Yoknapatawpha Lite

I’ve got two big writing projects that I am juggling with the seventh grade right now. The first involves local history research, and a colleague and I are presenting it at the state technology conference; the other is a fiction writing assignment that grew out of reading 145th Street Stories by Walter Dean Myers. Myers provides multiple narrators and narrative styles as well as stories that share characters.  So the class is creating characters for their own stories and sharing them with the entire class. Now we have a cast of 73 characters, each with their own biography, that we are using to populate our own stories.

Students started by filling out organizers to explore aspects of their character: name, physical description, family, hopes and fears, friends and enemies, living situation. I created the organizers in Inspiration, and I discovered that a handful of students had never used the software. [Note to self – we should do that verb conjugation practice using Inspiration right away.] They were randomly paired with another student in their section; the students together had to decide what relationship their two characters had. Were they actually related? Were they classmates? Neighbors? Employer/employee? Tenant/Landlord? Customer/Shopkeeper? We brainstormed some possibilities and they connected their characters.

I used google forms to capture basic information to create a character census.

Creating our census

Each student filled this out and I shared the resulting document with the entire class so they had an easily search-able thumbnail look at the our population.

After this exploration, we used Keynote to create mini biographies. Students created a presentation about their character, narrated it, and exported it to a Quicktime movie.  We uploaded these to the student gmail server so they can access them from anywhere.

What are the requirements?

Students can write in any narrative voice. First person, third person, – it’s their choice. They must use at least one character from the population of characters that the class created. This character does not have to have an integral part in the story, but they must appear. They must keep the characters that other students create consistent to their characteristics as imagined by their creators.  They can’t make them a murderer or give them superpowers. Stories must have conflict that organically grows out of the characteristics created by the authors (things the hope for, fear, their families, their living situation, friends and enemies).  Stories must contain dialog.

I still have decide about the dreaded “how long” question and we will look at punctuating dialog as soon as we get back.

It’s a work in progress. I’ve never tried quite this elaborate a set of prewriting activities, and I will be interested to see if it helps my students or stifles them.

I’ll keep y’all posted.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. John Spencer says:

    I think your blending of narrative and technology is really cool. I also think it’s cool that you give students so many chances to make their own decisions.

    1. Kate Tabor says:

      Thanks, John – you know what the realities of middle school are: too many choices, they freeze up. Too few choices, the freeze up. I’m hoping that as we have moved the character creation process forward step by step they will feel connected to their characters and able to write about them.

      Technology is good as long as it facilitates the work. I think that the uses here are possible using other means but not as fluid or as flexible (google forms and doc along with shared Quicktime videos). Stdents worked hard on the documentaries. I hope they work as hard on the story writing. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  2. Clay Burell says:

    Interesting. I’ve never used Google Forms. Can the world see the bios?

    Are the students writing their stories online? Linking to each others’ characters?

    Are you a 1:1 school?

    Have I asked enough questions yet?

    Best for the new year,


    1. Kate Tabor says:

      Hi Clay –
      No, the world cannot see the bios. Only the people with whom I share the document can see it. The form dumps all the information into a spreadsheet that is secure. The videos are currently on a google video server that requires a students.schoolname.org account address to access.

      The stories right now are in their favorite word processing program, but I will have them move to google docs so that they can work on them from school or home and then share with me when they are a ready to publish.

      We will publish; I am hoping for a book they can hold in their hand at least. I would love to have a “book” that is online where the stories can be connected through links by characters/locations.

      We are not a 1:1 school.

      You can never ask too many questions. I have some for you. Expect an email.

      Best to you as well.

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