CYOA Day 2: I love Freewrites

There are a lot of parts about creating a choose your own adventure (CYOA) project that the students really like: planning out the plot lines, taking pictures, reading what other people have come up with.  It’s a different type experience and they like looking back at the results.  Whenever I’ve done this in the past, however, the only part that I had to drag them through was in writing up what they had planned.  You know, the part where they actually use the language.  In the past when I had done CYOAs as a year-end project, the project dragged on for days and days while they wrote drafts and further drafts and searched for the right words, etc.   In the end I usually had to end up rewriting everything on the sly to add more details and make it usable for my other classes.

With that burden of pain in mind, I realized going into day two that I didn’t have to live that life anymore because of a little thing my students already excel in: freewrites.  To begin the day, I put everybody back into their groups with the outlines they had written the day before and told them to prepare for a five minute freewrite.  This freewrite really wasn’t that free–they each had to identify one section of the outline they had written to describe what was happening on that page, so a group of four would bang out four different sections of their outline in the course of five minutes.  During the day we would do two free writes total, which meant that eight sections of people’s outlines from the day (or most of the outline in many cases) before would essentially be finished by the end of the day.

This may sound simple, but I hedged my bets in two ways.  First, I had my students previously submit me a list of phrases that would likely come up in stories like this for me to translate and give them as a phrase sheet.  Sample phrases included such fare as:

She heard something behind her.
He picked up the ___ and noticed ____
The investigator discovered ____
She decided to _____ 
He suddenly turned into a ____

The second hedge to my bets is that contrary to normal free-writes I let them ask me for occassional vocabulary during the freewrite.  This sounded like a good idea at the time, so I went with it.

With these rules in place, I let them roll and they started writing.  During the writing I found myself jumping around answering all kinds of questions, but things were moving along.  Surprisingly, even after the five minutes were up, people kept peppering me with vocab requests and kept working away at improving their stories so they got them right.  A sample of what I got out of this first five minute free write is as follows:

A couple notes from my observations of this are that a) the volume was much less than half of what I get during a normal freewrite and b) this writer leaned pretty heavily on the phrase sheet I had given her.   To me it sort of make sense that trying to write something to hit a specific mark rather than just as part of a freewheeling blizzard of activity will reduce the word count, but part of this is also the fact that I think most of the really good writing in a freewrite occurs during the last half of the time.  For me, anyways, it takes a little while to find my groove when writing, even in English.  Still all told, this represents a solid effort and more than enough to get the job done in describing what happened during this segment.  After this first freewrite, I gave them five minutes off to walk around and take a brain break and then another couple of minutes to select another section to write about.

The second freewrite they did that day was, as I suspected, much more satisfying.  Here follows the second entry from the same student:

What I like about this second entry is that the student was able to move away from just executing a pre-determined plan and actually get creative during the writing.  While she was writing, she started coming up with some new ideas that she incorporated on the fly (such as creating a fight scene with a quote from the Mortal Kombat video game) and the tone here was much closer to her normal type of free write.  In this case, the student was so pleased with her ad-lib that she tracked me down and asked me to read her writing, which I did in a very dramatic voice, to the great pleasure of her whole group.  This experience was hardly unique; many people couldn’t wait to share what they had created with other people and people were excited and upbeat.

So, yes, I absolutely love free writes.  Because my students had been doing these all year long, they not only had the skills to be able to write freely, but they had learned how to discipline themselves to just sit down, shut up and write.  The writing up stage wasn’t a technicality anymore that had to be gotten out of the way before we got to the fun stuff, it became a part of the creative process.  At the end of class I sat there reflecting what a huge difference this was for me from the last time I did this project in my pre-TPRS life.  And I told them so.  I let them know how proud I was that this group of German II students outperformed, outwrote, and outcreated any group of German IIIs or IVs I had from previous years.  This was a great day.

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