COVID-19 Home Learning RESOURCES 

For more resources, check out:

 Kate Messner’s site READ, WONDER, AND LEARN 

Andrea Brown Literacy Agency ABLAReads

Scholastic Learn at Home Initiative

Think Indigenous Online K-8 Education

Sam Chaltain - A Parent’s Guide to Home Schooling during the Coronavirus

12 Historic Sites you can tour from your couch 

Common Sense Media Free Online Events and Activities

Keeping a diary - because your story matters!


Have you ever kept a diary?

I kept diaries at various parts of my life. Sometimes I reread them and cringe and the things I wrote. I want to go back and ask younger Sarah “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” 

But other times, I read them and remember. I remember incidents that I’d forgotten. I remember emotions that I’d managed to gloss over in my memory, because maybe they were too painful. 

Then there was the time I read my diary and remembered something that I’d stopped doing, something that used to bring me joy and purpose. 

That thing, dear readers, was writing. I’d wanted to be a writer, but was discouraged from doing so because I’d “never make a living.” Remembering that writing had been such an important part of me was an important part of healing, at a very difficult time of my life. (You can read about that here, if you’re interested.) 

I was first inspired to keep a diary by one of the most famous diarists of all time - Anne Frank. 

I first visited the Anne Frank Huis in Amterdam when I was about 8 years old. That was when my parents bought me a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank, and I read it, both fascinated and horrified, because I already knew how the story ended.  Anne was like me, a curious Jewish girl who liked to write. But she was also unlike me: trapped in the Secret Annex hiding from the Nazis, and sharing her bedroom with a grumpy middle aged dentist. It made me wonder if I should stop complaining about sharing a bedroom with my younger sister. 


I’ve read Anne’s diary many times, at different ages, and each time I take away something different. As a young girl, I was inspired to keep a diary. As a woman, I wondered what works humanity lost when a talented writer like Anne was killed before her time, merely for the fact of being Jewish. I also volunteered as a docent when the Anne Frank: A History for Our Time exhibit came to our local high school. 

Now we’re all cooped up indoors for a different reason. The thing we’re afraid of is a virus, COVID19. 

You know how we say that one human year is equal to seven dog years? In #CoronavirusYears, one human year is like a century, because things are changing so quickly.  That’s when it’s most important to keep a diary - so we can read back and remember what life was like a few weeks ago. 


There’s a new project called #MOC19 Mass Observation COVID19. You can read about it here. You don’t have to keep your blog online. You can do it old school, like we wrinklies used to. Here are pictures of a diary I kept in 2001, and an entry I wrote shortly after 9/11. 

I’d forgotten that incident. I’d forgotten those feelings. I wasn’t a published writer back then, but my words remind me - and perhaps someone in the distant future, for whom 9/11 is ancient history - what it was like to live through that time. 

Your story is a part of this history. Write it down, a little every day. Years from now, you’ll read back and be surprised at what you’ve forgotten. Words help us remember. 

Writing Prompt: It’s a Dog’s Life

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If this has been as crazy a week for you as it has been for me, just imagine how it’s been for our furry (or in Banksy’s case, sleek coated) friends. 

Here’s a picture of Benny helping me record some lectures for my writing students at WestConn, who are coming back from Spring Break on Monday to a whole new way of learning, just as I’m learning how to adapt my classes to a whole new way of teaching. 

For today’s writing prompt, imagine you are your pet. Or if you don’t have a pet, imagine you’re Benny or Banksy, and all of a suddent there’s a full house and everyone’s trying to get work done but you’re excited because THEY ARE HOME ALL DAY! 

Tell us what that feels like for you. Especially when you learn that is sold out of your favorite dog treats. 


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Research as a Scaffold for Fiction

                          RESEARCH AS A SCAFFOLD FOR FICTION

“Fiction is not a dream. Nor is it guesswork. It is imagining based on facts, and the facts must be accurate or the work of imagining will not stand up.”

                       Author Margaret Culkin Banning (1891- 1982)


Have you ever wanted to know how the FBI investigates Internet predators?

Or how hackers manage to get into supposedly secure systems?

Or what an emergency room doctor does when someone is brought into the ER unconscious?

Or how artificial intelligence algorithms can be used to create a video of someone saying something they never said?

Or what plants you might use to counteract a spell that’s made you speak in Shakespearean English?

Or how to temporarily disable a security camera so that you can steal that plant which is only available at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden? (not that you should actually do this!)

These are just a few of the things that I’ve researched when writing my young adult and middle grade novels.

That’s why being an author is such a great career for a perpetually curious research geek like me.

When I write a book, my research is done in three stages:

 STAGE ONE RESEARCH – Wide and Shallow

·       Read wide and shallow to get a broad sense of period, country, or issue. I call this the “Wikipedia” stage.

·       Make a list of questions you need to ask for Stage 2 research – this list will grow and evolve as you start writing

·       Look for sources to read and interview for next phase – when you need to go deeper into the issue

·       Find ideas for plot points - facts can be helpful when you’re looking for ways to create conflict


STAGE TWO RESEARCH – Deep and Targeted

·       Look for detail – sensory, historical, information that will make your novel come alive

·       LIBRARIES - Research librarians are your friend! University libraries are great places to find rare books

·       Expert interviews – this is the fun part, when you get to talk to really interesting people who know a lot about the subject you’re writing about.

·       Site visits – If you can afford to go to the place you’re writing about, actually visiting the setting will help you find those small details that create a sense of place.

·       Forums and groups can be found online for even the most esoteric subjects

·       Bibliographies are good sources for additional research on a topic.

·       YouTube

·       Google Earth, Maps, Images

·       Citizens Police Academy, FBI Citizens Academies

Now here’s the tricky part: AVOIDING THE RESEARCH VORTEX

Facing the blank page is hard. But here’s the most important part:



The process of writing your first draft will inevitably lead to more questions to research. For example, I hate naming new characters, so I spend WAAAAAAY too much time on the Baby Name Voyager looking up what names were popular when my characters were born.

But here’s the problem: I’m a curious geek who always wants to learn more, and there’s always something else I can discover the need to research while I’m writing. It can be something big, or a minor detail that I nonetheless want to get right.

If I stop writing and start researching guess what happens?


 *cue Twilight Zone music* 

I search for that one point, and then get interested in something else I read and go to another website, and then find something else interesting and end up on a third site, and then I check my email and social media and find something else to click on, and before I know it an hour has passed and I haven’t written another word.

My solution?

·        Make a big RESEARCH XYZ LATER note in what you’re doing and keep writing.


When you’re done with your first draft, it’s time for revision and Stage Three. 

STAGE THREE – What to include and what to leave out

Now you’ve got your freshly written first draft and lots of information you’ve researched. It’s all so interesting. You want to include it because surely your readers are going to be as fascinated with the things you’ve learned as you are, right?


While it’s tempting to bake all these facts into your fiction pie, you’re only going to use a soupçon (fancy French culinary term for a very small quantity of something) of what you’ve learned.


The late James Michener, who wrote sweeping historical fiction family sagas, compared it to an iceberg.

“What research is done should be like the tip of the iceberg: one-tenth visible in the finished work, nine-tenths submerged, but available to give the whole stability and a sense of force.”  




Here’s an example of a small part of research I did for my novel, WANT TO GO PRIVATE?

Some of the information in the novel was given in the form of a police report. I checked my police reports with a detective in the Special Victims Unit of my local police department.


I also created a timeline of all the events in the novel, and checked them with the FBI, so that I could ensure that my fictional investigation would unfold in a realistic way.


You know your efforts have paid off when a 20 year-detective at NYPD says your book is a must-read:

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN! Go forth and find the scaffold for your own fiction.

BACKLASH reading and writing prompt

Reading of the first chapter of BACKLASH and a writing prompt about bullying. 

This reading is by permission of Scholastic Press for the duration of the Covid19 quarantine, and will be deleted in June 2020. 

More resources on BACKLASH available here.


Desperate for things to keep your kids occupied while quarantined? I’ll be adding more resources in the days to come, but here are a few to get you started. 

Reading from ANYTHING BUT OKAY and writing/interviewing activity prompt. More teaching resources from ANYTHING BUT OKAY available here. This reading is by permission of Scholastic Press for the duration of the Covid19 quarantine, and will be deleted in June 2020. 

Copyright 2020 Sarah Darer Littman
PO Box 201, Cos Cob, CT 06807-0201