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.
On 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.
The 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.