Saint Michael Students Share Campfire Stories
Eighth graders from Saint Michael the Archangel School wrote suspenseful and vivid stories to share around a campfire on October 22 as part of the school’s participation in Write Out 2020. Schools around the country were invited to participate in this two-week event organized by the National Writing Project in collaboration with the National Park Service as a series of online writing celebrations combined with the simple pleasure of being outside.
Write Out is in its third year. Since its inception, the free event has encouraged educators, students, and the public to explore national parks and other outdoor spaces to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing. Write Out materials are available to teachers at https://writeout.nwp.org/.
Place-Based Writing Focus: Noticing Nature
The preparations for the class’ writing celebration and campfire began with a place-based writing unit introduced upon return to school in August. Students participated in an “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds me of…” leaf observation and descriptive writing activity, which was demonstrated to their teacher, Amy Krajeck, at a “Write Where You Are -- Exploring the Power of Writing In/About Nature” teacher-training workshop during the summer of 2019. The workshop was a joint venture between the National Writing Project at Kent State University and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, an extension of the growing partnership that began in 2011 between the National Writing Project and National Park Service.
The “I Notice” exercise was followed by a sensory detail writing session where the eighth graders dispersed along the edge of a tree grove near Saint Michael Parish Pastor Benson Okpara’s home. Students found popsicle sticks their teacher had used to mark specific flora. Students carefully observed the marked plants using four of the five senses and recorded the sensory imagery in their writer’s notebooks. Next, they took pictures of their plant.
Descriptive Writing: Matching Activity and Comic Strips
When they returned to the classroom, students used their notes to write three descriptive sentences about their plant. They typed their revised sentences in a “Plant Description” Google Slide deck. In addition, they added the picture they took to a separate “Plant Pictures” Google Slide deck. The following day, students participated in a matching game between the decks to see whose description was written clearly enough to have the most correct matches.
Following the descriptive writing activities, students wrote and designed comic strips to illustrate personal nature experiences with the goal of expressing a nature-appreciation theme, an idea shared in August during a CVNP/NWP at Kent State virtual follow-up workshop: "Write Where You Are: Finding Stories."
Write Out 2020: Stories Around the Campfire
The students' second cycle of placed-based writing and sharing began on October 11, the first day of Write Out 2020. Students watched a short video presented by Columbus Area Writing Project Co-Director and Professional Storyteller Kevin Cordi. The video, posted on the Write Out website, instructed students how to include show...not tell description, suspense, and closure in a campfire story, which was tied to this year’s Write Out theme: “Stories Around the Campfire.”
Students had two days to write and peer revise their campfire stories. During the process, they were encouraged to include the same type of descriptive writing they learned during the first cycle of place-based writing and reinforced by Cordi.
Following the writing process, students viewed another video from the Write Out website posted by Lisa Browne, an early childhood educator, trainer and consultant, who shared her version of the oral story tradition Abiyoyo. Students took notes on Browne’s hand and body movements, facial expressions, use of onomatopoeia, and singing to engage the audience. They then went back to their written stories to add movements and sound effects. They took their stories outside to practice delivery and timing as each student was given a two to two-and-a-half minute window to share their original stories during the final celebration.
Scott Archer, an eighth grade parent, built and tended the campfire near the parish’s labyrinth, which created the perfect atmosphere for sharing. During the celebration, students circled around the fire while enjoying S’more PopTarts and listening to their classmates tell stories, an offering Cordi calls a “true gift." Many students also made use of a carefully chosen prop to add visual appeal to their stories.
Krajeck said, “Having an authentic peer audience upped the stakes for the young writers. They wanted to impress and entertain each other, which provided the incentive to revise and practice until they had a product they were proud to share.”
To close out the two-week event on Friday, October 23, students wrote to Cordi and Browne, thanking them for their storytelling tips and sharing the favorite line or phrase from their own stories. Students put their correspondence on official Write Out postcards, which were available for download on the project’s website.