Our latest book, Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp, came out last week. In case you missed it, or the subtitle “24 open-ended stories to engage students in reading, discussion, and creative writing,” wasn’t clear, the Stories Without End is a collection of 24 short stories that end on a cliffhanger. Students read short stories, discuss them, and then write their own endings: It’s an innovative and interactive way to teach reading and writing.
The stories themselves are pretty intriguing and creative themselves, so they generate a lot of discussion. Some have a science-fiction flavor and ask what life would be like if we could teleport or what if we could control the weather? Others raise issues relevant to everyday life, such as how can you tell if someone likes you or how should we arrange our families? Some are just fun, like “T-Rex Window” which tells the tale of a boy who may have a dinosaur outside of his window or he may have lost his mind!
Since Taylor’s idea for this book is such an innovative and original one, we wanted to share some suggestions for how to use the book in class with your students, a sort of teacher’s guide. Feel free to share in the comments anything that has worked for you as you use any of these stories in class. You can also ask any questions there too on how to implement these unfinished stories for students.
Before You Read
The first page of every story contains a picture that relates to the story. It might set the mood for the story, illustrate an important element of the plot, or even introduce the theme. There are also a set of Before You Read questions in the left margin. The questions may refer directly to the image or not. The questions and any work with the image can be done as a class, individually, or in small groups.
For the story “Joe and His Beans”, you can ask students to look at the picture and guess what fairy tale it comes from. They can describe what they think is going on in the picture. This is a good chance to make sure they know what a bean and a beanstalk is.
The Before You Read questions are usually straightforward and help introduce the theme of the story. For “Joe and His Beans” the questions ask students to think about fairy tales and specifically “Jack and the Beanstalk”.
You can extend this by asking what connection there might be between the story they are about to read and the fairy tale. Do they have any expectations of what might happen in this story? What does the title tell you? Does it sound like the title of a traditional fairy tale?
Each story is accompanied by an activity to pre-teach key vocabulary. These words have been chosen as the most difficult, unusual and/or important for understanding the story. It’s impossible to predict every word that every student in every class will know or not know, however. You may want to scan the story yourself and pick out any other words your class may need help on. After all, you know your own students best.
The vocabulary activity focuses on giving them a quick definition or gloss so that they can comprehend the reading. Parts of speech are noted because that affects meaning and how the word can be used grammatically. You may choose to expand on this with deeper vocab work after reading the story. For example, you can encourage students to use the words in their creative projects.
There are also photocopiable Supplements (which we’ll discuss in more detail in a future blog post) in the back of the book focused on vocabulary work that you can follow up with. Supplement 6.1 is a template for a vocabulary journal that encourages students to record words including part of speech, definition, and an example sentence. Supplement 6.2 is a template for a parts of speech journal where students record vocab words by parts of speech. This is the first step to learning to use the word grammatically. The last supplement is another innovative variation on a vocabulary journal, a Verb Tense Journal. English verb tenses can be hard, so this worksheet gets students to focus on the use of different verb tenses and why they are being used.
You should decide whether you are going to allow students to use dictionaries, including their phones, to look up unknown words as they read. If you do allow them to look up words, make sure they focus on grasping the relevant meaning of the word only well enough to follow the story. This is a key skill for fluent reading. And it doesn’t mean they can’t go back and study the word in more depth.
There are many ways to handle reading short stories in class. Choose the one that works best for your classroom and remember that you can use several different strategies at the same time.
- Have students read the story for homework before class. This has the advantage of taking up less class time, but reading in class allows them to get more support from you and from other students. But you can have them do an initial reading at home and then read it again in class.
- Have students read individually in class quietly to themselves.
- Divide the text into sections and ask students to read the first part to themselves. Then call on a student to summarize what happened. Ask a few students to make predictions about what will happen next. Then go on to the next section.
- Put students in reading groups. Typically reading groups are organized by reading level, with stronger readers together and weaker readers in separate groups. However, you can also engineer groups to include a diverse range of reading skills so you have one student who is good at vocab, another who excels at grasping the big picture, and a third who excels at parsing grammar. That way they all help each other comprehend the story.
- One variation of reading groups is to have students take turns reading the story and re-telling it to each other.
- Read to the students out loud as they read along silently. Pause periodically to check comprehension or elicit questions.
- Have the students read to each other in small groups, taking turns. Generally, having students read out loud to the whole class is not a great strategy because it can be embarrassing to struggling readers (who may comprehend the text well but have trouble reading aloud), it’s not a great model for other students, and it’s hard to both read and comprehend in a second language.
- Reader’s Theater. Put students in small groups to read and perform the stories out loud. For more information on doing reader’s theater, check out this post.
After You Read and Creative Writing Projects
After You Read
Each story is followed by After You Read questions, which take many forms. Some are familiar comprehension questions while others invite students to discuss the themes of the story. For this story, you can see students are asked to think about what might happen to Joe after he eats the magic beans. They are then asked to think about the message or moral of this story. Finally, they take a look at some other fairy tales, which sets them up for the creative projects that follow.
Consider whether you want to have students discuss these questions as a whole class, in small groups, or individually. You can also have students look at the questions on their own, then discuss their answers in a group before starting a conversation with the whole class.
The first activity in the Projects section is always “Continue the story! Write around a page. Here are some questions to consider as you write.” You can ask students to approach this assignment in a variety of ways:
- Write a short outline or summary and share it in pairs or groups before writing a whole story (There are supplements in the back of the book to help with this process).
- Write a page in class quickly without planning or editing, then revise and rewrite the story for homework.
- Brainstorm for ideas as a class (or in groups) and then write individually. Students can fill the board with ideas and details for them to pick and choose when they write.
- Start with a mini-lesson about a relevant writing skill, such as describing people, writing a coherent story, or building tension. Then ask students to practice that skill in their writing.
- Use a graphic organizer or story map (find some in the Supplements section in the back of the book) to map out their story.
- As a class, come up with a word bank they can use when writing the story.
- For students who need a bit of help, give them 2 or 3 prompts to fill out in detail.
Other projects lead students to do a variety of creative tasks. Of course, you can pick and choose which projects you want them to do. You may want to assign some for class and others for homework, or do some at a later date. You can use any of the writing ideas above for the various other projects. And don’t forget to take advantage of the Supplements in the back of the book which include models for writing and other creative projects, as well as even more extension ideas.
In a later post, we’ll take a look at ways to use the Supplements.