A Story Circle – creating connections through creative writing

8 ways diagram

Stories have the power to connect people by sharing experiences and knowledge, yet many students feel insecure or lack confidence in their ability to write engagingly. Consider the different ideas in this post: how might you create interesting spaces and opportunities to encourage students to share their stories?

This image represents effective paths for success for students in sharing their knowledge. For more details on  the 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning, go to the wikispace home: http://8ways.wikispaces.com/home

In 2008, I attended Dr Karen Walker’s ALEA Conference presentation titled Aboriginal Worldviews and Realities through Stories of Places, Spaces and Identities: when you let stories grow you up, they make us rich. Through a series of different activities, I came to appreciate how different ways of sharing stories could build confidence in the classroom. One activity, in particular, made an immediate impact: sitting in groups, workshop participants drew a turtle. But we didn’t know that at the beginning – each person was responsible for drawing a different section, such as the head, shell, a leg … It became obvious that everyone wanted to do their best for the group, with many apologies of ‘I can’t draw’ yet each group completed the task.

Over time, I have adapted this idea for students in collaborating with story writing. Your students should be practised at working in groups and be willing to take risks – aim to complete shared activities and collaborative tasks to build cohesion and trust.

When students are required to write a narrative for an assessment or exam, it makes sense to prepare by writing with peer editing or critiquing exercises. Try this ‘story circle’ with any class, although it is aimed at senior students with the suggestion of including ten different language features or techniques.

  • group 4 – 6 students at desks facing each other or similar format so that paper is easily passed in a circle
  • explain that everyone will write a story during the lesson
  • discuss the chosen concept (eg. belonging, place, crime …)
  • consider a moment of visualisation – closed eyes: note what they can see / hear / feel / smell / taste – allow a moment to take brief notes
  • consider providing a stimulus eg. when writing for place, I read out this extract with pauses to indicate sentence and paragraph structure:

I lowered my window.

The air was packed with smells. Cement. Exhaust. Whiffs of flowers, spices, garbage, cooking grease.

I listened to the familiar city-night jazz. Car horns. Traffic humming on an overpass. The sound of a piano slipping from an open door. It was the melody of a thousand urban centers.

Kathy Reichs, Cross Bones,2005, William Heinemann, p. 151.

What follows is a series of timed writing instructions – prepare a list of language features and techniques with which your students are most familiar. On completion, the ‘story’ is handed on for the next student to complete the next instruction. Plan your list so each student makes at least two contributions to each story. It may help to provide some ground rules: students may write in first or third person and each successive writer must maintain the story’s integrity by continuing in either first or third person. Instruct students to write

  • a short sentence with an action
  • a short paragraph that lists several sensations
  • a new paragraph that begins with an example of onomatopoeia
  • a descriptive paragraph of at least three sentences – include a simile and/or a metaphor and/or personification
  • a short sentence of dialogue
  • a reference to the time of day through repetition. Here’s my example:

It was late afternoon. When the wattle tree shadows began to stretch, when the day’s heat began to dissipate, when the sky turned into an exhausted blue.

  • another action which indicates the character’s occupation OR environmental action …
  • a title of no more than three words

Allow students time to read each draft and a moment to think before making their contribution, but too much time can bring insecurity. Make this fun, rather than ultra competitive and emphasise that students may use some or all of the ideas in their story. It could be a good time to discuss the notion of originality or individual ownership when we actually learn in community and reflect on each other’s ideas.

You might use another lesson to edit or follow up on theses ideas …

Here is another great writing idea from Bianca Hewes about writing for the AOS Belonging from her blog titled Toilets and Tanks: My successful ‘hook lessons’ http://biancahewes.wordpress.com/ Who wouldn’t benefit from taking a class outside and thinking differently to harness their creativity?

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