Sunday, August 5, 2018


I returned from break last spring and shared with my students my exciting trip to Italy to visit my daughter who was studying abroad. I usually just stay home and organize my closets during spring break, and I had never travelled across the ocean, so this was a big deal for me.

One of my students followed up by talking about taking a family trip to Disneyland. Another shared about visiting cousins in Colorado, then a third boy who had been very quiet up until that point shared how his family had gone to Hawaii and then New York City and then Florida. I got the distinct impression that he was confabulating his tale. This was a very low income school after all, and that's a lot of traveling for a one week vacation. But who could blame him? I had set the bar pretty high by describing my Italy trip.

As I'm preparing to return to school, I'm rethinking the typical summer break conversation and reframing it through a story plotting lens in a way that I hope will celebrate every student's summer experience. For a more complete discussion of my story analysis format, visit The Secret Language of Stories page on this blog. For activities based on this structure, visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Page.

The Downtime of a story occurs after the Midpoint where there is major attempt by the hero to solve a problem or attain a prize. The Midpoint is full of action but the Downtime is when the hero must face the consequences of those actions. 

Students are typically good at creating action in their original stories and identifying these high points in the stories of others, but much can be gained from exploring what happens during the quieter moments in a story. These downtimes are when planning, reflection, and internal responses occur –the evidence of higher cognitive processes.

Since we are all returning from summer vacation where we most likely experienced adventure as well as downtime, and since these experiences are fresh on our minds as well as on the minds of our students, instead of giving them the age old assignment of "What did you do over summer vacation?" try this activity: As a class brainstorm two lists: 

Adventure vs. Downtime

1. Have students talk about their summer experiences and categorize these experiences as a group.

2. Discuss what makes one experience an adventure and what makes another experience an example of downtime. Are there any experiences that could be both?

3. Not all adventures involve going on an expensive vacation. Did anyone stay in their Ordinary World and have an adventure without leaving home? 

4. Highlight the importance of quiet times for our personal development, our mental development, and our stories.

5. Be sensitive to the fact that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not have stories to tell about riding in an airplane, going to the beach, of visiting an amusement park. Be sure to honor all experiences. 

6. Talk about examples of Downtime in movies students have seen over the summer.

7. What did I leave out? What are other ways you could explore Downtime with your students?

A Crazy Summer Adventure

If you want to turn this discussion into a writing assignment do the following:

1. Add additional examples of Adventure vs. Downtime to your lists. You may even want to download images from the internet for students who are visual learners.

2. Instruct students to choose one example from the Adventure list and one from the Downtime list.

3. Outline a story that leads to the Adventure and then reflects on the adventure during the Downtime.

4. Write the story and share it with the class.

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