Today we are going to begin to write a story! Although many students love to write stories, showing off their creativity, it is a difficult genre for student to master. All too often we are asked to read pages and pages of student writing that contains the phrase “and then . . . . and then . . . and then . . . .” As we began to author narratives, I wanted to provide students with a structure that would help them focus their ideas to show off their creativity!
We discussed that the interest in a story comes from the problem the character needs to solve. The plot of a story consists of the character’s attempts to solve his/her problem. It often takes multiple attempts before the character is successful! We began with an empty plan. Laying a piece of paper horizontally, we divided the sheet into four columns. The first column was labeled Characters, Setting and Problem. The second column was titled First Attempt, with the word but . . . . in the center of the column. The third column was titled Second Attempt, with the word but in the center, and the fourth column was divided into Solution and Story Ending.
Choosing a favorite picture book, we set off to discover if this format was really evident in books we read. The first book we read was The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood. The book matched our story plan. The students easily located the story elements within the text. We repeated the same process using the book Big Al by Andrew Clements. (This time we listened to a video of the book read!) Although Al had more than two attempts to solve his problem, the story again followed the same format. The students felt confident that this organization would help them become narrative writers.
After completing narrative plans for books that were already written, we moved to planning our own story. I provided the students the characters (my family and me) and the setting (camping in the woods.) As the characters returned to their tent from a hike, they discovered a bear sitting in front of their tent. What is the problem in the story?
The students immediately stated the problem was the bear. At this point, however, the bear was a part of the setting. What did we need to do to make the bear into the story’s problem? What would we all want to do if we discovered a bear in front of our tent? After some think time, the students realized the characters needed an action to form the problem. The problem was written: How can we get the bear to leave our tent?
It was time to think of ways the characters could attempt to get the bear to leave. Working together, students brainstormed ideas and chose the attempts they found most compelling. These attempts (and why they didn’t work) were added to their narrative plans. The most interesting solution was chosen for the story ending.
One of the most difficult paragraphs for students to write is the opening paragraph of a fictional narrative. I wanted the students to discover ways that authors grab their readers’ attention at the beginning of a narrative. To achieve this purpose, students were asked to read the opening two – three sentences of a fictional book they were reading. I placed a chart labeled Dialogue, Setting, Character and Problem. Students shared the opening sentences they had found and determined if the author was using dialogue, setting, character or setting to begin his/her novel. Each narrative’s opening lines were placed in the correct column. We had identified common ways authors grabbed their readers’ attention.
The time we had spent on this activity paid off when students began to write their own narratives. In a future blog, Let’s Write A Story . . . Part 2!, we will share what happened next!
Darlene and Terry
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