Story writing ´hacks´ for young learners and primary.
If someone asked you think of a perfect place for a holiday, a picture would pop into your mind. Vivid colours, small details, even sounds may help replicate this place in your ´mind’s eye´. Describing this place to someone, more so if they have never seen it would require a mixture of adjectives, feelings, colours, sensations etc.
What if you had to write about it, more so if you had to do it in another language?
Children, like adults use their visual memory to help create the stories they tell, play with or invent. The catalogue of images from books, television, tablets and everyday life are stored and recalled to assist with oral and written descriptions. However young children often find this task difficult, as they scan their internal library of images to help retell or organise thoughts for a story.
Another difficult aspect is that children do not read as much as they used to. We now have a generation of audio visual learners, watching and listening to stories. This type of medium does have its place, great for developing listening skills, learning language in a context and comforting, a learning environment that is not too challenging.
However, the benefits of regular reading are well founded. I recall children presented with a story writing task often did so well with the beginning and found the middle and ending tricky. We would plan, model stories and think of possible plots as a ´build up´ to the activity and very few children could complete the story. There were reasons for this, time constraints, language issues and generally, lack of structure and not knowing how to sequence events.
So, I approached the story building activity from a different perspective. What if you could draw what you are trying to write and have a visual cue or prompt to help establish the foundation of your story? This image would contain colour, details, the characters, location etc. Also, if the events in the story where segmented, so each drawing could indicate the beginning, middle and the end, therefore making it easier to link these together as a story.
Story hack #1
With young learners: All those flashcards that you have collected over the years are perfect visual cues for story characters, items or settings. Young children can select the cards they want, sequence them and include the prompts to make a simple story.
Story hack #2
Mind maps: With young learners and primary aged children, use the flashcards to develop the beginning, middle and the end of a story. This idea works well in pairs or small groups and categories like where (is the story set), who (is in the story), what (are they doing), why (the plot). This visual, organising and sequencing then transfers well to the developing and writing the story.
Story hack #3
Drawing: Drawing the main ideas of the story helps with organising thoughts and what will be included in the story. The process of this allows the child to thing about the story and how it might develop. During this process, the asking and prompting by the teacher can trigger new ideas or help with the story line.
Story hack #4
Using story templates: Story box templates, using drawing as a medium and plan the sequence of a story. This makes it easier to sequence the story. Children can be helped with conjunctions or connectors to help the story flow.
Story hack #5
Collaborative task: Divide the class into three groups. Firstly, it is important that a theme is agreed, so the groups have a common thread. With the teacher, the structure is created, for example who is in the story and a general theme. Then each group develops the beginning, middle and the end. This can often be a highly amusing task for the children, anticipating how the story may develop and using collaborative skills to develop language, grammar and punctuation skills.
Reading stories develops language, curiosity and predicting skills. It also helps children think about the ‘ bigger picture’. Ask children to think about an alternative ending, or how a problem could have been resolved. What life skills can they bring to the story? After a story has been read several times and you have done all of these things, ask the children to draw the story and listen to the things they add or take away when they talk about their drawing. This can be used as a language assessment tool as children demonstrate their knowledge that often can’t be displayed on paper or in a text book.