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Collaborative Narrative

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This is another exercise from Elbow and Belanoff's Community of Writers that works well to move the class from simple description to creating a story, or using description to enhance that story. It's fun and gets students to enjoy working together. Do this as a whole class activity to model the exercise, and then break into groups for another narrative. Once in groups, have students decide on titles for their narratives. You can put these on the board. When you're finished, you can have the class vote on the best narrative.

Setup for Collaborative Narrative

All that you need ahead of time are a few provocative opening sentences. The groups will use these to build their narratives. You can make these up or borrow them from novels or short stories. The opening sentence of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," for example, gets students started on stories about a man who turns into a bug. To model the activity, write down the first sentence and then go around the room and have each person contribute successive sentences. Encourage students to focus on detail and description over plot. Emphasize the idea that descriptive detail is important to the meaning of the narrative. If someone says, "a girl walks in," encourage the next person to describe that girl. Go around the room until you come to some sort of conclusion. You can go through the class twice and just keep building.

In small groups, give students all the same sentence and have them repeat this, with one person recording their story as the group comes up with it. Again, reinforce the idea of detail, rather than a bare-bones plot with little development. When everyone is done, have a reporter for each group read the story aloud.