Writing is a lot like acting. Writers get into character and see and feel the scene as if it is really happening. We explore this idea in my second workshop with West 5th graders.
On the spot we use my WOW formula to create a basic outline for a story. WOW means Want, Obstacle, Win.
W: Squirrel WANTS an acorn.
O: OBSTACLE is a mean dog.
W: Squirrel WINS by getting help from friends.
Students volunteer to be the main characters, and, because we already have an overall plan for the story, they don’t have to think about what their characters will say. They just become their characters!
When the dog appears, a girl growls menacingly, “You can’t take that acorn! The acorn is mine! I can have it as my treat!”
The boy who plays the squirrel does a great job of responding to the threat by first shaking and quaking. “Oh no! Please!” he says, changing his own voice to sound like a tiny, scared squirrel. “I was just trying to get my acorns.”
How wise of the student/squirrel NOT to solve the problem immediately. First, he showed us the emotion of fear through his response. That makes us wonder if the squirrel is going to make it or not!
In the final scene, the main squirrel calls for help. Then we get the satisfying reply from a new voice, a squirrel friend:
“I got your back, Bud!” What a fresh and fun voice! The girl playing the squirrel’s friend could have just said: “I will help you.” Instead, she jazzed it up. Getting into character allows you to choose words that sound natural and that fit the personality of your character.
We also talk about two other concepts. One is how important it is to introduce the obstacle at the end of the first scene. That’s called a cliffhanger. That will create suspense and make the reader want to turn the page!
In the beginning of class, I challenge the students to think of a warm-up exercise and give it a creative, alliterative name.
Alliteration is the repetition of sound. Windshield Wiper was my example.
I’m looking forward to our next session!
My West Education Campus Fifth Grade Writing Residency is supported by An Open Book Foundation. I’ll be posting a once-per-month essay about the experience between December 2020 and May 2021. More entries on this residency.