Tuesday, April 19, 2011

10 Story Frame: Story Planning for 1st Graders

“Characters are story. And any great plot or subplot is driven
by the characters’ wants and desires.”
                                                         ~ Robert Gregory Browne

Our lovely Marissa is the best 1st grade teacher on the planet. Seriously, she spends like 60 hours a week on top of her class time coming up with sizzling lesson plans and activities to get her kids psyched about learning. So just for kicks (and to give me an excuse to see her more often) I started taking my Sheltie, Auggie, into the classroom once a week to help her teach writing. Auggie's a registered therapy dog, and I've done writing and literacy programs in the classroom before, so I thought it would work out well.

First session, Auggie and I acted out a basic story about Auggie the lazy sheepdog, who fell asleep on the job, and the naughty black sheep who decided to teach him a lesson by hiding. The story showed off the list of various tricks in Auggie's repertoire: sleep, eat (his favorite), fetch a newspaper, be lazy, get the sheep, jump through hoops, crawl under hoops, go through the tunnel, weave around obstacles, beg, pray, roll over, dead dog, find the lost sheep, jump for joy, etc. Needless to say, the kids loved it.

Now it wasn't all fun and games. In the course of that first story, the kids learned a few new tricks, too. By the time class ended, they could tell me about the story's:
  • Protagonist/hero
  • Antagonist/villain
  • Goals
  • Plot
  • Setting
The kids were proud of their new "big" words, and of course we went over them and over them the next few sessions. We tried to pick out the protagonists, antagonists, and story structures in stories we read together, and in stories they had read at home.

Next step? Write a story together, of course. So Marissa and I came up with a basic story framework:

Once upon a time there was a ________________________________who lived

__________________________________ with ________________________

and wanted to __________________. But _____________________________

wanted ________________________________________________________.

So ___________________________________________________________.

But then _______________________________________________________.

And that made __________________________________________________.

So ___________________________________________________________.

But then _______________________________________________________.

And that made __________________________________________________.

So ___________________________________________________________.

But then _______________________________________________________.

And finally _____________________________________________________.

And they lived happily ever after.


The kids have since written several stories by combining this story structure and Auggie's list of tricks. There was one about Monsieur Bob stealing Mademoiselle Fifi and running through the streets of Paris with Auggie chasing after them to get her back. Then there was the one about Auggie the sea turtle and the evil octopus who stole the treasure and hid it in the tunnel on the dark side of Jelly Fish City. And then.... Well, you get the idea.

My point (and yes, I actually have one) is that watching the kids take such pleasure in telling a simple story reminded me that all stories are essentially simple. The plot worksheet I use pretty much starts with this same structure and complicates it until I have a full-length novel. But telling the story, almost any story, is as simple as looking an antag and a protag each doing things to advance their own goals, with the other reacting and each of them making things worse for the other. After that, the rest all falls into place more easily.

Anyway, that's my theory du jour. I think it all starts with what the protag and the antag want deep down as well as on the surface. What do they say they want? And what do they really need?

What do you think? Is that where your stories start? And if not here, then where?

Oh, and the winner of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares from last week is:

Ghenet Myrthil

Ghenet, please email us with your mailing address.

Happy writing, everyone!

Martina

10 comments:

  1. Great post. That is a fabulous way to get kids engaged in the story and excited to write. Oh I remember so many struggles in first and second grade when my daughter had to write a paragraph. And you're right, this also applies to what we have to figure out when we start our novels.

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  2. I can't tell you what an amazing experience it is to have Martina and her fabulous dog Auggie into school every week. The kids are psyched about crafting stories and they're thinking about story components on a MUCH deeper level than if they were just read a story. It's quite hilarious to hear them say the terms "antagonist" and "protagonist." They actually get that these two figures have desires that are at odds and that it creates tension. When the story comes together (even though it is usually very kid-driven and hysterical), it's so cool!

    The best part for me is seeing Martina, of course. She's enthusiastic and animated with the kids. They ADORE her and look forward to her weekly visit so much. They even keep a mailbox going where they write her and Auggie notes all week long until she arrives.

    Thank you Martina for your kind words, and more so, your generosity. Now that you've met my students, you probably see why it's easy to pour my time into crafting activities that will engage them. I feel blessed to do what I do. Having you come in and be a part of it is so special week after week!

    Love you!
    Marissa

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  3. Thank you for these wonderful suggestions. I've found that in working with children, some NEED the boost in the form of Auggie or in helping follow a plan like you've laid out. I appreciate the tips!

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  4. Excellent post! Kudos to the both of you!

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  5. Marissa,

    You are ALWAYS so freakin' humble it kills me. You should see yourself with those kids. They adore you, and the way they respond to you is amazing. You can take them from crazed maniac jellyfish and sharks to quietly seated (cough, cough) angels in ten seconds. And they hang on your every word. I love that! Plus I adore the notes. Auggie not so much, but he loves the cookies. Unfortunately for the hospital and nursing homes, he finds chasing Monsieur Bob much more fun than traditional therapy!

    Love you!

    Martina

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  6. I absolutely love this template! And what a fun activity for the kids. I would love to see the kids and dogs in action together. What a cool idea.

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  7. OMG!! Ladies, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post. It's so awesome to be introducing youngsters to story structure. It enriches their understanding of the early reader stories they're reading. And it sets them up for reading comprehension success later.

    I LOVE the story template too. Thanks to you I now have a ready made activity to work through with my 4 year old daughter!!! #awesomesauce

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  8. Awesome post!!!! Thanks for sharing this.
    : )

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  9. Great points! I start roughly with germ idea and plot, but the characters are what grab me. Thanks for the reminder that my antagonist has to be just as motivated as the protag, surface-like and deep-down. *runs off to study manuscript*

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  10. Great post! These story writing sessions sound so fun. I would have loved that as a 1st grader. :)

    I'm so excited I won the book! Off to email you now...thanks so much!!

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