Education :: Why the “Why?” and “How?” are so Difficult

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

When it comes to writing the “why” and “how” of a story, there are a lot of reasons this is so difficult, especially for our young writers. For those who teach these young writers, it’s extremely disconcerting when you get the same story over and over again. The stories might have different characters and a different setting, but they always contain the same issue and conflict resolution reworded slightly.

As frustrated teachers, we need to take a step back and look at the heart of these stories. What do our students typically use to influence their writing? If you didn’t answer with ‘their life experiences’ that’s okay, but this is what I truly believe is at the crux of it all. Typically, they are only able to write about the things they’ve seen in their lives or read in other books. Sometimes, though, the things they read in books are so different from their own lives that it’s hard for them to comprehend these ideas.

In order to work through these topics with your students, I’m going to suggest a novel idea! We should model it! Oh, wait, I think I’ve said this before! Yes! Modeling: the #1 tip I will give to any teachers out there. How can you model this better? We’ve read the stories, we’ve taught conflict, conflict resolution and why the characters act the way they do. We’ve modeled it over and over. Still, though, our students have trouble pointing these out in a story, not to mention coming up with them for their stories!

What works for me in coming up with “thinking outside the box” for teaching ’cause and effect’ or ‘conflict and resolution’ is to practice this with individual statements. I’m including some of those statements at the end of this blog. We’re going to use just a regular table to practice all of this.

WhyWhatHow to Resolve
Tommy is just a mean boyTommy bullies Levi at school almost every single dayContinuously turn him in to the principal
Levi gets his other friends to help him beat Tommy up
Tommy is jealous because Levi gets better gradesThe student aid starts working with Tommy one-on-one
Levi finds out and rubs it in Tommy’s face that Tommy gets better grades
Tommy is abused at home and is scared to tell anyoneLevi gives up and asks his parents to let him be homeschooled
Levi is tired of being bullied by Tommy and he asks Tommy if they can talk and, even though Tommy doesn’t tell Levi his secret, they end up seeing each other in a different way and become friends

If we’re having the students create these, their thoughts and ideas are going to be all over the place! We need to be careful that we don’t stifle our students’ creativity. The table above is just one example of the vast array of answers your students might give.

Every classroom has its rules that we shouldn’t compromise. The first few times you do this exercise with the class, I’m sure there will be a few inappropriate responses. Create rapport with your students. They will respect you and you will have much less problems. I’ll have another blog soon for building rapport within your class. There may be responses that you consider super silly, but as long as it isn’t inappropriate, don’t put your students down for them. This gives your students a feeling of power, but you don’t necessarily have to use these as a final response for their work.

Why would we do all of this? What is the purpose of giving students a conflict and having them give “Why” and “How” as a class? As your students brainstorm, they’re going to be able to think outside the box. For those students who haven’t experienced many things yet in their lives, they’ll start seeing other perspectives because of the things their classmates speak.

Just as I provide a ‘toolbox’ on the resources page, your students will also be adding tools to their own boxes. They might not have experienced the things they write about, but hearing from peers helps us all to have a much better grasp of how stories come to exist and how they are fixed (or, as you can see above, made worse!)

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