Pay No Attention to the Man, Woman, or Whaterver Behind the Curtain.

What makes for a well-told story? I’m not asking what makes a story good or bad. It is true a well-told story can mean the difference between a story being liked or disliked, but that isn’t always the case.

The most interesting thing about bad storytelling is that it has never stopped an audience from enjoying a story they liked. The stories that interest us as human beings all share some basic elements whether the media\genre is a newspaper article, novel, short story, TV drama, radio drama, true story, current event, biography, memoir, or historical event . Let me give you an example.

I don’t like opera or light opera, but I love a good story. Here is a story I liked:

As a narratives go, there are definite things going on in this clip. There is so much more going on story-wise underneath and behind that is designed to be transparent to the audience. It is this transparency that often means the difference between getting people to view your work or ignore it. When a storyteller learns to master (just knowing them isn’t enough) these transparent elements, it won’t matter what genre or media you use, people will watch, listen, or read your narratives.

If you were in a face to face class with me, after having watched the video, I would ask, “How many of you found the clip interesting and would at least tune in for the next episode?” Of course there’s always some punk in a one hundred level course that thinks showing any interest in a class topic is uncool, but the bulk of students I have shown this clip do found it interesting.

Now comes the fun part,  Did you like this? What makes this something you would follow into the next week to find out what happens or not follow? Please post your answers as replies.

Of course I’m going to share these transparent things, but I want to give you dear audience the opportunity to weigh in. Why? Because learning is always best done together, and I may be the one sharing this, but I never pass up an opportunity to learn something new from others.

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Does your novel need a Teacher’s Guide?

One of my few fond memories of the junior high years occurred in seventh grade English class. Together we read Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.

Our teacher seemed to have a lot of knowledge of the story, and she made it come alive. But I never noticed her referring to notes. She reviewed new vocabulary words with us and asked an occasional question to spark discussion, but otherwise we simply read. It didn’t feel like school at all! It was reading, something I did for pleasure at home when I had the opportunity to get books from the library. (My parents didn’t have the budget for purchasing books at the time.)

TeenBoyReading

By eighth grade, my family moved. Organized reading at my new school consisted of the SRA Reading Laboratory.

Laboratory? That was enough to discourage me right there. It was a color-coded system of cards containing segments of stories, at least in its early stages when I encountered it.

And I hated it.

“Why can’t we read a real book?” I asked my teacher, and she ignored the question.

I’ll admit that the top reader in my class said she enjoyed using the system. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the SRA Reading Laboratory, it adjusts to students’ reading abilities by starting them at a color/level they’re capable of and allowing them to work through and upward into higher levels at their own speed.)

But back then I wondered if these dissected stories were real literature. At thirteen years old, I hadn’t been exposed to enough books, particularly the classics, to recognize them. And I wasn’t fond of having to stop reading after each segment/card to answer questions before I could continue. Talk about interrupting the flow of a story.

I’m sure the SRA Reading Lab has improved since my day, and if you or your child loves it, that’s great. If you’re a teacher, and it helps assess and place students at the appropriate reading level and encourages their reading, I think that’s wonderful.

But each time the teacher passed out her copies of Around the World in Eighty Days, I felt such a thrill. I couldn’t wait to get that book into my hands again, and I was sorry when we turned them in at the end of class. I would’ve been extra sorry if I’d known how rare an experience reading a good book together as a class would be. I never again experienced a group read in school.

Do entire classes ever read a book together nowadays? I hope so. (And I don’t mean each student reading the same book on a computer screen.)

To encourage teachers to bring more classic and new literature in paper form into their classrooms for a group reading project, more and more middle-grade and young-adult authors are creating teacher’s guides.

I’ve looked online and found a few I like for some of my favorite debut novels. One was on the author’s website, another on the publisher’s. Everyone seems to do something a little different, but these guides are not simply a list of several discussion questions, as for a book club. They include a variety of activities and questions covering a number of subjects, from the arts to the sciences.

My Teacher’s Guide for Bird Face is on my website, www.cynthiattoney.com, listed under My Work on the home page as well as on others. It’s a reproducible PDF, so anyone is welcome to download and copy it as needed for use. It’s currently eight pages long, but each time I review it, I think of something I want to add.

I just came across a 45-page guide for using a novel to teach reading and language arts specifically: How to Teach a Novel. I wish I’d found it much earlier because it’s loaded with ideas for teaching any novel.

This is probably the longest post I’ve written for The Scriblerians, and there’s more I’d like to say about developing teacher’s guides! But I hope those of you who are familiar with them or who’ve begun creating one yourself will share some of your knowledge in the comments.

Thanks, happy reading, and happy teaching!

cynthia-toney Cynthia

In Honor of Poets and Poetry

I remember certain poems from childhood.

Their rhythms and rhymes soothed me like a lullaby, and I’ve found myself seeking them during troubled times as an adult. The glorious mental images they evoke likewise give me peace.

Through online searches and library books, I located some of my favorites so that I could offer a few samples here.

EagleFlight

While reading Tennyson’s The Eagle, I became that eagle—powerful and free. The poem itself is powerful–and short–with appealing alliteration.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls. 

Daffodils group

I knew Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud as the title Daffodils, and it cheered me. Here are two excerpts:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. 

and

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

snowtrees

I’d memorized Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, and it came back to me almost in its entirety. But the ending is what always got me. It spoke of responsibilities.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep. 

birdhouse

I found The Builders by Longfellow as an adult but wished I’d read it as a child. We build a better world with honest deeds, no matter how small, and we prepare for the next. Here’s the beginning:

All are architects of Fate,


Working in these walls of Time;


Some with massive deeds and great,


Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;


Each thing in its place is best;


And what seems but idle show


Strengthens and supports the rest. 

I hope children and teens continue to be exposed to the work of these great poets and find comfort in them.

Two books of poetry for young people that I enjoyed lately are Poems to Remember, which inspired my most recent personal blog post, and The Children’s Treasury of Classic Poetry. I’m sure there are many other good ones.

Do you have a favorite poem? How does it speak to you?

cynthia-toney  Cynthia