Tag: storytelling

Narrative Seeding | Videotelling activities from Jamie Keddie

Jamie KeddieEach time I hear Jamie Keddie speak, I get fantastic, practical ideas that I can use with my learners. I must confess that while I’ve been using his video exploitation ideas for storytelling lessons focused either on storytelling as a skill or spoken fluency … I still haven’t been able to work out how to focus on planned target language as opposed to emerging language which is something he also seems to be using videotelling activities for.

In a webinar titled ‘Video in the Classroom’, Jamie described narrative seeding, a type of activity where you seed the Ss with elements from a video, while withholding others and then ask them reconstruct the narrative collaboratively. In a sense, narrative seeding is what we call a frame game in business training – a template that allows you to easily load and reload content – in this case videos of your choice.

Here are the three variations of narrative seeding that he spoke about:

Variation 1: Audio but no video

Play a video from YouTube without letting Ss see the visual. Get Ss to work collaboratively on reconstructing the narrative underlying the sound. Depending on the video you use, identify target language or feature that you want to draw Ss’ attention to.

Example: Play the famous sneezing panda video allowing Ss to only hear the audio not the video. Ask them to work in pairs and speculate as to what might be happening. Jaime suggests that the the sudden noise in the audio might be a good way of demonstrating the difference between present simple and continuous in narration (insects are making noise and then something happens etc.). A variation on the sneezing panda video is to play this video of a couple of girls watching the sneezing panda video and ask Ss to work out what the girls are watching.

Variation 2: Video but no audio

Play a video without audio. Jamie suggests taking screenshots of the video instead of showing Ss the video because this allows you to have greater control over how things play out. For each screenshot, you need to plan a series of questions that will prompt Ss to flesh out the narrative.

Example: Take screenshots from the short film Conversation Piece that establish the setting and convey the action.

T: This video is called conversation piece and the story involves a man, a woman and an object in which you put flowers in.  What is that object?

Ss: Vase

T:  This story involves a man, a woman, a vase and a problem.

Picture 1

What is this man doing?

Where is he sitting?

Guess what time it is.

Why is it the morning?

How do you know?

What day do you think it is?

Picture 2

What do you think the relationship of this woman is with the man?

Where is she?

Which room is she in?

What do you think she’s doing in the kitchen?

Picture 3

Where is she now?

Picture 4

She notices something.

What does she notice?

Picture 5

She notices the vase is broken.

What is she going to do?

Picture 6

When she notices the vase is broken, she says something to her husband.

By the way, her name is Linda. And his name is Jeff.

Linda says something to Jeff. What does she say?

Picture 7

To which Jeff replies … ?

Picture 8

Linda says something back to Jeff.

Picture 9

Then Jeff says something back.

Picture 10

Linda walks over and puts the vase in front of Jeff.

Picture 11-12

… and says something. What does she say?

Picture 13

Jeff says something back.

Narrative seeding

Ask Ss to work in pairs and create a dialogue (3 turns each for Jeff & Linda) and have them think about how they would continue or end their dialogue. Invite Ss to perform their dialogue for the class while you play the video and they provide a sort of imperfect dubbing.

3. Variation 3: No video, no audio

Dictate or show the following phrases to the Ss.

Two Japanese girls dressed up as tourists

Two elderly Japanese men also dressed up as tourists

Several hidden cameras

An unsuspecting passer-by (the victim)

A van to create a distraction

A Polaroid camera

If you run it as a dictogloss, show them the actual phrases on the board and correct errors if required. Tell the Ss that these six things appear in a video. Ask them a genre question: what type of video do these items come from? Elicit that these videos are called prank videos and the people who make the video play practical jokes on unsuspecting people.

Ss get into pairs and use these clues to create a narrative. They have to say what they think happens in the video from beginning to end.  They can ask questions of the teacher. This also involves narrative seeding.

Jamie’s recommendations

  • Avoiding winging the questions. Instead plan them carefully so they are targeted at getting Ss to explore something specific.
  • As in his session at TEC in Hyderabad and his webinar for IATEFL, Jamie suggested having Ss video record the narration that they have reconstructed and using these videos later for in-class feedback.

Additional resources 

Storytelling in the classroom | Webinar summary

Jamie KeddieThis is a summary for a webinar that took place a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t find time to write up but it deserves to be written up so I’m squeezing out some time for it now. The webinar was hosted by IATEFL and the speaker was the ever-charming and innovative Jamie Keddie.

Jamie asked attendees if they’ve ever used these seven magic words in their classrooms

I want to tell you a story

Well most of us have probably used these words and don’t feel very enthused by them because our Ss are generally not very excited about listening to stories.  Jamie explained that we often see stories as monologues and associate them exclusively with young learners. However stories need not necessarily be about the “there and then” but could be about the “here and now”.  So, the webinar was specifically about the mechanics of dialogic storytelling.

Jamie told us that his own favourite genre of stories were personal anecdotes and he demonstrated his approach to dialogic storytelling through an example. He showed us the following text on a slide and read it out to us:

When I was at school, we used to think it was hilarious to leave notes on our T’s desk. We would wait for the T to notice the piece of paper, pick it up, examine it, unfold it and read it. We would then wait in anticipation of a reaction. The best note we ever left was this: there is a piece of cheese on the classroom ceiling. Of course the reaction that we expected was for the teacher to look up at the ceiling and try to see the fictitious piece of cheese. At that moment, everyone would have to do their best not to laugh. Laughing would demonstrate that you were involved in the joke.  I don’t remember how many teachers we played the joke on. But I remember very well the day we left the note on the desk of Mr. Francis, our cool history teacher. The lesson was almost over and we were starting to think that Frankie was not going to see the note. But then he did. He hesitated for a moment and then, very slowly, opened it. There was a silence. His eyes stayed fixed on the paper. Then he stood up, walked over to the corner of the room and dropped the note in the bin. He looked at us and said, as calmly as possible, “Of there is – I put it there.” We all looked up.

Jamie pointed out that what Ts are effectively working with are not the words on a piece of paper but 106 internal narratives i.e., one story on paper but 106 stories forming in the minds of those who were attending the webinar. As we are working with internal narrative, what can we do better exploit it?

He invited us to participate in a thought task. He asked everyone to imagine that they were going to use this story with their Ss but pretend it was their own. He asked us think about how long we’d take to get through it. Answers varied but Jamie suggested that he would probably take about 15 minutes because he would turn the story from a monologue into a dialogue – a whole class communicative event.

I want to tell you a story but first let me ask you a question. The question is this. Have you ever played a practical joke on a teacher or has a teacher ever played a practical joke on you?

Jamie suggested that this type of commentary is important because you are signalling that the narrative is about to start and there’s a beginning, middle and end. If I reflect on the stories that I have narrated in the classroom, I usually try to cut back on commentary to keep TTT low. He stated that it would be critical to also consider the language in the story that you want to draw attention to or teach, as well as be prepared for language from Ss that you want to reformulate or correct. As you narrate the story, you can do a number of things to make it a dialogic experience which is interactive and useful for teaching language:

  • Ask Ss about their own experiences.
  • Correct their language.
  • Teach the Ss phrases like practical jokes, to keep a straight face and hesitate (although these may not be explicitly present in the story).
  • Ask them guess when the story took place and speculate what was written on the note and guess how Mr. Francis might have reacted based on their experiences with teachers like him.
  • Set up an environment such that Ss want to ask questions.

He underscored the importance of preparation, rehearsal and identification of  language in the story text that may cause problems.

Jamie’s second example was really brilliant and I think it quite effectively demonstrates how powerful this technique is. I’m going to try to recount it the way he ran this dialogic storytelling activity. At the end of each utterance, he elicited responses which then informed the next set of questions.

The story could be called the box or a miniature model replica. What do you want to call it?

What’s a miniature model replica?

Who makes miniature model replicas?

This story takes place in a room. What kind of room does this story take place?

It’s a room with very little light. The walls have nothing on them.

Bare. What else can be bare?

A prison cell with very little light and bare walls. What else would you expect to see in a prison cell?

Did you used to have bunk beds when you were children?

My sister and I used to sleep in a bunk bed when we were kids. I used to sleep in the top bunk and my sister in the bottom bunk because she was scared of falling out. What’s your bunk bed story?

What else is in this prison cell?

A bucket. What would the bucket be used for?

This prison cell has a bucket in the corner, a window with bars and a bunk bed.

This story starts with a man named Alexander. He is alone in the prison cell.

What do you think he did? Why is he there?

What is he doing?

Right now, he is sitting at a desk, reading.

And on the desk there is one of these (shows a matchbox and rattles it).

What’s the difference between a matchbox and box of matches?

And strangely the matchbox is moving.

Why is it moving?

Alexander puts his finger on the matchbox, why does he do that?

To stop it moving OR to stop it from moving?

He picks the matchbox up and opens a drawer and puts the matchbox inside and closes the drawer.

Behind Alexander is the prison door and the prison door is unlocked. Not the state of being unlocked but the action, it’s being opened

And Adam is pushed in or thrown in and the prison door is closed.

Who is Adam?

What is the relationship between Alexander and Adam?

So you think they’re brothers, that’s interesting, how have two brothers come to be in the same cell?

Could Adam be a policeman?

In this story, he’s Alexander’s new cell mate

There they are, Alexander and Adam, looking at each other for the very first time.

They greet each other. What do they say?

They say hello to each other. Alexander says hello, Adam says hello.

Adam is quite surprised by Alexander’s next action. What do you think Alexander does?

Alexander turns around so that he has his back to Adam and he starts reading his book again.

So Alexander has his back to Adam reading his book, he’s more interested in his book than in his new cell mate so Adam is left in silence.

How would you feel if you were Adam? What would you do next?

Adam looks around the cell room? What are the things he sees? (this becomes a revision of the ideas gleaned from each other)

He sees all these things and what does Adam do?

He walks over to the bunk bed and sits on the bottom bunk and notices something.

He notices the bed is sagging and he notices something beside him

He notices a red box.

And he puts his hand on the red box and that immediately gets Alexander’s attention who turns around and says … What does he say?

He says “no lo abras”. How do you say that in English?  Don’t open it. To which Adam says “Porque no” “why not” to which Alexander says “Porque puede arrepentirse”. Because you will regret, it is that the modal auxiliary I am looking for? No, because you might regret it.

So what does adam do? Does he open the box?

He opens the box. What does he see? Well, what could have been another title for the story?

He sees a model miniature replica of the cell – all the objects. And he sees two figures, one sitting at the desk and another whose legs are sticking out from under the top bunk.

You want to know what happens next but I’m not going to tell you. You have to retell the story from start to end and narrate how it ends.

Here’s the really interesting bit. Jamie got this entire story from a YouTube video and refers to this technique as videotelling. This is the subject a new book he’s written called Videotelling.

Some of his tips while using a videotelling activity include:

  • Ask open questions (What’s your bunk bed story?)
  • Don’t be precious about the answers you want to elicit. If you don’t get the targeted response, cell mate, use it as an opportunity to elicit more language.
  • Don’t be teachery. If the T gets an answer she doesn’t like or want, she might say “yes” in a very peculiar tone and imply through paralinguistic means that this is the wrong answer. For example, if the Ss, say Alexander and Adam brothers, ask “Could you explain how two brothers come to be in the same cell?”
  • Give Ss some space to elaborate and justify their answers. Be open to Ss’ ideas.

While doing the extension activity for this exercise, you don’t need to necessarily have Ss write their stories down. Instead, you could have them create video selfies where they speak in front of a camera using all the language you gave them as well as the story text and you challenge them to complete the story.

I’m really excited about trying out videotelling with my Ss and looking forward to Jamie’s new book.

Resources

Finally, here’s a post from last year on interactive storytelling activities.

10 Interactive storytelling activities

IMG_20140803_141218

I recently watched a webinar over at the Training Magazine Network by the celebrated learning game guru, Thiagi and his associate Tracy Tagliati on interactive storytelling in which they offered techniques for transforming the conventional approach of the facilitator narrating a story and participants listening passively to one where the facilitator sets up activities within which Ss “actively create, share, analyse, debrief, modify and roleplay stories.  Many of these ideas will be familiar to those of us in ELT but nevertheless it’s potentially useful to see them all consolidated in one place.

1. Co-constructed stories 

Ask Ss to pair up and stand facing each other. Each S contributes a few words that go towards building a c0-constructed story. Ss take turns to extend the story. Turn-taking could happen sequentially or randomly. The story could be written instead of spoken and Ss could pass a piece of paper back and forth. Ss could also be challenged to create the longest sentence through the shared story. Thiagi and Tracy derived some interesting learning from this activity. It could be used to draw Ss’ attention on how both people in each pair completely focused on each other and worked towards a common goal so they didn’t multitask or engage in one upmanship and how this may have helped achieved a better outcome. They also pointed out that the activity could be used to debrief more substantive content. For example, you teach your Ss the seven principles of customer satisfaction and then conduct the activity asking them to incorporate the seven principles into their co-constructed story.

2. Shared stories 

Apparently this activity is also called story exchange and based on an idea borrowed from Appreciative Inquiry. Ask Ss to take a couple of minutes to write the outline of a story they want to share. Now ask them to stand and pair off with someone from another part of the room. Ss should listen enthusiastically to their partner’s story and then narrate their own. Ss then find new partners and repeat the procedure. After exchanging stories with half a dozen other Ss, form groups and ask Ss in their groups to find common elements in storytelling from all the people they heard for example what made it a positive experience.

3. Unfinished story 

Ss listen to 80% of a story told by the facilitator (or another S) and then complete the story by themselves. Upon coming up with a version for completing the story, they could work in groups and come up with more alternate endings. This activity could be used to explore assumptions, stereotypes and perceptions and could also be used to challenge Ss to be creative. In fact, one of my favourite activities in the same vein also comes from Thiagi. It’s called The Sentry . You give Ss copies of this science fiction short story without the last line and ask them to try and complete it. After they share their responses, have them read the original line for a powerful ‘aha’ moment.

4. Zoom stories 

In this technique, borrowed from improv, pair off Ss. One S narrates a story while her partner, from time to time, says ‘zoom in’ or ‘zoom out’. Zoom in means the storyteller should add more details and zoom out means that she should reduce the level of detail. I really liked this activity – I see a lot of potential for application in the business classroom where professionals are often required to gauge audience and context, and adjust their level of detail in order to ensure that they convey their message effectively in meetings and presentations.

5. Roleplayed stories 

T starts recounting a narrative and stops when she gets to a critical juncture. At this point, she asks Ss to assume the roles of different characters. Ss roleplay the scenario until T stops them and introduces a new twist and then repeats the roleplay bit. Their example was that there’s been some sort of nuclear holocaust and the earth is completely irradiated. The Ss seem to be the only survivors, having found refuge in a bomb shelter. Ask them to create a plan for restarting civilization in three month’s time when the radiation clears and they’ll be able to go out into the world. Now have them role play characters in this narrative. Then introduce a twist; one of your friends is just outside the door. She’s used the intercom to tell you that she’s in a bad state and needs medical help. If you open the door to let her in, there’s a possibility that the shelter may get contaminated by radiation. Debate the issue and obtain a two-thirds majority to open the door and save her life. Ss roleplay the scenario again.

6. Analysed stories 

This is essentially the case study approach. T reads out a fairly short scenario or provides copies to Ss to read. Ss individually analyse the story before analysing it collectively in a small group and then analysing it in a larger group or as a class. Tracy had an interesting cross-cultural example for this technique. She talked about an American trainer who is sent on a secondment to an organization in South India where she trains the local trainers on interactive learning techniques which they lap up enthusiastically. Later, in a meeting, the director of the company tells the training team that trainers should be respected and that humility is most important on the part of those who attend training programs. The American trainer interrupts, openly challenging the director’s views suggesting that recent research in cognitive science demonstrates that questioning the trainer is a sign of deeper engagement with the knowledge being taught. The director however ignores her and the training team vocally support his position. When the American trainer confronts her team about what happened, they agree with her views. Some time later, her company abruptly recalls her to the US. This incident could fuel an interesting discussion about differences in cultural orientations.

7. Shrunken stories

These are really concise stories which are either read out by the T or read by the Ss individually. They can be of several types such as short-short stories, 99 word stories (Brian Remer who I’ve been subscribing to for yonks is particularly famous for these), six word stories (like Hemingway’s famous “For sale, baby shoes, never worn”), hint stories and espresso stories. Provide examples and ask Ss to write their own using the same structure and have them share it in groups.

8. Debriefed stories 

The shrunken story is immediately followed by a discussion where Ss reflect on the story and discuss their perspectives with peers.

9. Summarized stories 

Recall a famous novel or plot and condense it into a one minute summary. Alternatively, read a case study, research report or business proposal and narrate it in one minute or less. This could be really useful for business students.

10. Prompted stories 

Specify a theme or topic and provide a prompt such as pictures, comics, titles, first lines and opening paragraphs and ask Ss to incorporate it into a story that addresses the theme.

You can access the recording and associated handouts from here. However, you’ll need to sign up for Training Magazine Network. Kudos to T&T for sharing these great ideas and encouraging people to “creatively plagiarize” these activities.

Boats or Birds? The challenge of lifelong learning and 13 upcoming MOOCs for educators

IMG_20140803_140241

I took this picture a couple of weeks ago at a point overlooking Bombay’s Backbay area where the city forms an upturned C in the Arabian Sea. I was just gunning for the fishing boat but when I looked at the picture later, I realized that I’d also caught this bird mid-flight. As I pored over the image, I was struck by the extent to which it represents the challenge of lifelong learning. The ray of light or the illumination through dark clouds is the elusive epiphany we seek through all our professional and personal development activities. It’s not easy to find because there’s a whole ocean of learning waiting for us and not all of it is appropriate or relevant. The decision we must take is whether we want to process that learning as boats or birds. If we choose to be birds, then we audit all that’s out there with a bird’s eye view, ever seeking to widen our horizons without burdening our cognition with depth in a skill or subject. Or we could choose to be fishing boats, finding the best spot before casting our nets and trawling the depths for deeper learning. 

Whether you decide to be a bird or a boat, the lifelong learner is definitely spoilt for choice and stressed for time. I managed to take advantage of a lull on the work front to complete several MOOCs in the last couple of months: MoMA’s Art & Activity, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Assessment & Teaching of 21st Century Skills and ELearning Ecologies. I’m not sure how may of these upcoming ones I’ll be able to participate in fully. They do sound really promising though. 

Storytelling

1. Storytelling for Change from Acumen on NovoEd | Starts September 3, 2014. 

2. Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Digital Storytelling from the University of Houston on Coursera | Starts on September 8, 2014 

Creativity & Problem Solving 

3. Creative Problem Solving from the University of Minnesota on Coursera | Starts September 3, 2014 

Languages & Linguistics 

4. Chinese for beginners from Peaking University on Coursera | Starts September 15, 2014 

5. Corpus Linguistics from Lancaster University | Starts September 29, 2014

6. Shakespeare and his World from the University of Warwick | Starts September 29, 2014

Teaching & Education 

7. The Art of Teaching History from Rice University on Coursera | Starts September 22, 2014

8. Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom from the University of California on Coursera | Starts September 29, 2014

9. What future for education? from the University of London on Coursera | Starts September 29, 2014

10. Digital Literacies 1 from San Diego State University on Canvas | Starts September 22, 2014 

11. Five Habits of Highly Creative Teachers from Northwest Colorado on Canvas | Starts October 6, 2014

Business 

12. Innovation: the key to business success from the University of Leeds on FutureLearn | Starts September 15, 2014 

13. Decision making in a complex and uncertain world from the University of Groningen | Starts September 15, 2014

Happy learning y’all! 

Improv & ensemble storytelling activities

Last month, I attended a day long improv and ensemble storytelling workshop.  The goal of the program was ostensibly teamwork but there was lots of potential for application in the ELT classroom. Improv has the ability to help participants become less inhibited, test the boundaries of their comfort zones, create better connections with others, listen more actively and become more conscious about actions and speech. Ensemble storytelling helps participants build  stories collectively and create discussion-provoking tableaus. These are useful outcomes for any language classroom.

I’m going to describe the activities as I remember them. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with ways of using them in your classroom. Most of these activities should be done without footwear to ensure that no one gets stomped on.

1. Foot 2 foot obstacle course 

Pair Ss and ask them to sit facing each other in two circles. So you have an inner circle and an outer circle. Ss in the inner circle sit facing their partner in the outer circle. Now, ask them to put their legs out such that their soles are touching their partners’ so they create a diamond shape between their legs. You’ll now have a foot to foot obstacle course. Give each pair a number. When a number is called out, the pair get up and start running through the obstacle course, ensuring that they are not stomping on anyone and only placing their feet in the space created between people’s legs.

  • Outcomes: Energize Ss and break the ice.

2. The “you” pattern game 

This one’s going to sound a little complicated but it was perhaps the most enjoyable activity of the day.  You shouldn’t have more than 12 people playing this game and if you fewer than 6, it might not be all that challenging.  If you have a large group, you can divide them into smaller circles – we had three circles of 11 or 12 people.

  • The basic pattern: In your circle, ask everyone to raise their hand and point their index fingers at the ceiling. T starts the game by lowering his/her hand and pointing to someone in the circle while saying “you”.  This person then points to someone else while saying “you”.  Play continues until everyone gets to lower their hand and say “you” to someone – no repeats allowed – the last person points to the T and passes the “you” back to him/her. Ask the Ss if they remember who they received the “you” from and who they passed it to because they are going to stick with these people. Play two more rounds so Ss become comfortable and encourage them to go faster.
  • The second pattern: Tell the Ss that they are now going to practice a different pattern. Point to someone (different than the first round) and say your favourite breakfast food/dish. Repeat procedure until everyone’s pointed to someone and said a favourite breakfast item (no repetition of people being pointed at or food). Start the “you” pattern and about 30 seconds in, begin the breakfast pattern so you have two patterns going at the same time. Ss will generally drop one. Encourage them to concentrate and keep the momentum with both.
  • The third pattern: Now introduce a third pattern – favourite animal or superhero. If Ss master this quickly, move on to the finale.
  • Finale: Tell the Ss they’ve had it easy till now because all they had to do was memorize where the “word” came from and where it was going so it didn’t really involve genuine concentration. In this round, when someone points to them and says “you” or a “breakfast item”, you need to swap places with them. Begin again with the “you” pattern and gradually introduce the second pattern before bringing in the third. At first, it will be completely chaotic but after some time, most Ss will be able to get into the kind of “flow” described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book of the same name. At that point, it might look like they are performing a contemporary dance.
  • Outcomes: Energy, focus, teamwork, concentration, flow, momentum, intonation, supporting each other, being fully engaged.

3. Yes and … 

Have all the Ss sit down and ask 3 or 4 to come and stand where everyone can see them. These Ss stand in a line facing the audience. The audience needs to give them a product to sell and those in the “yes and …” line say things that describe or promote the product. However, they cannot confer with each other and each person says their lines spontaneously. Here’s how it plays out:

  • The audience asks those in the “yes and …” line to sell a toothbrush.
  • All four Ss step up and pump the air with the fists while saying “Yes and” and then step back.
  • One of the Ss steps forward and says “Yes and … this is a magical toothbrush that grants you a wish every fortnight.”  While this Ss steps back, everyone in the line says “Yes and …” and another Ss steps forward and adds his/her line.
  • Ss will try to choreograph each other by conferring, guiding, forcing others to say something etc. Don’t let them to do this. Some of them will also contradict each other by saying “No and …”. Stop the activity, tell the Ss that the reaction should always be positive “Yes and …” and ask them to do it over.
  • Outcomes: Building on each other’s ideas, spontaneity, creativity, fluency, allowing autonomy of action, not stage-managing other people’s words or actions, not seeing the way in your head as the only  right way, going with the flow and lots of other things.

4. Affinity … to me 

You need a slightly larger space for this activity. It would work well outdoors. Demonstrate by calling out something you like a lot, for example, “dogs”. Everyone who likes dogs runs to you and forms a tight huddle and those who don’t like dogs need to get as far away as possible. The game is spontaneous. Anyone can call something out and if you have an affinity for that thing – you run over to them and if not, you run away.

  • Outcome: Getting to know each other, energy, taking initiative.

5. My enemy 

Ask everyone to silently and subtly choose someone in the room. They must not let this person know (in any way) that they have been chosen. This person is their enemy.  Ask them to now choose another person. This person is their guardian. At all points of time, they must keep their guardian between themselves and their enemy.  Play for a few minutes before asking Ss to switch perspectives – their enemy is now their guardian and vice versa.

  • Outcome: Dealing with change, thinking about how we view people

6.  Samurai

Ask Ss to hold their right (or left) hand out vertically so it’s folded up at their elbow. They need to form a fist but put their little finger out. Tell them that they are samurai warriors and this is their katana, their traditional sword. At all points of time, their hand must be held up and out as if it were a sword with their pinkie sticking out.  The objective of the game is to kill others in the room by using your sword. Samurais can only die if some part of their torso is touched by another warrior’s pinkie finger. Ss can only defend and block using their sword. Start the game by asking everyone to raise their swords and striking the floor while making the noise of steel against ground. Then, stand back and watch the battle. Those who are killed should fall to the floor and play dead.

  • Outcome: Getting into character, strategy, playing by the rules

7. Letter by letter

Divide the Ss into groups of three or four. Write seven letters on the whiteboard, avoid tougher ones like X, Y & Z. Call out a letter by crossing it out and announcing a time limit of one or two minutes depending on the level of the Ss. Ss need to write out a story within the time limit but there are some rules. Each group member can only contribute one word at a time and they must write this word on their piece of paper. Ss shouldn’t influence each other or compel their group members to write something they don’t want to. Each word that is contributed must begin with the letter called out for that round. For examples, all the words in the story begin with “t”, including function words. When the timer runs out, call out the next letter and so on. Finally, have groups pick a person to read out their story using their voice and eye contact to bring it to life.

  • Outcome: Building on each other ideas, collaboration, avoiding helpful sentence completion, letting others think for themselves, encouraging team members while letting them be themselves, creative writing, working under constraints, making the most of the voice.

8. Freeze frame

Divide the Ss into larger groups of between 5 and 7 people per group. Ask them to sit together and share experiences that were life-changing or life-affirming in some way.  They then need to construct seven tableaus that narrate the story. These are frames where there is no movement and no dialogue.  Give Ss ten minutes to design and practice their frames. Each frame must include everyone from the group. Point out that each person doesn’t need to be a character – they could also be objects or a part of the setting.

When everyone’s ready, get Ss to sit down on one side of the room. Get the first group to come up and ask Ss to put their heads down so they can no longer see the are the performance is taking place. The group quietly gets into position for their first frame. Say “freeze frame” and have everyone look at the frame. Then says “heads down” and the group gets into the next frame and so on.  At the end of the seven frames, ask observing groups to reconstruct the story, reflect on what they liked about the frames and which details they found most enjoyable or memorable.

  • Outcome: Teamwork, collaboration, being resourceful, using everyone in the group, storytelling, visualization, coordination.

9. My story for the future

In the workshop, the facilitators asked us to pretend that human civilization will have to undergo some world-changing tribulations in the near future. As a result of this, we will lose most of our repositories of knowledge, culture and stories. Ask Ss to think of a story that has significance for them and bequeath this to the people of the future by preserving it in an abstract sculpture we will launch into space. The facilitators got us to write (most people wrote names of books or movies) our story titles on thin pieces of wood which had grooves so they fit into each other. When we were done, they invited us to construct the sculpture so it became a piece of installation art.

I think the activity would have been more powerful if Ss had written their own stories on the piece of wood. It could be a story inspired by an existing narrative or one that is somehow significant to them – but something that people from our future would find moving, funny or interesting and would become a treasured addition to a culture that is bereft of stories. Instead of wooden squares, you could create the same effect with cardboard from old boxes. I tried, it works as long as the cardboard is a little thick – saw 4 grooves into it where it could be connected to other squares.

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I hope you have as much fun facilitating these activities as I did participating in them!

Kramasha: an audiovisual writing prompt

Kramasha

A couple of years ago, I watched a short film called Kramasha at a film festival. It’s an unusual work whose intriguing visuals and score have stayed with me ever since. Here’s the official description for this 22 minute film:

A small Indian village, a house, early morning; a family is sleeping. The boy is sleeping next to the window. He is asleep, yet awake. A mysterious man with a black coat comes every morning when everyone else is sleeping. The boy has seen him only in his dreams. In this state of conscious and unconscious, the boy hallucinates about the history of his mysterious sleepy village, childhood and nostalgia.

And here’s a scholarly analysis on why it’s really good. Unfortunately, the film is not available online save a 1 minute preview. The good news is  that the preview is interesting enough to run a potentially engaging activity.

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1. Play the preview without the visual. Ask Ss to close their eyes and listen to the sounds and imagine what kind of scenes might accompany these sounds.

2. Tell the Ss that this is from the beginning of a short film. Ask them to work with a partner to verbally create a scene to accompany these sounds i.e., describe the setting of the movie. Ss may restrict themselves to only what they heard.  Encourage them to imagine what wasn’t recorded. If you hear a cat, a peacock, and monsoon clouds, what else might you hear?

3. Ss share their descriptions of the film’s setting.

4. Play the preview again this time allowing Ss to see the visual. Ask them to compare their description to the actual setting.

5. Explain that although there’s a setting, there’s  something missing. Elicit that it needs characters. Get Ss to individually create a character to place in this setting; for lower level learners, provide prompts for character building (species, gender, height, hair, personality, etc.)

6. Ask Ss to share their characters with their partners. Do the two characters seem compatible? Why or why not? Would the story be more exciting if you had two mismatched characters?

7. Play the preview again. This time, ask the Ss to imagine their two characters in this scene. What happens next?

8. Have Ss put the three parts together as a short written story (setting, characters, and action).

9. As an after-class task, have all the pairs post their stories on a class blog or Facebook so everyone can read them. Alternatively, use the story they wrote in class to create a mobile video of the next minute of this film

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The rest of the film, if it were available, could be a useful creative writing prompt for aspiring writers  because it’s based on a non-linear folktale inspired narrative with magical realism and other unusual elements.