Monday, March 21, 2011

DON'T LEAVE RED RIDING HOOD IN THE WOODS: Helping Young Writers Find Endings

by Jacqueline Jules

While looking over student writing in six different classrooms on the fourth and fifth grade level, I noticed that quite a few ended with TBC or To Be Continued. This troubled me. Were all the students writing sweeping sagas? In conferences, students complained, “The story is too big . . . I can’t finish it.” Looking over the stories together, we saw that they rambled in beginning mode, setting the scene and introducing characters without presenting a problem or conflict. More often than not, “To Be Continued” was another way of saying, “Too Tired to Continue.” Students may dream of creating a 400-page novel, but the classroom is not the right venue for it. I understand that teachers are reluctant to discourage creativity. However, as an author myself, I believe that a teacher can do more damage to an aspiring writer’s future by not demanding a beginning, middle, and end. Many successful writers begin with short stories. A budding novelist should learn how to create a satisfying story arc on a small scale before trying it across a multi-chapter format. 

A classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, is perfect for a quick mini-lesson on beginning, middle, and end. Classes will readily identify the beginning of the story as the part when Red Riding Hood takes the basket off to grandmother’s house. The middle of the story occurs when Red Riding Hood meets the wolf in the woods, and the dramatic end comes when Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf, then saved by the woodcutter.

Ask your class: “What if we left Red Riding Hood in the woods?” You will likely get a response on the order of:  “That wouldn’t be too impressive.”

Most students realize they are giving up when they write “To Be Continued.” Don’t accept it. Help your students guide Red Riding Hood out of the woods to a happy ending with grandmother. Show them that all stories must have a problem (ie: big bad wolf) and when you conquer the wolf, your ending appears.

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