First Writing Moves of the School Year: PART 2 (Storytelling)

Starting the Year off Write

I’ll never forget my 6th grade teacher who contacted my parents because she believed that I had plagiarized a poem… her reasoning- no 11 year old could write a poem that well. 

I remember feeling betrayed by my teacher for believing that my words weren’t my own. I remember feeling unseen and unknown as a writer. My teacher didn’t know my writing voice enough to know if it was or wasn’t my own work. 

I am sure you have a story like this. Everyone does. A story that fuels you when you are teaching your own students writing. Your story. 

The beginning of the year, in order to not fall into the troupe my teacher did,  I make a concerted effort to get to know my students as writers. But as I wrote about in my post this summer, some of my students don’t see themselves as writers so where do we begin? 

Writers Notebooks 

At the beginning of the year, sometimes even the first day, I introduce the writer’s notebooks to my students. I want them to know that this book is sacred to me. But I also don’t want to scare off my students who hate to write. 

So we begin with lists, as my great Ohio Writing Project once encouraged me to do many years ago. 

We title the first page: THINGS I CAN TALK ABOUT

I tell my students that we are going to make lists of things they can talk about or know about. We make all sorts of lists: things I hate, things I love, places, people, things I know, ways I like to spend my time. The lists are generated in their notebooks. I give them 1 minute to “dump their brains” of anything they can talk about in that specific list and we share. I take the time to listen to anyone who wants to offer an idea, because remember I want to get to KNOW my writing students. 

My students love setting up their notebooks. We giggle at our pet peeves like stinky fish, and we connect over loving things like the beach on a bright sunny day. It’s an awesome class activity and I love hearing my students’ ideas. 

After we giggle and create our lists I stop the class. I remind them that if this is a list of things we could talk about… couldn’t we write about it too? So we cross off THINGS I CAN TALK ABOUT and replace with THINGS I CAN WRITE ABOUT. 

Storytelling Friday 

This summer I had the pleasure of listening to Liz Prather chat at my local Writing Project. One activity that she put into practice was a Friday storytelling activity. All her students would huddle in a circle around a “fake campfire” and take turns telling stories. 

Liz said this was a great low-stakes way to get to know your students but also allowing your students to have a voice and hear it possibly for the first time. Because what we know is if we can talk about it we can write about it. 

So I decided to start with my kiddos. My first week I began with two things: the norms of our oral storytelling time and easy questions to go around the circle. 

We created a poster with class norms deciding that everyone has a story to share and everyone’s story may be different from your own. We talked about how long our stories should be in order to allow everyone to talk. And lastly, how to be a good listener when someone is telling a story 

Then we dove into questions like, what is the best book you have ever read and why? Or what would you do if you were president? I was worried my students wouldn’t have anything to say but they did. They all wanted to share. Next week we are bringing in a picture or one on their phone that they can tell us about. Just a low stake way to get my kiddos talking and telling their story.

After our time I had my students go back to their notebooks and jot down a few things they shared from our campfire chat. 

Going Forward 

I found an amazing non-profit organization out of the Bay area, The Practice Space. They have a rocking storytelling guide that I plan on using in the coming months.  They had wonderful ideas of how to get students talking and sharing their story in low-stakes ways. 

Remember if your students can talk about it they can write about it. I hope you can get to know your kids through their stories this year and that through their voices strengthened they will find that pen and paper can be a pathway to tell their greatest stories yet.

Please reach out with questions, reflections, and connections in the comments below or on Twitter @Mrsablund. Check out my other articles writing out of the ELA classroom.

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