Education :: What is the Purpose of the Story?

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

When you’re playing many games, such as chess, you are playing with a specific purpose in mind. In chess, the purpose of the game is to take out the opposing player’s king. A game of Monopoly is over once someone has bankrupted everyone else. A game of tic-tac-toe is won when a player gets three of each of their signs (X or O) in a row, up-down, right-left, or diagonal. You can’t accurately play a game if you don’t know the purpose.

The same happens with writing stories. Have you ever noticed that when you give a writing assignment to your students – no matter what grade they’re in – there’s rarely substance to what they’re writing? Even when you give the students a writing prompt, there’s very little substance to their writing and their stories tend to run in circles without settling on any one thing. This is normal, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you get.

When it comes to getting your students in the mindset of creating a purpose for their stories, you’re going to have to model this. When starting the topic of purpose – also called the conflict of the story – you’re going to want to provide everything except for the purpose. As much as we want our students to be able to remember everything we’ve taught them, we teachers need to realize that teaching a new concept causes students to (hopefully momentarily) forget everything they’ve learned previously.

If you can, have all of the story information available for every student to see – whether this is a printed manipulative or set up on a projected screen of some sort, such as a SMART board or similar. When you decide to teach this subject, do it as a full class several times at the very least. My suggestion would be to have the students suggest a few different “conflicts”; then have the students vote on which conflict they want to be the purpose for the story. After a conflict is chosen, remind the students of the details you already gave them. One of my favorite ways of writing a story in a group is to have each student give a sentence that fits in the story. Because of the information you’ve already given them, they know the who, where, when, and – now – what/how/why. The only thing missing for the students is the how, and this is where the story comes from. You might be thinking, “But what if a student gives a sentence that doesn’t fit the story at all?” This is the joy of already giving the students the main information and having every student involved in the building of the story. You can ask after every sentence, “Does this sentence fit the story?” If not, delete the sentence and have the student try again. Once you have a solid sentence, move on to the next student. How you choose the order of the students is completely up to you. Random, by chair, by name, etc.

Some of your more advanced students will be able to run with their own stories right away. Know who these students are, but be careful not to let them run too soon as they may understand the concept but may still struggle with the execution. Once you’ve done this story writing as a class several times, split the students into groups, making sure every group has at least one student you are sure understands the concept and they will be the ‘team captain’. Just as you didn’t give a sentence of your own to the story with the full class, the team captain won’t give a sentence; they’ll do the same thing you were doing. Your task will be to keep the students on task and settle any disputes that form in the groups.

Over time, you will have most every student understanding the concept. Once that happens, you can give them papers that allow them to decide their own who, when, where, what, how, and why. This will be the first part of the assignment. You need to check these to make sure the students are on the right track. Individual work will be done at this point; those students who get it will go on to write their stories, those students who are struggling can work with you one-on-one or in small groups.

To find my versions of these, click the links below.

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