Interactive Fiction Invitation: Come Play Some Stories

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

The other day, I wrote about my sixth graders planning out and learning about Interactive Fiction. They are in the midst of creating their own stories, using Google Slides and Hyperlinks as the backbone technology for composition and publishing. A few students are nearing the end of their projects, so I figured I would share out a few for you to play, if you want.

So strange to say that — Playing the Story — but I do it all the time with my students in this writing unit, to enforce the mindset of a different kind of narrative writing and reading. It makes the story a game, of sorts, and puts them in a different kind of position as writers of the story.

Peace (follow every path),

Slice of Life (Day 10): The Tangled Knots of She Said/He Said/She Said

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

One of my students was crying. The cafeteria director asked me, Why is she crying? I didn’t know. It happened at the end of lunch. I walked over, and took the student aside, and tried to gently figure out what was happening. It wasn’t easy. It’s hard to talk when you are crying. We took our time.

knots flickr photo by mlberman25 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Untangling the knots of adolescent social conflicts requires finesse, and patience, and compassion. In essence, this is what happened, and it involved my student, and two others.

Student1 was crying because Student2 told her that Student3 had said that Student1 talked about Student2 behind Student2’s back. Student2 confirmed that Student3 said that, but Student2 didn’t really believe it. Why did Student2 tell Student1 that, then? They didn’t know. Meanwhile, Student3 said the tone in which Student2 asked the question about whether Student1 talked about Student2 behind their back seemed to indicate that if Student3 didn’t implicate Student1, Student2 would be angry with Student3. So, Student3 admitted to what they said about Student1 to Student2, but explained it wasn’t true: Student1 was not talking behind Student2’s back. Student3 apologized to Student1. Apology accepted. Student2 apologized to Student3. Apology accepted. Crisis averted. For now.

If you could follow all that, well, more power to you. My head was spinning as I was trying to sort it all out in the hallway, but was relieved that the crying (two students were sobbing by the time we were done) was over and the apologies were accepted. I know I made this exchange into a bewildering post but I also know that for 11 and 12 year olds, this is serious business and helping them to sort it out was probably the best thing I did during the day.

I won’t even get into the other student who I found crying in the hallway earlier in the day for an entirely different reason …but we hopefully sorted that out, too.

Peace (in hallways and in friendship),

Slice of Life (Day Eight): Designing Interactive Fiction Story Trees

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Last week, I wrote about my students reading and mapping out Interactive Fiction novels (Make-Your-Own-Ending is another term for the books), and now they have flipped and are becoming the writers of Interactive Fiction. We use Google Sites and the power of Hyperlinks to move the reader through the story. In fact, I did an entire mini-lesson yesterday about the innovative power of Hyperlinks, which are the digital architecture of the Internet.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

First, though, is task of the creating of Story Trees and Decision Branches where choices will become part of the story. Yesterday, many students were finishing their Story Trees up, and talking about what is going to happen at different branches.

The project is called A Mystery of Ruins, and the theme of the stories are about an archeological dig or an explorer coming across the remains of a lost civilization or culture. They have to write in second person narrative point of view, use good descriptive writing, have at least five to seven branch points and three different endings, and no violence or death.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

What I love seeing in the development of the Story Trees is the thinking out loud, and the connecting of story points, and how the narrative will be weaving this way and that way, and how a writer plans for the reader to be in charge of the story.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

This is a very different kind of writing for my students, and many are deeply involved in their narratives, and are eager to get writing as soon as class starts each day. That is always a good thing.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

Peace (branches here and there),

Slice of Life (Day Three): The New Cold War Kids?

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

This is one of those slices that will be sort like a mirror of past year slices done on March 3, but from a slightly different angle.

Yesterday was Dr. Seuss’s Birthday Day, and we love that Mad Hat Cat writer around here in Western Massachusetts (where he was born and raised). I often use the opportunity to talk about Allegory with my sixth graders — connecting story to theme to overarching geopolitical ideas. And I almost always share The Butter Battle Book with them, as I did yesterday.

But where as in recent years I could talk about the Cold War and Arms Proliferation as some distant past — way distant for these 11 year olds but not so much for me — this year, I found myself musing over the recent headlines that link Russia and the United States, and we talked about the term “Cold War” coming back around again (particularly with Trump’s push for increased military and more Nukes).

I still appreciate that The Butter Battle Book ends on the unknown … and we talked about why Seuss left that cliffhanger in there. I also wondered if that stalemate between those crazy butter-toast-heads might not yet be something in the near distant future. Are we on a collision course again? I surely hope not. I’d hate to think of my students as the new Cold War Kids.

Peace (sometimes it rhymes),

Slice of Life (Day One): Unexpected Turns in the Story

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

You know that moment when you introduce an entirely new concept to your students, and even as you are watching their eyes take in the new information, you can see the wheels turning in their heads as they process it all? That was me and that was them, yesterday, as I began a mini-unit around Interactive Fiction (sometimes known as Choose Your Own Ending stories).

We began with a discussion about its basic elements — reader in charge of story, multiple narrative paths, use of second person narrative point of view, story maps, etc.)

Story Branches of Interactive Fiction

And then I read a book out loud called The Green Slime, allowing the entire classroom to act as “reader,” making “choices” along the way about where the story should go. Funny, each of my four classes took four different narrative routes, so each time I read the story, it was different experience for me.

I mapped out the different “branches” of the story as I read, showing them a visual of where we had been, and making note that they would be doing this kind of mapping, too, but from the writing standpoint, with every possible choice for the reader made visible.

Oh, they were pretty excited. Only a few had ever even seen these kinds of books, although some of my gamer’s make quick connections to the ways that video games use the same techniques. In the next days, we will be doing some writing and then some deeper reading and mapping of these books, and then move into a larger project using Google Slides as a launching point for Interactive Fiction, where hyperlinks become the way a reader “jumps” through the decision trees.

Peace (active and interactive),

Visual Notetaking: Sketchnoting The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

I wrote a few weeks ago about implementing aspects of “visual notetaking” into my classroom as we were watching the presidential Inauguration Ceremonies as a way to keep them in “active listen mode.” I pulled the technique out again a few days ago as we hit the two chapters in the novel, Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963, that I always read out loud to them. One is about a near drowning of the main character, Kenny, and the other is of the bombing of the church where Kenny’s sister, Joetta, is attending Sunday School (she’s is not hurt but Kenny sees things in the bombed-out church that no child should see).

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

Both chapters are high drama, and emotionally charged, as author Christopher Paul Curtis shifts the tone of the story from a whimsical tale of family and childhood to one of Civil Rights and violence. Reading these chapters out loud gives me a chance to pause, and coordinate the pace of the narrative for high effect and for questions that students might have, right in the moment after listening.

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

With sketchnoting, I was hoping my students would actively listen and pick up on some of the main themes of the chapters, with visuals as reminders, and it was very effective in many ways.

You can see the thinking of the student as they listened, and the sketches provided anchors of discussions afterwards.

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

Peace (let it be),

Crazy Collaborative Dictionary Project: From Amic to Zzaj

New Words 2017

Now in our 12th year of collecting newly invented words (ranging alphabetically from Aamic to Zzaj) from sixth graders, our Crazy Collaborative Dictionary is pushing nearly 1,000 invented words. The invention of language is part of our lessons around the origins of words, and the roots of the English Language, and we have a blast with this word-invention activity.

But what amazes me is that this year’s class of word inventors weren’t even born when the first class of word inventors began making up words in 2005. Actually, we didn’t use a wiki until 2006, I think, but we used to publish the words as an in-house dictionary document. We started with an old wiki site called Seedwiki, and then moved to Wikispaces when Seedwiki kicked the bucket.

Once I had the first version of the wiki dictionary up, we shifted to the online dictionary concept (as well as lessons about this thing called the Internet and what in the world Wikis were). I’ve had them submit words all sorts of ways. This year, we set up a Google Form to collect words into a database.

A few years ago, we added podcasting to the activity, giving students a chance to record their word and definition. As I now pitch it to them, their voice will be forever (well, we’ll see about that, right? Forever is a long time in Internetland) linked to their word, in this moment in time. Five years, or ten years, from now, they should be able to “listen” to their sixth grade self, reading out their word and definition at the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary. (I am still connecting podcasts to this year’s collection of words)

I think that idea is pretty nifty, as is the concept that many of my students are now “collaborating” with older siblings, some of whom have graduated and are in college, or in jobs. But their words are there, in our dictionary, as are their siblings’ new words. As a father of three kids, I find that idea of cross-year collaboration pretty magical indeed.

Peace (words matter),

#NetNarr: Worldbuilding in Writing Notebooks

WorldBuilding Collage

In the Networked Narratives adventure just now unfolding, there is some talk down the road about “world building” and as my students were just finishing up an entire unit on video game design (telling a Hero’s Journey story inside of a video game structure), I decided to riff off the idea with some daily writing activities in their notebooks.

Day One’s prompt was to map out an imaginary world, either in the form of maps or an atlas, and to name landforms and water forms within their world.


Day Two’s prompt was to use that Imaginary World as the setting for a short story, sending a character on an adventure through the new world they had conceived the day before.

What struck me was how closely many of the student’s maps and atlases of their new worlds resembled Earth. I expected more of them to take more creative license with the prompt. However, the stories were imaginative, conceptualizing a strange and imaginary place for adventure, and I wonder if their ability to “tell” stories (something we work on all year) gave them more freedom to explore the unknown elements of an unknown world.

BONUS: I made this prompt into a prompt for the Daily Digital Alchemy the other day. Give it a whirl. Create a world.

Peace (somewhere, there’s a world),