Sunday, September 14, 2014

Teaching Dialogue and the Creation of Scenes

L.8.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
L.8.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

L.8.3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.

In my 8 grade writing class, students learn the proper punctuation of dialogue, but I want them to go beyond that; I want them to understand the use of dialogue and how to create valuable dialogue in their own writing. I also want them to understand that writing a story completely in dialogue has its limitations and usually for students, leaves out important sensory information for the reader.  So one of the most valuable lessons I teach my students is how to create scenes.

Before we get to scenes,  we examine what dialogue can reveal in a story. Students take notes that discuss how dialogue can:
  • 1.      Reveal character (their personality, their motivations, their emotional state, even their education level,  among other things.)
  • 2.      Move the story along- I’ll illustrate in a moment.
  • 3.      Can reveal setting- where the characters are, where they were, where they were going, etc.

 Two specific CCS are targeted as we move forward to examine dialogue in mentor texts and excerpts and its  importance in writing-

RL.8.1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RL.8.3. Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

I use this simple example to show what dialogue can do for a story:   “Thank you so much for holding the door for me! Second floor please. ” The dialogue reveals where the characters are and that the character is at least a polite person at first glance. I ask students which is more direct and to the point- the above dialogue or this:
Susan ran toward the closing elevator as the door was closing. A hand jutted out a the last moment ad stopped  the door from closing. She dashed in and moved to the corner thanking the man for holding the elevator for her. She then let him know which floor she needed, asking him to push the second floor button.
The actual dialogue is more direct and to the point- moving the story along,  it reveals location and something about the character without needless description that overall, is not important to the story.

We look at other dialogue examples and have a class discussion about what each reveals about the character, setting or how it moves the story along. Here are a few examples of what I use for this purpose:
  • ·         “Get outta my way, ya dumb sevvie!  I’m gonna be late for algebra!” (In this example we also discuss slang and how we talk versus proper writing. I emphasize that it’s OK to write dialogue the way you want your character to ‘talk’.)
  • ·         “Jason, this is the fourth time you’ve missed a key free throw.  Get back out there and practice until you make ten in a row.  No excuses.”
  • ·         The man took off his dark, stained hat and stood with a curious humility in front of the screen. “Could you see your way to sell us a loaf of bread, ma’am?”
Mae said, “This ain’t a grocery store. We got bread to make san’widges.”
“I know, ma’am.” His humility was insistent. “We need bread and there ain’t 
nothin’ for quite a piece, they say.”
“‘F we sell bread we gonna run out.” Mae’s tone was faltering.
“We’re hungry,” the man said.
“Whyn’t you buy a san’widge? We got nice san’widges, hamburgs.”
“We’d sure admire to do that, ma’am. But we can’t. We got to make a dime do all of us.” And he said embarrassedly, “We ain’t got but a little.”
(From The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 15)

I use excerpts from Killing Mr. Griffin and Cirque Du Freak as well. Students enjoy reading excerpts from these young adult novels- often reading it themselves- and we notice what the dialogue reveals about the characters in particular in these excerpts.

From there we move on to discuss formation of scenes, that dialogue is not often used alone in writing. A scene includes more than just what’s said and a speaker tag. Description is used and combined with dialogue, we create scenes.
Here’s our formula:
Dialogue +Description = a scene.  

And we discuss how this is another form of “show don’t tell”.  We re-examine the above excerpts and discuss what is being shown beyond the words. What is described/included? Often scenes include facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice and movement or further clues to understand the story.

Students are asked to highlight examples of each in various excerpts and then we try our hand at creating scenes. A great story I found online “They’re Made  Out of Meat” by Terry Bisson (Entire Story Here) is told entirely in dialogue from two aliens’ points of view about mankind.  

We begin by reading the story and examining what the dialogue reveals about their attitudes, their character, etc. My students are amazed at what they can tell me about the aliens simply through the dialogue – the author is very clever in use of dialogue to reveal so much!

The next day students are directed to partner-up, they get the story back and are directed to take at least 4 lines of dialogue from the story and to create scenes from it.  They really enjoy this exercise and they work together to add facial expressions, movement and gestures among other things.  Questions such as, ‘What do the aliens look like?’ come up and we discuss what is NOT provided to the reader when only dialogue is used. I give them free reign to design their aliens when adding description to the words. We share our results and discuss what is effective and what is not and we point out what has been revealed- character traits, emotional state, does it move the story along? Etc.

Student Example:
"They're made out of meat," the slimy green alien shouted as he oozed into the control room of the spaceship.

"Meat?" questioned the second alien, a bushy brown creature with blue tentacles. He did not look up, but continued to punch the buttons on the control panel before him.

Aggravated and spurting slime, the first alien repeated, "Meat. They're made out of meat."

Looking up with interest, the brown alien peered over his spectacles, "Meat?" He moved to the display console and peered out at the planet Earth.

One of the issues my 8 graders had in understanding the story was who was talking and what they were talking about. After the student shared his scene, we discussed how it becomes apparent from the start of the story who they might be referring to as a result of the description added.

You can take scenes from any story- remove the descriptive parts and leave nothing but the dialogue and speaker tag. Have students create scenes from the dialogue and then compare theirs to the original.

Through examining models, annotating examples and then trying it themselves, students develop stronger dialogue in their narratives. In addition, we are also looking at punctuation to reinforce the mechanics of dialogue.  It is important to note that once you add speaker tags and description, the punctuation changes and students practice doing this as they write.

Once we have studied dialogue and the creation of scenes, students are directed to return to their narratives and to create scenes for their own dialogue. Many times students add dialogue, understanding what it can do for a story as a result of our studies. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

HyperText Writing CCS W3,6,7

With the ease of inserting hyperlinks within documents, students and teachers do not need to understand HTML in order to accomplish it. We consistently see hypertext documents in online media and it is a skill that students need to be able to perform. Learning how to hyperlink in a document can be a simple how-to assignment or as complex as creating a hyperlink paper.
To be clear, “Hypertext is text displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately access, usually by a mouse or keypress sequence. Hypertext, apart from running text, may contain tables, images and other representational devices.” (Source )

That got me to thinking how students might use hypertext in their writing to create something deeper than the actual writing itself - creating text with hyperlinks to provide additional detail, supporting detail, etc This hits multiple Common Core Writing Standards such as: 

W.8.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration,  but particularly: 

W.9-10.6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products,
taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Research and Non-Fiction

First- students can learn about research, finding valid sources of information and how to create hypertext in one short project. If this is the only goal a teacher has in mind, it is a valid one. Teaching kids what sources are credible and which are not and why- is an important life lesson if nothing else. Add to that search skills and then how to create hypertext links,  and you have a lesson crammed full of college and career readiness.

Next, You can up the ante. Students can perform mini-research projects and create blog posts or webpages (PowerPoint or Prezis) and hyperlink additional information within the piece. I can see videos or images adding depth to the writing, but fear that students might rely too much on the links for additional information rather than their own ideas and writing. It is important then that the teacher set parameters for what is and is not acceptable in the hypertext links provided. You can see my example HERE . I copied a couple paragraphs of a student’s research paper and played around with adding hypertext links to add layers to the written work. Some of those links work (like the video at the start- while not the best video in the world (I think it’s too long) it does add a layer of understanding before reading begins. The student might opt to provide a video from a person who has been bullied, etc. Other links I added- just more reading and frankly somewhat repetitive.

 So you can see that there may be a right and wrong way to do this and you would need to be clear in instruction and modeling so students used hypertext links carefully and cleverly. In addition, providing time for reflection on why a particular source was used as support/how it was found, how does this source enhance your overall piece? etc. would add depth to the writing and process they took. I found this link from Georgetown College- directions on ways a hypertext paper could be written- very helpful in what I should think about if I were to have my students create a hypertext paper. 

W.8.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences

Another idea presented in the #CLMOOC online Make Chat was the idea of a narrative hypertext and it  could evolve into a more in-depth assignment.  Students would most certainly have to write before they planned what to hyperlink, which would eliminate the danger of relying on links to express what you have to say.  As the Georgetown site mentioned, “using links as complements rather than substitutes” in your writing is what we would want students to accomplish.  

 Think of a narrative where the author shares the main action of the event or story. We see the action unfold, but we don’t always see the underlying motivations, what was done in the past that prompted a decision, what thoughts are going on- in other words, the inside information.  One might create a story that provides hypertext links to that inside information that adds complexity to the writing See Example- Luminous Airplanes.  

 If you have a NOOK check out Bartimaeus- The Amulet of Samarkand – where the ancient djinni’s narration is interrupted by a number notation, that when clicked, takes you to the djinni’s asides of witty background history that occurred in his lifetime as well as sarcastic side-comments about his master. Providing these asides gave the narrator’s character depth and certainly added humor to the story.   Both the paper and the e-book version have these number notations, but obviously it is dynamic in e-book form.

Two Excerpts from Bartimaeus- first shows the number annotation and the second shows the narrator's  aside (inside information).  Displayed on Nook Reader.

Depending on how clever your writers are, they could add layers to the characters, the plot, setting or overall theme using hypertext links.  
You might also have students experiment with choose your own adventure type stories, where they provide two options to the reader, who clicks on one and the story continues from the option chosen.  This provides a chance to write short stories and to learn how to hypertext as well, not to mention it is fun for the students to create and read! PowerPoint offers dynamic hyperlinking too! You can listen to a short screencast of how to link PPT slides with buttons HERE.

If your students are younger, they might enhance a narrative they write, giving the reader insight into what they saw, heard, etc. by linking certain words in the text to ** pictures or videos. For non-fiction writing, try using pictures and have students create a ‘hypertext’ link from the ** picture to their own written information. This may seem overly simple, but careful thought would be needed to decide what pictures, sounds, etc. would enhance a reader’s experience of their work, and as stated earlier, giving them opportunity to learn how to create hypertext links is a valid skill to learn.

**Note: It is important that students either use creative commons videos and images and/or to be sure to fully cite where the picture/video came from. Creative Commons image Sources

While I cannot say for certain that I will attempt narrative hypertext, I will have students perform short research projects to create hypertext pieces. Maybe we can create our own “Wikipedia” about cyberbullying for example….  The task itself, learning to research, recognizing valid sources and creating hypertexts is certainly a college and career readiness activity regardless of how deep one might go with instruction. 

Another Fictional Hypertext Example- Living Will.