Tag Archives: teaching

Inklewriter in the classroom

I’m volunteering in my son’s fourth/fifth grade classroom, and we’re putting together a Choose Your Own Adventure based on the Iliad and the Odyssey. It’s been a whole lot of work but even more fun! That’s because we’re using a free online tool that’s just amazing.

Here’s their website and their description:

At inkle, we believe it takes great writers to tell great stories.

That’s why we’ve created inklewriter, to help writers tell interactive tales with the minimum of fuss. inklewriter keeps your branching story organised, so you can concentrate on what’s important – the writing.

inklewriter is a free tool designed to allow anyone to write and publish interactive stories. It’s perfect for writers who want to try out interactivity, but also for teachers and students looking to mix computer skills and creative writing.

Yep. On the first day in the classroom, I logged on and started typing, based on student feedback. It turned out that the protagonist was a 12-year old thief from Ithaca, happening upon the Trojan War. After the first paragraph, I entered two options: investigate or run away.

The next step was to organize the students into groups, and work with each group. Because the tool is so flexible, I didn’t have to do it in the order the story branched.  Instead, I assigned groups based on location and student interest. The groups were:

  • Battle of Troy
  • Sailing with Odysseus
  • Sirens
  • Death
  • Hades
  • Mount Olympus
  • Modern Day

(I fought valiantly against having a Modern Day category, to keep it in ancient Greece, but the Percy Jackson contingent was just too darn excited.)

After I got the Battle of Troy group started, I moved on to the Odysseus and Sirens groups. I typed in their pieces and added the necessary links from one section to another.

As you might imagine, it got pretty complicated pretty fast. But that was OK, because there are some awesome tools. For instance, there’s a map tool, which shows you a tree of the story structure, with one box per paragraph. You can click on any box to see the path that gets you there, and you can double-click on it to close the map and get straight back into the story in that exact paragraph. There’s also a searchable panel of paragraphs to the right, and it shows you any loose ends (options that lead nowhere) and paragraphs that aren’t connected to anything. That makes it really simple to unattach one paragraph and re-attach it somewhere else.

Smooth, elegant, intuitive, easy.

Not that the process itself was easy. Keeping track of student drafts, making sure all the students knew what they were doing, and making sure the students all had something to do — that was hard. Fortunately, the classroom teacher is experienced and basically fabulous, and I was able to work with students a handful at a time.

After the Battle of Troy, Odysseus, and Sirens groups were mostly done, I moved on to Death, Hades, and Mount Olympus. By then I had figured out how to manage groups a little more easily. I brought a packet for each group, containing their planning and rough draft documents, and I handed it out at the beginning of each session and then collected it at the end, to review and enter their drafts.

One thing you wouldn’t know unless you were a classroom teacher is that the kids all finish up at different times, produce wildly varying quantities of work, and require either no support or intense one-on-one support. Again, thank goodness for a classroom teacher who knows how to manage that kind of thing. For that last category I did scribing — that is, they spoke and I typed or wrote.  I love doing that, because my hope is for every student to grow up feeling confident about their writing, and scribing is an important tool for some.

After that, I worked with the Modern Technology group.

At some point, the work of entering and organizing the student work got ahead of me, and I ended up taking some time off to enter it. But once I had done so, I was ready to show it off to the class! That was so fun. The teacher chose students to read passages, alternating between girls and boys, and when we came to an option the class voted. We went through about four storylines and then we cut it off.

The best moment? Seeing the smile on the face of one of the students I had scribed for, as that student’s work was read.

There is still work to do. I had the challenge of how to help the students edit not only their own work but also its connection to work that came before and after. To do that, I printed a hard copy of the story-in-progress that I had copied into a Word document.

Copying it over was complicated. I titled each section with the name of the student who had written it, the group they were in, and, if they had written multiple sections, which one it was. At the beginning of each section, I used bracketed text to indicate where it had come from, and at the end of each section, I used bracketed text to indicate where the options led.

Then I handed it out, group by group, to be checked over by the students who were done with their first drafts. Students who were still working on their first drafts kept on working.

Now I have some new text to enter and some edits to make. I’m looking forward to it!

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Days 4-8 of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is part of a series on a fanfiction workshop for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, Day One, Day Two, and Day Three.

Day 4: Starting the Rough Draft

On Day 4, we started the rough draft.

10 minutes: General comments

I started off with some Q&A and then gave some general comments about writing and myself as a writer. As show and tell, I brought some work that I had done when I was in fourth and fifth grade. I talked about how I had felt embarrassed about my own writing, but how, looking back, I see my work in a much more positive light! I talked about how one of my biggest mistakes as a young writer was asking others their opinion about my writing and emphasized the importance of practice.

5 minutes: Freewrite activity

I actually didn’t do this activity, but should have. It should have happened at the beginning of every writing day!

5 minutes: Check-in and review

I asked the kids to get out their “Some Ways to Start Stories” worksheet and look it over. I asked where they were at. Some kids were done and ready to write.

20 minutes: Rough draft

We got started on the rough draft! Many kids were stuck, so the teacher and I went around the room and talked over their character, setting, and ideas for starting the stories.

20 minutes: Sharing

A few kids wanted to share to the whole class, so we did that, and then we did some sharing in small groups.

Day 5: Continuing on the rough draft

Day 5 was a lot like Day 4.

10 minutes: General comments

I made more general comments about writing, gave encouragement, asked questions, and checked in.

5 minutes: Freewrite

30 minutes: Rough draft and cover page

Some of the kids finished up here and asked what to do, so I asked them to start working on a cover page with name, title, and illustration.

20 minutes: Sharing

The Days I Didn’t Do (But Should Have)

I thought this whole thing could be wrapped up in eight sessions, but ended up coming back for more, because half the kids finished when I expected they would, but the other half were still working. I expressed my surprise to the teacher and asked what to do, and she told me it’s always like that. What a challenge. I don’t know how teachers do it!

Instead, I asked the kids to start in on editing. Bad plan! It meant the teacher and I were rushing around the classroom on the one hand helping out kids who were stuck and on the other hand helping out kids who were editing.

If I do this workshop again, I’ll ask the teacher to help me prepare some activities for the kids who finish up first. They could write a sequel, or a second story, or a character sketch, or a setting description. Or they could pair up with kids who were stuck and give suggestions.

Next up: Getting to the Ending

 

By dotmatchbox at flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

By dotmatchbox at flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

Day Three of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is part of a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, Day One, and Day Two.

Day 3: A Flurry of Activity

Day 3 was a mad dash to get the rest of the prewrite exercises out of the way so the kids could start their drafts the next day. Some of the kids had already jumped in to doing drafts, or started in the middle of filling out worksheets. Others were struggling to fill in worksheets. None of the kids filled in any of the worksheets all the way, but all the kids got some details to use in their stories.

Overheads:

Handout:

5-10 minutes: Review of Day 2

I answered various questions, told the kids we STILL weren’t doing rough drafts yet, checked in about the other worksheets.

5-10 minutes: Talking about setting

I showed the overhead “Setting and the Five Senses” and we brainstormed some kinds of setting details for each sense. Then I showed the overhead “More About Setting.”

15 minutes: Setting worksheet

I handed out the “About the Setting” worksheet and kids started filling it out.

10 minutes: Ideas for starting stories

I showed the overhead “Some Ways to Start Stories”

10 minutes: group discussion

Kids broke up into groups and started talking about their story ideas

Next up: Diving right in!

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jens Rötzsch (Jens Rötzsch) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day Two of the Fanfiction Workshop

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids, Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round, and Day One: Introducing Fanfiction.

Day Two: The Prewrite

On day two, some of the kids were ready and raring to write, but we had some preparations to do first. Our school uses a writer’s workshop model that includes a prewrite, rough draft, and final draft, so everyone was familiar with the concept of prewrite. We worked on getting rough ideas for character and plot.

Handouts:

5 to 10 minutes: Talking about being a writer

I talked more about what it was like to grow up reading and writing, and how I had written fanfiction as a child before the word fanfiction was even invented. I discussed writer’s block a little bit more. Then I touched on the idea of using established characters but changing their names, to make the story more their own.

5 to 10 minutes: Group Discussion

The kids broke up into small groups and discussed their characters. Everybody picked a character they would like to use and decided whether they would like to use the character’s name as is or change it.

20 minutes: All About My Character

I asked the kids to think up as many details about their character as they could and write them down. I also suggested that if they didn’t know the answer to a question that they make it up. I explained that they might not use all those details, but the details would help them imagine the characters better. Next time I would be a little firmer on this and require the kids to make up three details.

Once they had gotten a start on that, they broke up into small groups and talked about their characters.

20 minutes: Where’s the Story

I discussed common types of plots. Then I asked each of them to write down three types as story ideas. They didn’t have to use one of them, but they could.

As the kids were working, the teacher and I went around the classroom talking to kids who were feeling stuck or weren’t sure their ideas would make good stories.

By the end of day two, most of the kids knew who they were going to write about and what kind of story they were going to tell.

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Громыко Григорий Олегович (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

This is the third post in a series on writing fanfiction for kids. Earlier posts are: On Teaching a Fanfiction Workshop for Kids and Writers in the Schools – A Second Time Round.

Day One: Introducing Fanfiction

On the first day, I introduced the concept of fanfiction and started in on the prewrite process.

5 to 10 minutes: Introducing myself

I introduced myself and talked a little about what it was like to be a writer, and what kinds of things I had written. I had learned from my Writers in the Schools experience that having a bit of an “author glamour” helps keep students engaged and interested. I also touched on writers block as a lead-in to the next activity.

5 to 10 minutes: Warmup

This idea came from the teacher and is great! I handed out half-sheets of lined paper. The teacher took a wastepaper basket and put it on the front desk. The students wrote for three minutes, then crumpled the papers and threw them toward the basket.

Of course the question came up: “But what if I like what I wrote and don’t want to recycle it???” I gave them The Look and then said, “Okay, fine, but then you don’t get to play basketball!”

10 minutes: General concepts

  • Fanfiction means writing a story using characters from a book, TV show, or movie.
  • It’s great practice for writing short stories using your own characters.
  • Since many books, TV shows, and movies are copyrighted, there are various laws about what you can and can’t do. Writing fanfiction in a classroom but not publishing it is called “fair use.” Just like you cite sources when you write research papers, it’s important to say which book, TV show, or movie you used.
  • Examples of two authors who wrote fanfiction books and then went on to write their own novels: Kij Johnson and Vonda McIntyre. I showed them my copies of Kij Johnson’s Dragon’s Honor (Star Trek novel) and The Fox Woman, as well as my copies of The Entropy Effect (Star Trek novel) and The Moon and the Sun.

20 minutes: Brainstorming

Then we brainstormed a list of books, movies, and TV shows that the kids might like to use, and the students broke up into groups to discuss the ideas. Each student then picked one they wanted to use.

We ended the day with the kids full of energy.

Next up: Day Two

Entropy Effect and Dragons Honor

Writers in the Schools — A Second Time Round

(This is Part Two in a series on teaching a fanfiction workshop. Part One is here.)

When planning the fanfiction workshop, I had the benefit of experience to look back on. The MFA program at the University of Washington offered an internship called “Writers in the Schools.” I worked with a classroom teacher at a local school to teach short story writing to a class of 7th graders. That was a challenging job and although we all made it through, with some great short stories, I never quite felt I was up for the task. I was pretty shy and had absolutely no idea how to keep the attention of thirty teenagers! They were awestruck for the first few weeks, but when my “author glamour” wore off, it was a struggle to keep them quiet enough so that I could give my lessons.

On top of that, after the class was over I felt that I had taught them the wrong things. I spent so much time explaining the conventions of the short story form, the mystery genre, the adventure genre, and so forth, when many of these conventions are already imprinted on our brains. I spent much less time with confidence-building and tips and tricks for getting unstuck. And when their stories were finished I critiqued them in the same way adult writers critique each other’s stories, not understanding that I was sending a message that a Professional Stamp of Approval would be required for their art.

I gave it my best, and I did a good job, but still . . . . I wanted a do-over!

Since then, I’ve had a lot more experience with teaching and public speaking. I now know that teaching is as much performance art as it is transmission of information. It’s about knowing when kids’ attention is lagging and how to get it back.

I’ve also had a lot of time to think about what kinds of help young writers actually do and don’t need. In general, it’s helpful if it’s about how to get ideas out of your brain and onto the paper. It’s not helpful if it’s about how to do it correctly. It’s helpful if it’s about practice. It’s not helpful if the initial focus is on final product.

Above all, it’s helpful if it’s fun.

Enter the fanfiction component.

Next up: Day One

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On teaching a fanfiction workshop for kids

This year I volunteered in the classroom to teach a group of 4th and 5th graders how to write fanfiction stories. It was a great experience! I got the chance to see some really excited writers and read their work, and the kids got the chance to have fun writing.

When planning it, I thought about what would have helped me as a young writer. I was constantly writing stories, but I felt like they all had the same character in them . . . a girl with an embarrassing similarity to me! There’s nothing wrong with that, but it made me feel self-conscious about my writing. I was also self-conscious about writing stories featuring my favorite book characters. I didn’t realize that authors are always borrowing characters and plots and then reworking them.

I also thought about what would be helpful for kids who think they can’t write. Grownups make writing quite difficult for kids by insisting it be done “the right way.” That’s why so many adults have writer’s block. In some ways, schooling seems to have improved — I’m seeing more focus on starting out with a rough draft and not worrying about spelling and punctuation in that rough draft. But at the same time, there’s a much smaller emphasis on teaching handwriting, and that hinders kids’ fluency and their feelings about their own writing. So writer’s block isn’t going away anytime soon!

Teaching fanfiction instead of regular fiction had big advantages for both these groups. Self-conscious writers don’t have to worry that their characters or plots suck, because somebody else made them up. And they don’t have to worry so much about pleasing adults — only themselves.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll be writing about my experience. I also have some worksheets to share, so I’ll be uploading them to this blog for general use.

Next up: Writers in the Schools, The Second Time Round

– Kristin

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