Saturday, August 11, 2018

Authentic Audience and Authentic Engagement - Interactive Stories Using Free Google Apps

I already wrote a lot this summer about the most exciting, creative project I've been involved with in a long time. I worked with some students to create a story one short piece at a time. What made it amazing was we'd publish the story on the school website, then let the readers complete surveys to tell us what should happen in the next chapter.

This gives the students experience with writing for an engaged, authentic audience. Everyone involved was excited to find out what happens next in the story!

We told our story in comic form, using my favorite method of combining real life photos with comic elements. Of course, it will be much easier to create the stories if they're written as prose rather than comics. I'm calling them interactive stories and I will outline the process below. (There's even a 10-page ebook with tips at the link at the very end of this post.)

We actually ran into a snag in the middle of our comic project, so I resorted to some written chapters just to keep the story going. That gave me some experience with what I'm about to describe.

The Flow of the Project

  • Explain the project to the students - This includes the very important aspect of telling them what course content you expect to see in the story. They need to know what they are supposed to learn from it.
  • Write the first chapter - Students (the Storytellers) would begin by writing a short chapter to kick things off. It just has to be long enough to introduce some characters and make a cliffhanger that will hook the Readers. I suggest using Google Docs for this, since it's easy to share in a later step.
  • Create a short survey - Using Google Forms, the Storytellers create a survey with three to five questions that will help them decide what happens next. We embed the link to the survey right in our story, so anyone who reads it can easily find it. See the link at the end of this post for lots of tips about making good surveys.
  • Publish the story - We put a shareable link to our story on our school website. The Readers would find it there easily, read it and complete the survey.
  • Make the next chapter - The real learning happens here! Combining the lesson goals, the Storytellers' ideas and the input from the Readers, the Storytellers have to plan and write the next chapter.
That process continues with another survey, publishing the new chapter, getting feedback and so on. As it comes to a conclusion (probably after several weeks) the Storytellers probably will request less and less feedback. 

If doing the story as a comic sounds even better (which I think it can be!) I created this ebook for the process using comics and it includes a ton of tips for getting started and working through the project. 

While it can be so much simpler to have students write the story in Google Docs, much of that ebook will till be helpful. The link below takes you to a free, shortened version that will help with these written stories.

Some tips specific to this written process are:
  • Use a fairly large font with generous spacing. Dense text is not fun to read on a screen.
  • Even with large fonts and spacing, try to keep the chapters to less than two pages. Your Readers might go for longer passages, but we found many wouldn't bother reading longer chapters.
  • Make sure you set up Google Forms so the responses are not anonymous. This is very important if you ask for open ended comments. As the teacher, you might choose to manage the survey responses.
I summed up the Gathering Feedback section of my ebook into a much shorter PDF. You can find it here:

If you do this project with a class, I'd love to hear about the results! Please send me an email and let me know how it goes. Include a link to the story too!

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