One of my favorite third grade teachers, Cindy Piano, of Bogota, NJ has a few tricks up her sleeve when it comes to teaching fiction. She used to struggle with the genre. No matter how much she taught about character, and tension, it just didn’t take. Forget about beginning, middle or end–the kids didn’t really know which was which, and nobody had a good time.
So Cindy changed the way she taught. She decided she would have the whole class write about one character to start. This year her students decided to write about her pin! Cindy always wears a pin, usually in honor of a student, and her kids know that. So why not adopt a pin character and use him in a story? The kids loved this idea and set about creating an adventure for the little mouse Cindy wore. They were having a great time and then… the mouse disappeared! Cindy lost him on the way to work one day and had to tell the kids. But that didn’t stop them–some of her students made up stories about how much fun the mouse had being on the loose. The mouse miraculously reappeared and that worked as a plot point, too. The kids all loved having this character in common, and each one had a blast writing an individual adventure.
The other technique Cindy uses when teaching fiction is this: after the kids decide on who the character is and what he/she is like, they write the adventure part. THEN, they go back and create the beginning of the story, creating a little set-up for the action. She has the students write the adventure part on one colored sheet of paper, and the beginning/set-up on a different color. When the kids are ready to write an ending, they write that on a third color. The different colors really help the students think about the different parts of the story and how each part fits into the whole.
The kids learned a lot and the best part is that everybody had a great time!