Story Time

I am a huge fan of story. Story has helped me to find connections with my learners. Our shared stories help us to understand each other and build community. Our humorous classroom agreement states “what happens in Advisory, stays in Advisory” – and these stories are the ones we return to over and over.

I loved the ideas shared by @cogdog Alan Levine last Thursday night. Our #tiegrad collective favourite might be pechaflickr where the participants engage in improvised speeches using photos selected under a particular tag. I can’t wait to try this with a group of students! Liane’s grace with the one racy photo that came up ensured that we will never forget the pleasures that fitness brings to ALL elements of our lives…

Other resources shared by Alan included:

  • Five card stories: a random image finder using flickr, where the author must incorporate the images into their story sequence
  • Daily Create: a challenge extended to engage in spontaneous creativity and share your ideas in a community
  • DS106 Open Assignment Bank: An incredible resource for storytellers and makers. I found my next writing challenge for my students based on selecting a character to be a renegade teacher. With a little remixing, this could be hilarious with Middle School students.
  • Storymaking: What works: A resource wiki for story creation.

Another great resource page curated by Alec Couros is Digital Storytelling.

At some point in Elementary school, the art of story becomes a recipe. My students arrive in Middle School understanding the “Hamburger” model of writing and insist on the importance of beginning, middle and end. This habit is difficult to break, even after many read alouds, or shared stories where we start right in the midst of the action – and the beginning unfolds after we’ve been hooked.

This year, I tried using story as my “spelling” unit. There is still pressure at the Middle School level to have a formalized spelling program but I wanted there to be purpose for the spelling words, not just a worksheet to complete. I craved authentic writing. The way that we progressed was to locate a provocative image, such as this one of abandoned cars in Belgium. We would isolate the image, and through partner talk generate a list of imagery, vocabulary, and evocative language that would inspire amazing writing. The words would be written all around the image using our SMARTBoard. Then, as a group we would negotiate a list of “spelling words” from our co-created essential words or phrases list. We would select 10 words, of which 5 had to appear in student’s writing. On “test” day, the ten words would be read out, so that kids could list them on their pages. The image would be projected on the board with the list of impressive vocabulary (the “spelling” words would be removed from the board) and then the kids would write. They usually had all week to begin percolating their ideas, and a short block to create an initial draft. The quality of writing I received from my students far exceeded the work I received after many of my carefully constructed, scaffolded and structured writing lessons. A few stories reduced me to tears. One boy invented a son named Theo and describes being “lost in a fury of cars”.

I can’t wait to try some of DS106 activities for fun, impromptu, unrehearsed and joyous story-crafting! Thursday’s session with Alan Levine re-ignited a passion for seeking the fun in sharing story with our learners.


4 thoughts on “Story Time

  1. I smile at the callout to the hamburger.

    I use that when I described the idea of stories having s shape- the Vonnegut video is supreme material, but then I show them the Freytag pyramid, the “lumpy hill” of the three act play, the wrap around circle of the Hero’s Journey, and then the hamburger which I call “The Obvious”– it makes sense– any yet does nothing to help you create a narrative.

    What I like about ideas such as use of images for your spelling unit is that its less about trying to create stories for the sake of doing a full start to finish story and more about tapping into what makes them work; be it suspense, mystery, character, a setting, etc. That’s a beautiful activity which can tap into the natural interest / curiosity of students.

    And thanks for the link to the abandoned cars in Belgium, such powerful visuals to generate ideas. I ended up having an interesting (to be blogged) web trip trying to find the source. Keep exploring!


    • Thank you for the comment and the additional story model resources. “The Obvious” does make sense, but it sterilizes the story.

      I was wondering if I explained the story spelling unit well enough, thank you for sharing your thoughts on it. I don’t ask them to write a full story – not at all. I don’t give them enough time for that. We spent time discussing the thoughts that the images provoke – the questions, the story ideas, the awe and wonder of setting, the drama, etc. They are encouraged to play with writing in this time. I have received story “hooks”, news reports, poetry, lyrics, and descriptive writing as if the author stepped into the image and made their observations. I am constantly surprised when I open their writing folders. If a student has a story that won’t let them go, I encourage them to move it into a draft form and see where it takes them.

      The image of the cars in Belgium was frustrating to cite, which is why I linked out to one possible source. Limiting to Creative Commons images can be a real challenge, especially when images like this cross your path! I found similar images, but not quite as haunting. Another provocative source of images to tap into the popular dystopian theme is any of the abandoned places sites.

      Thank you for sharing your story about finding the source of that image. I look forward to reading your blog this morning.

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your ideas and energy with our group last week!


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