This post is by our founder and executive director, Naomi Kinsman. She has been sharing about the Society of Young Inklings teaching method called Writerly Play. To read more about it, see this previous post.
Writerly Play started as an experiment.
In theatre class, my students were using improv games to develop a collaborative script. They each wanted the story to go a different way. As their director, I needed them to find a compromise. However, as a writer, I saw their point. The games lit up their imaginations, connected with their hearts, and created ideas for plot lines that spiderwebbed out in hundreds of directions.
I decided to try using the improvisational games in a writing class. Success! Weeks one and two were an overwhelming success. However, by week three and four, each writer had started his or her story, and we needed to move beyond idea generation. What, I wondered, might the role of improvisation be in a writer’s process?
In theatre, improvisational games are often used to explore possibilities. Actors work on skills such as the ability to say yes to ideas, to physicalize characters in believable ways, and to deliver dialogue with excellent timing and clarity. My writers didn’t need to perform their stories for an audience. It didn’t make sense to take the improvisational games in the direction I’d been trained to take them: toward stronger performance skills. We needed to use the games to capture and develop ideas on the page.
Through experimentation, my students and I learned many things about how improvisation can inform and facilitate the writing process. We’ll explore more of what we discovered in coming weeks. Today, I want to focus on one of our first discoveries, which had to do with the questions, “What if…?” and “How might I…?“
One of the fundamental differences between a writer who stares at a blank page and a writer who simply starts writing is the ability to ask oneself, “What if…?” or “How might I…?”
The first writer waits for an idea to show up. She’s expecting the idea to look something like the beginning of a story, something along the lines of “Once upon a time, a frog…” Or, she may be searching her mind for a possible character, such as a giant or a dragon or a chef. If we could peek inside her mind, we’d see that the writer is concentrating deeply, rummaging around in her imagination for shreds of ideas, hoping to catch hold of something promising. If she does land on an idea, the first thing she does is launch an interrogation. What are the details of this possibility? Will it be interesting and exciting? Will she be able to write a whole story about it? Are there any weaknesses? If the idea doesn’t live up to her expectations, it’s tossed out, and she’s back to searching for the perfect idea.
No wonder she struggles to write anything down on her blank page.
Now, the second writer doesn’t start by waiting or rummaging. Instead, he asks himself, “What if…?” or “How might I…?” and fills in one of those two blanks with a question. “What if a dragon showed up on the school bus?” or “How might I start a story about a girl and her dog?”
The second writer doesn’t worry about whether this story will work out in the end. He might write for a few minutes, exploring the question he’s posed and decide he wants to start again. His questions are still there waiting for him. This is an important distinction, because with his questions, he can try again. “What if a mouse carved a boat out of cheese?” or “How else might I start a story about a girl and her dog?”
One of the most important skills improvisation teaches is the ability to ask productive questions without worrying about where the answers will lead. An improvisational scene need only take a minute or two to play out. After it is done, the actors can try another one. Improvisation is quick and requires very little commitment. When writers feel as though every idea they choose will take weeks to complete, of course they will labor over finding the perfect option. If, instead, a writer approaches his or her work with an improvisational mindset, writing becomes a series of fast-paced experiments. When an idea runs into a dead end, the writer can determine what didn’t work and start again with new information. The idea develops over time with each iteration.
Both writers may take a while to commit to a story. However, the writer with the improvisational mindset has much more to show for his thinking process. He has snippets of ideas that he can now weave into his work, while the writer who sought the perfect idea is still staring at her blank page.
The ability to ask these powerful questions, and to explore a story with an improvisational mindset is key to overcoming obstacles and blocks along the way. The creative process is always bumpy and a writer’s chances of getting stuck at some point are nearly 100%. That’s why Writerly Play focuses on helping writers learn to ask questions and to explore options. Over time, we’ve learned that in addition to traditional theatre games, there are many other improvisational games that tap into other kinds of play. Drawing, collage, question games, and many other activities develop mental flexibility and the ability to ask questions and play with possibilities.
What are your favorite games that stretch your ability to explore options? Feel free to share your ideas in the comment section below. Or, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. We always love hearing from you.
To read more thoughts on how improv can play a role in your creative life, read this.
We writers write about our passions, the injustices we see, or things that make us say, “Wow!”. For me, that’s the environment because we need it to survive. Endangered animals, such as sea otters, help us in ways we’re only just figuring out. The ocean makes 75% of the oxygen we breathe and is responsible for our weather.
I translate my passion into stories for readers like you. My most recent books are about animals on the brink of extinction, an ocean polluted with plastic, sea otters who save an entire ecosystem, and the deadly Ebola virus that also attacks endangered wild apes.
I discovered a wonderful Twitter and Instagram hashtag called #DoOneThingToday, which encourages us to be more aware of how we affect our environment. In honor of Earth Day, I challenge you to choose the one way you will become more Earth-friendly. I’ve listed several ideas below, but I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you decide to do, write about it. Draft a story, compose a poem or a song, make a poster, draw a picture, write a script and make a video, send a letter to the President of the United States. No matter what you write, share it with others and challenge them to follow your lead.
Without fresh air, clean water, and wildlife, Earth would be about as habitable as Mars. #DoOneThingToday (and send me a picture of what you do).
· Read about nature.
· Go for hike to see now much wildlife you can spot. Ask questions about what you see.
· Visit a zoo or a nature center. Better yet, sign up to volunteer.
· Drink water from reusable bottles. Refuse plastic water and soda bottles.
· Pack your school lunch in reusable containers instead of plastic bags.
· Bring reusable utensils to school instead of using plastic utensils.
· Say no to straws in restaurants and on juice boxes.
· Save energy by turning off lights to reduce climate change.
ONE: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will revise our stories. Take a look at what you’ve written and make sure you have juicy words, dialogue, and active verbs.” Then, the teacher shows an example of a well-written paragraph that has all three on the board. The students nod, head back to their desks and begin to work. After about fifteen minutes, some of the students have already turned in their stories, sure they have nailed all three key items with their work.
TWO: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will be detectives. You will look through your writing and find where you have used juicy words, dialogue and active verbs. We’ll underline our juicy words in red colored pencil, our dialogue in blue, and our active verbs in green.” Then, the teacher shows the students how to find these three items in a paragraph on the board. The students head back to their desks and start underlining. After a few minutes, the teacher gathers them in a circle. They examine their pages and notice which color shows up most frequently. Which shows up less? Then, the teacher challenges the students to add words, phrases and sentences so that their papers are a beautiful blend of all three colors. When the students turn in their work, they know whether they have actually nailed the key items in their work. Why? They can see clear evidence of those items on the page.
At Society of Young Inklings, our Writerly Play approach lines up with this second scenario. In our classes and mentorships, we:
Make thinking visible
Help writers master complex concepts using practical strategies
Use challenges and games to frame the learning and creative thinking process
One of the most important qualities of a successful writer is confidence.
Confidence adds oomph to our word choice and energy to our work sessions. When we are confident, we don’t second guess ourselves or stare at the blank page, afraid that whatever we write will be marked wrong. Confidence also fuels determination. When we know we can master a difficult task, we’re much more willing to lean into the challenging parts. If we feel we have no hope of success, we’re unlikely to try at all.
The Writerly Play approach is designed to build writing confidence.
Through games, activities and strategies, we provide a window into the creative process. When students see how they approach creative thinking, and understand the tools that creativity requires, they see their strengths and the areas in which they can grow. In the same way that the colored pencils help writers see what they’ve included in their writing and what they have not, Writerly Play helps creative thinkers sort thinking skills into categories. a well-designed classroom, Writerly Play offers a series of thinking spaces, each with its own purpose.
In a classroom, you might have a reading corner and a science corner. Each space contains tools and resources perfect to the task at hand.
Writerly Play establishes mental spaces that writers can take with them wherever they go.
In theAttic, writers collect ideas, knowledge and experiences from their own life to use in their work.
In the Studio, writers play with those ideas and push beyond initial thoughts into new territory.
In the Workshop, writers break down complex writing tasks into pieces which can each be tackled with focused attention.
In the Library, writers examine works by others, and identify successful strategies to apply to their own work.
In the Cafe, writers collaborate with their peers to give and receive feedback.
Once writers establish these five spaces in their minds, they have corners to house all the strategies and tools they collect in every part of their creative lives. Rather than seeing learning as a disconnected series of subjects, they see connections between what they discovered in the Natural History museum over the weekend and the painting they create the next week in art class. They are empowered to see their lives not as a series of to-do items handed to them arbitrarily, but as an adventure to create, experience by experience, thought by thought.
Writing projects are the vehicle, not the destination.
Too often, in writing classrooms we focus on the assignment of the day and neglect the true skills that are being developed.
We aren’t asking the students to write an essay on bees simply to assess their knowledge of bees. We want to see their thinking on the page. We know successful execution of this writing project can serve as a foundation for other writing throughout their lives.
It’s true, successful execution of writing projects DOES serve as a foundation. Unfortunately, if we don’t make the thinking visible for our students, they may not see the bigger picture. They may miss the opportunity to gain powerful confidence from their success. Why? Because we focus on bees rather than on the process.
Making thinking visible isn’t easy.
However, at Society of Young Inklings, we know it’s worth the effort. That’s why we are constantly experimenting, inventing games, and exploring possibilities. How else can we look at this? What other perspective will help us see what’s happening more clearly? Our youth writers help us make discoveries every day. The Writerly Play framework gives us a mutual playground on which to play.
We’d love to learn from you, too! What images and ideas do the Writerly Play rooms create for you? What questions arise? Feel free to comment below! We look forward to a rich discussion.
If you’d like to learn more about the Writerly Play framework, I’ve written a more comprehensive series on the topic here.
Naomi is the Executive Director and Founder of Society of Young Inklings. Author of the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series and Spilled Ink, the award winning Inklings Writers’ Notebook, Naomi is passionate about sharing her love of writing and creativity with young writers. Naomi’s background in improvisational and story theatre as well as her arts education work in Chicago, Portland and the Bay Area has convinced her that creative play is a doorway through which learners can find inspiration and transformative learning experiences.
We’ll use theatre games and our imaginations to create a strong character well equipped to face the dangers or difficulties of their journey.
Week Two: An Invitation to Adventure
We’ll launch into our heroic stories with an invitation our heroes cannot refuse. Our games will focus on building a strong opening scene that launches our hero into their journey.
Week Three: Down the Rabbit Hole
Once a hero accepts the invitation, they are almost always surprised. No amount of planning can prepare them for what they find as they set off on their journey. Our games will focus on building a scene where our hero can show their strengths and their weaknesses and learn what they are truly up against.
Week Four: Meeting A Wise Advisor
Each student will create a wise advisor who will give the character an idea of what they must do and what is at stake.
Week Five: Trouble Comes in Threes
We will build three trials for our hero that will build the adventure toward it’s climax. Our games will focus on surprising ourselves with the twists and turns our stories can take.
Week Six: Wrestling the Dragon
A climax is the moment of truth for our hero, the moment when the reader doesn’t know… will our hero win or not? Our games will focus on building this uncertainty into the climax, and finding a satisfying end to the conflict.
Week Seven: The Journey Home
Winning the battle isn’t the end of the story. Our games will focus on how writers create the conclusion that takes the hero from the end of the climax to a true ending of the story.
Week Eight: Revision
This week, we’ll work on adding details, dialogue and excellent words in order to make our stories the best they can be.
Week Nine: Book Workshop
Each student will work on practicing reading their story aloud and will add final details, including a cover, to help their story feel polished and complete.
Week Ten: Final Celebration
Writers will read their stories aloud to families and friends.
Skye wrote an exciting story using the prompt found in this month’s Ink Splat! Check it out below.
Did you know that each month, you have an opportunity to get your writing published on our blog? Send us your response to the prompt in each month’s Ink Splat, and we just might share your writing here!
Finding Kirin by Skye Brislawn
There the whole flock stood, far out in CharTree forest. “Hey I see an open spot where the new grass that has grown from the fire a few years ago!” Shouted the leader, Ian. The patrols ran over to the spot first in case there was danger or it was a trap from the other flocks of unicorns. The grass stood out from the empty forest around. A Monster Venus leaped from the grass with a terrifying screech. Just briefly after the Venus devoured the two patrols whole, unicorns from the Southern flock leaped out from behind the fallen debris from the fire. Their horns sharp and gleaming with anger. Diamond leaped forward to defend her flock. She cant let anyone touch her wonderful Western Flock. She hoofed the ground with anger. But before she could attack, a mysterious creature leaped from the high side of the mountain with a ghostly flying motion. Everybody watched in awe as the majestic creature flew above the two flocks. “Western and Eastern.” She hoofed slowly between the two flocks in battle formation, “You both are unicorns. you may look different, but you must get along. The world will possibly fall apart in fire and anger. It is true. Please understand me. Get along.” The two elders walked up to each other. They met at the center, calmly. “I’m sorry.” Said Buck, “But…’ He attempted to stab Ian with his horn as soon as he could. But Ian stepped back. “Come on. Let’s go.” He ordered as soon as the Southern Flock galloped away. The Western Flock trotted away back into the territory shields that were generated by unicorns. “Hey! Where’s Diamond?” Asked lieutenant Harrison. Then his eyes caught sight of the brown with white speckeled horse galloping away. “Ian! General Diamond is running away.” “WHAT!” Ian screeched. Diamond kept going. She had to find out who that mysterious creature was. Could it be another unicorn? Was it a llama? Was it a pronghorn that lost a horn in battle? She heard an odd voice in her head that sounded strangely a lot like the creature. “Follow the sun. You will find me. Oh and glad to meet you Diamond. My name is Kirin.” Diamond tried to shake it off but the voice kept speaking to her. But then she realized. Kirin was the creature. She’d heard of Kirin a lot when she was a young filly. Stars dotted the sky as Diamond sat down to rest. She stared at the stars with confidence. “I will find you Kirin.” She whispered hopefully.
She woke up late in the morning with the dew on the grass. She sensed something dangerous. She ran but she felt hoof steps behind her. She turned around and saw a unicorn oddly red in color. It’s horn was not any horn she’d seen before. A fierce teal dragon with the sunniest wings ever swooped down on the unicorn-menace but she bounced back. “I’m sorry Diamond. This evil unicorn won’t let me attack him. Also… ” The dragon grinned and evil grin. ” Surprise!’ Her scales turned to fur and she leaped to the ground she stabbed the unicorn that was chasing Diamond. “Sorry but I will be the one doing the evil deeds today.” She said to the red unicorn, bleeding on the ground. The evil grin on her face grew wider as she restrained Diamond’s hooves so she couldn’t run from whatever she was pulling out from behind her. Tears flooded her eyes to see the body of Kirin. After a while, she remembered that she was an oddball in her Flock. She recognized the face as of it was just like her own. Then she finally discovered she was a Kirin. She was so devastated and terrified. “D-Diamond. You must bring evil to an… end.” Urged Kirin. Diamond broke out of the restraint power, her horn swirled with a blue magic with an enchanted power. “WHY, WHY, WHY” was pounding in her head. She used the restraint attack on the unicorn. “I’ve seen you before! You were the one with the rest of your pack when I swallowed your patrol men. MWAHAHAHAHA!” She cackled. But as she threw her head up to finish her cackling, Diamond slit her throat and blood came spurting out. She dragged the monster’s body into a pit to get rid of it. The figure of the ghost of Kirin. She smiled and beckoned, “Now It’s your turn to be the legend.” Kirin nodded at the crystal palace that appeared in front of Diamond. “Only Kirin know their home. It’s invisible.” Her ghost disappeared over the plains. She stared at the mystical valley, wondering what her future would be like.
Thank you Skye for the action-packed story! Do you have a story that you would like to see published? Consider submitting it to the Inklings Book Contest, or check out our Ink Splats for a new prompt!
The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Ellie Stands Up To The Bully by Julie Dart. We even have an author interview! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Super Powers
If you could be a super hero what kind of power would you want to have and why? Can you think of a situation in your life right now were you would be able to use this power to help someone? If so, write about how you would help someone and who you would help.
Ellie is a little yellow elephant who will inspire you in a big way! Join Ellie as she embarks on an adventure to a new school. Parents, teachers, and children love reading about how Ellie learns to stand up for herself while facing the issue of being bullied. This story is a great way to show children how to empower themselves. The author was bullied when she was younger, and grew passionate about showing children how to overcome this obstacle. You’ll fall in love with Ellie as she learns about her own value, and inspires her friends to speak up too!
An Interview with author Julie Dart:
1.What inspired you to write Ellie Stands Up to the Bully?
I first came up with the idea of Ellie Stands Up To The Bully when I was expecting my second child and riding the train up to the city. While riding on the train, I started to think about my children’s futures and how I hoped I could help them through life’s challenges. I started to think back to middle school when I was bullied. I wanted to create a story that would not only help my children if they encountered a bully but to also assist other children that might be in that situation.
2. How did you develop each characters’ emotions so smoothly along with the story?
When I had to think of characters for the book I started to think about the people in my life. I had my children and their friends to get ideas from, but I was also a preschool and kindergarten teacher for several years. I guess you can say I put the characters together from some of those situations. I was always sensitive to the children’s emotions so I used some of those situations that I dealt with as a teacher and a mother for my story.
3. What is the best part about writing for you?
I really love using my imagination to create a story that can help people. I have a list of stories stories that I want to write and they all have an inspirational message within them. The best part for me is when parents tell me that their child really likes Ellie and how they want Ellie to come visit their school. It makes me so happy.
4.Do you have a favorite moment from Ellie Stands Up to the Bully? Which part and why?
It’s hard to pick out one moment that is special to me with in this book. I would have to say my best part is at the end when Ellie stands up for herself. And then Ellie’s friend Roger pats her on the back and says, “Way to go Els, way to go.” I have always loved stories about an underdog where someone has been faced with a challenge and is able to rise above it. Every time I read this part in the book, I actually giggle out loud. I think it shows that Ellie not only found her inner strength but she was also able to show her friends how to be strong as well.
5. What advice would you give to young authors?
When I speak to young authors I often tell them that I had a lot of doubts that kept me from writing my book for a long time. Number one I am dyslexic and have never received good grades in school and therefore never felt smart enough to write a book. All my life the only thing that I ever wanted to do was be a writer. I didn’t start believing I could do it until I was 48 years old, and even then I had some doubts and was scared that nobody would like my stories. What gave me the courage to write my books was having my children encouraging me. For years I had shared with them that anything’s possible and, in turn, I wanted to be a good example for them. So for young authors I would say pick a story that you’re passionate about, write it- just write it using your creativity. Write it for yourself. Then later you can think about sharing it with someone. You’ve got a great story within yourself and it would be a shame if all of us weren’t able to hear it one day. So do yourself a favor and just try to write your story and promise yourself that you won’t give up. You will be so glad that you stayed determined.
Thank you Julie Dart!
Ellie Stands Up To The Bully is available on Amazon!
Look for more information about Julie Dart and her books here!
Submit your story or poem to the Inklings Book Contest 2016
The Inklings Book is a professionally published volume that features short stories and poems by twenty young writers whose submissions are chosen from the annual Inklings Book Contest.
Any 1st – 8th grader can submit a story or poem for the contest. We’re looking for exceptional submissions with a strong point of view and for writers who are committed to the revision process. All contestants will receive a personalized editorial letter from our team of authors to help you take your writing to the next level.
Contest winners will receive two sessions with a mentor who will guide you through a focused revision process, and a copy of the Inklings Book 2016 with your story published in it!
Stories and poems must be submitted by March 15! Find out more and submit your story or poem here.
Come share a very special evening with us! Be the first audience to experience “Yes, Nora!”, a premiere production that follows a young writer, Nora, as she embarks on a creative journey. You’ll also have a chance to browse the silent auction for a basket full of exciting items that fit you just right.
All proceeds from the benefit will support an exciting new partnership with The Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula. Our goal is to serve 500 Boys and Girls Club students quarterly by Spring 2016. Will you partner with us and help us meet our matching gift of $5000? Any size gift is appreciated.
Save the date on your calendar now! Click here to donate or buy tickets.
We are putting on a special benefit production and silent auction, and we want you to join us! All proceeds from the benefit will support an exciting new partnership with The Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula.
The Boys and Girls Club Partnership:
Learning to write a story does much more than teach literacy skills. First, a writer learns this important truth: The choices my character makes affect the story. Next, the writer realizes: The choices I make affect my real-life story. The impact of this realization can change the trajectory of a young person’s life.
One of the reasons we’re thrilled to partner with Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula is that we’re fully behind their mission “to inspire and empower all young people, especially those who need us most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring adults.” We know that while improvising together and working on storytelling skills, we’re not only having fun, but also developing essential muscles—confidence, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, empathy, self-awareness. These skills add up to create a resilience vital to all young people facing significant challenges.
To kick off our partnership, we aim to serve about 500 Boys and Girls Club children quarterly by Spring 2016. In order to do so, we need to raise $100,000 per quarter. It’s a big goal, the kind of goal that makes our team excited to roll up our sleeves and get to work! We have already seen the impact after just a few sessions this winter. Many students who thought they couldn’t write a story they’d be proud to share are now bouncing in their seats, hands raised at the end of each class, volunteering to read their stories aloud.
It’s a privilege for us to partner with the Boys And Girls Club, and learn from the stories that come from these students’ hearts and experiences. We can’t wait to see how these children—and many more this spring—will grow creatively, academically, and personally.
Will you help us reach our goal? You can purchase tickets for our benefit production as well as donate here.
Join us for an evening of inspiration, imagination, and storytelling!
February 5, 2016 at 7:00pm, 945 Portola Road, Portola Valley CA
The Society of Young Inklings invites you to an original benefit production and silent auction. Snag your very own writer’s care kit at the auction and be the first audience to experience “Yes, Nora!”, a premiere production. Developed collaboratively by our team, the show follows a young writer, Nora, as she embarks on a creative journey, battles her own personal dragon, and unleashes the power of her story.
All proceeds from the benefit will support an exciting new partnership with The Boys and Girls Club of America. Our goal is to serve 500 Boys and Girls Club students quarterly by this Spring. Will you partner with us and help us meet our matching gift of $5000? Any size gift is appreciated.
Save the date on your calendar now! Click here to donate or buy tickets.