Create Your Own Writing Adventure (an exercise for kids)

designed by Mark C. Marino and Jeremy Douglass
Grades: 3–8
Size: 24 students in 4 groups of 6. (easily scaled up or down)
Time: 3–4 hour-long sessions
Resource: Custom Google Doc
Teaches: Storytelling, cooperation, programming

For the past few years, I’ve been writing a set of middle grade, interactive stories with my kids under the title, Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House. You can see first two here: The Mysterious Floor & Parrot the Pirate. Because that’s been so much fun, I worked with Jeremy Douglass to design an in-class interactive story writing exercise that can be done in K-8 (though best for grades 3–8). Here’s the basics.

Mrs. Wobbles & the Tangerine House: Episode 1 The Mysterious Floor

For this exercise, the goal is to have the students collaboratively write a choice-based interactive story in about 3 to 4 sessions. The lesson teaches story design, plot, and scene development — and whatever else you’d like to throw in there.

Remember, part of this lesson is to teach collaboration, which is hard even (especially) for adults! So be patient. Don’t try to steam roll over conflict. Give the kids the tools to work it out.

This exercise was designed for a class of 24 students, but it can easily be adapted to more or less. Time 3–4 one-hour sessions stretched out over 2–3 weeks.

I’ve tried this assignment various ways, but here’s the one that seems to work the smoothest.

The Story:

Choose any theme. I like to theme these stories around content that the students are already familiar with: a story they’ve been reading in class, a topic they’ve been studying in science, a field trip they’ve taken. Ships (pirate or otherwise) are particularly strong places to start, since they already put students in an imaginative and creative state of mind. The structure should be made up of a Hub and 4 or more spokes.

The Hub:

You need a central hub at the starting point, one you can return to, so begin with a problem that leads to a choice that can go to one of 4 (or more) locations or times. Spatial organization helps the kids conceptualize the choice and think of each branch as a separate place. It also protects the story from lots of confusing overlap.

Ex. Start on a ship. The ship springs a leak. What will you do? There are 4 lifeboats, each goes to a different time in California history.

Now let me show you how each spoke works. Remember, each group of students is part of a separate spoke on this wheel.

The Spokes:

Each spoke is one of the branches of the story. These should have two more branching points for a total of 6 text consequences.

Here’s the basic outline for each spoke. Actually, you can just copy this Google Doc if you’d like. Again the story begins with the Intro and then radiates out from there like 4 spokes from a central hub.

The Intro → goes to one of the 4 groups: A, B, C, or D

The branching structure of a typical Spoke. This shows you how the links move out from the starter text at A.

Each branch looks like this:

A →1 (an Extreme Choice) or 2 (a Safe choice)

1 → 3 (a Practical solution) or 4 (a Magical solution)

2 → 5) (the person saves him or herself) or 6 (the person saves another person at risk of him or herself

3, 4, 5, and 6 must lead back to the Intro and/or an ending or another story.

The endings of the branches should all either jump to another group or go back to the main hub, the part where you selected which spoke or branch to follow.

You can change the descriptors: Extreme/Safe; Magical/Practical, etc., but I find it helps to give students these additional constraints. With more sophisticated writers (generally older ones), I encourage them to defy expectations. Have the extreme choice go to a safe destination. Have the Practical choice lead to something magical.


Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step one:

Introduce the project, read them the intro, and then break the kids into groups.

I usually spend some time introducing the form and talking about 2nd person writing. I talk a little about Choose Your Own Adventure books to get them oriented.

Step 2:

Guide the kids through developing their choice trees. Deciding the outline takes the longest of anything in this process (sometimes requiring 2 class sections). Have them fill in the outline sheet. Remember, the outline is designed to keep things light and easy. Adapt as necessary. (You can always patch things together later).

Step 3:

Ask the kids to write their sections. I usually teach a mini-lesson in scene writing before this, talking about how to set up up the moment, write dialogue, et cetera. Each student must write at least their own section which ends in 2 choices, as marked on the outline. Fast writers can pick up any missing sections or add more.

A section looks like this: It begins by stating the action that was just taken (You light the lamp). Then comes the consequence to the action (and now can see the whole room). Some things can happen (the room films with rabbits). That leads to a choice (Do you want to pet the rabbits or run!).

Step 4:

Review the text with the kids. It helps is you walk through the complete text first. I find it useful to have them walk me through their outlines, but I still need to go through it at home. Then in the next session, you can have them fill in any gaps (or you can fill them in).

Step 5:

Input the text into a interactive document. You can use Powerpoint, Word, HTML, Inklewriter, Twine, Undum, and many others. It really doesn’t matter what platform you use, as long as there are hyperlinks.

Step 6:

Let the kids try it out the story(and discover the mistakes they can’t live with)

I’ve tried this several times now, and find the experience is always different, depending on the group, depending on the age. Definitely, it’s easier with students who are working on Google Docs, since then I can more easily help them stitch their stories together. Plus, then, cutting and pasting and even revising is a dream.


Examples:

Here are a few (semi)finished projects. I left in most of the typos.

Craw Your Own Adventure (read)
(You’re a crawfish in a tank on a desk, but the room is getting hotter. You must escape by going to one of 4 areas of the classroom. Will you survive?

Create Your Own Adventure (read)
(Your boat is stranded off the coast of California: Hop in a life boat to go to one of 5 times in California history to find a solution. Can you save the ship?) Great paired with The Great Hornspoon.

For more exercises:

Check out my collection: Write Like a Boss on edtwist!

Bios:

Mark C. Marino is a writer living in Los Angeles. He teaches writing at the University of Southern California. He writes stories with his two children. Their current interactive stories are part of the series Mrs. Wobbles & The Tangerine House.

Jeremy Douglass teaches English and other digital merriment at UC Santa Barbara.

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