Reporting vs. Storytelling

The students are off and writing small moments! When I was walking from room to room and reading over shoulders, I was seeing the beginning stages of writing small moments. They were trying very hard to stay focused on one teeny tiny little topic. Their teachers and I were asking questions about their moments and helping them get focused on something really small. They were thinking up all the details from that day and using the activity with the four square senses to help them add details to what they were writing.

The next step is making these stories come to life. In first grade we’ve been talking about unfreezing people, telling the story bit by bit, telling people’s thoughts and feelings, and acting out stories in order to revise. I wanted to incorporate some of that learning into help for the older students. I was in a third grade classroom and I heard the teacher talk about being a reporter vs. being a storyteller and I thought she had some excellent ideas that I could adapt for my lesson.

Started off by telling students that I had been walking around to a lot of classrooms and read small moments that people were writing. I noticed a lot of reporting and I wanted to help students become storytellers. I wrote on the top of the chart: Reporting vs. Storytelling. I asked students what they knew about reporters and a lot them could tell me they saw reporters on the news.

“When a reporter tells a story on the news, she is only telling you the facts. Reporters don’t add opinions or their own thoughts and feelings.” I write that underneath Reporting.

“Storytellers, though, add lots of details: they describe things using their senses just like you guys did with your observation four-square, they tell actions just like you guys know how to do with your vivid verbs, they add dialogue to show people talking, and they add their thoughts and feelings so that their readers feel like they were there with the writer.” I add those things underneath Storytelling. Some classes hadn’t done the four-square or the vivid verbs so I left that off the anchor chart.

Next I read my small moment with the class. I wrote two versions: a reporting version and a storytelling version. When I’m finished reading the first one I ask the students their opinion. A lot of students will say it’s good because I only told about what happened in the small moment and I used some details. I think this first story is a lot like some of the writing the students are doing now. It’s fine. It’s not very interesting, but I got all my ideas down on the paper.

Then I read them the second version. I show them the text so they can see how much more I wrote. When I ask them which one is better, students are quick to say the second one was a much better story. I then ask them to tell me why and with each of their ideas, I point to the strategy I used on the chart.

“You added actions.”

“You’re right! What actions do you remember from the story?”

“You said you hopped back and forth on your feet.” “You said you looked through your bag.”

Once we’ve hit on what I did to revise my story, I tell the students that there’s still one sentence I need help with. The sentence is “It was really hot and I realized my toes were burning.” I ask the students to think about how I could be a storyteller and make my reader feel how hot it was with me.

As I’m adding their suggestions to the anchor chart, I’m guiding them to try different strategies: “Who can give me something I might say when the sand is so hot?” “Who can give me a sentence that’s what I might be thinking?” We have filled up the whole chart paper each time. The fifth graders had a bit more success with writing a cohesive set of sentences that connected together.

Their task after this is to re-read the story they’ve written and determine whether they were being reporters or storytellers and if they discover that they’re reporting, they should find at least one sentence to improve just like we did today.

Here are the problems I’ve noticed: When I walk up to students during conferring time and I ask, “Were you a reporter or a storyteller?” I tend to have a lot of students say, “I was a storyteller,” and then that’s it. I assume it’s coming from two places: 1) Please let this crazy teacher leave me alone, and 2) I’m not really sure how to evaluate my own writing. Now that I’ve done the lesson a couple of times, I’m better at guiding them with requests like, “Show me a place where you were a storyteller, “ or “Show me an example of (description/dialogue/action/thoughts).” Usually at this point I can guide them with some questions about how to add more.

Another problem I’ve seen is that some of the students seem unwilling to change their ways. They’ll listen to the lesson, go back to their desks, and keep writing like a reporter. When I come by and talk to them about their work, their faces show me that they just want to do it the same way they’ve always done it. With the older students, I feel like it’s been hard to learn this new way of writing. Even when they’re super engaged in their work and want to keep writing all day, they seem unwilling to take a risk and try something new. I feel myself getting frustrated because I see the bigger picture and how writing is connected to all they do to learn. I’d love some help getting over the slump of walking into a room and hearing GROANS because the students know I’m going to try to “make them do something ELSE.”

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