“A work of great imagination, featuring wonderful characters, an exciting setting, and a plot woven to a thrilling finish.”
Read the review here.
“A work of great imagination, featuring wonderful characters, an exciting setting, and a plot woven to a thrilling finish.”
Read the review here.
We are the stories we tell. And we always have been, ever since we first started grunting our tales of the day’s hunt to one another around the campfire. But stories that once started as conversations and cave paintings have evolved into Snapchats and interactive videos.
Sure, the technology has changed, but the overriding need to tell our stories certainly hasn’t. And this urge is especially crucial to kids. Stories are a child’s personal curriculum: a way of processing the world around them while simultaneously defining themselves. And while today’s technology is a far cry from the usual pen-to-paper, it needn’t interfere with the storytelling process. In fact, technology opens up exciting new opportunities for students to create rich, dynamic, and meaningful stories and express themselves like never before.
The Critic: Mulling Over Media Literacy
Telling your story in this age of digital media requires media literacy. Tweens and teens are digitally saturated—spending six to nine hours daily, respectively, on devices of some kind—making it critical that they have the skills to distinguish digital wheat from chaff. This, of course, involves the ability to detect fake news. But it also requires the ability to discern more subtle ways of crafting information: in video, for instance, where lighting, the use of sound and music, framing, and camera angle all transmit information and intent.
Just as deeper reading creates better writers, this skill helps students to break down narrative as media consumers so that they may become more skillful creators. Students must navigate, interact, and critique the text they encounter on-screen. There are hyperlinks, annotations, sticky notes, and a host of other digital-specific distractions that could impede comprehension if not fully understood.
How do we teach this skill? For a start, find high-quality examples of blogs, book trailers, and online discussions to share with students to help them discern what makes for a fulfilling digital learning experience. Teach students to closely read images and video just as they are expected to with a piece of text. Remember that strong traditional readers aren’t necessarily skilled digital readers, as reading digitally is a different experience from reading print.
The Creator: Interlinking Literacies
Even more powerful are when multiple literacies are woven together. For instance, a movie might merge writing, performing, illustration, music, editing, and camerawork to impart information and influence a viewer’s emotions. Students see many examples of this on social media, with music, imagery, and words appearing in a Facebook video to have the maximum emotional impact. Ask students to explain the convergence of these different mediums: why use all three? What effect does it have?
Equally powerful is the realization that we as learners might prefer intersections of media. If students are reading online, have them take notes on paper. If they are reading on paper, students can track their thoughts on a device. Afterwards, discuss what made reading successful—either in print or on screen—so students understand how comprehension can be affected across platforms.
Digital tools promote equity, as not every storyteller is adept at traditional writing. Technology allows students to tell a story in the way that makes sense to them, be it through words, video, audio, art, or even interactivity. Most importantly, they learn that their voice truly matters.
Technology amplifies their stories so that students anywhere and everywhere can connect their experiences. Once a story—be it written or, filmed or recorded—is shared online beyond the classroom, viewers and readers can provide feedback, with the student revising and refining their understanding. Digitally publishing a work can also be tremendously satisfying, as students can produce stories that are consumed by people from all over the world.
In the end, it’s about a focus on the process, not the tool: anything that gets students reading, researching, writing, watching, questioning, creating, and sharing! Allowing students to express different modes of storytelling engages them on a deeper, more personal, and ultimately more satisfying level. It also moves us beyond 20th-century views of literacy and equips students for a future workforce that values creative use of multi-modal storytelling! In this way, we encourage a creative mindset that makes anything possible, fueling students’ confidence and creativity.
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Here’s the “sin-opsis” (see what I did there?):
After the War of the Words competition forever alters the afterlife, siblings Milton and Marlo Fauster are separated and whisked away to the deepest bowels of the underworld. Guilt-ridden, Milton agrees to work for Principal Bubb in hopes that he can locate his sister and somehow free her. But his nefarious mission—to “character assassinate” the reigning vice principal of Sadia: Where the Really Mean Kids Go—runs afoul when he learns the true identity of this mysterious individual. Meanwhile, Marlo wakes up to teenage paradise that may or may not be what it seems.
There’s also a mutiny brewing in Heaven while the underworld is turned into a tourist destination for the living. Can Milton follow through with his mission: navigating a nest of history’s cruelest tyrants in the process? Can Marlo hold on to her identity amidst a nuclear self-esteem assault? Will they discover the secret history of Sadia before it is potentially used as a weapon against none other than the Big Guy Upstairs?
Here’s a post from my side project, Write-Craft-Edit, where I try to help young writers get over common obstacles and release the stories trapped inside!
Part One: Reaching Visual Learners
The excuses are many. But there’s really no excuse for students not writing. Every child has a story to tell. It’s just that, oftentimes, the words get lost on the trip from the brain to the fingers.
The key is to make the experience of writing engaging and relevant: helping students to overcome either imaginary obstacles or very real obstacles such as dyslexia.
It’s simply a child’s nature to develop a “block” to something that frustrates them. But teachers and parents must help coax strong writing habits by creating a climate of expression as opposed to one of correction. Writing is a process. And by making this process enjoyable and fulfilling, the young writer will work at his or her own pace to develop essential skills.
The Eyes Have It
Visual learners are often the most resistant to the practice of writing. Giving them the time and the strategies to visualize their writing beforehand is not only a way to get students creatively thinking about their writing, but is a great tool for all writers: helping to solidify thoughts, settings and details before pencil touches paper. Drawing a picture before writing can help set the stage for imaginative storytelling. This could be a map of a make-believe world, a comic strip, or a crude sketch: anything it takes to get creativity flowing. Visualization exercises also work for reports, essays, and other nonfiction-type forms of writing.
Concept mapping tools and index cards are a simple and compelling way to help young writers overcome the hurdles preventing them from organizing their ideas. Concept mapping tools—such as the Learning in Context: Concept Mapping app—give children a chance to experiment with ideas and possible outcomes in a fun, hand-on way. This allows free exploration of most any idea, with the strongest ideas forming a visual outline. An outline can be as simple as a brief character sketch, that character’s motivation, a list of other characters and/or antagonists, and how–in general—the story will end.
1) Have your student pick a theme, topic, or even a sentence that could form the basis for a story. Have them put this in a circle or square at the center of their screen.
2) Have your student brainstorm ideas related to their central topic, generating as many as possible. Next, they should pick the ideas that work best with the general theme or idea, and put them in circles or squares around the center circle, connecting them with a line.
3) Have students repeat the process—branching out of subtopics—until their screen looks like a constellation of ideas: enough to form a general outline for a story.
4) Students can use their concept map to organize their ideas to create optimal “story flow”: arranging connected plot points closely together, pacing ideas in a way that conveys a satisfying arc, and removing ideas that don’t seem to fit anymore or are too similar to other ideas. A concept map tool makes this easy (and fun!).
5) Have students consult their concept map often while developing their stories so they stay on track and feel as if there is a visual “support” for their writing. An outline or template can provide structure for writers who don’t know where to begin. Knowing that there is scaffolding in place, students can relax a little and allow their creativity to take over.
All a (Story)Board!
Creating storyboards can also help young writers to visualize how their story might unfold. This makes the ebb and flow of a story seem real to visual learners. When a student is fully immersed in their creation, their imagination kicks in and inhibitions begin to loosen their grip! A storyboard should, ideally, visualize a key scene or milestone from a story, and not necessarily be a comic book (though that is fine too!).
There are a number of storyboarding apps and tools. Some popular storyboard creators areStoryboard That, Storyboard Generator, and ReadWriteThink: Story Map. These tools function in much the same way: creating a number of panels to be filled any way the student wishes: some allowing for drag and drop characters, conflicts and/or settings to help a writer organize their story.
A teacher can also hand out sheets with pre-drawn panels or even index cards, which add the ability to reorganize scenes much like a concept map.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (Give or Take)
Another tool to help jump-start writing for visual learners is photographic prompts. Show your students a series of photographs and ask them to imagine whom the people in the photographs are, where the photographs were taken, and how the photographs makes them feel. Then have them begin to imagine what sort of story they can make from what they see. This can really help relieve the pressure of starting a writing project from scratch. You can either grab kid-friendly photographs from Google, Flickr, Pics4Learning, Photos For Class, or your favorite photo resource.
Blanking on the Blank Page
Students often have no idea what to write. By telling them who their audience is, you can help students better connect the dots between reader and writer. Have them choose a topic that might be of interest to their specific reader, and choose their language accordingly. This audience could be a person (Abraham Lincoln or the child’s best friend), an animal (a squirrel or family pet), or even a thing (a robot or talking dragon).
Another technique is to have students write within a particular form, such as a diary-entry or even a recipe! These formats imply a certain structure, which can birth creative ideas (sometimes nothing is as daunting to writing as complete freedom!). Giving students a choice also makes them feel empowered and valued, and can make a big difference in helping a student get their words out into the world.
Switch It Up
Sometimes creative writing itself can be too intimidating for some writers. Persuasive writing exercises can not only seem more “relevant” to certain students, but also help develop crucial skills such as supporting ideas concisely and comprehensively. Begin with subjects that students are passionate about, such as food (free pizza and ice cream being served in the cafeteria), freedoms (later school start-time or no curfew), and favorite pastimes (why skateboarding is the best or why a certain band or recording artist is the best). Some students may not even be really sure what, exactly, they are passionate about. Ask them questions and ferret out their personal stories. Their personal interests—and subsequent writing opportunities—should emerge. Once they feel confident that they have something to say, they will feel more confident in their writing.
Next, help students to understand the distinction between opinion and fact (unless, of course, they are running for political office). One pre-writing activity could involve flipping through magazines and analyzing advertisements to better understand the distinction, as well as incorporating colorful, persuasive phrases and language.
Other times, switching up the typical tools—such as pencil and paper—can help to inspire and engage. In addition to laptops and writing platforms such as Microsoft Word, blogging sites likeWordPress or Blogger can help shake up writing routines by making the process more fun. Students can also continue their writing or make revisions at home or even share their work with others for feedback.
The Write Tools
There are a number of other online tools to help get students writing, such as: Storyjumper, a tool for creating online books; Story Starters, a selection of interactive story prompts; Zoo Burst, 3-D pop-up book creator; Storybird, a visual storytelling community; Pixton, comic book creator; andMy Story Maker, a simple storybook creator.
Educators need to follow a student’s lead whenever possible as opposed to imposing rigid expectations. Weave writing exercises and prompts naturally during the course of their day, every day. Make writing a shared journey that either your child or your entire class can share together.