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Classroom Spotlight: 8th Graders Analyze the Structure and Emotion in Short Stories

Having spent the last five weeks reading and discussing short stories, the 8th grade are now ready to apply all they have learned and write their own stories. As we read, we spent time considering the usual literary devices and became quite detailed in analyzing sentence structure and word choice. Identifying the different techniques is a review of work in previous grades, so in 8th grade we consider how the different devices interrelate. We have studied how setting can create the tone of the story; how Edgar Allen Poe unnerves the reader so deftly by simply inverting protagonist and antagonist, and how shifting to a first name can create sympathy in the reader.

In this class, we are studying a different narrative medium - the short movie. These shorts from Pixar are exquisite in their form and they often follow similar techniques to a short story in unraveling their tale. 
Here the class is watching ‘Snack Attack’ where the reveal happens at the end and makes us reevaluate the entire story, as it challenges our, and the old woman’s, perspective on young people.  As they watched, I stopped the video and checked in on the emotion they felt towards a particular character - noting their mounting anger at the young adult being so selfish and self absorbed. The final reveal shows that it was the old lady who was presumptive and aggressive, the young man caring, sharing and tolerant. Another short video, ‘The Present’ had a similar ‘reveal’ but we concentrated on the changes in emotion shown by the main character and we mapped these to the changes in the audience's reactions. I like both stories because they use ‘this isn’t what you expected’ in different ways. They use this technique to change our feelings. 

After class and small group discussion, the students have started to create their own stories and  are considering how the techniques in their story will facilitate the effect they want to have on their audience.

For homework, they created a tentative plot structure based not on their protagonist’s actions, but emotional shifts. The aim is for the students to write structurally simple, but emotionally complex stories, filled with nuance and suggestion, rather than stories packed with characters and events but lacking development and control of the narrative. I am excited to see what they create.