Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Snow Globes and Writing

Triggering Creative Writing

Sometimes, inspiring a student to write involves a simple object—like this silly little penguin snow globe.  Let me explain . . .

I co-teach a film-making elective for 11/12th graders.  In this six week course, students boldly venture through each stage of the film-making process, including the creation of an original live action short film of about 6-10 minutes. The first task is to write a short screenplay that can be produced in the final weeks of the class.  I have struggling writers as well as “natural” writers in the group, and it’s often a challenge to get them all to write a complete 5-10 page script, which they then pitch  to the class. In the class of anywhere between 10-17, they decide on about four scripts to produce.  We’re also challenged by time; ideally, the class would be at least eight weeks, and there would be time to draft the scripts before production weeks.

So, with a couple weeks and a diverse group of writers, I’ve tried many things to inspire the screenplays.

I’ve tried music.  I play various songs (everything from jazz to Vivaldi or rap), and ask students to close their eyes until they start to see a scene or a person.  I then ask them to open their eyes and describe what they see, embellishing if they want.  We go through 4-6 songs, followed by a brief writing time.  Those scenes sometimes result in at least a character, if not a story concept or location idea.

I’ve also tried pictures, and I’ve tried shoes, which I tell them I found along the side of roads.  I ask, who lost this shoe and how?  Today, I brought in a bag of random objects from my house, including an old cowboy boot, a dusty 1950’s camera, a bracelet from the Dominican Republic, a box of cheerios, and a penguin snow globe that is part of my daughter’s old collection.  I spread them out on the tables in front of the students, and told them to see which object calls to them.  My instructions: Examine it and then decide who it belongs to.  Imagine this person, in as much detail as you can, and then describe that person.  Once they’ve got their character, I ask them to look at the list of prompts on the board to help them think more deeply about him or her.  They use these prompts to further learn about/create their character, and possibly even think of a conflict for a story.

Prompts to develop character:

A person who . . .
likes. . .  (i.e.: cheerios, Beethoven, belly dancing, or her 5th grade teacher, etc.)
hates. . . (i.e: beets, his mother, people who lie etc.)
spends every afternoon . . . (i.e: knitting, riding a bike along the beach, filing, etc)
wants . . . (i.e: a girlfriend, attention, to be able to fly, etc.)
forgets . . . (i.e: most things, his students’ names,  his keys, etc.)
eats . . . (i.e: rye toast and cheese; popcorn without butter, etc.)
needs (i.e: a new robe, a job, a ride home, etc.)

Today in class, one of my students was intrigued by the snow globe, and quickly came away with an idea not only for a character who owned that object, but also for a whole story line.  After class, she chattered excitedly to me in the lunch line about her story about a young girl who loses her favorite object, even thanking me for doing that activity.

It was one of those gratifying teaching moments.  And all it took was a few objects from my closets.

I look forward to reading the scripts that students will write in the next week.