Fun collaborative writing task: St George and the VW microbus

VW microbus

In a shop window…

Here's just a quick idea for a digital storytelling project: Kim asked me to suggest a fun writing task ("Is that an oxymoron?" some of the teens in her class might have thought… 😉 ! )

In Catalonia, we celebrate St George's Day (known here as Sant Jordi) and in many schools they include writing competitions as part of the events, so this one had to be related — to be done with 15-16 year olds.

The VW microbus model in the image was in a shop window here in Barcelona and the aging hippy in me had to have a photo of it. I then suggested it as the starting point of the story, of which we provided the learners with the barest of bones, including this very rough one-minute sketch:

rough sketch

The story
This was how the story has been presented to the learners, who have to complete it, in groups, by Thursday:

A person (man…? woman…?) leaves Town A (why…?), driving a VW microbus to go to Town B (in what country…? how far away…?), traveling over mountain roads, as per the sketch. On the way s/he picks up various other travelers (how many fit in a VW…?) who are trying to get to (where…? why…?).

One of the people is St George, one is a dragon (not necessarily a real dragon, possibly a very fiery little old lady, for example…)

We don't know anything else: you have to fill in all the missing details, each of you in your groups being one of the travelers, writing your own version of the same story.

My thinking was that this would be an ideal project for a class blog but would also have worked well on Tackk if you don't have a blog you already use with your class. Tackk is super easy to use, though you'd need one person to post all the different stories there, or else all use the same login.

A nice simple alternative would be to use shared Google Drive documents.

The original plan was:

  1. One lesson (50 minutes) working the story/stories out in groups (varying in size from 5 to 7, approx.), with as much help with vocabulary and ideas as possible coming from the teacher
  2. Writing the stories up at home, with as much collaboration as possible (Google Drive, Skype, WhatsApp… more or less whatever tools the learners wanted to use for that)
  3. One lesson, in class, putting the finishing touches to the stories, reading everyone else's stories, commenting on them, presenting them, getting feedback on the project, etc.

Learners sometimes — often! — say they "hate" writing (these learners said that last week!) but such projects are fun to do once you get people into them.

I think I'd in fact rather do such things than anything else in a language classroom.

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  1. Chaotic but fun Tom. Got to go to classs. Tell u more later.

  2. Thanks, Kim. It's always great to get feedback on the ideas that I don't actually get to try out myself (and the ones I do) !

    Did any of them go for the idea of the VW being the dragon…?

  3. Haha, no! I loved that idea and tried to sell it to them but they liked their own ideas better and I let them go with those.
    The idea was great but it was a bit chaotic and slightly spoilt by the usual two or three boys that dont take things seriously enough.
    But you know what mine are like!

  4. Thanks, Kim.

    Yeah, chaotic, groupwork can be — but isn't all learning chaotic? I think I'd rather have chaos, provided learning is occurring, provided people get excited about what they're doing, provided they get out of their chairs to go TALK to someone in English about what they're supposed to be talking about (i.e. not to do some of the things I can imagine some of yours doing 😉 !

    With stories like these, I think it's probably a good idea to insist that the stories stay within the bounds of reason. I teach people the word "plausible" and insist that their stories are (even if they have dragons in them!) The reader has to believe the story could happen.

  5. Ive judt mailed you a photo that might make a neat followup to this.
    iM not actually going to use it myself but if you had a group that really liked this and enjoyed creating their stories, it might be fun to write the sequel (possibly the return journey or what happened when they met another VW ;-)♥
    Some of mine loved this, others not. I think youd want a class in which everyobe loved it!

  6. Kim, that's brilliant! Thanks so much for that. I'll post the photo on Monday, if that's ok with you.

  7. Sure 😉 !

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