A Story Time of Learning

Examples of the ToM cartoon stories presented to the subjects. Panels show (A) cooperation, (B) deception, and (C) cooperation/ deception. (D) shows an example of a jumbled cartoon story presented in the non-ToM condition. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002023.g004

                Over the course of weeks, we had talked about stories read out of the text, which included main characters and scenes, not to mention what was happening.  We discussed what the “issues” were, any problems needing solutions, and how the stories ended.  What did you picture in your mind as the story progressed?  Were there concerns as you read?  What did you learn about the characters (i.e. their personality, likes and dislikes, concerns, and anything else)?  How might have you handled similar situations?

                On this particular day, we were going to begin creating our own stories.  First, we brainstormed ideas (On a previous week, we had worked on a story, as a class, so they could see the process from beginning to end, but also write the story, making changes where they felt needed.).  I explained most stories have a central problem, something that is solved by the end.  We need to decide what characters must be in the story, but as the story progresses, other characters can be included should they be needed.  We also need pictures of the main scenes (i.e. where the story takes place) and the main characters (so we can visualize them).  For today, what I’m looking for is the main idea, the main problem, and who the characters are.  Once this is decided, each student is to draw pictures of the main characters and answer some key questions about each (i.e. How old are they, what do they like to do, what is home life like, who are their friends, how do they handle problems, and so forth.  Usually, I ask for 5-7.).  Whatever they don’t accomplish can be completed at home.

                The next day, the students then create the main scenes, explaining what each scene entails.  What is happening in the scene?  Who is in the scene?  In this case, a paragraph each is sufficient (A paragraph should include 4-7 sentences.).  The purpose here is for the students to know their own stories before they begin.  Can they alter the stories as they write?  Yes.  But they shouldn’t divert too much, for then they will have to create new scene panels to support.  For when I read each story, I have the scenes before me, checking one to the other.

                After another day, on the forth, they begin writing the stories.  It’s important that the first story of the year I’m much more flexible.  The point is to get the students writing.  On the first story (which I don’t require panels), I’m encouraging creativity without too much concern over grammar and punctuation.  However, before the second or third story, we have worked on both, and the grade encompasses correct grammar, correct punctuation, an easily identifiable problem with succeeding solution, and quality characters (We use paragraphing, quotations, and other tools the students learn.).  For a fifth aspect, which is subjective, I look at the story as a whole.  Here, I need to be flexible, but as I learn how each student writes and thinks, I understand how they “see” things.  But it’s important that their stories is understandable to a reader.  Depending upon each class, I usually give the students three days to complete.  Usually, another day is needed.  For extra credit, the students who read their stories to the class garner more points. 

                What I have learned, over the years, is through story writing, the students understand different aspects of stories, “seeing” it first-hand, which helps them better “see” stories read out of the text.  In addition, through writing and reading, their grammar improves (Since I thoroughly check their writing from the third story onward, and they must “fix” the mistakes.  Also, we do sample writes where I’m checking grammar and punctuation), their reading improves, and this helps in math where reading instructions and word problems are important.  One other thing:  I teach them to draw word problems out.  Draw a picture of what the problem is asking.  In this way, you can visualize what the problem is asking and what is entailed.

                On the last story of the year (We might do 5 or more throughout the year.  In some classes, students want to do more, and those who do extra stories get extra credit.  I remember one student doing twenty page stories which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Flashbacks, more extensive panels, and more.), I’m open to their creativity.  In this way, they may come up with ideas I never thought of.  As I’ve shared with friends, sometimes I learn more from the students.  In this way, I have more to share with the next class.

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