Writing micro-stories in tandem

The following restless-teacher-on-holiday idea was inspired by my six-year-old son who collects various small objects, such as plastic cartoon characters, cards, pictures and stickers offered by supermarkets in campaigns aimed at attracting new customers and/or making the regular ones spend more money. Needless to say, this is a good business move because the kids don’t want to stop until they have the complete collection. Most of these collections are cute but pretty useless and they eventually end up deep in a drawer (in the better case). At the moment the supermarket where we do most of the shopping gives out free stickers for each purchase exceeding a certain amount of money. This sticker is then put into a special book (sold by the same shop) containing texts about the world, the universe, nature and the like. Obviously, it’s not in the customer’s power to influence what stickers they get; that’s the ‘magic’ of the game after all. So if my son gets the same sticker again, the second one becomes redundant. Instead of exchanging those spare stickers with other kids, he started to put them into a blank notepad. At first I didn’t understand his approach but later I was just amazed by his creativity – he decided to create a micro-story around each of the images.

As he can’t write fluently (he hasn’t started school yet), he decided to dictate the stories and I was appointed to record them into the notepad next to the picture. His style is clearly influenced by the style of bedtime stories he hears every night but his own  language is still somewhat clumsy. So I automatically changed some tiny bits while recording his words. I didn’t do it to make his story 100% perfect but to make it sound more natural. So I inconspicuously

  • added more interesting and/or appropriate adjectives and adverbs
  • avoided repeating the same words again and again
  • changed the word order slightly to convey the right meaning
  • added some linking words to make to text more cohesive

Otherwise, I tried not to interfere too. I occasionally asked some questions to check if I understood what he intended to express. I also suggested a couple of basic rules, such as that each story needs an appropriate beginning and an ending. When my son asked me to read the stories aloud for him, he obviously noticed that I had changed some things. To my surprise, he acknowledged them without further ado. What immediately caught my attention was that by applying the tips he had previously learnt he got better and better with every new story. He gradually grew fond of certain words or chunks of language I had suggested, such as once upon a time, they lived happily ever after, till the end of time, all of a sudden and he started using them naturally.

You may ask why I’m describing what I do with my son in my free time when this is an ELT-related blog. Well, I believe that this activity is perfect for an EFL lesson. I imagine that it may be used in one-to-one lessons (teacher scaffolding the student) as well as with mixed-ability classes (students working in pairs – the writer and the editor – swapping roles). Based on my ELT experience and observations of my son’s learning outcomes, I believe that the students will benefit for several reasons:

They will cooperate and rely on each other. This kind of synergie will bring better and/or more interesting results.
They will practise peer correction.
The weaker student can learn from the stronger one.
The stronger one will learn by helping the weaker one (I did learn myself).
They will learn new language and forms of expression from each other.
They will practise speaking as well as writing (spelling, vocabulary, linking words).
They will practise forming phrases, sentences as well as shaping longer stretches of text.
They will practise giving feedback and justifying their ideas.
They will learn in an engaging way – they will work with visual aids using their imagination and fantasy.
They will only be restricted by space and several basic rules. They will be able to include as much ‘art’ as they wish to, which will motivate them.
They will be in charge of the content as well as their own learning.
They will be challenged but not discouraged by an unpopular or difficult task, which writing longer piece of text sometimes is.
If the same/similar format is practised over and over again, some specific language areas will gradually sink in and the learner will improve significantly.

I find the magic of these micro-stories in the fact that they don’t need an amazing twist. They just flow naturally from point A to point B. Simplicity is what makes them lovely and interesting. As they don’t need to be gripping or too elaborated, they can be written on the spot, at one go. Thus the language doesn’t need to be too complex or advanced either (but it can be, of course). All the writer needs is inspiration and some basic rules of decent writing to follow.

It seems that, for the first time ever, the stickers won’t end up in the dust bin. The bonus is that they are all related to holiday time so they’ll come handy in September when the semester starts. Here’s a tip for those who don’t have passionate sticker collectors at home: you can use old postcards, magazine pictures, Pelmanism cards or simply go to Eltpics resource.

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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5 Responses to Writing micro-stories in tandem

  1. lizzieserene says:

    I'm so glad I came back to visit your blog today! This is such a creative idea your son came up with and what a great way to use it in class as well! Thanks so much for sharing this. I love ways to incorporate storytelling in class because I think it's one of the most natural ways to use language.

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    I'm really happy to hear you like the activity. I was reluctant to post it at first because it hadn't been piloted in an EFL classroom but then I thought that it was authentic enough to be shared here. I believe it can actually be easily replicated in any educational environment. I already have some plans in mind. Thanks for visiting, Anne 🙂

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  3. Marijana says:

    Dear Hana, while reading your blog post I remembered my own sons doing the same thing before bed time. I have also tried to avoid repetition of words, add more cohesive linking words etc. Each of them would tell their own short story, including me. Sometimes I wouldn't understand their stories at all, some looked more as a joke, but we had fun. I should revieve this activity with them. When my older son learned how to read and write he used to collect his stories on his PC – adding them in Wordpad. I would read them and notice, there was little or no punctiation. All in all,this can really be useful in class and I am sure there will be many more things that we can learn from our own children.

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi, Marijana. It's fascinating what kids can do and it's even more fascinating how much we can help them improve with just a little bit of scaffolding. Sometimes they don't even notice we're helping them, which is great for building their self-esteem. I think it's important to encourage kids to read and write as much as possible. Based on my experience as a mom of three, kids love reading when they are very small but unfortunately, as they get older, they gradually quit. That's why it's good to make this period as long as possible. Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Hana

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  5. Pingback: #200 | How I see it now

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