tlg ink: Ten Stories to Tell in the Writing Classroom

Storyteller, Betsy Ross HouseI sometimes feel as if I’ve said the same basic thing dozens of times, and yet students still don’t remember the details later when they need them. No matter how many ways I try to explain, the concept just doesn’t stick with students. They hear me, but they don’t recall the information later when they need it.

I’ve found a useful reminder of one of the best strategies to use in these situations. In How to Write Posts People Will Remember on the Problogger blog, Darren Rowse talks about what sticks with his readers. They don’t remember specific strategies or guidelines. They remember stories, humor, and personal observations or feelings. As Rowse explains, “While informational posts are important as they help people on a day-to-day basis, it's the more heartfelt posts that create memories for people, and make them feel a connection to you as a blogger.”

Stories can provide that same kind of connection in the writing classroom. When I tell a story about a writing strategy, I’ve found that students are more likely to remember (and later try) that strategy. Infuse those stories with some humor and personal reflections, and you can bring what seem like commonplace writing strategies to life.

I’m not the only one to notice the value that stories can bring to the classroom. Holly Pappas posted earlier this fall on Bits about the benefit of telling students how she would fulfill her own writing assignments. Her examples include personal stories that give students examples filled with concrete details. You’ll find more examples in Ryan Cordell’s “Profs Are People, Too: Hacking the Classroom Bringing In the Personal” on ProfHacker, which Holly mentions in her post. Naturally, the value of storytelling isn’t limited to the classroom. Read the comments on Ryan’s piece for some examples of storytelling across the curriculum, and for some storytelling in the literature classroom, read Riders to the Sea by Lee A. Jacobus on Lit Bits (Bedford/St. Martin’s blog on Ideas for Teaching Literature and Creative Writing).

So what stories can you tell in the classroom? Tell students stories about your own experiences as a writer. Some stories will be more compelling than others. Just be sure that you’re telling a relevant story and that you are candid about your experiences as a writer. Any of these topics could help writers learn or better understand a new writing strategy or technique:

  1. Talk about mistakes you’ve made as a writer. By demonstrating that every writer makes mistakes (and how you overcame them), you can encourage students to take more risks with their own writing.
  2. Tell a story about how you found something amazing when you were looking for something else altogether in your notebook or journal.
  3. Explain why you write. You can also use stories from Why I Write: A Celebration of the National Day on Writing, but your own personal story can help you better connect with students.
  4. Tell a story about how you respond to writing. You could talk about informal or formal feedback on student papers or even feedback you give to colleagues or friends on their writing.
  5. Describe a writing project that took a lot of effort to show students that there is no easy, magic process—not even for experienced writers.
  6. Share a story from a student conference to let students know something about what to expect and to set the tone for the conversations that you hope to have with them.
  7. Confess what you struggle with as a writer with a story about a writing strategy or moment in the process. It could be blank paper syndrome, procrastination, or finding your focus. Like talking of mistakes, your story will help students understand that everyone has writing struggles.
  8. Talk about what you were thinking as you made a decision about something you were writing. Essentially do a think-aloud on the way you did something that students will also do—write, analyze a text, conduct research, and so forth.
  9. Show the class an artifact from your writing, like a series of rough drafts, a response from an editor, or a note in your journal. Explain the story behind the artifact and why you have saved it.
  10. Tell a story that shows how you use feedback. You could talk about how you read feedback from a peer, how you apply the feedback, or how you decide what to listen to and what to ignore.

Besides their obvious focus on your personal experiences as a reader and writer, all these stories provide models for students. They show students what the life of a writer looks like, and, ideally, lay the challenges and flaws bare for students to see. As I see it, sharing personal stories in the classroom is one of the times that telling (storytelling that is) actually is showing.


[Photo: Storyteller, Betsy Ross House by cphoffman42, on Flickr]