice details and encourage students to explain their thinking. Students will use some of the illustrations to engage with the essential questions of VTS:

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?
  • Can you say more about that?

The purpose of this is to develop flexible thinking and reasoning with evidence, speculating, and cultivating a point of view.  Highlight connections that students may make between their own experiences and the book. This activity also strengthens oral language and listening skills. VTS practices can also create spaces for translanguaging—that is, children and teacher use or shuttle among the multiple language systems that are reflected in the classroom to engage in this work.

After using VTS for a few pages, read the book to the class. After reading, have class discuss how they think the author/illustrator got the ideas for his story. People, places, music, books, families and friends could all be sources of inspiration.

Generate a list of possibilities—maybe the author saw a dinosaur at a museum, maybe he read Where the Wild Things Are, maybe he lives somewhere where there is snow. Could some of the people in the author’s life have also served as inspiration? Who do you really care strongly about that might appear in your drawings? Often students will fail to recognize the richness in their own experiences, such as losing a tooth or cooking with a grandparent. With this discussion and list we want to remind students that we all have experiences that can become a story or a piece of art. Save the list so that the class can continue to add to it.

Learning Experience Design #2

Read aloud the book, Harold and the Purple Crayon.

(Johnson, C., (1955). Harold and the Purple Crayon. New York: Harper Collins)

This story is about a young child who begins drawing a purple line and draws and draws until he has constructed an entire alternate world. The adventure has a happy ending. The drawings are simple and could inspire students to imitate the process. Read the book slowly, stopping often for students to predict what will happen next. After reading the book, ask students to think about where Harold got his ideas for his drawings. Ask the children what they might add to the list from the previous lesson.

Creative Storytelling

Cut out interesting pictures from magazines. National Geographic, travel magazines, and old calendars are a good place to start. (I ask my hairdresser to hold old magazines for me, and in December and January ask my friends for their old calendars.) Try to include diverse settings, animals, people and children. Place the pictures in the middle of your meeting circle or a large table.

Let students pick a picture and begin a story. Give them a few minutes to think of a story line. The next student picks another picture and continues the first student’s story. You can repeat this around the class until the story reaches a natural end or you can limit the number of students who will tell each story.

Another option is to have students choose “found items” from the school’s lost and found or the playground at recess. Bring items to the meeting area and create a story line as described above. Be sure to return items to the lost and found when you are done.

Learning Experience Design #3

Read aloud the book, The Dot.

(Reynolds, P., (2003). The Dot. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press)

In this book, a little girl doesn’t believe she can make art. With encouragement from her teacher she creates various appealing works of art. She later encourages a little boy, just as she was encouraged by her teacher. This book, with its simple storyline and clever artwork, makes it easy for students to understand the author’s message.

Questions you might ask students to encourage oral language, comprehension, and growth mind set:

  • Can you think of a time when you felt like Vashti?
  • Is there something you feel you don’t know how to do yet?
  • What helps you to learn?
  • Did Vashti’s feelings change? How or why do you think they changed?
  • What is the author telling us?

Ask students if they can say what the author’s message is in their own words.

Dot Art Project

Provide students with various materials to create circle art like Vashti does. You can use the tips of erasers, corks, and sponges to print circles. Provide different sized papers and brushes, and markers with both fine and broad tips. You can also use cardboard circles to cover a portion of the paper and have students print circles around the outside of it (like a stencil), or try cutting the background paper into a square or a circle for a surprising effect.


Take a shape walk through the school or neighborhood looking for circles or dots. Take a photo with a digital camera or iPad. Later see if others can guess what the object in the photo is.

“The Dot Song” with hand movements based on the book:

Summative Learning Experience

Read the book My Pen again.

Ask students:

  • What do they think the writer uses more of to tell this story, pictures or words?
  • Can they provide some evidence as to why they think this?
  • If they were going to share a story what medium would they choose—drawing, writing, or something else?

Give students an opportunity to think about what they want to share and how they would like to share it. Bring out the list the class has made about how authors and artists get ideas. Have students decide what medium they will use and what general plan they have for implementing it. Using the lessons described below have students engage in either the creative writing exercise, comic strip, black and white collage, or drawing (templates and samples are included).

Creative Writing

Have students pick one page from the book. (It might be helpful to make photocopies of the pages.)  Ask them to dictate or write a story to go with that illustration. Ask and offer probing questions:

  • How did the elephant get in the cup?
  • What does the little boy say when he sees the elephant?
  • What is the boy or other characters thinking?
  • What are the characters feeling?
  • What happened right before? What happens right after?
  • What might the student add to the illustration so the image enhances their story?

Another option would be to do the same writing exercise as above but provide students with a comic strip template to write the story. Using this method students would draw images and write dialogue. Use questions above if students need more support.

You can find a comic book template at:

Black and White Artwork

Provide students with various types of writing and drawing instruments, Sharpies with different types of points, and black-colored crayons and pencils. Provide drastically different sizes of white paper and/or paper with different textures (e.g., construction paper, copy paper, water color paper). You can also get a nice effect by covering cardboard with newspaper and having students use that as their background.

Look carefully at a few of the illustrations from the book My Pen. Maybe have students pick a favorite and explain why. Pay special attention the next to last page in the book that begins with the words, “But I know my pen can do anything, anywhere”. This page highlights what resembles children’s drawings. Below is a link to some examples of the black and white art projects described. These are just a few options. Encourage students to explore their own ideas and preferences.


Create a collage using only black and white paper and objects. You can use old newspaper comic strips, large letters from magazine print, or animal print papers used for origami. You can also have students make crayon rubbings, using different objects. Then cut these papers into smaller pieces for students to use in the collage. Provide Sharpies for outlining and drawing details.


LK1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing and speaking.

LK4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple meaning words and phrases based on kindergarten reading and content.

LK5 With guidance and support from adults, explore word relationships and nuances in word meaning.

LK6 Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, endings and being read to and responding to texts.

Next Steps for Learning

Video on the importance of oral language development with suggestions for implementation.