Tag Archives: Author’s Craft

Teaching Writerly Craft Moves with Movies

Great writing is artistry. Helping students to read like writers and notice the nuances that writers do is a close reading skill. This layer of reading for craft and structure includes word choice, sentence structure, literary devices and figurative language, point of view and author’s purpose. Craft is the deliberate writing technique and skills to communicate a message in few words and subtleties.

It is one thing to say that while students are reading text, they can record evidence of word choice (including unknown words, determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings — to analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone); text features (and the impact it makes on the text); author’s purpose or point of view. But for many students, these writing moves are subtle and a difficult concept for students to recognize.

Movies and movie clips are one way that I help my students notice craft in writing.  If students can observe the symbolism, point of views, and tone in a movie, I can help them to see these deliberate moves in writing as well. Visual storytelling has a language all its own. Filmmakers create meaning and emotion all through images, by choosing and composing them with care.

We start by viewing a video clip like Alfred Hitchcock’s Stairs to Suspense Montage

Hitchcock uses stairs in his movies to set the mood, build suspense, and for symbolic purposes. After viewing this clip students respond to the question: How does Alfred Hitchcock use stairs to draw suspense for his viewers?

We look at other trademarks of movie directors like M. Night Shyalaman. He is known for directing and writing The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. His newest film is Glass. Shyalaman’s unique visual style threaded through his disparate supernatural, thriller, and genre films that goes much deeper than his surprise endings.

 

Here’s a third example of a director’s craft. James Cameron’s films examine Person versus Nature/Humanity conflict in his films. In Titanic, Cameron explores the confidence in which mankind has regarding their technology. The ship was billed as “Unsinkable,” yet nature proved its power over mankind’s technology.  Avatar is Cameron’s most obvious effort to explore the conflict that can arise between technology and nature, taking an environmentalist tone. In this film, mankind is using their technology to mine a precious mineral on Pandora. While this activity is of benefit to humanity, it threatens the existence of the Na’vi and causes harm to the Pandora’s plants and animals. This conflict ultimately leads to a deadly conflict between the two species.

Directors, like writers are deliberate in the choices they make to convey the story. If students can see and recognize these trademarks in movies, they might be able to see these same trademarks in writing.

JT Bushnell writes in the essay, “Realism in Action: The Art of Invisibility in Amy Tan’s Rules of the Game, “…the writer’s job is, first, to write about questions complex enough that they avoid simplistic answers or easy moralizing and, second, to demonstrate such questions with precision and accuracy.

Let’s help our students find these complex questions embedded within the text with precision and accuracy before we ask them to answer them for themselves.

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All these Wonders: Teaching Storytelling with The Moth

Today I had the privilege of attending a storytelling workshop presented by NCTE and The Moth, at Penguin Random House Books in New York City. The Moth Radio Hour, produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and presented by PRX, highlights personal narratives and storytelling of ordinary people. In addition to listening to the Moth Radio Hour, there is a Podcast and published collections of the stories told.

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Today’s workshop, lead by The Moth Education Program, provides a framework for eliciting stories and personal narrative with students. There was a lot of talking and interacting before we even started to write. The first hour was spent meeting people and developing possible seed ideas where stories might be hiding. The first introduction required participants to complete the sentence, “I’m the kind of person who . . .”

There was lots of oral drafting before we ever put pen to paper, and this might be a great entry way for the reluctant writer/student who is more willing to try adding to or subtracting from their stories than when they physically write a draft. As teacher Tara Zinger and moth curriculum partner states, “Hearing a laugh or a gasp from a peer can be just what a student needs to know they are on the right track, and that just doesn’t happen as easily with a more traditional writing process.”

Presenter and The Moth Storyteller, Micaela Blei shares five techniques of storytelling and what makes a story compelling?

Change – Change is what separated a story from an anecdote. From the beginning to the end of the story, you’re somehow a different person, even if in a small way.

Stakes – We like to define stakes as what you have to win or lose in the story. Or, alternatively, what MATTERED to you?

Themes – Choosing a theme can help a storyteller decide how to shape this particular story. Deciding what thread or theme you want to draw out for this particular 5-minute version can help you make critical choices of details that pertain.

Show Us vs. Tell – A story is most effective when you have at least one really vivid scene: with sensory details, action, dialogue, and inter thoughts/feelings.

Be Honest/Be Real – There’s no one right way to tell a story. Be yourself.

The Moth stories online and in the published books are great for studying author’s craft and the craft of storytelling. This helps to meet the standards for Craft and Structure:

CCSS ELA Literacy. RL. 11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

CCSS ELA Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

After analyzing the stories, students can use these same stories as models and mentors for their own personal narrative writing and storytelling. To get started, try out one of these Moth-style story prompts:

A time you did something you never thought you would do.

A time your relationship with someone your love changed – a little or a lot.

A time that you took a risk – or decided NOT to take the risk.

A time you tried to be something your weren’t.

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The Most Dangerous Games & Other Mini Games for Popular Short Stories

My middle school students are reading various short stories for a unit that focuses on author’s craft and structure. The three Common Core Learning Standards the overall unit addresses are:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5
Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.6
Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/8/
Mini games are a great way to infuse gamification into your lessons, work collaboratively, encourages students to make connections across texts to show their understanding.
The first short story students are reading is Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game about a hunter who becomes the huntee. Before students began reading, I created a game for them to play to initiate thinking about elements of the story. Students worked in teams to complete various tasks. Some of the specific questions led to deep questions about larger themes in the story: the relationship between people and animals, Violence can be psychological as well as physical, Fear brings out animal instincts in people, the ethics of hunting. 

 

After our close reading of The Most Dangerous Game we moved on to O’Henry’s The Rasom of the Red Chief, about a kidnapping gone wrong. O’Henry’s stories are filled with humor and irony so we focused on these aspects in our reading and discussion of the text. To spark our class activities I supplied each student with an O’Henry style mustache for inspiration and a little humor. Students visited different learning stations to play Roll the Dice, Think Tac Toe, and complete an irony maze created by Not Just Elementary.

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Awesome Irony Maze created by Not Just for Elementary

 

Our next shorty story in the unit is Raymond’s Run by Toni Cade Bambara. As a check for understanding I created a Raymond’s Run Maze with comprehension questions for students to complete and the game Farkle to address figurative language in the story. Farkle is played by two or more players, with each player in succession having a turn at throwing the dice. Each player’s turn results in a score that equates with the number of questions to answer about Metaphors and Similies in the short story Raymond’s Run, and the player who accumulates 10,000 points earns additional XP.

 

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