Some­thing that has always stuck with me from pio­neer tales is the images of the keep­sakes and oth­er non-manda­to­ry items pio­neer fam­i­lies often had to dis­card on the trail as the trip became hard­er and the oxen grew weary of pulling the over­loaded wagons.

This is just one of the rea­sons on the very long list of why I would have made the world’s worst pio­neer — I can’t pack for a week­end with­out schlep­ping along half my house­hold goods. So in an effort towards sav­ing some pack­ing space, I have a cos­met­ics bag already stocked with trav­el-sized bot­tles of the essen­tials I know I’ll need for any road trip.

story-wheel-fair-lettersOn the note of being stocked with the essen­tials, I was remind­ed of a fan­tas­tic day I spent as one of the res­i­dent authors in the Alpha­bet For­est at the Min­neso­ta State Fair. I was­n’t there this year (anoth­er record atten­dance year!), but I love sup­port­ing this won­der­ful lit­er­a­cy-dis­guised-as-play area at the State Fair. Each day, a guest author or illus­tra­tor is fea­tured. Dur­ing my turn, I focused on teach­ing young vis­i­tors the essen­tials need­ed for a writ­ing road trip. Sure, there’s a wide array of ele­ments that can make a sto­ry stronger. But some­times it’s good to review the basics; draw­ing on just three easy-to-under­stand ele­ments, I’ve watched thou­sands of kids cre­ate sto­ries dur­ing my many years of school vis­its and work­ing with young writers.

TState Fair Story Wheelhe three core sto­ry ele­ments I focus on are char­ac­ter, set­ting, and conflict (a prob­lem). At the State Fair, I set up the Sto­ry Wheel with exam­ples of the char­ac­ters, set­tings, and prob­lems that a State Fair vis­i­tor might encounter — then the kids spin the wheel to col­lect a ran­dom mix of the three ele­ments and incor­po­rate them in their own stories.

I’ve also cre­at­ed a sim­ple play-at-home ver­sion of the Sto­ry Wheel that kids can make from a paper plate — check for direc­tions here. You can also down­load the Mys­tery Ingre­di­ents activ­i­ty that I’ve shared; page 2 pro­vides long lists of pos­si­ble char­ac­ters, set­tings, and prob­lems that young writ­ers could use for their own Sto­ry Wheels.

Focus­ing on these three basic ele­ments (think of it as the trav­el-sized ver­sion of sto­ry writ­ing) makes it pos­si­ble for almost all stu­dents to cre­ate sim­ple stories.

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