Saturday, September 27, 2008

Okay well I guess I'm the first to post about my teaching experience so here goes!

Wednesday I had my first class with a group of top sixth graders. I decided to have them read a short piece in class so that we could talk about plot structure and Freytag's pyramid and I could gauge their reading level. I chose about 8 pages from The Hobbit (which is of course a longish book but each chapter is basically its own isolated story), because I wanted to show that a short story isn't just finished whenever the author FEELS like ending it or because the teacher photocopied it that way, but that a short story is complete and well constructed if it contains the 6 elements of plot (exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). In this way, even a segment taken from a larger story can be complete on its own so long as it has these six elements (ie, the part where Bilbo fights off the giant spiders is a good stand-alone story because it follows the pyramid). I was a little nervous that the material I picked out for them would be too challenging (I chose The Hobbit because I read it myself in 6th or 7th grade and absolutely loved it, but online sources told me that it is classified as a 9-10 grade reading level), but I was so pleasantly surprised at how it turned out.

I was so happy about how bright and enthusiastic these kids were; not only had half of them already read The Hobbit, but when I asked for volunteers to read aloud every single hand shot up. Almost all of them were flawless readers, and all were eager to participate as I drew diagrams on the board and asked them to identify the 6 elements of plot structure in Cinderella (I chose an example of a story everyone would know), and, after finishing the segment from The Hobbit, they didn't miss a beat in matching the elements in that story to the pyramid guideline as well. After this I handed out a nifty worksheet I found online that lets students fill in the different sections of the pyramid (as well as things like "theme" and "protagonist"), and although I had originally planned on having them fill this in for the reading from The Hobbit, I decided that in the interest of getting them started on their actual writing ASAP, I would have them use the worksheet as an outline/brainstorm sheet to write their own short fairy tale. I hope that planning out their stories based on the pyramid will help them write a more complete short story.

So now that I have assessed their reading level and know what to expect in terms of their writing, I'm set to begin the first big project with them on Wednesday (the fairy tale assignment was just a short piece for them to practice writing with the 6 elements). Starting next week I'm going to take them through all the stages of short story writing with the theme of Ghost Stories, and the goal will be for all students to prepare a final draft for the last class before Halloween (October 29), and on that day we'll have a horror-fest story reading with candy and prizes for the scariest stories. I told the students about this plan and they seemed really excited!

Soo that's all, so far so good! I'll post again next weekend!

-Sarah Jane

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