7 Keys to Story Ninja Success

As you probably know, one of the best ways to help your students is to involve their parents in the learning process as much as possible. Let parents know the approach you are using to help their children excel at reading and writing.

1. The Best Way To Improve Writing Skills Is Through Practice

Reading and writing is the act of deciphering and rearranging the symbols of the alphabet. No differently than playing a sport or learning a musical instrument, confidence and skill comes with spending hours and hours immersed in the activity of reading and writing. A child who has spent 1,000 hours reading will be much better at comprehension skills than a child who has spent only 100 hours. Better yet, children who read well have an instinctive grasp of how to write well, even without formal instruction of sentence structure, vocabulary or grammar.

As for writing, the same applies. A child who has written 100 pages will have more confidence and skill than a child who has only written ten pages. Spelling and grammar exercises can be so boring that children tend not to want to do those exercises to write. Moreover, a focus on the details of spelling and grammar don’t contribute to what matters most — fluency and comprehension and creativity.

2. Practice Makes A Student a Better Writer, But The Only Way Improve A Piece of Writing Is To Edit and Revise

There is a difference however between the act of writing and the resulting piece of writing.

Yes, the first step is to have them practice enough to have confidence as writers to enjoy the creative process and fearlessly transfer their thoughts to paper by using the symbols of the alphabet.

Students, however, don’t get evaluated on their confidence and lack of fear and willingness to be creative. This only makes it possible for them to dive into writing. Instead, what matters to readers is the final product. The only way to ensure a piece of writing is clearly understandable is to repeatedly edit and revise. The bad news, it seems to young writers, is that this is much less about the joy of creativity, and much more about the grind of work. The good news, however, is that anyone can be good at edits and revisions, because all it takes is a willingness to work.

3. The Single Biggest Factor For Students To Practice Writing and Editing Skills Is Motivation

A traditional focus on the technical aspects of writing and the mistakes in a writing piece nearly always leads students to become frustrated and fearful with the writing process. The first reason is the lack of fun and creativity involved.

The second reason is that spelling of the English language is exceedingly difficult. ‘Laughter’ and ‘daughter’ are pronounced much differently despite the fact that the only differences are the ‘l’ and ‘d’ at the beginning of each word. Why do water and daughter rhyme despite the differences in spelling? Why is ‘gh’ in tough pronounced differently that ‘gh’ in ghost?

The third reason is that the first draft of any piece of writing will need a minimum of three drafts to become a polished final product, if not more. For beginning writers who don’t understand this process, there is a sense that they have no chance at all of handing something to the teacher that is good enough, so why even try?

The resulting sense of inadequacy is very de-motivational, and students are reluctant to do the pages and pages of writing it takes to become better at the process.

The key to turning this around is by reducing the de-movitation, and find a key that will motivate students in all types of writing.

4. The Best Way to Motivate Students Is By Understanding Humans Are Wired For Story

“Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend on it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of planning, of explaining. . .most of our experience, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories.” Dr. Mark Turner, The Literary Mind.

Stories allow us to remember facts, place facts in context, and deliver facts with emotional context.  

We tell stories, we dream stories, we learn through stories and we love stories delivered in many ways —  from movie screens, the pages of books, cartoons, joke.

In short, stories are central to human existence. All children can tell a story. By focusing on the stories that are delivered through writing, we give students a much better reason to do the work that comes with writing, especially when we place more emphasis on the story than on the technical mistakes they find discouraging. Yet there is an even better reason to focus on story.

5. Story Gets Its Power Because Humans Connect Through the Heart

While our ability to reason and analyze is one of the fundamentals the set humans apart from all other species, humans are still driven by emotions that often defy rationality.

And when we connect, it is primarily through emotions — joy, love, anger, fear.

All great stories have one thing in common. Like great songs, great stories grab our feelings.

The format to a story is simply. it begins with a problem, the problem gets worse, and then resolved. Yet the problem must engage us emotionally, or we lose interest.

Because humans connect through the heart, we we tell stories, we are seeking to connect with our audience. We want our listeners or readers to laugh or groan or wince or lean in with curiosity.

When a child delivers a story to us on paper, instead of relying on the traditional way of criticizing it, the single best thing we can do to get that child to write again is to show the emotional reaction he or she is seeking. Laugh at a child’s story and you will get more stories so the author can hear you laugh again.

6. The Amazing Things That Happen When You Understand That Writing Is A Delivery System For Story

The is the phrase we hear and repeat: write a story. The most important thing to understand about this phrase is that writing is a separate skill from story telling.

Writing is the stamped envelope that arrives in the mail from a grandparent. Story is the the gift card you pull out of the envelope.

Writing — the process of using symbols of the alphabet to set words down on paper in a clear and understanding sequence. — is the delivery system.  Story — a problem that engages us as the main character eventually overcomes the problem — is the content.

Both skills are needed. No matter how brilliant the writing is, if the author doesn’t deliver something word reading, we are disappointed by the writing, no differently than opening an empty stamped envelope that arrives in the mail. No matter how great the story, if the writing is poor we won’t understand the story, no differently that a stamped envelope with a gift card that has the wrong address.

Once a young author understands this, the motivation of sharing a fun story then becomes the motivation to make sure that the writing is good enough to deliver the story.

7. Story Makes All Writing More Effective — Narrative, Expository, Persuasive

Curriculum will places requirements on students to come up with assignments such as narrative writing, expository writing, persuasive writing, essay writing, letter writing, descriptive writing, journal writing.

These labels make it easy to overlook a single fact. There are no different types of writing. Writing is the delivery system and the same writing skills in delivery a narrative (story) are the same writing skills used in a journal piece. The demands of sentence structure, clarity, punctuation, grammar, and the use of powerful verbs and adverbs are identical all across the spectrum.

What shifts from assignment to assignment is the form of how the content is delivered. Essays are structured differently than journals, for example.

The two important things to understand from this are that first, as student who is motivated by the joy of story to write one hundred pages of stories — no matter how silly the stories are — is accumulating one hundred paws of writing skills that will transfer to each of the new curriculum writing assignments.

And of equal importance is this: students who weave elements of story into each different assignment will get better grades because each piece of writing is made stronger by using stories to engage their readers. Expository writing that uses true stories over a series of boring facts is a foundation for the best in non-fiction books that reaches us in the real world. Using stories to persuade someone to a certain point of view is the most powerful way to influence a person’s opinion.

To sum up the seven secrets: story is the best way to motivate our children to read and write, and it is the engine to drive them to better literacy, comprehension and fluency skills