Friday, July 19, 2013

Story Elements: Problem/Solution

One thing I go over again and again with students is how to find the basic elements of a story. It starts them on the road to analyzing and interpreting things they read, which is a vital skill to have in life. I start with the basics: characters, setting, problem, and solution.

But how to make it fun? That's a question I have to ask myself before each lesson. Not just fun for them, fun for me too. Teachers get bored too.

One way to get students interested is to focus on the why. Why exactly are we learning this? What's the point?

So before I teach them how to find the problem and solution, we focus on why stories typically have problems in the first place. Here's how it goes!

I pick a student and put them in a story. (Side note: put students in your stories and lessons whenever possible. They will listen to the part of the lesson that involves them center stage, even if it's just a quick math problem. They can't not listen to find out their fate in the story/problem/lesson.)

Back to the story. The story goes something like this, "John woke up and went to school. He had a great day and nothing went wrong. The end."

You'll notice the kids' eyes get wide and they perk up the second you start a story of any sort. It's a crazy phenomenon with kids (and adults) and one to take advantage of. But you'll also notice that as the story comes to an abrupt boring ending, they'll look disappointed. That's what you're going for.

Then I ask, "Did you like that story?"

Not really, no, they didn't. This is when I explain that sometimes stories are boring if there isn't some sort of conflict or problem. Then I give another example.

"John bought ten pieces of bubble gum at the store. He put one piece in and started chewing, then another, then another until ALL ten were in his mouth. He chewed and chewed and started to blow a big, big bubble. The bubble got bigger and bigger until it was bigger than his head. Just then Sarah walked in holding a sharp pin. She walked slowly over to John, who couldn't see her behind the big bubble and put the pin right in front of the bubble, then . . . she put the pin safely away and John's bubble slowly deflated. The end."

Don't worry, John. She doesn't do it. And she's
probably teasing you because she likes you.

Watching their disappointed faces is priceless. I then ask, "What did you want to happen in that story?"

They all agree that they wanted Sarah to pop John's bubble. This is why many stories have problems or conflicts, I explain, it makes it more interesting.  Then I ask for ideas of how they might have solved this problem had Sarah actually popped the bubble. They love getting creative and will be able to better find solutions in stories they read.

But once they've had this story, one example isn't enough. They want another! So here's a couple more.

"The class decided to make a big cake to surprise the teacher on her birthday. The cake was huge! It was chocolate with strawberry frosting and a candle on top. It was so heavy that Jenny and Ben had to carry it in together. They walked as carefully as they could, holding the three-tiered cake into the classroom. Just before they got to the table to set it down, Jacob accidentally dropped a bag of marbles right in front of their feet! Jenny lifted a foot up and almost stepped onto a marble . . . but noticed in time and avoided it. They safely put the cake down. The end."

Again, ask the students what they wish would have happened. They want the conflict, they want the drama, and they'll begin to understand why so many stories have conflict and problems.

And here's a third one. I typically teach lessons more than once to really drill it into their heads, so it's nice to have several stories so I don't repeat myself.

"Michael was walking to school in a brand-new outfit for picture day. His mom told him whatever he did, don't get it dirty. He walked to school with Jim and Katie. The day before, it had rained and there was a big puddle. Jim and Katie already got their pictures taken, so they decided to jump in the puddle. They splashed around and had a lot of fun. They told Michael he should jump in too. Michael edged toward the puddle and lifted his foot to put it in . . . then he decided he shouldn't get dirty and went to school. The end."

I'm trying to come up with some more, but can't think of any. Something bad has to happen, but something that isn't terrible, just comical. Any ideas?

1 comment:

  1. These are great stories, and I just love the illustrations. I'm racking my brain trying to come up with another story, but yours are just hard to beat.