Tell me your story. I will listen.

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Innovation Summit Participants, This post walks you through the process of implementing this in your classroom, but we are going to actually do this together in our workshop, so save this for later and just click on this, make a copy, and find a partner.

We hear a lot about the importance of building relationships with students, of creating a respectful classroom culture, of designing lessons that are project-based and student-centered, but discussions of how our content fits in with this class-culture framework are often pushed to the side — as if class culture and content are separate.

What would happen if our students’ lives WERE the curriculum?  For the past two years, I have started the school year with a story exchange project that extends throughout the first quarter and then have modified the project for different genres/mediums each quarter thereafter so that throughout the year, the students’ voices, stories, writing, speaking, listening – their lives– are at the heart of what we do all year. This has significantly changed the culture of my classroom and students’ relationships with one another in addition to literacy.


  1. Talk about stories — why they matter and how they are crafted: Show videos of people sharing seemingly ordinary stories but are still engaging, offering a mirror to our lives or a window into another’s. Every story matters. Start class with these for a few days (e.g, nickname, conversation w/grandparent, making/spending money, a person who influenced you). What is the story? What images, colors, shapes came through? What character interaction and movements? What are specific details you connect to or give you a window? What was the discovery/realization looking back?
  2. Brainstorm: Model and do the brainstorm part of the “master form” together. In the model, just get all the ideas out, and then circle the ones you feel comfortable sharing.
  3. Interview process: Model with a student how to use the form — Chromebooks to the side, body language, follow-up questions, tracking time, kind responses
  4. Partner students: I like to partner boy-girl strangers so that everyone is working from the same position of familiarity — decide A and B, A will ask questions first.
  5. Partners work through the interview process (two class periods).
  6. Do mini-lessons for each part of the draft and then give students time in class to draft — lead, middle, end. They’ll have to confer with one another as they go, getting more details.
  7. Organize small group revisions with groups of 5-ish students; they pull up their doc, read it aloud to you and the group, you write in comments/suggestions, the group offers feedback, and so on; then that group revises while you work with another group. You are teaching how to do peer feedback and modeling the writing group experience. After revisions, the writer should share with the interviewee, revise as needed, and seek consent to share.
  8. Publishing: Publish to the class blog for in-class reading and feedback; have read aloud time on Fridays to practice speaking, listening, author’s craft text evidence, and complimenting.

Sample Schedule

Master Form: Brainstorm, Interview Guide, Drafting Space

  • Google Doc (make a copy to edit)
  • PDF
  • Rubric to guide the drafting and revision process based on your mini-lesson work. Students and peer groups should use this to self-assess toward publication.

Sample, Completed Form

  • Google Doc with annotations
  • In the comments, I talk through my interpretation of the story and explain my choices. My partner can respond or resolve my reasonings. This is an act of communication and consent.

Sample Stories

Google Docs

  • note taking
  • drafting
  • collaborating
  • revising
  • sharing

Kidblog Publishing:

  • can link to Google Drive (but will be deleted when they leave school),
  • can be written directly into the blog,
  • can be viewed publicly beyond the school or privately within the class or just between teacher and student,
  • teacher has complete control,
  • students can comment
  • teacher can comment publicly or privately
  • parents can comment

In-Class Sharing: Speaking, Listening, Author’s Craft Text Evidence, Complimenting

Students self and peer evaluate their speaking, and add their video or audio to their portfolio.
Students present their stories on Fridays- make a schedule, hang some twinkle lights. Listeners use this sheet to track their noticings, responses to their peer’s stories using text evidence.
Phrases to use to respond to class stories that show the many ways we can respond — to how the author writes, to how the author makes you feel, to how the author is teaching you
Giving and accepting compliments takes practice and can really unite the students in showing mutual respect for the process of creating and sharing stories.

One Reply to “Tell me your story. I will listen.”

  1. Sarah,
    Your presentation at D15 Summit was excellent. I will use your Brainstorm template in my classroom. It’s a great way to encourage resistant students to write!

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