Background: The grade levels I’m conducting this challenge with are varied. This is a Creative Writing course which is open to all students, grades 9-12. This particular unit will focus on writing short fiction. Again, the experience level of all the students will be varied, but it’s my hope that most of them enrolled in the class because they love to write want to improve. I’m also hopeful that the class will consist of fewer than twenty students, and for this challenge, I will probably break them into groups of 3 or 4.
I plan to give this challenge early in the year so the students will not be familiar or comfortable with doing challenges; that’s why a lot of the activities are ‘spelled-out.’
On the surface level, the learning outcome of this challenge is have students identify what components go into writing a good story and distinguishing what things writers may want to avoid. On a deeper level, I hope to build communication skills among the groups through the large group brainstorm, the small group writing, the presentations, and the debriefing.
Challenge: Fiction Fondue
Picture This – A man’s weathered, gnarled hands are hanging limply from the bars of his prison cell. You don’t see his face, his body, his feet, only his hands resting limply on the gray prison crossbars. A burning cigarette is pinched between his finger and thumb, silky smoke rising from the glowing butt. Now imagine: Where do stories come from? How do authors know what to write about?
Your challenge is to work in a team of three to create four unique short-short stories. Each team will write a short story for every picture. There are task stations set up around the room. As you work your way through each station, you will discover a picture in an envelope at each. Your group should create a short-short story inspired by the photo, but not bound by it. Be sure each member contributes to every story, but you folks need to decide how that will work. I suggest you select an encourager, a time keeper, and a recorder for each group, and consider alternating roles as you move from picture to picture. Your session at each station will be timed, and you must hit all stations before 11:30. Once all four stories have been written, your group should decide which story you want to present to the class. Plan on presenting your group story to the whole class at 11:45. Additionally, each group member will need to complete a self-assessment form detailing his/her individual contributions. I will be paying close attention to how you share ideas respectfully with one another.
Before you begin circulating in your groups, we will conduct a class brainstorm that considers the following: What elements go into every story? What should a good story include? After this class brainstorm, we will all decide on the “Essential Elements” that will be used to assess the stories.
Before you leave, be prepared to debrief, as a whole class, this story-making process. What did you like about some of the stories? Can you define those elements? What stories needed work? What ‘worked’ for this challenge? What would you do differently next time? Why?
Assessment: Quality Criteria – Of course, part of the challenge is to establish and practice “What makes a good short story?” This list will be created and saved for future reference, but for this initial assignment, a simple checklist with room for comments is appropriate:
Elements of a short story were defined and discussed