From Telling Stories to Writing Stories- It’s all in respecting the process

They All Have Stories

Every day students burst in the door eager to share stories of soccer games, pets, family vacations, recess games, play dates, and lost teeth just to name a few. These are all important events in a first grader’s day. Students share these stories eagerly and with determination. The stories they tell have great leads, “Guess what happened to me last night?” “ Look, can you believe?”  “This was my first…!” or “I have to tell you something…” The lead alone makes you tune in and listen, and if the lead doesn’t grab you, the excitement of the storyteller will demand your attention.  These stories are rich with details, events and interesting characters. If I interject with questions (working to better understand the story) my questions are immediately met with more detail and clarification. If time would allow, students would tell their stories all day long!

Of course time has its demands in the classroom, but I pause to listen to these stories (as best as I can in classroom of 27 six-year-olds, each with a story to share). After they’ve shared their story I comment,  “I can’t wait to read that story!” or “Wow, you already have an idea for writing workshop!” Some walk away shaking their heads, eager to write their story, others look at me puzzled as if they aren’t sure why I would say this when they just told me the story.  (I often wonder if they’re thinking, “Weren’t you listening?”).

Holding Onto the Excitement and Energy

Students love telling stories. Their stories are colorful and energetic, but when it comes time to write them, the luster can be lost. Writing stories can be intimidating, and for some writers, the written piece falls bland and simplistic in comparison. Helping young writers bring the energy of oral storytelling into a written story is the writing teacher’s challenge.

Each writer is an individual and so is their writing process, but there are a few strategies I have found to support the transition of story from oral to written.  

Writing Conferences

When writers confer with others ideas and voice begin to grown and can be transferred to written Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 7.26.59 PMstories. As writers learn how to read others work and to offer feedback (to push the writer) they also learn how to receive feedback and apply feedback to their writing. Authentic suggestions teach writers new strategies, craft techniques and adds details to writing. Regular opportunities for conferring can add clarity and focus to the story as well as the writer’s process.

Writers Notebooks

Writers see the world differently. They notice details and feelings some overlook. Remembering these details and including them in stories is what gives the story voice and connects readers. Helping writers learn to collect conversations, events, or special memories in a writer’s notebook is a great way to teach writers the importance seeing and collecting stories in our writing lives.

Story Planning

Sometimes I sit down with the writer, a few pieces of paper, and a pack of post-it-notes. As the writer begins to share their story I jot down the ideas of the story and place each idea on a new piece of paper. As the story unfolds and the post-it-notes and the pages grow the writer begins to see the story on paper. Once the writer responds to my writing and shuffling of pages, I start to pull out of the conference by saying, “I can see you’re ready to write this story. I will move out of your way so you can work.” This type of statement sends the message to the writer that they are in charge and they can (they are) doing it!

Respecting Individual Process

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Some writers find illustrating first safe and risk-free. Starting with illustrations can spur details, settings, characters and help writers sequence events. These writers need  our permission to compose in a way that works for them. I once heard Peter Catalanatto , author/illustrator speak at our public library. He shared he reads a story 90 times before beginning to illustrate another author writing. In addition, he shared how he became a writer because his teacher allowed him illustrate in writing class. In the teachers acceptance and trust of the process Peter Catalanotto found his talent. 

Oral Storytelling Videos

Some writers prefer sharing stories orally, plain and simple. Young writers need to hear stories and tell stories before they are ready to write. Offering opportunities for these writers to record themselves telling stories brings out great Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 7.39.55 PMexpression, confidence and details that might have been stifled by the act of writing or creating illustrations. Having the ability to replay the story is a great way for the writer to recover forgotten details and help the writer bring the energy and voice to paper.

…and for the teacher

Sitting alongside a writer looking through the pages of an author’s notebook, a story plan, illustration or replaying a video can be the start of a powerful conference.

I love the look on the writers face when I pause and say, “Let’s write that just like you said it.” Writers began to see their words matter; they have stories within themselves just waiting to be shared.
Whatever the process the writer needs to find their story is the right process for them. Writing is individual and can vary from day to day.  It’s my job as the writing teacher to recognize the potential in all of my students and support them as they grow into the writer they are.