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Sunday’s For Teachers: A Lesson In Descriptive Language

Please check out my previous Storytelling posts here.  And my 365 Reviews here.

Hey, everyone!  Sorry I missed my Friday post.  I have a couple of interviews in the works, I didn’t want to rush them, and I’m still training a crazy puppy.  BUT…I promise an extra #storytelling blog post this week because I have some reflections that I’d like to share.  However, Sundays are for teachers, and I would love to share a lesson that I found some success with this week.

In my Graphic Novel class, we are quickly approaching our first major assignment; it’s actually due this coming Friday.  It is the lesson based off of Jonny Sun’s aliebn book that I have done for the past coupe of semesters, and if you would like to read more about the lesson as a whole, check out my blog about it from last year here.

And while I’m doing the same lesson, like most educators, I change things up after reflecting on how it went.  Through my reflection last semester, I took away two things: students have a hard time with the descriptive language of comics-scripting; some students have a hard time envisioning the project because they have never done anything like this.

Fixing the second part is fairly easy; I front-loaded sample ideas, scripts, and finished products from last semester.  I didn’t want to lead student thought with specific examples, but I’ve found that the samples have greatly assisted in the students’ understanding of what I’m expecting.  The language was a different beast…

I had an idea!  I have a ton of toys around my room.  I call it garage-sale-chic.  Everything in my room is for sale.  Make an offer!

I put about 5-6 random toys on each of my tables, and I had the students take a few minutes and arrange them into a scene.  Most of them ended up looking like this:

I placed a playing card on each table so that I could photo the scenes and tell them apart while grading the writing assignment that followed.  I gave the students about thirty minutes to describe, in as much detail as possible, the scene in front of them, focusing more on the imagery than the story they created.  I told them to imagine that at the end of the period, they were going to leave the room and hand their description to an artist that would have to recreate the scene in a drawing based only on their descriptions.  Side note: students could not use characters names as descriptions…for example, one of the groups had Superman in their lot, so they could not say “Superman”; they had to describe the man in blue tights with red boots, etc.  This forced them to be more descriptive in their process.

This assignment is also going to be used to acquire baseline data for the growth component of my observation.  The goal being that as the semester progresses, the students discover the benefit of details and description in the process of creating the type of writing found in scripting, especially for comics/graphic novels.

I ranked their descriptions on a four-star scale.  One star for a minimal effort, and four for the exceptional.  Out of thirty students, I only gave out three four-star ratings.  But if the students received a three-star rating, they received a 100% on the assignment.  I understand that for most of them, an immersion into a writing like this is a new experience.  As you would imagine, some students finished in five minutes, and some took the entire time.  It is not a secret that the students that took the time, received more stars, unless they took the time to focus on story over description, which some of them did…in the face of tireless instruction.

After I scored them and handed them back, we discussed them.  I used both one-star and four-star recipients as examples as I explained the importance of effort and properly completing a job.  This is a type of technical writing.  A type of writing that my students are not familiar with, and in the distribution of stars as well as my post-writing lecture, I feel the student now have a better understanding of the importance of time and effort put into description as it pertains to the assignments in this class.

Let’s hope the lesson builds into better care and detail from my students.  I’m confident the assignment is valuable.  I’ll reflect more when the first set of scripts start trickling in…wish me luck!  Please feel free to steal any of these ideas, and hit me up with any questions/suggestion!

Happy Storytelling!

Eric

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