There are some activities that transcend classrooms, ages, and ability levels. These are the golden activities that have big ideas that can be explored and examined again and again. Even better are the amazing activities that don't require a great deal of preparation.
The Story Synthesis is one of those activities. It's very simple--I learned about it from a kindergarten teacher. But I've done it again and again, with different groups of students, and it never fails to captivate and engage them.
The basic idea
Split the class into groups. One half of the class creates characters, and one half creates settings. They do this apart from one another, preferably in secret. (If you say that something is "Top Secret", it instantly becomes alluring and exciting!) Then, they get together. They have to introduce the characters to the setting and create a story. What kind of conflict could arise from this situation?
This year's version
This year, I had students work in pairs to create either settings or characters. We kept the characters hidden in envelopes over the several days that it took us to create them. The settings were on large pieces of poster board and were kept in a drawer.
After students worked on either characters or settings, it was time for them to get together! I had made the groups several weeks ago (and I still had the paper that I had written them down on!), so even I was surprised at how things turned out. There were laughs and groans as the groups were created. Two girls who worked on SuperDog and Hero Fairy (best character ever!) were paired with an underwater setting. The "army guy medics" were sent to a medieval castle.
Exploring conflict and character
And this led to some interesting conversations. What kind of conflict could occur with SuperDog and Hero Fairy? How would the underwater setting affect the conflict? Which character was the protagonist? How could the conflict in the story be classified? This year, I did make a quick little sheet to give students some guidance as they worked to answer these questions. But the activity could easily be scaled down for younger students.
Playing the story
After students fleshed out the basics of their story (and learned a great deal about compromise in the bargain), they got to use the characters to act out the story in the setting. The final step, which we haven't done yet, is to write it out.
I love this activity because it gets kids quickly to deep thinking about stories. How do characters and settings interact? How does the conflict relate to both? It gets them saying vocabulary words ("The protagonist should be...." "Medusa is the villain!"..."Mrs. Kissner, I forget. What does the present mean again?") and working with each other.
Best of all, though, is how much they enjoy it! It makes a good fun activity to sprinkle throughout our stamina-building quiet reading and rigorous Common Core activities. :)