Writer’s block. Everybody’s been there. Especially students who don’t like to write.
Writing Workshop in school can be a very difficult part of a student’s day. Some kids take naturally to the task of putting their thoughts to paper, but there are many who struggle. The hardest part is often getting ideas down in the first place. Blank pages, whether a piece of paper or a word processing document, can be extremely intimidating. Many people can’t get past that empty white space.
But think: the human brain is amazing.
The brain can associate events, people, and concepts with a blend of imagery, sounds, emotions, descriptive words, tastes, impressions, and more. Processing all that information and then synthesizing it into just words is challenging. Help young writers get past that blankness with a visual story starter.
Storyboard That has come up with a variety of story starters to help people get thinking about narratives. Storytelling is a part of everyone’s daily life, and we want more people to feel confident in telling all of their stories. Our starters are single cells comprised of various scenes, characters, and items. Many of them are intended to be ambiguous, strange, or indicative of an upcoming change. The story starter could be just a picture of a character in a scene, and sometimes there is a lot of action involved.
The point of these images is to get you thinking, NOT necessarily to get you to write a story about the specific image. The person who created the image may have been thinking one thing when making it, and the person responding to the image could have a completely different reaction. In fact, the story starter may lead to a seemingly unrelated story, and that is A-OK.
Here’s a picture. Let’s write about it.
Sometimes that’s all somebody needs. Most of the time, however, struggling writers will need a little extra help in getting started. One way to get somebody thinking is to ask questions (thanks, Socrates). Focus questions around different parts of the story starter.
Identify characters, if any. Give them names. How are characters related? Do physical characteristics, including age, clothing, appearance, and pose indicate anything to you?
Identify setting, if any. Where is this? When is this? How did the characters/objects get there? Why are the characters/objects there? Where are they going? Is there something odd about the characters or objects in this particular setting?
Identify action, if any. What is happening? What JUST happened? What is about to happen? What would (or could) happen if everything stayed the same or continued on the same course?
Identify mood or emotional feel, if any. Is the setting or situation happy, spooky, sad, confusing, uncomfortable, funny? What is normal in this situation or setting? What emotions do the characters feel? Why do they feel that way? What would they do next because they feel that way? What are they thinking?
Identify items, if any. What are these things? Do they belong there? What’s missing? What are the items for? How are the items being used?
In the process of thinking about and answering these questions, new ideas could spring up from anywhere! Associations from a single image or question may take your writers on an incredible journey in multiple directions. Let students be creative, and guide them when they need it! Create your own story starters using Storyboard That.
A picture is worth a thousand words? Prove it!
Story cubes are great for helping students come up with awesome stories. They can roll characters, props, weather, scenes, and more, and craft stories out of their results! Create your own story cubes or have your students create some to share with their classmates for collaborative storytelling!
A great next step to take for a struggling writer is to storyboard first! If writing/typing the words is too much of a challenge, show what happens next with images. Create a narrative in three or six cells to get the basic idea ready, then flesh out the idea in text!