Monday, 6 April 2015

Beginning-Middle-End: Creative writing and storytelling

In this post I will describe the Beginning-Middle-End thinking routine. It is a routine that stems from the Artful Thinking approach which aims at stronger thinking and learning through the power of art. Both Artful and Visible Thinking programmes are designed by Harvard's Project Zero research group. They draw on the use of routines to prompt the development of students' thinking skills and dispositions. 

I have found this routine an effective way to a) stimulate students' imagination and curiosity b) encourage their observation and strategies of making predictions and c) help develop their creative writing and storytelling skills through the power of narrative. This emphasis on storytelling also encourages students to look for connections, patterns, and meanings. 

It works best with intermediate+ students. 

Step 1
Show students an artful stimulus (painting, image, screenshot from a film, sculpture). Ask them to look at it in silence for a couple of minutes. 

Step 2
Hold a plenary discussion by brainstorming ideas about things and key elements students see in the stimulus. If students share their interpretations ask them what they see that supports this idea. 
Step 3
Ask students to choose, think and respond to one of these questions:

1. If what you see is the beginning of a story, what might happen next?
2. If it is the middle of a story, what might have happened before? What might happen next?
3. If it is the end of a story, what might the story be?

Students can work in small groups, in pairs or individually.
Step 4
Have students share their thinking and ideas. 
Classroom practice
When working with my students on the topic of War/Peace I showed them a screenshot from the beautiful short animation film Chromophobia by the Belgian film maker Raul Servais. Then they worked in groups and each group chose one of the questions (step 3) to work on. After that they watched the film. 
Screenshot from Chromophobia

This is what students came up with:



  • The questions in the routine are written in an open-ended way. You can use them as such with any artful visual stimulus. You can also connect them with a specific topic - as in the classroom example above - and ask students to keep this topic in mind when they imagine their stories. 
  •  Students can come up with sentences or paragraphs.
  •  The routine can also work well as a speaking activity. In this case work as a whole class  by asking someone to begin a story and having others continue it.

Art in the English Class Project, Chromophobia: Beginning-Middle-End
Visible Thinking,