Fourteen year olds add to the Nepali collective memory

Nepal Picture Library Project was taken to a classroom in Kathmandu last week. KathaSatha worked with class 8C of Shuvatara School for six English lessons helping them bring photos from their family albums and exercising their right to tell stories.

There were 31 students in the class, so one-on-one collaborations were more than slightly impossible. Students worked with each other in groups of five or six with the help of their class teacher and some other 8th grade teachers who were interested in using this photo-writing exercise as part of a creative writing classes. A quick re-cap of the three days.

Day One:
Students were asked to describe images they had never encountered before and write possible stories in groups to examine which stories would be the most memorable. Through this in-class group work and looking back at the stories of their friends that were they came up with a list of elements that a “good story should have. Here’s the list:

What’s in a GOOD story?
– Good writing
Interesting: Important topic: Important message
– Mystery: so that the reader is interested to know what will happen next
– A good kind of rising action: heat up: climax, something happens. Maybe a problem.
– Comedy: re-enacting the situation
– Something brand new; something interesting that you have not heard before; SURPRISE your readers
– Something that is believable and you can relate to
– Characters, should be memorable and interesting; should have a good motive; they should want to do something
– Setting: description should be new, where is this? It should be clear
– PLOT: sequence of events that takes place

We highlighted how many times they used the word “interesting.” They laughed but said if the story didn’t interest them, then they wouldn’t want to read it. Fair enough. They were then asked to go back home and write descriptions and stories about their own photos, just like we had done in class with other images.

To help them with writing the stories, especially if they were stuck, they could refer to a list of questions:

1) Who took the photograph?
2) When was it taken? Where?
3) Why was it taken?
4) Why did you choose to write about this particular photograph? What about it is appealing or interesting?
5) If you are staying in the school hostel and only have access to this one photo, ask yourself why you brought it with you? And when you look at it, what do you think about?
6) Think about “What Makes a Good Story” that we talked about in class. Don’t forget to look at the surroundings in the photograph: Where is it? What do you see? What are the people wearing? What does that say about that time?
7) What was going on in that year? Can you remember?
8) Think about the photos we wrote stories about. How can you make your reader interested and how can you tell the story in a way that the reader can remember?

Day Two:

We started the class with telling a story. They created a character: Joy the elephant who lives in a circus. When asked to come up with the first line of the story, one student said: “It was Joy’s first performance that night.” Excellent! We went around the entire class of 31 students and turned out that Joy went to America and became a movie star. Ok.

We back tracked and talked about the missing gaps in the story, re-visited the list we came up with the first day. The “sequence of events” that they had claimed was important for a good story was missing in terms of how we moved from one frame to the next. Also, students kept forgetting that Joy was an elephant with a debut performance.

How can we get to know our characters better? They might know the people in the pictures they picked, such as the father with a hot temper, or the shy mother, or the superstitious aunt, or that crazy uncle, but how can they tell a story without TELLING us what these people are like but KNOWING what they are like and showing it through their stories?

We built a character from scratch. I brought a picture of a girl and we went on to build her up as a class by filling out the following list. Then we broke up into groups again and wrote a story about the photo of the character, having known her so well.

Building a Character from Scratch
Most used facial expression or gesture:
Personality Flaws:

They then shared some of the photo-stories they had written. And since we ran out of time, they were asked to work on the characters in their photos as homework.

Day Three:

Last day already. Sigh! Students exchanged stories with their friends and wrote them a letter by answering the following questions:

1) Is the photo described well? Why do you say so? Which line is memorable?
2) Can the writing exist without the photo?
3) Can you relate to the characters? Are they believable? How?
4) Is there a story there? What is the story about?
6) When was the photograph taken? Who took it?
7) Can you now remember the photo because of the story? Why or why not?
8) As a reader, are you interested in the story? Do you want to continue reading? Why or why not? What can your friend do better?

Then we did a quick exercise on descriptions. They were asked come up with a list of cliches and then they were asked to avoid using them. “How can we describe things in a refreshing, memorable way? So that our stories are remembered by our readers?”

Read the next post to see what 8C did and what kinds of descriptions they came up with!