Narrative Writing Residencies (5-7 Class Sessions)

We can do any of the Standard Residencies below at your school on demand for a standard price. Typically these workshops last 5-7 class sessions, but we can sometimes accommodate requests for shorter versions, especially if schools are able to give the students extra writing time outside of our workshop sessions.

Each of the Standard Fiction Residencies is tied heavily to Writing Standard #3 of the Common Core Standards, and in some cases to other Common Core Standards as well. After the description of each workshop, we will provide a few details about which points on the standards it especially supports.

Story Writing Building Blocks

Grades K-1

The class will work together on creating a group story with a clear beginning, middle and end, containing a character, a problem, and a solution. This group story then becomes the reference point for a series of lessons in which students design their own stories, each containing the same set of story building blocks. Based on consultation with the classroom teachers, we will differentiate for each class based on the needs and abilities of students, and the final product from the students may range from 3 thoughtfully labeled pictures (representing the beginning, middle and end of a story), to a few pages of heavily illustrated writing.

Common Core Standards: as outlined in Writing Standard #3, students will use a combination of drawing, dictating and writing to narrate events. We will guide them in making sure the events are appropriately sequenced, and to employ temporal words such as “first,” “next” and “finally” to signal event order, when appropriate.

Beyond the Standards: The Story Pirates are friends with Funky Feline, the rapping cat. Each day we will receive a new message from Funky Feline, along with an audio recording of a rap that helps us to explore the building blocks of a story. Students will also participate in a variety of drama games to help them explore how to create characters, problems and solutions.

Character Workshop

Grades 1-2

Our motto for this workshop is “If you can draw it, you can write it.” Students will create detailed characters, and develop problems for those characters to solve, by drawing them on our specialized graphic organizers. Students will use their pictures as the first step in a scaffolded series of lesson plans that culminate in writing detailed, well-organized stories, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Students will also return to the pictures later as the first step in doing some simple revision of the stories.

Common Core Standards: In keeping with Writing Standard #3, we put a particular focus on making sure students create a “well elaborated” narrative, especially in terms of having a detailed character at the center of the story, whose actions, thoughts and feelings drive the narrative. We also guide students in creating a clear, appropriate sequence of events, supported by temporal words such as “first”, “next” and “finally”.

Beyond the Standards: The teaching artists begin each day with a hilarious “non-example” of how to write a well elaborated story, which they act out for the students in crazy costumes. This becomes a springboard for dramatic games in which students explore creative techniques to better construct a character centered narrative, which they eventually apply these techniques to their own writing.

Hero Story Writing, with Heroic Dialogue

Grades 2-5

We tap into the deep love for hero stories that so many students have, but then ask students to look at the idea of a hero in ways they may not have considered before. As we emphasize creating well-rounded, surprising characters that go beyond the stereotypes of what traditional heroes might be, each student creates a hero character, and plans out creative, nonviolent solutions which this character might use to solve a problem. We also think heroes present a perfect opportunity to focus on dialogue writing techniques, as it can be especially fun for students to come up with snappy dialogue for a hero to speak, and then carefully choose terminology that goes beyond the word “said” to tell the reader how the hero is speaking. This workshop can also be used to complement school-wide messages concerning anti-bullying, social responsibility, or environmental consciousness.

Common Core Standards: As described in Writing Standard #3, students will establish detailed characters and situations, and structure the story with a logical sequence of events. Students will also explore how to use dialogue as a tool to move the story forward, and to flesh out the characters and events effectively.

Beyond the Standards: One of our teaching artists will be a talented comedian, who comes into class each day in full costume, playing a hilarious, non-traditional hero character, who will challenge common assumptions about what a hero can or should be. Each day, this teaching artist will also lead students in a series of interactive performance games to help them flesh out their own hero characters, and build a detailed story that follows the structure of a traditional hero legend.

Narrative Writing Essentials

Grades 3-5

This workshop is designed to support a variety of essential narrative writing skills that are studied in upper elementary grades. The first day begins with a dramatic explanation of the importance of “showing, not telling”, which is a concept students will come back to again and again throughout the residency. From there, students will create characters, and study how to effectively use a variety of sequencing words to precisely manage the events of the story as their characters try multiple solutions to solve a problem. Using all of these techniques together, students will then plan out an increasingly exciting flow of rising action, followed by a satisfying conclusion.

Common Core Standards: This workshop aligns with most of the major themes in Writing Standard #3, including establishing a situation and characters, organizing an event sequence that unfolds naturally, using transitional words to effectively manage the events of the story, and using concrete vocabulary and details to make those events as rich and compelling as possible.

Beyond the Standards: Each day will involve a different improvisational performance game, in which our teaching artists provide exciting, unforgettable demonstrations of the importance of “showing, not telling”, clear sequencing of events, and adding details to make the story more vivid.

Comedy Story Writing

Grades 4-5

In this unique, signature workshop, we pair up an experienced teaching artist with a hilarious improv comedian, and teach the students the principles of writing a good comedy story. Not only are comedy stories easy to write if you follow our simple structure, but students will be having such a good time creating hilarious characters and situations that they may not even realize they're also reinforcing all the elements of a good fiction story they are already learning in school. Creating a strong comedy story requires crafting detailed characters and settings, choosing vocabulary precisely, writing in a strong comedic “voice”, and following a highly organized story structure.

Common Core Standards: In alignment with Writing Standard #3, students will use a variety of details to convey events precisely, (as comedy lives and dies by precision and clarity), and explore the nuances of narrative techniques, especially in terms of how dialogue and description can help highlight absurd contrasts between characters, and heighten the comedy.

Beyond the Standards: The teaching artists for this workshop are a carefully chosen comedic duo, who will demonstrate the sometimes tricky concepts needed for writing a comedy story in an extremely clear and precise fashion, which will also keep students engaged, entertained, and help them see the connection between comedy writing and the writing lessons they work on in class every day.

Mystery Stories and the Art of Inference

Grades 4-5

Students create detectives, explore how to set up a mystery, and learn the subtle art of backward planning, to plant clues in a narrative that point towards a particular culprit. Since a mystery story requires readers to make inferences about the solution to the mystery, students will also need to practice using their own inference skills in a variety of warm-up activities and short readings, designed to prepare them to plan out clues effectively in their own stories.

Common Core Standards: Mystery stories are very complex, and require mastery of almost every element of Writing Standard #3 to write effectively. In particular, narrative techniques such as description and pacing, as well as the ability to write highly specific sensory details, are extremely important.

Beyond the Standards: There is a mystery afoot at your school. We will send in teaching artists who are not only experts in writing mysteries, but amateur detectives in their spare time, (or at the very least, actors who are good at playing amateur detectives). By examining a series of mysterious clues that pop up in your classroom, and comparing them to short written pieces from the teaching artists’ detective notebooks, the students will not only solve a classroom mystery, but will practice using skills which they’ll need for their own mystery stories.

“Fact & Fiction” Residencies (5-7 Class Sessions)

These residencies are designed to help students practice skills essential to nonfiction writing, but in a fun, creative manner that puts these skills in a slightly different context than students may normally encounter. The writing will include fictional elements, but the nonfiction lessons will be substantial, and will have extremely clear links to the usual nonfiction writing that students will be engaging in throughout the year.

Each of the “Fact and Fiction” Residencies is tied heavily to Writing Standards #1 or #2 of the Common Core Standards, and in some cases to other Common Core Standards as well. After the description of each workshop, we will provide a few details about which points on the standards it especially supports.

Commercial Writing

Grades 2-5

Most of us are swimming in a sea of commercials, day in and day out. Students are often so used to this that commercials may seem like a natural part of their environment, as opposed to what they really are: carefully constructed pieces of persuasive writing, designed to make you desire something. Since students are so familiar with commercials, studying the techniques and structure that go into making them can be a great jumping off point for studying the techniques and structure in academic persuasive writing as well. We will examine the similarities, including opening with a strong hook (essential in commercials to get the audience paying attention), having a strong introduction that states an opinion (in most commercials, the opinion being that you should buy this product), stating multiple reasons and backing them up with facts (a must if you want your audience to understand why they should buy the product), and even using linking words (not all commercials use the very fanciest linking words, but linking words are there nonetheless, and are essential). Students will create their own, creative commercials for imaginary products, but in the process will learn and apply all of these important persuasive writing skills that will serve them in more traditional formats down the road.

Common Core Standards: this workshop is most directly tied to Writing Standard #1, on writing opinion pieces. This includes crafting a strong introduction, citing reasons and supporting those reasons with facts, using linking words, and having a strong conclusion.

Beyond the Standards: “There’s got to be a better way!...Nowwwwww there is!” Through games, multimedia, and in class performances, students study many different examples of commercials, diagram the similarities and differences between commercials and other kinds of persuasive writing, and contribute their own knowledge of what makes commercials so memorable and effective.

Science Fact Into Science Fiction

Grades 3-5

Science Fiction is an unusual genre: the narrative of a science fiction story is, as the name suggests, fictional, but the science fiction writer must also have a working knowledge of science, and be able to create a world that makes sense in terms of scientific fact. In order to do this, the writer must be able to clearly explain a real scientific topic, as in an expository essay, and be able to guide the reader to understand how the science has a direct impact on their story. This is not easy to do well, but in this residency we help students attempt such a balancing act, focusing in particular on how to explain a topic clearly, so that the story can proceed logically from there. Specifically, the students will research a planet in the solar system (using similar source material to what is used in our Informational Writing curriculum), and create an alien species that might live on this planet. Students will not make up aliens out of nowhere, however, and must justify in their writing how the alien has adaptations that will allow it to survive in the specific environment of the specific planet they have chosen. In doing this, students will need to employ many of the skills necessary for nonfiction essay writing: developing an opening paragraph that introduces the planet clearly, using facts, definitions and details to fully explain the planet, and using linking words to develop and justify the alien’s adaptations. After the opening paragraphs, students will send this alien on a well structured adventure, but will have need of nonfiction techniques, especially proper use of linking words, to continue explaining the outlook and behavior of the alien.

Common Core Standards: this workshop is strongly aligned to Writing Standard #2, and among other things students will need to develop a topic with facts and definitions, use linking words and phrases, and precise, domain specific vocabulary to explain the topic. In addition, this workshop is aligned with Writing Standard #3, especially establishing a character and situation, and organizing an event sequence that unfolds naturally.

Beyond the Standards: One of the teaching artists is a talented improv comedian...and may or may not also secretly be an alien. Each day students will try to uncover more clues in this possible alien conspiracy, and along the way practice techniques they will need to use in their own science fiction writing.

Nonfiction Residencies (Number of Class Sessions Varies)

These residencies involve writing standard, 5 paragraph nonfiction essays, but still employ our usual theatrical, game-infused teaching methods. Because nonfiction writing requires students to do research on a topic, as well as write very specifically structured and sequenced paragraphs, these residencies may be more work-intensive than our other offerings. Typically, these residencies either require more than our usual number of class sessions, or else require special arrangements with schools and classroom teachers for students to put in extra time researching or writing outside of our time in the classroom.

Each of the Nonfiction Residencies is tied heavily to Writing Standards #1 or #2 of the Common Core Standards, and in some cases to other Common Core Standards as well. After the description of each workshop, we will provide a few details about which points on the standards it especially supports.

Persuasive Essays

Grades 3-5

We collaborate with teachers and administrators to choose a persuasive writing topic in which students will take sides on issues they have been studying, or that the teachers think students would most benefit from writing about. We provide scaffolding to students for writing a very traditional 5 paragraph persuasive essay, including writing a strong introduction, selecting good arguments, using transition words, and finishing with a strong conclusion. Beyond this, however, we situate the curriculum within a series of dramatic activities that provide the students with strong motivation for writing, and a forum to explore why persuasive essays are actually effective tools for convincing someone to change their mind. On the final day, students will read their arguments aloud in a forceful, persuasive fashion.

Common Core Standards: this workshop is most directly tied to Writing Standard #1, on writing opinion pieces, but also provides opportunities to develop skills linked to Speaking and Listening Standards, especially standard #2 (summarizing information presented in diverse media and formats) and standard #5 (present an opinion, speaking clearly at an understandable pace, etc).

Beyond the Standards: on the first day an actor in a suit is welcomed into the classroom, and the students are informed that this person is an Expert (on a topic to be chosen ahead of time with teachers and administrators). This Expert proceeds to address the class with some comically ill-considered or controversial opinions on the chosen topic, and then leaves, with the teaching artists left behind to channel the class’s outrage at the Expert’s ideas productively into writing. Over the course of the residency, the expert communicates each day by sending messages to the class, including a “radio commercial” endorsing his controversial ideas, which both serve to inspire the students to continue writing, and serve as models of well constructed (if dubious) arguments. On the final day the Expert will return, and the students will have the opportunity to melt his icy heart by reading him selections from their own essays.

Informational Essay Writing: The Solar System

Grades 3-5

Compiling scientific information from NASA into an entertaining and readable research packet for 3rd-4th graders, we created a document which will serve as a primary source for students as they research a planet in the solar system. In order to arm the students for further research online or in a library, we have also included certain pages in this packet that come from unreliable sources, or contain opinions instead of facts. The first day is centered around a treasure hunt in the packet to find which pages are unreliable (and should be crossed out), leading into a lesson about how to find good sources in general when doing research. From there, the students will spend the residency creating well organized essays that are not only informative, but hold the reader’s attention with precise and vivid vocabulary and imagery.

Common Core Standards: this workshop is strongly aligned to Writing Standard #2, and students will work to create an essay that examines a topic and conveys ideas and information clearly. In particular, students will introduce a topic and group related information together, develop the topic with facts, definitions and rich details, use linking words, and provide a strong conclusion. Students will also practice a variety of skills in alignment with Reading Standards for Informational Text, including explaining concepts in a scientific text, based on specific information from the text.

Beyond the Standards: the teaching artists use a variety of media, including written texts, audio skits, songs, and word games to help students acquire basic skills in research, and support students in creating well crafted essays, all while remaining engaged and having fun.

Short-Term Residencies (1-2 Class Sessions)

Each of the following is a workshop designed to take place over the course of only 1-2 class sessions. We have described how each workshop aligns to the Common Core Standards, when applicable.

Group Story Writing 

Grades Pre-K-3

Theater, visual arts and writing come together in this lively, fun, interactive workshop. Students will work as a class to create a simple narrative story, which will be dictated to, and guided by, our teaching artists. The primary focus will be on reinforcing the basic building blocks of a story, including creating a detailed original character, introducing a problem, and finding exciting, creative solutions to the problem. To explore these story elements, the class will watch brief performances by an actor in silly costumes, act out characters and situation as a class, and learn how to start writing a story by drawing a detailed picture. When requested by the school, students will also be receive colorful graphic organizers to help them create a character of their own, which they can use to write individual stories once the Story Pirates have left the room.

Common Core Standards: This workshop is directly tied to Writing Standard #3, and based on the grade of the students we will adjust the workshop to best align with the standard: for example, in 1st and 2nd grade we will put more emphasis on effectively using temporal words to signal event order.

Group Genre Story Writing

Grades 3-5

Designed to provide older elementary students with the basic building blocks for writing in a particular genre, this theatrical, interactive workshop will involve the whole class writing a genre story together, and reflecting on the main elements that make the genre unique. The teaching artists will provide memorable theatrical demonstrations of key points, and leave the students with materials to begin working on individual stories after we have left the room.

At the present time, we offer the following group genre story writing workshops:

  • Mystery
  • Comedy

Other genre workshops are available upon request, but may require extra time or fees for curriculum development.

Common Core Standards: All Group Genre Story Writing workshops will be closely aligned with Writing Standard #3. We can discuss more about the specific ways the different genres align upon request.

Test Taking Techniques 

Grades 3-4

This workshop offers a mix of strategies to pump students up for taking big tests, help them find ways to calm down when nervous during a test, and techniques for taking tests that will allow students to approach them logically and--incredible as it sounds--even have fun with them! We believe multiple choice tests CAN be fun if they are approached by students as a game, and that like any other game, you can improve your chances by studying how the game is played. In fact, when we work on test prep, we emphasize the ways in which many of the skills students use when playing a video game, or participating in sports, are exactly the same skills they need to be successful at a test. We bring enthusiasm, mini-games, and even actual fun, into the process of practicing for a test, and find ways to connect with many students for whom the hours of test prep they are required to do in school are a struggle.

Specialized Topics

We have also taught workshops on a variety of other academic topics, including science, social studies, and a variety of specialized topics related to reading, writing and language standards. If there is a subject area you are interested in Story Pirates working on, there is no subject we won't design lessons for, given enough funding for curriculum planning, and ideally given collaboration with school staff.

These workshops may require additional funding for planning time and curriculum writing for our teaching artists, as we tailor these workshops closely to the needs and requests of school administrators and teachers.