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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Story Writing in the classroom

Stories have always been part of our lives. We grow up listening to bedtime stories, we watch movies and read books but writing a good one is so difficult.

Story writing carries 30 points out of 100 in the English BHSEC (Year 12) exams. Another 30 points is for argumentative essay writing and the remaining cover the language and the grammar. A student has to manage writing all of the above within 3 hours. Say if we budget the time: 1 hour for essay, 1 hour for story and the remaining 1 hour for the rest. So, finishing it can be very stressful.

I have to teach my students to write a good story within one hour. I manage teaching but I am not confident if I can write a good one myself within 1 hour.

So, in my class we try to workout few plots which we may be able to fit into any plot that is demanded by the question. Slight changes to the plot and and we are writing the story asked by the question. Some of the things we can have ready for a story are: setting, the main character and few conflicts. But the emphasis on using from one's experience is given a lot of importance. Our children are fascinated by everything foreign; people and places. So they set their story in New York, Korea and their characters are foreigners, not realizing how easy it would be to use places they are familiar with and the people they have known/know.

Most of the students also feel that a story begins with the main character being born and growing up, falling in love, heart breaking and then ends with the main character becoming successful/dying old. Doing this sometimes also makes the story monotonous, especially if the writer is not very skilled. So rather than writing a story like the one mentioned above we write a narrative-descriptive essay.  A narrative essay is not different from a story, it has all the elements and it is easier to write if one sticks to things that s/he experienced; certain experiences that they remember because they were interesting/funny/sad.

The most difficult aspect in story writing, I feel, is creativity. But in case of writing one's experience the writer needn't worry about it much. In doing this, the students can always be creative and make changes where ever they think, the changes might make their story more intense and exciting. Another thing is that it is easier form them because no body can tell their story better than themselves.

The students start by working in groups of four or five and later they write their story individually.

Four maps are the worksheets that get the foundation of the story laid.

 1.The Setting Map
picture courtesy
Where does the story take place? 
When does the story take place? 
Certain descriptions of sound/small/place 

2. The Character Map  
Name of the character       
Gender of the character  
Positive qualities 

3. The Conflict Map

What is the problem?
What causes the problem?
External conflict/Internal conflict?

4. The Resolution Map

What leads to the solution of the problem?
What are some of the changes in the main character/other characters?

As I watch and monitor my students planning, discussing and writing their own stories I take a break and wonder "Why the first Bhutanese to win a Booker prize or even the Nobel in literature may be right here."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ethics in Statesmanship

The story 'Test' written by Theodore Thomas is studied in class twelve. It is a futuristic story where people who want driver's license are made to go through a hypnosis. The State hypnotizes the applicants and they are made to experience a traumatic accident. The man who represents the State mentions that the primary objective of the test is to make drivers more careful. But what the State truly intends to achieve through the test is to make the people refuse their driving license. And those people who still want a license even after the traumatic experience are taken into custody.

The theme of the story is very interesting and it presents a lot of room for critical thinking and interactive sessions in the classroom. We can have debates and panel discussions on the theme. The theme is "Ethics of the power of the state to control its citizens". 

So, as expected, discussing the theme was very interesting. It was very interactive. We started with questioning, "Why should the government control its citizens?" The collective response was very intelligent. They (students) felt that the Government/State should control the citizens through good law and policies because there has to be order.  But if the State is not ethical, it misuses its power and that would lead to injustice and rights of the citizens getting restricted.

A story like this came with the new curriculum. As a student the stories I read in my English textbook were very good. The language, plot and the theme were also good but they didn't have pressing issues to discuss. And even if there were, the teachers didn't facilitate much discussion. Through a story like this, I believe, our students will become more critical/analytic of  how the state is functioning and realize the possibilities of the state misusing its powers and their right to question the state.