Nancy's Books

Sunday, October 25, 2009

First Aid Kit for Short Story Writing/Alphabet Chart

This week I'm posting two writing activities, one for older students and another for the younger groups. Many of the writing activities I post can be altered to work for most age groups simply by altering the length or details of each piece. Sometimes, I will address activities geared solely toward the younger students.

First Aid Kit for Short Story Writing

Preventative treatment keeps our bodies healthier and the same practice applies to our writing. With a little planning, we can gain a better understanding of our stories before we put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboards. Our stories will reach tip-top shape with less revision. Work smarter, not harder, right?

Complete the following prescription to give your story a boost.

Who are the characters? How old are they? List each. [In a short story, use no more than four characters. Two or three will probably work better.]
How will your story begin?
How will your story end? [Figure out the ending before you start writing the story. The character that has the problem must solve the problem without help from adults. Spend more time on the beginning and ending than the middle of the story.]
Where will your story take place?
When will your story take place?
What will happen in your story? [If you’re writing a short story, write about one event. Start with a problem. Add three situations that keep the character from reaching the goal or solving the problem; then have the character solve the problem.]
Give the story a title.

After you write your story, read through it slowly. Look for ways to improve the writing so the reader can understand it. Let a friend read the story. If there is something the reader doesn’t understand, you may need to rewrite that part.

For Younger Students:

Young students love to move. Put those actions into a constructive mode in the form of a trip around the school or playground. Stop in different areas and instruct students to look for and identify people, places and things that are part of the school community. Give each student a clipboard with an Alphabet chart and a pencil to use during the outing. Students will draw or write observations, such as a flag. Write the letters f-l-a-g by the “f” on the alphabet chart or draw a flag. Encourage students to write words phonetically and not worry about correct spelling while on the trip. Students should try to find several items to represent various letters of the alphabet. Allow time for sharing when the group returns to the classroom.

Do you have a first-aid kit for writing? If so, pass it along. I’d love to hear from you.

Next week, I’m writing about visual images.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Creating Ideas for Personal Narratives

As with fictional stories, personal narratives need to be problem driven, also. Imagine reading a story about Jack’s trip through the South. He passed through small towns where people sat on front porches and waved as he drove by, saw cows grazing in grassy fields, cotton growing, roadside fruit stands, and finally a sandy beach with frothy, crashing waves. The reader will yawn a couple of times and fall asleep long before Jack sees the ocean, because there is nothing exciting happening. The character is not involved in the action, merely viewing it. The same story would becomes more exciting if Jack looks out the window of the car and sees smoke billowing toward the sky up ahead. Traffic stops. Jack steps out of the car and hears a loud bang, followed by bang-bang-bang. Jack jumps back into the car and locks the door. “Hide under the dashboard,” he yells to Joan, who sitting in the front seat.” The reader wonders what is happening so the story becomes more interesting.

Personal narratives, like short stories, should focus on one event, not a series of events. Begin the story with action, where the problem arises. Personal narratives are short so there is little room for the build-up of a story. Beginning a story with action and a problem captures the attention of the reader immediately. The job of the writer is to place the reader in the middle of the action by letting the reader see, hear, feel, touch, and taste the relevant details. The writer expresses thoughts and feelings throughout the piece and explains how and why the experience mattered.

Personal narratives differ for everyone because each person has different experiences, emotions, and memories. Choose an event that stands out in your mind. What made that event memorable? Do the emotions that spilled over into your memory make you scared, happy, or sad? Think of events that bring out strong emotions. List those events and choose one to write about.

Do you have a favorite method of creating ideas for writing personal narratives or for helping students formulate ideas? If you would like to post an idea, click on Comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Next week, I’ll provide a first-aid for story writing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Creating Ideas

Each week I will address one aspect of writing. This week, I'm writing about story ideas.

All stories begin with an idea. Novice writers and students often struggle with creating an idea for a story. Fictional stories need a problem or goal to hold the attention of the readers. The problem must have a solution and the goal needs to be attainable. The problem in the story is what is happening to the main character, also called plot. When I visit schools and conduct writing workshops with students, I avoid abstract definitions. Let's use the word plot as an example. An abstract definition might be a device to carry the story forward. What? Some students may question the definition wondering what it means; others may simply tune out the remainder of the class, already lost. Concrete definitions work much better with students. Again, using the word plot. A definition students can relate to is Plan Lots of Trouble. The definition is concrete and understandable.

So how do we develop an idea for a story? I've used this method with success for grades three and up. Noun + Action Verb + Problem

Think of a noun--a person or thing, such as a cat. Add an action verb that relates to the noun. Ask yourself, what problem could possibly happen?

Cat + Leap + Broke sister's favorite lamp

Again, ask yourself, what if my cat leaped and broke my sister's favorite lamp?

Try this method with three or four ideas. You just might develop an idea worthy of a story.

Next week, I will write about developing ideas for a personal narrative.