Hitting the (Story) Slot Machine

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SWBAT: use a story starter generator to begin writing a short story.

Big Idea

Using a really engaging website, students will choose a prompt and begin writing--hopefully leading to a short story for their Embedded Assessment at the end of the unit.

Guiding Question

5 minutes

So, in having my students think about how their writing went the day before in the Guiding Question, I was also assessing on what support I needed to give them. I was thinking about the task if it had been me...I would have had difficulty writing to a very specific prompt because I like the creativity of allowing my story to go any where I wanted.

I thought that the students were going to tell me that they had a problem writing to a prompt, but it was actually the opposite--the students liked the idea of writing to a prompt; they liked the direction.


20 minutes

For the read-aloud/mini-lesson today, I read aloud from Ninth Ward and did a think-aloud of what makes it such a compelling story. For example, I was telling my class that I liked that the writer always makes a point of using smells as a way of describing things, like, "The smell of the Mississippi River came into the house." Being explicit about the sensory details, and using Ninth Ward as an anchor text, means that hopefully students will use them in their own stories.

Because I'm at the point where I want to finish this book before the end of our unit, I'm less able to connect it exactly to the work time each day. Because our unit is about short stories, I'm still able to draw out things like vivid descriptions, sensory language, characterizations, etc. 

In past years, I had students come down to a carpet in my classroom. We sat in a circle, and they brought their notebooks to jot down connections or questions they had as I was reading. Now, with 35 students in some of my classes, I simply don't have the space. Students sit in their seats, for the most part, though some move to a futon and recliner I have in my classroom. They still always have their Writer's Notebooks handy and make connections or ask questions that I either answer for them in the notebook, or I know these will be answered later on in the book.

Work Time

25 minutes

Today, the students are going to generate another beginning of a story. The story starter is from Scholastic and is like a slot machine. When they pull the lever, a prompt is created. They can choose to keep, say, the setting the same, but change the character to fit their preference. I only give the students 5 minutes to find a suitable Prompt, or they'll be pulling the lever all day. In my school, we have carts of 15 iPads, meaning that every kids in my class has to share. For this assignment, I gave each kid about 2 minutes to pull the lever and find a suitable prompt before passing on the iPad. Here is a video of how this went.

The thing I like about this site is that the kids can play around with one component of the prompt until they find something they like. Here is a video of a student who is altering the prompt to fit his preferences.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

For their reflections, it's clear that the students are engaged so far with this unit. Using the Scholastic Slot Machine Generator was useful for only some of my students. Some thought that the prompts were so specific, that they were pigeonholed into a certain story they maybe didn't want to tell. I think I'd use it again, just to create enthusiasm around the task. Also, I have to remember that this Unit is going to have a total of 10 Story Starters to choose from, so if one's a bust, there's not too much lost.

For the reflection, I had students do use the same Reflection stems we usually do. However, I also took about two minutes at the end of class to have a quick conversation to see what was working for the prompts and what wasn't. I want them to get a bunch of ideas so that they are "banked" for when they pull one to revise for their short stories. If the prompts aren't engaging or fun, the students aren't going to have anything to work with.