Starting Storyline – “Orientation” by Daniel Orozco

Storyline work in teaching comprises of several different techniques for collaborative storytelling in the classroom. This version of storyline uses literature as a starting point. The entire class reads a short story, and individual pupils are then given specific characters by their teacher. The pupil then has to guess what the character would do next, and how it would interact with other characters from the story. Other pupils from the class are given other characters from the story, and the teacher guides the class in creating a continuation of the original story.

This version of the activity uses the short story Orientation by American author Daniel Orozco. The story is an introduction to an American office space, as given to a new hire. It has several characters, which makes it ideal. It enables the teacher to involve multiple students, and there are also several possibilities to create new characters related to the story.

I typically spend 90 minutes on this activity. It does depend on the class, and some classes are much more labor intensive than others. Typically, they end up wanting to continue longer than I planned. In the cases where the pupils do not want to continue, I ask them to reflect on short stories, storyline and language learning.

Things to consider:

  • Choose whether to hand out a copy of the story to the pupils. Some pupils will prefer to have a text to refer to, but in my experience, it will mostly serve as a distraction from the creative process.
  • Decide which students you want to challenge. Some characters are easy to work with, while some are more challenging. Curtis Lance and Ellie Tapper are examples of easy characters, while Anika Bloom and Barry Hacker require creative students in order to be interesting and contribute to the story.
  • Choose whether to read the story yourself or use one of the many prerecorded versions on YouTube. I find the pacing easier when reading myself, and it also enables me to do vocabulary work as the reading progresses. However, using native speakers has obvious benefits.
  • Should some students be exempt, or should all students participate? Consider both how willing individual students might be to contribute to the creative process, and also how many people you are able to remember and control in the story as the leader.

Class progression:

  • Read the story. As each new character is introduced, assign the character to a pupil. For this particular short story, I have made name signs with some crucial information about each character. This makes it easier for you to remember which pupil is which character, and the students are more comfortable when they have something concrete to start from. It is not necessary for all short stories, but it is helpful when starting out.
  • Start the creative process. Ask different pupils what they think happened next. Examples of questions include:
    • Barry, why don’t you bring your own lunch?
    • Matthew, what do you do all day?
    • Colin, how does it feel to be doomed?
    • Mrs Hacker, why do you keep haunting everyone? Is the afterlife really that boring?
    • Custodian, why do you guard the closet so closely? What are you hiding?
  • The continuation depends on how the students respond. Ask other students for responses, and let them interact while in character. Feel free to add other characters (Someone’s child? A neighbor? Someone’s talking dog?), to include as many students as possible and add to the story in general.

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