Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Write Shop Story Builders

“Once upon a time the hysterical peacock noticed a forest fire while he was riding a rollercoaster at the amusement park.—Aidan, age 4

“A disobedient seahorse that lived in a toybox never listened to his mother, Raggedy Ann. God was displeased by the little seahorse’s disobedience so he caused his lips to grow larger then smaller every time he disobeyed his mother”. ---Micah, age 11

“An obnoxious ant was captured by a tribe of warrior ants and placed in a cage. He escaped and continued to spy on the enemy ants.”---Jonah, age 14

The beginning sentences of the stories above may not be Pulitzer worthy, but they are certainly creative. All were written through the help of Write Shop’s newest product, World of Animals Story Builders. Whether used as a game, creative writing assignment, or brainstorming session, these handy little cards promise hours and hours of language arts fun.

The foundation of the Write Shop writing curriculum was laid in 1997, when two homeschool moms, Kim Kautzer and Debra Oldar agreed to teach a co-op writing class to a small group of homeschoolers. Kautzer states on the Write Shop website, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And for Debbie and me, necessity came in the shape of two twelve-year-old boys who simply could not write.”

The duo intended to utilize one or two writing curriculums already on the market, but through their summer planning sessions developed their own. The writing class was such a success that parents convinced them to market their curriculum and a business was born. Story Builders is the latest addition to the Write Shop curriculum family.

Story Builders sold in thematic e-books for $7.95 can easily add a dimension to anyone’s creative writing curriculum. Customers can choose from World of Animals Story Builders, World of People Story Builders, World of Sports Story Builders, and Story Builders: Christmas mini builder. The books consist of instruction pages and two deck options of cards; one deck designed to be printed on colored paper and one in color on white paper. Parents will want to purchase a ream of cardstock copy paper and have a fresh supply of ink in their printer after downloading the e-book to their home computer. It took me a half hour to print my white cardstock cards with colored ink and about an hour or so to cut them all apart. Once the initial set-up work is complete, Story Builders can be stored in small Ziploc bags, card files, small boxes, etc., allowing for easy implementation at a moment’s notice.

The decks of cards are divided into four categories; the four basic elements to good story telling. Forty-seven cards each of “Character”, “Setting”, “Character Trait”, and “Plot” cards as well as blank cards for inspired writers make Story Builders an endless supply of possibilities and creativity. Aidan’s story, for example, used the cards “peacock”, “amusement park”, “hysterical” and “notices a forest fire”. The job of the person that draws the cards is to find a way to combine them into a story.

There are many ways to utilize Story Builders and most are suggested in the instructions portion of the e-book. My kids and I decided to narrate our stories while sitting around the kitchen table after dinner one night. We placed the cards in their separate categories face down on the table and took one card each from all four of the category decks. After a few minutes for brainstorming ideas, we took turns “telling our stories” based on the story elements we held in our hands. As we used the element we laid the card down for others to see enabling the audience to understand which parts were creative license and which were scripted. The stories were wacky at best, but brought forth gales of laughter even from my 14 year old.

My initial reaction; the cards are fun, but not very educational. To prove me wrong, when asked what they thought the kids unanimously said, “I like it! It’s a lot of fun. Let’s play one more round”.

After a few more rounds I noticed that the 1st grader was attempting to read vocabulary way beyond her years, the pre-schooler was winning the creativity award for most unusual story telling and my fourteen year old was easily working away at creative story telling techniques, an enemy of his for many, many years. My respect for Write Shop Story Builders deepened and I began to admire the cleverness of disguising this educational tool as a “game”.

My experience using Write Shop Story Builders over the past few weeks has reinforced my belief that education is a never ending fun-filled journey of family memories. Although easily adapted to a classroom or co-op setting, Story Builders is a special treat for the home educator.

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