Saturday, 25 August 2012

Original Lesson 25: The Problem with Narratives

As most 5/6 teachers will be aware, the most common problem with students' narratives at this year level is that there is not one. Narratives, or stories, may centre on a pleasant trip to the beach or random gossip in a diary jam-packed full of characters but lacks any real action. Alternatively, particularly in the case of boys' stories, the action is over in the first few sentences without any real build up.

To try to solve this problem of the 'non-problem narrative', I used our class book to model how an author - in this case Paul Jennings in Uncanny! - initially creates an interesting but somewhat minor problem and then continually escalates it until it becomes unthinkably enormous such that most readers would consider it unsolvable.

This is how I modelled it on the board, based on what my students identified as the problems that our class book contained:

 

As you can see, each problem gets bigger, bigger and bigger again.

I asked my students, in their writer's notebooks (planning scrap books), to brainstorm three different problems as topics for their stories, to be placed as headings on three different blank pages. Afterwards, each student was - in the same manner as our class book did - to attempt to make their problem worse and worse than it began. This ensures students don't start with their killer blow, leaving everything else as an anticlimax, yet by the same token safeguards them against waffling mid-story due to a lack of any real plot progression or plan.

After about 15-20 minutes, the final task was for students to roam the room in a gallery walk format with a different coloured pen to that with which they had created their problems. As students roamed, they read others' ideas and assisted in making those problems worse and worse by adding arrows at any point in the storyline.

What strategies have you used to teach the problem component of narratives?

Please stay tuned for my character development lesson posting shortly.   

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