Mapping Memories and Storyboarding

Drawing is painful for me, so when a teacher asked me to try storyboarding, I tried to get out of it.  I suggested some alternatives, but she thought storyboarding would work so I told her I would research it and try it. I’m happy she asked. This lesson was the highlight of my week.

I avoid anything to do with drawing or art because it’s not how I think. These are the drawings that I used in front of students to explain our activities. 

So as you can see, there is a reason storyboarding isn’t my go-to writing strategy.

I started researching the idea on Penny Kittle’s website where she has an article called Storyboarding-to-Create-Flexible-Writers. I liked her version of storyboarding because I didn’t think our students were reading to storyboard complete ideas for narratives. Instead, this version helps students to find the stories that they might want to tell.

Memory Mapping

For the memory mapping activity, we had students draw the street where they live now, or somewhere else where they lived for a while. On the map, they labeled the landmarks for their memories. For example, in my map above, you can see where I hit another kid in the head with a rock (I wasn’t a violent kid just a very unobservant kid. I didn’t see him!).

I already had my map drawn to show students what I wanted them to do, so their teacher Emily, drew her map on the board to model the sketching process.

Emily is a former SJAM student, so students were interested to hear her memories of their neighbourhood.  It took a couple of minutes, but as she mapped out her ideas on the board, they started to generate memories too.  When she was finished, Emily estimated that she probably had about 30 different stories she could tell.

Almost every student was able to find a story from their memories that they wanted to share.

One student told me about her map of her neighbourhood in Chile where she lived for ten years after moving there from Syria. Her whole map revolved around her relationship with these three other girls in her apartment building.  She called them her “sisters.” She developed the idea more in the subsequent activity where I mistook her drawing of her friends for one of her family. Clearly, these girls were important to her. We talked about how she could turn her relationship with them into a piece of writing.

Other students’ maps revealed stories about skateboarding accidents, getting lost in cornfields, near-misses with cars, and in one case, the memory of a Syrian neighbourhood before the war. Previously many of these same students were reluctant to write during our quick write time, but as we circled the room and heard their stories, we noticed that every single student had done the activity.

Storyboarding Moments

We followed this activity by storyboarding moments. Their moments could either connect to the memory map or be something entirely new. I wasn’t a fan of my memory map, so I moved to storyboarding moments with my oldest son Jonah.  I was surprised, but I think I actually have a personal narrative that I might draft in front of students.

During the activity, I asked students to draw six different panels of moments that had a similar theme or thread to connect them. Below you can see the further development the Chile neighbourhood I mentioned above.

We were nearing the end of class, so we circled the room talking to students about the moments they selected and how they might write about one (or more of them).

The next stage of the activity would be to cut up the six panels and rearrange them to experiment with how different sequences might affect their writing. They would also have to think about panels they might have to add in order to link the moments together for their future readers.

I was particularly happy with the results of this lesson because I had tried a different generating activity earlier in the week that went spectacularly wrong. I may write about it in the future, but the embarrassment of that lesson is still a little raw. However, I feel redeemed today because I am confident that when these students start drafting their stories, all of them will have a place to start.  And sometimes that’s all we need. Just a way to conquer that blank page.

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