Monday, February 10, 2014

Neverending Story

Our reading curriculum has a regular activity that pops up every few weeks or so. In the "Neverending Story" (no not the movie), the teacher gives the opening line of a story and the students take turns continuing the story, one line or so at a time.

For example, "The dog ran into the woods. And then...." A student tells what happened next; then another student continues it; and so on. Sounds great, huh. I thought so. But I ran into a little problem with my class.

They can't do it.

The story would become very repetitive. "The dog went home. Then he went to the woods again. He sniffed a tree. He sniffed another tree. The dog went home. He took a nap. The dog went to the woods to sniff trees." (Note: only a facsimile of a story, not an actual second grade story.)

We would have the same thing happen again and again. Or a new idea would appear that had no connection to what happened before. No continuity.

I shouldn't have been surprised. My kids struggle with writing stories of their own. At least many of them do.

But I thought that the first outing may have just been the struggles of a new idea. We tried it again. And again. But similar results.

I once heard that insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result. So I decided to stop the insanity and try something else, a different take on this idea. Here's what we did a couple of weeks ago.

I started a story, using one of our high-frequency words for the week.

"My mother went to the store. She wanted to buy some groceries."

I showed another word to one of my kids and said, "Tell me what happened next, using this word."

The student looked at me, a little stunned. (Kind of like what happened before in our neverending story.)

(Note: another facsimile to follow)

The student said: "She said she wanted to eat pizza."

So I continued the story: "My mother wanted to eat pizza. So she walked all over the store to buy what she needed. She got some dough and some sauce. She chose vegetables to put on her pizza. Her cart was full of good things to make pizza."

Then I showed another word to a different student and asked for what happened next.

After he gave me a sentence with the word, I would go back to the story, adding his ideas with transition words and a continuous storyline.

Now the actual story had my mother seeing a wrestling match in the store, buying lots of chocolate ice cream, not able to leave the story for 6 hours, heading home to hear my dad ask why she hadn't cooked dinner, and ending with my mom having a party with her friends. Quite a tale.

What I liked about this particular adventure - the kids contributed ideas and helped shape the story. We had things happen that I would have never included if I had created the story all on my own.

I also liked that I was able to model how a story should flow, with transitions and sentences that make sense next to one another. And that we didn't need to have the same sentence over and over.

We're going to do another one of these this week...and I'm really looking forward to it. The kids get to think about words and using them in appropriate ways. They get to think about and hear a way to craft a story that makes sense and includes many of the structures of fiction that we've discussed. We all get to work together to create a fun story. And there's no stress in the spotlight ("What will I say???") for the kids. And the kids funny, quirky ideas get merged with my own.

Now something I usually dreaded (or just omitted or changed) is now something I'm excited about.

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