Students use writing camp to hone craft

URBANA — The weeks of summer are dwindling, but 13 local students are so passionate about writing that they're spending the week in a classroom, learning more about their craft.

They're attending a writing camp put on by the University of Illinois Writing Project, where they are expanding their knowledge about genres, how to be inspired and how to share their work.

"They're serious," said Rachel Moyer, a teacher at the camp, and they want to be taken seriously as writers.

"These kids are prolific," she said. "It's impressive."

The camp, for both middle and high school students, is at Urbana High School this week and will culminate in the students reading their work for an audience Friday. The writing project put on a camp for elementary school students earlier this summer, as well.

The idea is to give the students the feeling of working in a community with others who also love to write, said Moyer, who teaches English at Urbana High School.

The camp emphasizes teaching the students about different genres, including some they may not have encountered before. It's teaching students about styles like flash fiction, poetry, comic strips and telling stories with technology, like on blogs or with computer presentations or movies.

The students are also sharing their written work and giving feedback on other students' writing.

"It's a matter of comfort; a matter of feeling confident in what they've written," Moyer said.

Some students came into the camp passionate about a certain kind of writing, Moyer said, and that's OK too. But she hopes to expand their knowledge about writing.

"They came in with their interests ... but we hope to introduce them to things they've never heard of," she said.

Christelle Panumpabi, who is 15 and will be a sophomore at Centennial High School in Champaign next year, said she came into the camp wanting to learn more about writing in a memoir style that incorporates both her own experiences and information she's learned from others in interviews.

She said she's enjoyed learning more about other genres too, like "steampunk," which incorporates science and historical fiction, as well as what the camp calls writing marathons, where the students try writing in different outdoor environments.

Kalyn Nowlan, who's 13 and will be an eighth-grader at Urbana Middle School, said she liked that exercise, too, and didn't realize how much it would affect her writing.

Her favorite place to write was Urbana's Carle Park, she said.

"I like the quietness of it," she said.

She said she's also liked working with the camp's other students.

"I've made some friends that also like to do the same thing I do," Nowland said.

Austin Chen, who's 12 and will be in seventh grade at Countryside School, said he decided to attend the camp to learn how to better elaborate and provide more details in his writing. He likes writing poetry and essays addressing philosophical questions, he said, but enjoyed the camp's exercise on steampunk writing.

It had him and other campers thinking of an invention and writing to describe it. Chen came up with a robotic spider.

Moyer said by combining middle school and high school students into one camp, the different age groups are learning from each other, sometimes to the surprise of the older students.

"They respect each other as writers," Moyer said. "They learn from each other. Age doesn't seem to matter that much here."

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