Sunday, June 5, 2011

Now We're Cooking?

Over the last few days, I have started to piece together a bit of an analogy for my students around teaching narrative structure. I am in a position where I teach three different classes for English and so over the last week, this approach has been reworked and refined. Writing a narrative, I explain, is like cooking a meal. With me so far? Good. Bon appetit.

The narrative text has a pretty simple structure. It begins with an Orientation, explores a Complication and a Sequence of Main Events, comes to a Resolution, and concludes with an Ending. That's all pretty simple. The trick is getting students to understand the value of each element.

Orientation: The Plate. It lays the foundation for the story the audience is about to dig into. Without a plate, food falls onto the table, things roll off to the floor and the whole thing is a royal mess. Without an understanding of where, when and who the story is about, the reader feels just as lost and frustrated.

Complication: The Steak. This is the juicy part of the story. It's what people are looking for. When you plan a meal, you think about what meat you will have. Chicken? Steak? Pork? Lamb? Even if you are a vegetarian, you wouldn't want a plate with a bunch of vegetables dumped on your plate. The complication is what readers really want, a good problem to see solved!

Main Events: The Vegetables. Close your eyes and imagine you are at a restaurant. You ordered a delicious steak dinner (sorry, vegans) and you see the waiter looking at you as he approaches with a plate. He sets it in front of you and you see your plate presenting a thick, juicy steak and a single piece of broccoli?? How disappointing! You were hoping for a heaping mound of corn and roasted potatoes and carrots, right? The vegetables are the events that surround the complication. a good story should have great vegetables to compliment the complication and enhance its flavour. With a series of events to experience with the character, the reader will enjoy each "mindful" and gobble it up!

Resolution: The Gravy. Remember that steak? Good, right? I know. But you know what will make it better? Gravy. Mmmm. Gravy makes it better. Lather it on and the steak disappears. As the resolution is presented, the problem is solved and the reader turns the page again and again until it is over. So that's it, right? Problem solved? Good job. See you later? Of course not! Who could walk away from such a fantastic meal and not feel a little dissappointed without having a little...

Ending: The Dessert. Ah, yes, that final touch! The dessert is that final sweet mouthful like a little celebration after dinner. Even though the meal is complete, steak, veggies, and gravy are all gone, there's that little part of you that wants a little bit more. with a good narrative, the reader is no different. A sweet ending that tells us how life unfolds for the chacter AFTER the problem is resolved makes it even better. What did he learn? What changed after the resolution? In a final motion, the writer draws the story to a close and the reader cannot wait till next time he gets invited to dinner.

Want to take that a bit further? No problem, I'm prepared for that. In the lessons that followed, we talked about adding more quality details to really make the story great. These were the Spices and Seasons. Yum!

Invite them into a discussion of a reality cooking class they have seen - how's the kitchen look? A little messy, stuff out, little spills, a bit of food on their hands, right? Any real big messes? Chicken on the floor? Food on their faces? Nah. So the Planning can be a little messy but not a circus. Organised chaos, so-to-speak.

Watch a cook prepare a sauce. I bet they dip their spoon in and try it themselves. That's the Revision. Add a little, take a little away until it is perfect!

As one student told me, "Mister, you don't eat with your hands," which is exactly why the cutlery is Reading Strategies. Predicting, inferring, questioning, summarising...they all make it easier to ENJOY the story.

And lastly, I will leave you with this point. We talked about quality and how it is so important to think about the ingredients you use. These Ideas are what make great meals. it is what separates a gourmet meal from a microwave dinner - the kind you pop into the box turn on for 30 seconds and its done. Lots of thought will make your story spectacular.

I hope this was helpful. As my AT reccommended, 'borrow' some plastic food from your niece's toy kitchen set and build yourself some writing tools.

Now, time for some ice cream

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