Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Weeks 6, 7 and 8

Okay, you may be wondering why there are three weeks worth of info in this one post, but weeks 6 and 7 were not incredibly eventful... a lot of class time was allotted to working on their new pieces. This week (week 8) my class was canceled by Frankie (feel better!). Anyway, here's a recap of weeks 6 and 7:

On week 6, the kids came in and were excited to start the second project. I told them that this time they could write on a genre/topic of their choosing-- my only request was that they take some extra time to think about character development. This was because a lot of their ghost stories were very creative, but the characters were a little flat (I guess there's a lot going on in ghost stories what with all the vampires and psycho clowns, so there's less room for character development, but I wanted it to be addressed in the second project). I told them that rich, round characters were the aim of this project, though they could choose the topic and setting for those characters themselves.

To give them a head start on this, I gave them a list of questions to ask themselves about their characters. I put these on the board and gave them the option of answering these questions as a brainstorming exercise or, if they felt they had enough of a handle on the concept, just starting their own brainstorm or starting their story. I always like to lecture them a little bit about a lesson and give them a practice exercise, but I don't make it mandatory, because if they already have their ideas worked out I encourage them to work freely.

Here are some of the "Ten Questions for Creating Characters":
1. Where does your character live?
2. Where is your character from originally?
3. What is your character called (I explained that names are important and they say a lot... a character named "Smelly McGarbage" better not be a compulsive cleaner unless you want the story to be ironic)
4. What kind of childhood did he/she have? (Because, I told them, a character who was raised in a pig pen with wolves and sheep will behave differently than someone raised in a normal house)
5. ...

Anyway, the kids came up with some great ideas. I had mentioned "The Cat in the Hat" as an example of a good story that works because of creative characters... the book really wouldn't be about much if the Cat was boring, not well developed, etc. One girl got the idea from this to write a novel about Thing 1 and Thing 2 (from the book)... they were some little creatures that tagged along with the Cat. Only in her story, they're child slaves to the Cat and they're on a mission to get a paycheck out of him. No joke. I also met individually with each student to make sure they have an idea in mind, and for those who were stumped I helped them generate some ideas by asking them things like, "what's your favorite song? Why do you like it? What lesson does the song teach, and how could you make a character who lives by that lesson or needs to learn it?" (this resulted, in one case, in a story about a flea who lives on the back of a very hairy man and is too afraid to go out and live somewhere else, a change that is forced when the man shaves his back)

They spent the rest of week 6 working on those stories. Then on week 7 I handed out their prizes for the scary stories (I settled on personalized creative writing journals... I found packs of 10 for cheap on a teacher supply website). They each got a different award for those stories, but the prize for the best story from the second batch will be bigger because there will only be one winner per class (I have a prize in mind but I'm not sure yet). The rest of that class was also spent writing, though I talked a bit about revisions and told them that Week 8 would be spent on a full revision workshop (looking at the copies of their stories I gave back), which would give them a chance to consider changes on their first project while I took home their new drafts and gave feedback on the new projects. This will be pushed to next week, and hopefully by then they'll have a good chunk of writing ready for me to look over.

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