Monday, October 6, 2008

Weeks 2 and 3

Technically it is now week 3 for our writing courses, but as the entire sixth grade is on a field trip on Wednesday my classes for the week are cancelled… thus, this post is about what we did in class last week, and I will post again after our meeting on week 4.

Last week I had my first meeting with my morning class, and afterwards met again with the afternoon (Ingenuity) class. I prepared the same lesson plan for both classes (I decided to skip Freytag with the morning kids and get them started on ghost stories asap), focusing the first half of each class on brainstorming ideas. I drew up a brainstorming worksheet (in the shape of a spider web… gotta stick with my scary theme here) and asked the students to fill the innermost boxes with character ideas (names of people, their characteristics/personalities, types of monsters/ghosts/swamp creatures that would appear in the story, etc). From there, they worked their way out through the “boxes” of the web (really just spaces in between the “threads”), filling middle boxes with ideas for setting, mysteries/conflicts of the stories (this tied in with the lesson from last week for my afternoon kids, and I encouraged them to think about Freytag’s pyramid and the importance of conflict/climax/resolution), etc. The outermost boxes were for their ideas about the main events in the stories, the conclusion, any crazy twists or other details they wanted to jot down. They also had space to brainstorm a title at the top. All the students in both classes had ten minutes to work on these worksheets (after I went over all the possibilities for filling in the boxes), and then we discussed in class their ideas for each category (I also assured them that if they had new/different ideas or changed their minds about anything in the web that that was totally cool—this was just meant to get the creative juices flowing, not as a concrete proposal for a story idea).

There was definitely a difference between the ideas generated by the morning class and those of the afternoon class, but all of them were fantastic, impressive and very creative—especially the new morning kids (I was getting plot ideas like “my story is about crazy fruits that have teeth and eat people in the middle of the night”… awesome!) Almost every single student in both classes participated and helped generate a list of ideas on the board, gearing everyone up for some creative scary stories with all the components of a complete short piece.

Finally, I gave them the remainder of the class (about 20 minutes) as writing time to begin their rough drafts, but I had one more twist in store for them (just in case the brainstorm activity had still left some students at a loss for ideas, or even just to shake things up for them): on little slips of paper I printed out Halloween themed story prompts that they picked out of a bag. These included some more general prompts (“I entered the haunted house and screamed when I saw…”) and also some that were more challenging (“I looked down and realized with horror what was floating in my soup: a gigantic…”), and the students were encouraged to find a way to tie these sentence starters into their stories somehow (I challenged them to take their ideas about killer fruits and find a way to include a vampire in a cave from their prompt, hoping to spark even greater creativity). They do not have to use the prompts if they don’t want to; I don’t want to limit their creativity, but I hope they can adapt their stories to meet the challenge. Most of the kids were excited about this extra detail and everyone got started on their pieces (which we will share and continue in week 4).

All in all, I’m really happy with the direction of the course thus far. I have only graded some of the fairy tales from my afternoon class but for the most part these kids are quite gifted. I’m looking forward to hearing preliminary versions of their horror stories next week and also helping them develop interesting, dynamic characters through some worksheets and brainstorms about the characters themselves.

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