Group Story Project
This project guides students in creating their own fairy-tale or story as a group. It takes four class periods to complete (assuming a typical 45-minute period).
We begin by talking about STORIES. What makes a good story? A good story has a PROBLEM. (Conflict)
What are some PROBLEMS in familiar stories?
The end of a story usually comes when the main character(s) solve the problem. How do the problems we've mentioned get solved?
Start with a story and a problem that are familiar to the group. (Hansel and Gretal are prisoners of the Witch. The wolf keeps blowing the pigs' houses down. Etc.)
If necessary or desirable, add a few characters from other stories.
Have the class come up with alternate solutions to the problem in the story. (Instead of shoving her in the oven, Gretel tricks the Witch into eating a hole in the wall of her house, through which the children escape. Instead of building a house of bricks, the pigs trap the wolf in a pit. Etc.)
Do this as a verbal exercise with the whole class.
Small group stories
Break into small groups.
Each group takes the same (new) story/problem and comes up with an individual solution, which they act out.
Watch that each group does their own work rather than trying to eavesdrop on each other.
What is a character? What two main kinds of characters do you find in stories? (Protagonists and Antagonists--"Good Guys" and "Bad Guys.")
How do these two kinds of characters relate to the PROBLEM?
On the board, come up with two lists--one of "Good Guys," and one of "Bad Guys."
After the first day of the project, make up two sets of index cards--"Good Guy Cards," and "Bad Guy Cards." Put all of the characters generated in the last part of the lesson on these cards so that each card says either "Good Guy" of "Bad Guy" on the back, and has the name of one character on the front. You will use these cards in the next class.
Warn students that not everyone will necessarily get a chance to be in front!
In front of class, two students at a time select cards--one from each stack--and act out a short scene between these two characters.
Whole class helps to determine what the PROBLEM will be, and also makes suggestions on how to construct the story.
Do this as many times as time allows.
Review last period's lesson. Can you remember any particular combinations of characters that were especially fun?
Have the class vote on one combination of "Good Guy/Bad Guy" they like best.
Stress that they are not voting for their favorite SCENE from last time, but only on the combination of characters that seems to offer the most possibilities.
Write the chosen combination at the top of the board as a title. ("Superman vs. The Big Bad Wolf")
Brainstorm a PROBLEM for our story. (Keep stressing that it need not be the problem we saw last week.)
Write the PROBLEM on the board as a story synopsis. "The Big Bad Wolf kidnaps Lois Lane and locks her in a closet full of Kryptonite."
Begin adding details to the story by asking questions:
Do we need any other characters?
Where is our story set?
What is the very first thing that happens in the story?
How will Superman solve the problem? (Or will our story have an unhappy ending?)
What questions you ask will depend on the story that is developing. But by the end of this period, we should have a fairly detailed outline of the story.
(This shouldn't take a whole period. It's really just the icing on the cake. Plan something fairly physical for the remainder of the period, to make up for the fairly sedentary last class.)
After the last class, you should have carefully typed up the story, complete with a title page including the names of all of the members of the class, and made professional-looking copies for everyone in the class.
Hand out the copies of the story to everyone.
Read the story in class, having students take turns reading.
(There is an element of role-play here. We are authors celebrating the arrival of the first printing of our new book. Make it festive. THIS IS IMPORTANT! A lot of what makes this lesson work is the pride and ownership students take in their work and in the process of writing.)
I devised this lesson in part to generate a story that could then be made into a play, perhaps in the manner of my Group Playwriting Project. BUT:
I think it works well on its own, as a creative writing project. I especially like the way it upends the notion most of us have that the creative process for a writer is necessarily solitary and cerebral. (I think most people--children and adults--imagine a writer sitting at his desk, pencil in hand, thinking up stories or waiting for inspiration to strike out of the blue. Some do that, some of the time, but there are infinite and varied ways in which a writer can come up with a story idea.)
If you are going to go on and make a play, I strongly recommend putting the story away for at least a month and doing something very different for a while before coming back to it. I say this because it's better, from an educational perspective, to approach the playmaking process as its own exercise in adapting a story to the stage, rather than as an extension of the improvisations and dramatizations that took place during the creation of the story.