Email Consequences: Virtual Snowballing collecting ideas and framing ideas for writing.

Over the last few weeks I have been working with our older Phase two students, reintroducing our Netbooks, how to access the Network and VLE from the classroom, laying foundations for next term when I am intending to have a big push on their use in classrooms through a data handling project.

The students as I mentioned in a previous post have been blogging and leaving comments on posts while writing journal and diary type entries about recent events in school including a school journey.  They have also been using file storage spaces and learning how to upload images and files in order to add them to online work, or access them in ongoing projects both in and away from school.

This week a change of tack and a revisit to using our email accounts.  I wanted to practice primarily entry of email addresses, and use of the reply to and forward processes choosing to do this in the context of writing a collaborative story plot and as the basis for this, a variation on the game consequences to get us going.  The students worked in pairs, each pair linked with another somewhere else in the classroom.  The students knew who they were working with, but were separated physically by distance.  It took a little while to get the task off the ground so to speak, something new and slightly unfamiliar often leaves them a little wobbly, but once in the swing of things the lesson soon took off.

So what did we do?  How did this snowballing thing work?

I began simply with an opening idea..
" two characters meet somewhere, who were they and where did they meet?" The students had a time limit of 5 minutes discussion and writing time before the "opener" was forwarded to the partner pair.

"Something happened?  What took place?" With a click of the reply button, the students had 2 minutes to share the opener and a further 5 minutes discussion and writing time before sending to their partner.

"suddenly...." as above.

" how did the characters react?" repeat.

"what happened as a result?" and so on

By the end of the activity the students had in their inboxes the skeletons of two bizarre tales for each pair.
Comments from the session review included

  • " I really enjoyed it because we worked together and we could use each others ideas."
  • " I was worried I would get it wrong but some of the things people wrote were really funny and it was fun."
  • "I liked having different steps to follow"
  • "I thought we were going to send our work to everyone at the start, it would have taken ages, but working in pairs was really good because I got ideas from other people to help me."

At first some of the group were a little resistant to the pace of the activity, the time limited nature of each step in the process or game leading to comments about not being finished.  So it was interesting to hear how during their reviews the adult lead, stop/send/start process "the different steps to follow," featured so highly in the things the students liked about the session, providing security and scaffolding but also pace and movement to the activity. Within the group there are one or two boys I know who often say they don't know what to write.  So again it was interesting to hear one or two of these ask if we were going to do this again next week.

Reflecting on the task as a collect and store process. I am wondering how a slight change could help students get into a "writing frame" of mind.  Making a start is often a problem for some students, we immerse them in the genre, we box up the structure of the text together, provide writing frames, but still that barrier can remain. Even with a structure how do I get started. The huge white mass, however we partition or divide it up can still be a put off.

The class teacher came up with the idea that having seen the children work she might like to use the process to help the class get started with their writing of myths and legends next term.  Perhaps presenting the task as a writing game, following or to support the box up or planning process. Key elements of the text type could be used to organise the teacher lead "consequences idea."  Working in pairs of pairs the students could be involved in discussion and use the email game to engage the students in short burst writes leading to a skeletal story structure as an outcome, getting down the key ideas.  The students could then choose from the plots that they have to be copied and pasted to a wordprocessor, where they would be encouraged to develop and reshape the ideas they had collected together to shape their outcomes.  Nice idea and look forward to writing later about how this pans out.

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