This week, we’re tackling the comprehension skill “story structure” featured in the Houghton Mifflin reading program.
It’s absolute nuts and bolts (identify setting, character, and plot) and is part of the reading program beginning in Kindergarten.
A quick pre-assessment verifies that my sixth graders have a thorough understanding of this material.
I already use a writing unit featuring plot structure and character archetypes, so I needed another way to go deeper with story structure.
I decided to connect this skill to remixing. We’re going to use the elements of story structure to modify an existing story, creating a something new.
We review the essential pieces of a story by using the week’s selection (in this case Gary Soto’s The Challenge).
This humorous story features a middle school boy foolishly attempting to impress a girl through racquetball.
The essential elements are:
- characters (main and supporting)
- events (in both the main plot and subplots)
Students then list these same essential pieces using a story of their choosing. My kids go for everything from movies, to novels, to video game stories.
Once they’ve got the idea, I bring in the creativity framework SCAMPER (which I’ve mentioned here before).
SCAMPER stands for:
- Magnify / Maximize / Minimize
- Put to Other Uses
Each represents a way to slightly change an idea to create something new.
Thinkertoys is a great primer and Thinkpak is a deck of cards that gives hands-on brainstorming ideas using SCAMPER.
Demonstrating The Idea
I ask for a volunteer to give an essential piece of their story.
A student shares: “A forest!”
Now I ask: If we substituted a forest for the middle school setting of The Challenge, how would this change the story?
After much silence, a brave soul says: “Instead of playing racquetball on a court, they’d play it against a tree!”
Now we’re rolling.
The next volunteer names an event from their story: “monkeys attack the town.”
I ask how we could combine this event with the events in our story.
Someone answers: “The monkeys could invade their middle school!”
Now the ideas begin rolling: “Yes! And José can try to impress the girl by fighting off monkeys, rather than playing racquetball.”
Here’s a tool I’m working on to incorporate SCAMPER into literature response questions.
Even if you’ve carefully built a classroom that encourages and respects creative thinking, you’re going to have some awkward silence.
After all, your students have probably slogged through years of school where silliness is frowned upon and only right answers are praised.
As you begin brainstorming, set up scaffolding so students can comfortably get their feet wet. Rules are necessary, otherwise the truly unusual and interesting ideas will be laughed at and dismissed. But unusual and interesting ideas are the whole purpose of brainstorming.
1. No Judgement
Here are some rules used at Disney when brainstorming:
- There is no such thing as a bad idea. We never know how one idea (however far-fetched) might lead into another one that is exactly right.
- We don’t talk yet about why not. There will be plenty of time for realities later, so we don’t want them to get in the way of the good ideas now.
- Nothing should stifle the flow of ideas. No buts or can’ts or other “stopping” words. We want to hear words such as “and”, “or”, and “what if?”
- There is no such thing as a bad idea. (We take that one very seriously.)
From The Imagineering Field Guide To Disneyland, via Spking.com
Students should feel safe in sharing their ideas. If you ask for creativity, and then balk at strange ideas, you’ve betrayed the whole process.
Naturally, it’s a classroom of youngsters and not a room of professionals, so you might need to add some limits regarding appropriateness. Let them know this up-front.
3. Silence Is Ok
There will be moments of complete silence when it seems like all the ideas are gone.
Let it go for a minute or so.
Suddenly someone will shift the class’ perspective with a new idea, and it will be like a dam bursting.
This pattern will repeat itself over and over. Allow it to happen.
So now students are shouting out new twists on the story:
- monkeys attack the school
- the setting is under water
- the government has outlawed racquetball
Your job is to quickly capture these ideas.
Personally, I am a faster typer than writer, so I project my laptop and use a wireless keyboard. This lets me sit with my students and face the board with them as I type.
What will students do with these new seeds of ideas?
The most obvious choice is to write the new story (hopefully using an [interesting writing processttps://www.byrdseed.com/is-your-writing-process-this-fun/).
Looking to get more creative?
Let students record an audiobook version of the story using Garageband or Audacity.
Have students’ stories printed as real books using a service such as Lulu.
Want to go beyond writing, ask students to:
- Create a movie poster based on the new idea
- Create a movie trailer
- Record an audio trailer for the movie
Look back to where we started: identify the setting and fill in a worksheet.
Now our stuents are creating new ideas and publishing them in interesting ways.
Not bad for a week’s work!
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