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
- 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!