Tag Archives: writing

In defense of outlines

I. Introduction

A. Anecdote

B. Not taught in elementary and middle schools

D. Benefits of outlining

E. Call to action

III. Why not taught

A. Scare students

B. What teachers do instead

1. similar to outlining but without the Roman Numerals

2. ex. “mental map”

3. [note: research and give examples]

4. My opinion: this mystifies the writing process

II.  Benefits of outlining

A. Makes the writing process easier – manageable chunks

B. Helps with anxiety

1. There is something on the page

2. Numbers and letters make you feel like accomplishing something

3. Psych yourself into thinking you are not writing

C. Benefits for procrastinators

1. [Anecdote]

2. Can leave writing until the last minute

D. An aid to research

1. Lets you know ahead of time what research may be necessary

2. Lets you know what the gaps are in your research

3. Can take notes and cut and paste right into outline

4. Big screens are a plus. Do not attempt on a cell phone.

5. Old fashioned paper works too.

E. Organization is flexible

1. Often your first idea for organizing doesn’t work out

2. Easy to move around, add new categories

3. Word processors often have tools that make it even easier

F. The more complex the writing assignment, the more helpful

1. [Anecdote]

III. Call to action

A. Bring back outlining!

B. Not for everyone, indispensable for some

C. Yes, I am a geek for writing an entire essay in outline form and posting it to my blog. (What can I say? Organization pleases me.) If you read this whole thing, maybe you are too.

IV. Bibliography

A. [Find sources on any studies re: outlining]

B. [Find sources for any examples of mental maps, etc.]

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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!

inklewriter-release-banner

Clarion West writeathon – I DID IT!

I set some serious goals for myself for the Clarion West writeathon – 250 words or more, 5 days a week, for six weeks. AND I DID IT!

Writing consistently is so important, so quick, and so hard. When you write every day, you wake up every morning thinking about what you’re going to write. You actually produce work. You feel good about yourself. And when people ask “Are you writing?” you don’t get that sinking feeling in the bottom of your stomach!

So I met my writeathon goals, but I need to keep this thing up.

Starting TODAY.

 

 

 

When the word count quota feels like a chore . . .

I’m still at it with the Clarion West writeathon! I have lost track of exactly how many words I’ve done, but this week I wrote T, W, TH, F, and will need to write Saturday. (I’m measuring the weeks Sun through Sat.) Today, however, I felt pretty darned unmotivated. I spent yesterday sitting at Chuck E Cheese revising a paper copy of my work-in-progress, and I don’t want to write any more until I have those revisions entered. I started a flash fiction earlier this week, but I don’t want to work on that either. So, for your reading amusement, here is what happens when a writer gets stuck but has to write anyway

***

            “You’re getting ahead of the story,” I said to myself. “It is opening up to manifold possibilities and one story should not have quite so many. It should not be a multiverse.”

            “However,” I replied sensibly, “I have a word quote for the Clarion West writeathon. I have to get to 250 words every day, five days a week, for two more days and two more weeks. Then I will have met my goal.”

            “That’s all well and good but Phoenix and Raven just want you to stop a minute and let them catch their breaths and gather their identities. Why don’t you work on something else in the meantime?”

            I scratched my head. “Well, there is the washing machine story, but I have to admit, I’m a little stuck. Have you got any ideas for what a washing machine could do that would upset a household exactly as much as a thief stealing their stuff?”

            “Weren’t we going with a laundry avalanche, or something like that? Sort of a Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage out?”

            I made a derogatory noise at myself. “That’s been done.”

            “Well, Chrome is making a lot of noises and she could be rocking the foundation of the house. It could cause a collapse of their closet. In fact, the entire closet could fall through the floor into the basement.”

            “But that’s silly!”

            “So is the concept of a sentient washing machine. Fiction can be silly. You can do whatever you can with it.”

            “Never mind. I’ve hit 250 words already.”

            “Let’s call it a day, then.”

            “Whatever.”

– Kristin

The writeathon — charging on ahead!

Two weeks into the Clarion West writeathon, and I’ve met my goal so far! Here are the daily counts:

  • Day One: 403 words
  • Day Two: 305 words
  • Day Three: 388 words
  • Day Four: 383 words
  • Day Five: 288 words
  • Day Six: 403 words
  • Day Seven: 346 words
  • Day Eight: 435 words
  • Day Nine: 480 words
  • Day Ten: 295 words

It doesn’t take long to get these words out. But it’s hard as anything! I’m always so certain that what I’m writing will never amount to much, that it will never be a story. Then, as I write, story emerges. Sentences come out of my fingers and surprise me. But self-doubt haunts me the whole way. Sure, things are happening, but there’s no way I can get to the ending! Once I do — sure, it’s a full story, but it’s bound to be no good!

So the writeathon is helping enormously. To be the writer I want to be, I have to write, and I have to do it daily and consistently. That’s the advice that’s always given to writers, and few of them actually manage it. For me it’s fear. There’s only a little bit of fear and anxiety, but it’s just enough to make me say, “Well, of course I’ll do it, but later.”

Well, with the writeathon, later is now.

– Kristin

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

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

How is the write-a-thon coming along?

Day One: 403 words. A nameless narrator explains how she met the mysterious Phoenix. He’s mysterious to me, too.

Day Two: 305 words. Phoenix went up in flames. I guess that was to be expected.  Also, lots of procrastinating by playing with the GIMP image distortion features.

Day Three: 388 words. Our unnamed narrator receives a message from Phoenix, from before he went up in flames.

manipulation3smaller

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