Students Become Authors, Creators and Storytellers

Students in lower and middle school classes elevated creative writing and storytelling projects this year, developing ideas and inspiration from a variety of sources and exploring different formats for the finished product.
While not everyone considers themselves an author, everyone has a story to tell. Seventh graders delved into this idea with personal narratives.

Finding One's Voice
After reading "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jaqueline Woodson, a collection of poetry about a girl finding her own voice, they practiced using their own voices through personal narratives. Nelly Nasima begins her story describing a conversation with her mother about the meaning of her name. Nelima, meaning hard working and generous, was Nelly’s great grandmother’s name. Nelly’s last name comes from her family’s roots in Kenya, and means perseverance. Her story continued with a reflection on a joyous visit to her cousins’ home in Kenya, adding setting and characters to the story of who she is. With descriptions of banana trees, family dogs and loving relatives, Nelly invites the reader right into her experience. Her digital book includes colors, illustrations and photos. Her story, beginning quite simply with a conversation with her mom, fleshes out into a beautifully told narrative portrait of who she is.

Finding One's Audience
Fifth graders took a slightly different approach, writing with a specific audience in mind. They created children’s books in digital form, presenting them for friends and family at Lower School STEAM Night in February. Paired with first grade buddies who provided feedback throughout the process, fifth graders developed narratives based on a central “really good idea,” which, according to Ms. Jennifer Padberg, is where a story should start. Along with their first grade buddies, fifth graders explored ideas and inspiration with lego models. Fifth grader Lilly Kesner was paired with a classmate’s younger sister, giving her an extra opportunity to get feedback from her classmate about details that her sister would enjoy seeing in the story. For example, the boat that was central to Lilly's story became pink as she learned and included her buddy’s favorite color.

Merging Language Arts with Technology
Along with a written piece, students made audio recordings and created visual and interactive pieces with illustrations placed in a virtual space. STEAM Night visitors were invited to experience each story by scanning the QR codes on book spines designed by the students and displayed on a bulletin board. They were able to see a written and illustrated version of the story, hear an audio recording of the story in the author’s own voice, and move through an interactive scene. This final virtual piece, created with iPad tool AR Makr, gave fifth grade authors the opportunity to learn a new tech tool and to collaborate and provide each other with feedback during class time at IDEA Space.

In another project that included a technical piece, seventh graders delved into the realm of audio storytelling with radio plays that they scripted and recorded themselves. With added details like British accents and rain sound effects, they used sensory imagery to immerse listeners in the narrative while practicing recording and sound mixing skills at IDEA Space. According to Ms. Trudy Blankenship, this project gives students the chance to approach creative storytelling in an active and interactive way, contrasting from other more traditional academic writing assignments.

Becoming Published Authors
Drawing inspiration from much earlier in history, sixth graders explored Greek mythology this year in Geography with Ms. Carson Ferren. After reading and studying Greek myths, students wrote their own creative versions of these ancient tales. They used the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series as an example of how one can reimagine a well known story and weave in their own creative elements. Working with Studenttreasures Publishing in Topeka, they had their myths printed and published.

The ultimate goal of these lessons is for students to see themselves not just as authors, but as creators. Practicing these different approaches to storytelling empowers students to craft strong, engaging narratives whether the final outcome is in print, audio or virtual reality form.