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Monday, September 1, 2008

Development of Story Ideas: Less is More!

Road signs and billboards are blunt and to the point, mainly because the people reading them do not have time to read anything that takes more than a few seconds when they are driving. If students could grasp this concept when they are writing a paper, it would do wonders for the development. Some students spend as much time brushing their teeth in a story as they do on the main event, and really can’t understand why that's a problem! Knowing when it is appropriate to develop an idea, or when to say it in a word and move on is sometimes difficult. This activity uses normal street signs to model where many kids go wrong in their writing. Take a sign like the first one above, for example. It basically stands for: Watch Out! Train! The picture should be enough without having to go into great detail. Here’s what an untrained student might write on his train sign: That light coming toward you......that’s not God! But if you don’t stop pretty quickly, you’ll see Him soon enough! I’m bigger than you and stronger too. Even if you get to the intersection before me, you better not take a chance, because I’m not going to stop! I don’t care what you saw actors do in those movies! Try going through before me and there will be a sad ending!
The other sign simply means Don’t Park Here, but an untrained writer might say it something like this (remember, our goal here is the development of the right ideas). Don’t even think about parking here. We'll tow you, your car, and your gramma who’s still in there to the impound. Then we’ll charge you $200 per day and that’s just the fee for putting up with your gramma! We suggest you park at the parking lot next door. We don’t like the owner of that place anyway. So you’ll do us a favor by filling his parking lot. Just don’t do any business with him and that will make us very happy! Bye!
There are hundreds of clip art programs full of road signs like these where the students can practice this activity. I know what you’re thinking! Why would I want my students to practice doing things that would be considered wrong? Well, if the student does this activity and begins to be able to distinguish between ideas that can be explained in a word or sentence, and the ones that need to be fully developed, then he has learned something from the experience. I once
heard someone say, “Everyone has a purpose in life, even if it’s to be a bad example for others.” I think that quote applies here, and this activity does a good job of showing the students that less is more when they are writing about minor details!

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