In the first week of school this year, I asked my students to create a “Memory Bag” and now the students are creating great stories out of the objects they have collected. The idea came from an article in a recent Responsive Classroom newsletter.
I began by using objects in my own bag to tell some stories to my class. As I held a small beach rock, I told of how my kids and I love to collect rocks during the summer and create structures on the larger rocks at the beach, and then watch the waves wash them away. While holding a small gel pen, I told them about how my friends and I used to write notes to each other after school and leave them in a variety of places to find like a scavenger hunt. The students loved the stories and it was a fun way for them to get to know me.
On another day, I read them the story Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. This is a great story where a little boy helps an elderly woman remember things from her past through the sight of a variety of objects he collects. Drawing students’ attention to how his basket of things is similar to my bag, I gave each student their own clear, ZipLock bag and asked them to fill it with small objects they might find that contain a memory. And off they went.
Over the next few days, student proudly brought in their bags and placed them in our Memory Bag Crate. The bags sit waiting to unleash some amazing stories!
I use my snack time to listen to music each day, but this year, I’ve been taking one day a week to have at least one student tell a story using their bag.
Storytelling is a great way to get students thinking about writing a story. It also helps students to gain a better understanding of story elements (setting, characters, and plot) without the interference that may come with writing, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
However, storytelling is not easy. It’s a skill that needs to be developed. While I could use these Memory Bags as a way to just spur ideas for stories later, I’m choosing to (and hoping to fully follow through with) the idea of telling a good story that may be inspired by something in their Memory Bag.
One of the biggest challenges I have seen my students face during this process is that they want to just tell about the object, not tell a story. For example Suzie held up a ticket and started out telling us what the ticket was for and that she went to a game. Johnny showed us a Lego from his collection and simply told us about who the Lego guy is and what collection he is from. It has been a challenge for students to get away from telling facts about the object to telling a story.
Here are some ideas and prompts I have tried with my students to get them to tell a story.
- Help bring us back to the time this object reminds you of.
- Set the scene for us. Where are you when you hold this object?
- What does this object remind you of?
- Who is with you when you have this object with you?
- What do you do with this object?
- What events occur?
- What interesting things happen or does a problem arise?
- How do things end up for you?
Or, if you want students to steer away from a realistic fiction or personal narrative and start to tell more fantasy type stories, try these prompts:
- What does the object feel (emotions)?
- Who is with the object?
- Where is the object?
- What does the object like to do?
- Where does it go?
- What happens (to the object)?
- How do things end up?
In a sense, I use these prompts to help guide the students through the BME of a story, helping them to focus on the elements that make up a good story.
This project will be on-going throughout the year. Students can share stories in partners, groups and as a whole class. As we learn more about what makes a good story, rising action, plot, problem/solution, characterization, descriptions, etc, the students’ stories will become better and better. It will be a natural transition for students to then use these skills in their own writing and in their reading comprehension, but it is my hope that they will learn some key story telling strategies as well.
Life is a story. Start telling it!