This post is another in a series about increasing the volume of student writing. I believe strongly that students become better writers by writing. Coaching and instruction are critical as well, but student learning and improvement won't happen if words aren't appearing across the pages. In my original post about increasing the volume of student writing, I bulleted several ways to increase volume. In another post, I expounded on one of the bullets that had to do with quickening the planning process. In this post, I will write more about how we can help students find stories within stories.
Most of us know about the watermelon and seed metaphor in that a single vacation serves as a watermelon and within that vacation, many stories exist which a the metaphorical seeds. But how do we convince students that their story, beginning with the beginning of the airplane ride and culminating with being back home in bed would be easier to write and more engaging for readers as a series of five, maybe ten, maybe twenty stories?
I met with an enthusiastic second-grade writer last week. She was working on the story of how she got a pet. Her story began with going to the pet store, having a bunch of pets escape from cages, helping the shop owner capture creatures, and walking out with a pet in her bag. Good story, right? Molly the storyteller had more though. Her story was continuing though with getting home, having her mother discover the new furry resident, negotiating to keep the pet, but coming up short in the negotiations and having to return to the pet shop. Then, Molly kept going, this girl would get a job at the pet store and work really hard to convince her mom that she was responsible enough to have a pet. Finally, she would get to bring home one of the newly arrived kittens.
I wish I could think of stories the way that Molly can!
Fortunately, Molly had just been part of my lesson about planning ( you can read about that lesson here) and had used a story mountain to plan. The last point of her story mountain was when she walked out of the pet store with a gerbil in her bag. My compliment to her--and I REALLY meant it!!-- was that she had created tension and had an ending that responded to my favorite question for writers: what is your story really about? She wanted something and she got it. Molly was surprised to hear that stories could end without knowing that resolutions are permanent.
With some coaching, Molly developed three more story mountains and realized that she could think of each one as a separate piece for the time being. That way, she could work on strategies that would improve the level of her writing without feeling overwhelmed by the size of the piece.
I don't think that the multiple-stories-in-one-piece syndrome is unusual. Characters forget backpacks, return to school, get locked in the school, roam hallways, scare custodians, hide from noises and finally get rescued all in one story. What I have found to work for this syndrome is honoring the writers and celebrating all the stories that they have in their repertoire as writers. With that compliment, I have found that most young writers become excited about the prospect of harvesting so many stories and focusing on one at a time.