The objective when I first designed and taught this lesson: My students give oral reports a lot, and I also require them to tell stories out loud to each other. My favorite teacher ever--Mr. Mike Borilla--taught me the value of oral story-telling, and I'll admit that I am pretty good it at. Many of my students aren't (public speaking is one of the top three fears of most people), and I designed this lesson to help them become better at sounding conversational when they formally share stories or reports out loud. PowerPoint slides often serve as my students' "safety net" or "crutch" when they prepare an oral presentation, and as soon as they get nervous while presenting, they begin reading every word on their PowerPoint slides out loud to me. The "Tweeted Anecdote" idea seemed to be a way for me to prevent them from just reading PowerPoint slides out loud.
Mentor Tweets: There are a lot of interesting things you can do with a 140-character Tweet in a writing class. I love giving my students epistolary writing assignments, but as you can see from these potential mentor texts, I certainly didn't invent the idea of using Tweets to convey a narrative story:
Origins of this lesson and the first audience of students I presented it to: First of all, the idea behind this writing lesson wasn't my own. I heard about Tweeted short story contests from a really great work colleague, Melissa Licon. This past school year, I have been assisting Melissa in facilitating a special, after-school program that I've always admired in our school district: The Gifted & Talented Internship Program. Melissa has been over-seeing this impressive program for 5 or 6 years now, and when her partner retired last year, I threw my hat into the ring to co-facilitate this after-school experience for 100-150 juniors and seniors every school year. These students apply to be included in the program, and if they are accepted, Melissa and I arrange for them to shadow professionals after school and on week-ends. If students end up logging 60 hours alongside their adult mentors (which include everything from doctors and nurses to dentists or attorneys or veterinarians or journalists or physical therapists or engineers or entrepreneurs, as well as many others), they earn half an elective credit that looks very good on their
resumès. The 16- to 18-year olds who apply for this program are looking for an exploratory career-based opportunity that might just make their scholarship and college applications stand out, so those who apply are very goal-driven, high-achieving young people.
Compared to my pre-college days, I recognize that it's a much more competitive world for high-schoolers right now. There are thousands and thousands of other high school scholars out there with outstanding GPA's and with ample involvement in popular and noteworthy extra-curriculars, like debate team, FBLA, and student leadership. When I asked to take over as a co-facilitator for this program back in 2014, I explained that I wanted these students to not just have an interesting new bullet on their resumès; in addition, I wanted them to leave the program with true, experience-based stories that--if told well during an interview--would completely help that students' application move closer to the top of the pile. I've sat in on college and scholarship interviews, and it's the kids who tell meaningful stories that you remember. As a pretty good writing teacher, I felt confident I could assist these students in shaping and telling captivating stories based on what happened to them while they were shadowing professionals at work. As luck would have it, part of the existing internship class was an event called the "Evening of Reporting." In front of community judges up at our University, these interns have always been expected to perform a formal 8- to 10-minute presentation about their experience. In the past, when I was one of those community judges, I sat through an awful lot of student presentations that felt like PowerPoint lectures about "What a Dentist Does all Day," and so I saw this final event as my place to help improve this long-standing district-sponsored program. Rather than a lecture or expository speech (or a PowerPoint that was read to me word for word), I wanted students to prepare to have a story-filled conversation with the audience, not a lecture where they read their PowerPoint slides to us.
Let's admire the great Hemingway for a moment. There is a lot to be said about brevity in writing, especially narrative; it's actually called 'flash fiction.' My eighth graders--as a response to Common Core's expectations of students reading more complex texts--now read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which ultimately they appreciate but grumble about as they learn to navigate the author's dense prose. The first chapter of that thick book, I'll tell you, is a monster, and the descriptions of the wedding reception, its guests, and the violin music are anything but brief. As we read The Jungle, I always think about the narrative writing inservice I used to teach for my district, and how one of the participants' favorite activities was inspired by the mentor text by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser: Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, which was ultimately inspired by Hemingway's famous 6-word short story.The book by Smith and Fershleiser is nothing but memoirs (or brief memories) that are all six words long. All are intriguing. All make you wish the author was in front of you so you could ask him/her a few clarification questions. Our class participants always struggled to find the perfect six words to write down as a means of describing a memorable moment or life-event. The idea of the writing exercise was not to write six words down and then be done with the task; instead, the six words become a conversation starter, and by the end of the conversation each participant had orally told his/her entire story to the small group. The way the oral story was told was--perhaps--not the most fluently telling possible, but it served as a form of pre-writing so that, should the writer want to sit down and write their memoir as a traditional narrative, well, the writer has gone through two unique exercises to prepare his/her brain to tell the story in the most interesting way possible. The great writing teacher, Donald Graves, once suggested that 85% of the writing process should be dedicated to acts of pre-writing. Practicing telling one's story out loud or telling one's story using the fewest words possible are two very meaningful ways to pre-write for a story you plan to write. I stand firm in my belief that we don't do nearly enough pre-writing before asking our students to compose a rough draft, and although I doubt I've ever taught a lesson where my students truly devoted 85% of their time to the actual pre-writing, I try to get close. When it's an important piece of writing for their portfolio, I set as my goal 50%, and much of that 50% is spent in oral conveyance of the story and in word games (like reducing the story to only a few words).
Back to the after-school internship program I helped with last year. These student interns came from eleven different area high schools, and they only meet with us face-to-face as a group three times during the semester. Our students in this program have weekly reflective prompts and short writing tasks that are posted to our program's Edmodo site so that the students' can read about what the other interns have been experiencing. During this first year with this new program for me, I asked if I could alter a few of the weekly writing tasks, explaining that my purpose was to have them go through exercises that allowed them to think about the stories (or anecdotes) that they believe they would remember the longest based on the different experiences each young person was having. The "Tweeted Anecdote" assignment was a writing activity that took over two of the weekly writing tasks that had been on the previous syllabus, and it kind of worked pretty well the first semester, but then we learned from where it had stumbled the first go-around, and it worked amazingly well the second semester.
Assigning the Tweeted Anecdotes to our Interns last semester: From the very beginning of the semester, our internship students understood that during their final presentation (the "Evening of Reporting" mentioned above) we expected them to tell a minimum of three anecdotal stories about the most interesting things that happened during their internships. We expected the stories to be practiced, and we wanted them to be the thing that the community judges remembered most about their presentations. The purpose of the first-part of the tweeted anecdote assignment was for them to pre-write for one of their stories by encapsulating it into an incredibly tiny form (a 140-character "Tweet") that they could post to our Edmodo board.
The second part of the task required them to go to the Edmodo board and read through everyone's Tweeted anecdotes. We asked them to choose three different short stories that really intrigued them to want to know more, and they had to compose a really good question they would ask the "Tweeter" in order to know a missing detail or two that didn't fit in the limited 140 characters of the Tweet.
- The is the second handout which modeled how to ask good questions. The handout contains a model Tweet I created (about an internship I did at C-SPAN back in 1998) and a model Tweet Melissa created (about an internship she did at Yellowstone while in college). I asked three good questions about Melissa's Tweet, and she asked three good questions about mine. We both believe in modeling!!!
Our students had a week to read others' Tweets and post their three questions. Here are some screen shots from our Edmodo page that show the original Tweet from our students and our other students' questions.
The week following the week they had to post questions contained one of our three evening get-togethers where all our interns met face to face with us. During that evening seminar, we practiced telling our stories out loud as preparation for the three stories they'd be telling during our "Evening of Reporting." The first story we practiced telling was our "Tweeted Anecdote." Students had looked over the questions that had been asked about their original Tweet on Edmodo, and then they worked in small groups to take the 140-character version of the story to become a 90-second story that was full of memorable details. We had a nice discussion about the value of pausing in a story to build anticipation or suspense, and we talked about the importance of stressing words that are more important than others to maintain an audience's interest. Each student practiced telling their story one more time, and they coached each other on a) when to pause, b) what words to stress, and c) where they might include more details or explanations of feelings.
Teacher models of Story-Telling inspired by Tweets: The last thing we suggested at the seminar was that we didn't want them to read from PowerPoint slides to their audience for the upcoming "Evening of Reporting." Most of the students use PowerPoints or Prezis to keep them organized during their presentation and to share photos from their experience. Our request of them was they have no more than ten words on a slide, but we made one exception. We suggested they revise and post their "Tweeted Anecdote" on a slide so that when that slide came up, they had the ability to tell their more-rehearsed story--using much more detail--that the original Tweet had inspired. By the way, Melissa and I both modeled this "Tweet in the background on a slide" idea by posting our Tweets (we both had done internships when we were younger, so our Tweets were about those experiences), and we both told a well-practiced version of our stories from our past experiences.
Our student interns gave their presentations this spring up at our university's college of education. As always, the judges were duly impressed with our students' experiences, but we received many great comments from some of our regular judges from over the years that the students' presentations felt much more conversational than they ever had. My first year helping this program, and I feel like I made a strong contribution to improving the students' final products with my ideas as a writing teacher. Several of our interns--so they wouldn't just read from their PowerPoint slides as they told their stories--had created a Tweeted Anecdote for all the stories they ended up telling, and they had them on PowerPoint slides behind them as they talked.**
Adapting the "Tweeted Anecdote" Lesson for my Middle School Students
|**I'm always looking for a good, meaningful "Get to know you" opening assignment for the school year. Each year, I try to create a new opening activity just to keep it interesting for me. This upcoming year, I'll be adapting the "Tweeted Anecdote" lesson I did with my internship students to work with my middle schoolers. Here are some of the "Get to know you" opening activities from the past few years that I've also shared here at my website:
- Presenting Me! A way to have students compare their academic brains to their leisure-time brains in a way they can share with each other, then decorate the hallway outside my classroom door where they look great for Open House night.
- Titanium-inspired Narrative Storyboards: My sixth-graders are duly impressed when I start by using a bizarre music video as a "mentor text," and this is a great way to learn how much they know about inference as they interpret what the video means. This remains one of my favorite lessons to introduce myself to my students because they've done anything like this lesson before in any class.
- How Big is Your Brave? My seventh graders' video "mentor text" comes from the great Sara Barellis, and this story-boarding assignment challenges my students to think about adopting a no-fear attitude about attending middle school. These look great in the hallway too! And if you play music in class ever, I hope your kids learn to croon along with this song when it comes on like mine did. I wish I'd made a video of them all singing "Brave" while they were sacred writing.
I'm planning to do an adaptation of the "Tweeted Anecdote" with both my seventh or my eighth graders in August; we reconvene early this school year (Yikes! August 10, I think!), and it'll probably take me a week-and-a-half of teaching my vocabulary, Mr. Stick, and sacred writing time routines before I find time for this new lesson, but I think it'll prove a great way for my students to a) introduce themselves to their classmates in a positive way, b) practice brevity in writing, c) expanding on their own brevity through public speaking and/or writing skills.
I believe in teaching the skills of oral story-telling. Mr. Borilla, who was both my fourth and fifth grade teacher, recognized that I had the ability to be a story-teller, and he cast me in school plays and encouraged me to enter public speaking contests and started me on the road to being not only a good writer but also a good sharer of my stories out loud. I would never have had the personal confidence one needs to be an oral teller of tales, but all it took was one great teacher encouraging me, and to this day, I can't even tell you how many keynote speeches I've delivered at teacher conferences. I plan to be a similar type of encourager to all of my students with this lesson adaptation.
The lesson adaptation for my younger students: Mind you, my 11th and 12th grade student interns last year saw both some pretty amazing (and sometimes powerfully sad or funny) things while they were out in the world interning with their mentors. My 7th and 8th graders--generally--haven't had the kind of life-experiences that the juniors and seniors I worked with this last year did, so I recognize that I need to change the topic of the "Tweeted Anecdote." My interns' topic was "A story about something you saw [while interning] that taught you something or will stick with you for a long time." For my middle schoolers this August, I think I'll be changing it tell a "story about a time you did something that would make most people think you were a pretty smart, pretty funny, pretty amazing, or a very good-hearted person."
My teacher model for my younger students: When I first launched this website, I set aside a few pages as a tribute to my favorite teacher (Mr. Borilla), who was also the teacher who inspired me to become a teacher. When I present to both students and teachers, I usually tell a Mr. Borilla story. Both kids and adults like to hear stories about really strict (but really effective) teachers from your past. My kids especially love my Mr. Borilla tales because I was kind of a rotten kid when I was Mr. Borilla's student, and I deserved his meanness, and years later, I absolutely appreciate that he let me have it a few times. Even though I feared him, he believed in me, and he proved that to me and my parents time and time again. He was the first teacher to tell me I was a good writer and a great story-teller, and I wouldn't have this website full of stories from my classrooms without his early encouragement.
Over the years, I have developed a pretty good oral-story telling ability with two true stories about my time with Mr. Borilla; I've been working on a third, but I haven't perfected the way to tell that story quite yet.
I feature all three of my stories at my Mr. Borilla tribute page, but I've revised two of my three stories so that they now begin with a 140-character Tweet that--I believe--would make my students ask me for clarifying details about the story. After I answered their initial questions, I can tell them my complete, oral version of the whole story, or they can read my written version, which can be found below the initial Tweet:
Two Tweeted Anecdotes about my Fourth and Fifth Grade Experience
This is a Tweeted version of my favorite story from fourth grade to tell about Mr. Borilla. If you could only ask me three questions to invite me to share more details, what would your three questions be? Click here (or on the Tweet) to read the entire tale behind this Tweet.
This is a Tweeted version of my favorite story from fifth grade to tell about Mr. Borilla. If you could only ask me three questions to invite me to share more details, what would your three questions be? Click here (or on the Tweet) to read the entire story behind this Tweet.
What my middle schoolers will do (and I hope you find an adaptive way to use it with other aged students): Like I said above, after I establish my three big routines, we will take-on this lesson as a way to introduce ourselves to the whole class or--perhaps--to our writing response groups (which we will have established) for the first quarter.
- Students will brainstorm a personal, true story. The planned topic: Tell a story about a time you did something that would make most people think you were a pretty smart, pretty funny, pretty amazing, or a very good-hearted person.
- Using my Tweet-planning worksheet, students will compose a Tweeted version of their story that would inspire interesting questions. I will expect them to revise it twice before they call it finalized, and I will give an extra-credit point to anyone who uses EXACTLY 140 characters. (Both of my examples above are perfectly 140)
- Students will share their Tweets with small groups, and each student will ask two or three questions of the Tweet's author. The Tweet-writer will record those questions.
- Students will write a rough draft of a personal narrative that adds to their story all the relevant details they were asked about from their group's questions...and more relevant details that they were not asked about.
- Students will create a PowerPoint slide with their Tweet on it. If they want to get really fancy, they can use this template from teacher Megan Townes, and I guarantee you many of my students will do this, especially after seeing my fancy PowerPoint slide. The second page of my slide provides image dimensions for your students--who like me--are format perfectionists.
- Choice: You can do one or both of these tasks; I'm going to do just the oral part, and I'll probably have students present it in small groups instead of whole class: Students can take their stories through the entire writing process, publishing their story and beginning it with their Tweet (like my Borilla example does). Or they can create a rough draft and then work on practicing telling their story orally, revising it as they listen to their audience members' advice for improving the story. I don't expect these stories to be longer than 2 minutes when told out loud, so we will either all share them to the whole class if there's time (with their PowerPoint slides projected behind them as they speak), or they will use a laptop and present their oral story just to the writing response groups for the quarter I will have established by then based on their writing strengths.
|Two Optional Revision Tools
(Teachers love our Sticky Note-Sized Response Tools. We share many free ideas and sell all our Sticky Note Templates from this link.)
|If you click the two Sticky Notes above, you will open a PDF document that can be run off and cut out and be stapled to your students' drafts. I have other students do the RANKING (not rating) of the five skills against each other; when you RANK, you can only earn one 1 and one 5. It forces higher level thinking (through comparative thinking) when they RANK instead of rate. When you purchase our Critical Traits-Thinking workshop materials, you received editable versions of these two Sticky Notes, plus multiple other trait- and genre-inspired Sticky Notes. Plus, you can learn how to print them on actual 3M Post-it® Notes. My students are SO impressed when they have these printed on an actual Post-it® Note.
|We are looking for student-created Tweets from this lesson. If you use this lesson and have a student who has a really intriguing, question-worthy 140-character Tweet, consider posting it below the post (in the comment box) at this blog page.