Daily Archives: January 8, 2008

In the Classroom: Prewriting — Outline or Not?

I’m more or less happily writing Chapter Six of The Graveyard Book. I say more or less as I’m at that place where I hope that the book knows what it’s doing because right now I don’t have a clue — I’m writing one scene after another like a man walking through a valley in thick fog, just able to see the path a little way ahead, but with no idea where it’s actually going to lead him. Neil Gaiman

This comment from Neil Gaiman really caught my eye because it speaks to a continual conflict of mine. That is, how much planning is necessary for my students to create well-formed Cinderella stories? I have found that without some direction many of them flounder (and do so even with an outline), but some are talented enough to chaff at any sort of planning requirement. My solution is to ask them to plan their stories and then work with them individually so that those who don’t want to stick with the plan feel free to fly off and those who need the plan to move them along get my help with that as well.

Here are two Horn Book articles offering opposing views on this issue:

Blood from a Stone” by Jennifer Armstrong

The Subconscious and the Writing Process” by Nancy Werlin

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Filed under In the Classroom, Teaching, Writing

In the Classroom: Writing Stories

Today, after a lengthy marinade in fairy tales and Cinderella stories (everything from the traditional Perrault to Harry Potter), my 4th graders will be starting their own stories.They’ve been thinking about them for a while, but today they will actually  begin serious planning and, perhaps, some writing.   I do have them create plans even if they end up barely using them. Sometimes a child creates a plan, begins writing, finds it doesn’t work, tries another, and sometimes several more until the muse truly hits.

Some teachers are very insistent that children outline stories and then stick to those outlines.  I don’t feel that way at all. I think the plan (not really an outline) does give them some boundaries to work within, but I absolutely don’t want those boundaries to feel constricting or in anyway compromise them as artists.  So it is a tricky balance.

Of course, I do a lot as we go along. I work with them individually (and we know and trust each other by now — hopefully!).  I do mini-lessons to get them going.  (One great source for this is Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly, by the way.)   We critique (more on this in another post), I do a lot of individual commenting, and lots more.  It is very intense, tiring for me (reading and commenting on 18 drafts is indeed), but worth it.  The final stories will be published (as we did last year) on the students’ individual blogs (which we started yesterday — they are still not open to the public though).

More, much more to come!

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Filed under In the Classroom