I remind students that in the previous lesson we collaborated to come up with the first item for the web illustrating the functions of storytelling and that today they will work in small groups to come up with more. To put them in the right mindset, I show them a short clip of another part of the film Smoke Signals, one in which Thomas tells a story of Victor’s mother’s delicious fry bread. I let them know they will only be looking at a short clip and that this clip is another powerful example of the storytelling tradition. I play it for them.
After the viewing, I point out the fact that Thomas transforms when he tells stories. Then I ask them what they think of the story. The issue of truth in storytelling comes up. Students, like the character Victor, question how that story actually happened or if it actually really happened. I share the idea that the same story can have multiple versions and that many people believe that truth has little to do with storytelling. This perspective places the power of stories in the way people choose to tell them. I tell students to keep this in mind as they discuss the different functions of stories because oftentimes the significance of a story is only clear when we view it through someone’s perspective. This idea captures the imagination of students, but it does require a good amount of time to explore. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to help them explore this in depth, but this introduction does manage to guide the following discussion in a thoughtful direction.
Students are now ready to work in small groups of three or four to come up with more functions of storytelling to add to their web. I ask them to come up with at least four different functions with at least two examples of each. I ask them all to take out their copy of the excerpt we read from Ceremony and their copy of the Silko poem. They will be using these to come up with examples of the functions they mark on their web. Students start working and they soon begin to call me over to ask if they are on the right track. For instance, one student asks, “Is one function to talk to people because that's what Thomas is doing. He keeps saying, 'Hey, Victor'." I respond, "Yes, it is. Can we come up with a different way of saying 'to talk to people'?" I ask them this because the phrasing sounds too elementary. One student suggests that it can be reworded to say “to communicate with people” and this is what that group ends up writing on their web. As I look over their shoulders, I see that students have come up with great ways of explaining the function of storytelling, such as “to explain the past and the present” and “Makes you believe more in your culture.” I praise their work saying, “You guys are coming up with excellent ones!” This student web is a good example of the work they accomplished in this activity.
One possible misconception has to do with the actual purpose of this web. This is an explanation of the web and possible student misunderstanding. This activity gives students the opportunity to work on speaking and listening skills as well as thinking skills as the final product is a visual of a thinking map.
Once students are finished with their web, I announce that this activity is meant to guide the next writing assignment, which is to write a personal story. This elicits some anxiety. Part of the anxiety stems from the simple fact that the writing process is challenging for them. Some feel that they have nothing to write about. I address this by asserting what I communicated previously, that we all have at least one very good story to tell and once they select a story they will have access to the details that make for a good story. Another reason for the anxiety is the fact that they will be writing about a personal experience and their perspective of it and this understandably causes anxiety. I try to diminish this anxiety by telling them they have full control over what story they decide to tell. Also, if any of them choose to write about something extremely personal, I do tell them that I will make sure I will be the only person reading it. They just need to let me know in advance. Interestingly, the source of their anxiety, the idea of expressing something they personally experienced, is something I consider an advantage when writing a personal narrative. My hope is that once they decide on a story to tell, all the details and images will be available and they will be able to spend all their energy organizing these and crafting a story that will capture the reader's attention. In other words, they do not need to spend time trying to figure out what an author is saying because they are the author. They can spend their time on the actual craft of writing, which is an important Common Core skill that needs much work.
I now want them to engage in a brainstorming session to select a story they will tell. To set purpose, I instruct them to use the webs created today as the criteria to select their story. I choose some of the most interesting functions students came up with and read them aloud. I basically share the functions I discussed in the reflection. I hope this gets the thinking wheels turning. I instruct them to keep these in mind and to start brainstorming a story they will write. Specifically, I ask them to use the back of their web to keep a list of possible stories they may want to tell. I give them about 5 minutes for quick brainstorming. This is a sample list of possible ideas one student came up with today.
One question that comes up is whether this has to be a real story or one they make up. I tell them it has to be a real story that is part of their life and that has served any of the many functions we have identified as a class. This means it can be a story they experienced themselves or a story that somebody in their family experienced and has been told to them throughout their lives. Some will say that this task is harder, that hey believe making up a story is easier. I share my strong belief that this is not necessarily true. To create a fiction story, they would have to create all the characters, details, descriptions, etc. To write a nonfiction personal story, all the details already exist for them to access. Perhaps more importantly, the powerful nature of a story also already exists in a real story. Once they select one, their only job will be to find a way of communicating it in writing.
The number of possible story ideas students come up with in five minutes vary greatly from student to student. For homework, I ask all students to do some more brainstorming and to select the one story they will write. I emphasize the importance of this homework task. I tell them that they will only have two class periods to finish this story and that it is important that they do work at home in order to finish this successfully. I tell them that by the beginning of the next class period, they must have decided on the story they will tell so that they can start writing. I know that many are still doubtful about their ability to write a story. I send them off with the following, "Don't stress out over this. Remember, we all have a good story to tell. This is not supposed to be a super long or super complex piece of writing. Just tell a good story." I hope that over the weekend, they are able to think along these lines and select a good story to tell.