Creative Writing – very creatively…

painting of the Trojan HorseSo, another step into the unknown; the murky journey of the short story full of fantastical, wandering story lines, abrupt plot twists, over elaborate descriptions and unbelievable leaps from one scene to the next.  I love storytelling, it is the most powerful form of learning there is.  Language has developed from the oral story telling of past generations, cultures have evolved and taken on their identities as a result of the tales passed on from elders to their mokopuna and on again. We are who we are because of the stories of the world.  Who doesn’t remember sitting on a parents’ lap lost in the imaginings of the stories they were read?  I recall crawling into my parents’ bed with my three sisters on weekend mornings to cuddle up with my Dad as he told us the story of the fairies who hid in a huge wooden horse to conquer the goblins who were overpowering their kingdom.  We begged for it over and over again and asked for more and more embellishments.  It was only much later that I realised that the fairies’ wooden horse was actually the Trojan Horse!

Anyway, I digress.  Cultures are built on myths and legends which help us make sense of the world around us and how it came to be.  We thrive on real life stories – just look at the number of reality TV shows, soap operas that tell the stories of “real life”, and who hasn’t stopped to say “Oooh! Have you heard about ….?  We are fascinated by people, by stories, by questions, by answers, by imagination, curiosity and invention.

So, my Year 9 English class and I have embarked on story telling.  In the last week of term we explored 5 Card Flickr with interesting results as already outlined in a recent blog.  I was lucky enough to spend some time with Alan Levine when he visited New Zealand at the end of September and talked to him some more about digital story telling.  I only wish I had more time to explore the possibilities, but we have made a start.  This week we used an idea I heard about as I was surfing the internet.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the webpage so apologies to the initiator of this idea.  We have called it #storymakers and the idea is that one of the class (this time it was me, just to get them started) puts a starter sentence into a room and then everyone else continues the story until it ends.  It’s a bit like the party game when you have to go round the table and keep the sentence going.  We started with “One day I discovered a magic button….”

a red sparkly buttonWe had great fun and it was interesting to observe how they “developed” the story – some got a little bit carried away and relied on “waking up from a dream” when someone “killed’ the character off.  It was challenging for them to have to think of the next line quickly and it was a quite a public forum although less public than having to say the next line out loud in an oral context.  I wonder how we could encourage the flow of the story without having to do it so much under pressure?  I wonder if that would lead to more thoughtful ideas?  I am sure too that some of the students were embarrassed and were put outside their comfort zones because either they didn’t know what to say or they felt that what they wanted to say wasn’t good enough.  Resorting to “crazy” ideas provides a “cover” of sorts.  Maybe we could build the story over a lesson whilst doing other activities?  The students could just keep an eye on the “Tweet” stream and see when it is their turn, or jump in when they feel ready…?  Ideas to ponder…  It was great though to see them all engaged and prepared to have a go,

After the story was “finished” we read it out and talked about not being able to rely on “it was all a dream” to get out of strange situations and also developing the characters as the story develops. It is clear to see what has been in the news recently … and interesting also to realise that we can only write about what we have experience of and that we can only bring our own perspectives of our understandings of those experiences to our writing too.  I know that another group of people with different experiences would bring their own perspectives to this starter and the story would not be the same.
Here is the transcript of the story; (unedited)
One day I discovered a magic button ….
it was a blue sparkly one and it was hiding in my room
The button was circular and had a diameter of 7cm
It looke like it hadnt been seen in 100 years
It open a magical portal
but i didn’t go through
I just stood there looking at it, but then I heard cheerful music so I decided to take a look inside
but i slipped and ended up falling in a meadow
The meadow was filled with bogtrotters and nymphs
In the distance I saw a group huddled together and curiosity had the best of me
I started running over to the group and I suddenly tripped over and face planted in bogtrotters poo.
I thought really gross because it was all over my face, some went into my mouth and it tasted like shampoo
And then in the far distance there was a big BANG!!!!!!!
I then realised that I had Ebola and I died.. But then I woke up!
after dying i was really tired, and hungry so i went for a sleep and started chewing my own hand in my sleep.
I woke up and I was a new person named Bella ………. who was a princess.
I ended up being a prince….
Then out all of a sudden pineapples rained down from the sky and a lion roared in the distance…
I looked over to where the roar had came from and saw a pride a lions
They came running towards us ready to kill their prey
All of a sudden there was a baboon on the rock holding a baby cub with two other was the lion king
but I blinded them with my lightsaver and ran away
Ahhhh Sabena mamma he manana
all of a sudden everyone that i had been in contact with died and so did the animals because i had ebola.
and then in the distance I saw a man. i married him
We had a pineapple themed wedding, but then he died the next day from my ebola
the reason why i wasn’t dying because i was an immortal ebola zombie victim i had depression because i was the last living man on earth
I awoke next to the magic button, laying in a hospital bed really dying of Ebola.
I survived, because i got the magic curer from the bogtrotters
Lol, jk I’m still standing here looking at the portal. It’s kinda hurting my eyes fml.
I suddenly woke up to a holt. It turns out I was sleeping in rehab because I am Hillary duff.
Looking forwards to more storytelling…

From the sublime …. to the fanciful and beyond!

This week we started “creative writing”. Can you “start “creative writing””?  Surely it has to be spontaneous, from the heart,  rising from within ….? Anyway, it is the next “Unit” in our English programme, so we will do what we can…!  I have a feeling that my girls are going to be good at this!  Judging by the language in their formal essays they are itching to get those creative juices flowing and use adjectives and your imagination to the fullest.  I think though, that they may have some work to do with regard to some sort of plausibility!  Never mind,  it is the end of term and if we can’t go a little wild now,  when can we?

A few weeks ago when we started speech writing I introduced my class to Pecha Flickr, a tool created by a guy named Alan Levine (@cogdog). They enjoyed the randomness of the images generated when we put in a theme and they rose to the challenge to speak ad lib for 20 seconds.  There were some very random comments and the first time through they were definitely tongue tied and looked like rabbits caught in the glare of the headlights.  However, we looked at some sentence starters, encouraged them to ask each other questions as prompts and they were itching to do more.  This week we tried 5card Flickr,  another of Alan’s tools. 5 Card Flickr is not so “in your face” as Pecha flickr, it does not put you on the spot in the same way as you have time to think and create.   I wanted to get my students thinking about telling stories in a different way.  I wanted to use the random images to encourage them to think more deeply about how they could transition plausibly from one scene to another, sequence ideas, make connections and develop ideas and language.

It is always interesting, as a teacher, planning lessons:  I have an idea of what I want the outcome to be,  I decide on an activity, I devise it and then I have to be prepared for my students to surprise me and turn it completely on its head!  It is not always easy and I know that they threw me this week when they didn’t quite do what I expected.  But I have learned to go with the flow, build on the moment and take the learning opportunities as they arise.  We ran out of time and energy this week (it is the least week of term, after all) but we will come back to 5card Flickr next term.  Meanwhile,  here is 9AR’s amazing and very wacky story! (unedited!) Why not let me know what you think of the Flickr tools?  Have you used them? How else do you think they could be used to help build skills in English?

I will be running a workshop at Ulearn14 in October, so if you are going to be there.  come along and share your ideas.

Five Card Story: The Revenge of the Alpacas

a Five Card Flickr story created by 9AR

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by Serenae

flickr photo by Serenae

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by bionicteaching

One day, there were a bunch of six year old sailors. They kidnapped a young boy called Jimmy. Jimmy was italian with blonde hair and abs. He had a tan and got all the girls. Jimmy was in love with a young girl called Tiana, one of the six year old’s older sister, this made them mad. They saw a poisonous leaf on the edge of their boat. Jimmy touched the poisonous leaf and immediately dropped dead! His crewmates had no idea what to, do so they did what they always did when someone died out at sea. They dumped him in the harsh, stormy sea and the waves encased him in a watery coffin. His lungs filled with salty poison.

After they put him in the sea they all went for dinner in the beach town and they had spaghetti and eggs.

When they were having dinner they saw a body wash up on the shore. They all screamed in horror and spilt their eggs and spaghetti. They were all very sad because it tasted so good and cost them 3 chickens and 5 wooden spoons.The 6 year old irish sailors ran away at 15 miles an hour!

Plot twist! Jimmy woke up, he hadn’t died but he was now riding on a tsunami and then he woke up! It was all a dream! Then he realised he was drowning he tried to swim to the surface but a tiger shark thought he was pretty hungry so he ate the boy. THEN HE WOKE UP AGAIN OMG. Then a pack of alpacas came and ate him. They tore his limbs off and ate them. He died; it turns out he wasn’t dreaming after all.