A recent article in Hands-On English sparked my interest. It talked about preparing your own materials for students as much as you can. Your own material will be fresher, more interesting, and more relevant than anything you find in a book or even (gasp!) at Project Read. If you have hesitated to do this in the past, let me offer some ideas and guidelines that I hope will inspire you to try.
True Story—Start with something that’s true. This can be something that happened to you or to a family member, something you saw or maybe something you read about in the newspaper. It could be something that happened to a former student, or something that frequently does happen. For example, somebody left their wallet in the grocery store, somebody’s car stalled in the road, somebody finds a stray cat, etc. This event doesn’t have to be earth shattering; it is better if it’s an every day type of event such as the toilet backing up, the time you locked your keys in the car, and so on. In general, avoid topics that are tragic. Some of our students have suffered trauma in their lives and bringing up such stories can trigger difficulties for them.
Simplicity—Describe the chain of events for your chosen story in simple language. Describe briefly how the person (or people) in the story reacted. Keep it short. In fact, after you’ve finished writing it, go back and make it shorter! You’re not aiming for literature here, what you want is a barebones story that the students will fill in later with questions, discussion, and with some of their own writing. Your story is a
scenario, or a context for the students to work with.
Open-Ended—Don’t feel that the story you write has to include a resolution or an answer to the problem involved. If the story is somewhat open-ended, that gives plenty of room for the student to discuss what the person could do or should do, as well as how they themselves would react if this happened to them. In other words, it gives you the opportunity to explore a range of possibilities and options in dealing with things. For example, would you call the police if you found a stray cat? Why or why not? Or would it depend on the context? How would you get the information about what to do? This leads to some interesting threads about community life.
Remember that the best part of discussing a story is letting people tell their own stories. Always give the students a change to tell about related events they have experienced.