What’s the use of story?
Using narratives in the classroom:
Collecting and studying oral narratives
Students could study narratives by tape recording conversations with others (with their permission) and then transcribing the narratives contained in those conversations. In some cases, students may collect stories from grandparents or older members of a community as part of an oral history project.
Students could note certain repetition of words or phrases, for example, the use of “they” to refer to opposing parties, or categories such as “troublemaker” or “ESL” to refer to themselves or others. They could also determine the different voices of others evoked in the story, and how those voices differ from the voice of the speaker. And, they could note how the audience(s) and context influenced how students told their stories.
Inferring speech acts
have students record a conversation (with participants’ permission) or a role-play. Then, have them identify the various speech acts employed in the conversation, noting the extent to which the uptake or intended meaning is acknowledged or ignored by others, as well as instances in which speakers adhere to or violate certain conversational maxims. Then, have students analyzed the speech acts and adherence to maxims in text dialogues, noting how they use these inferences to construct characters and narrative conflicts.
Students could also study the uses of “double-voiced” language within a novel or film that represent different discourse or speech worlds of science, law, romance, politics, business, religion, etc. (Knoeller, 1998). For example, Mary Shelley’s (1977) novel, Frankenstein, contains “science talk” set against talk of political power, romance, and religion. Students also could collect some examples of parody or mimicry found in everyday conversation, television situation comedies, graffiti, song lyrics, cartoons; notes passed in class, or published satires. Students could also reflect on how their different voices represent different roles or identities associated with different worlds
Giving reasons for predictions
as students move through a narrative, stop at different points in the story and have them write out optional predictions for what may happen next or how the story will end. Then, have them cite reasons for their predictions from both the previous events in the story and from their own knowledge of storylines. Then, at a later point in the story, have them determine whether their predictions were valid and reasons why they were or were not valid. They may also compare reasons for their predictions, noting that with familiar, prototypical genres, they have less difficulty making predictions than with more complex narratives.
Narratives and social worlds
Have students collect some stories from a particular social world, for example, family stories about events, traditions, and/or unusual family members or stories shared by members of a neighborhood or town that serve to define what that neighborhood’s or town’s beliefs and attitudes (see, for example, House on Mango Street or Lake Wobegon Days). Discuss how these stories serve as a tool for defining a sense of continuity from the past to the future, linking the practices of past generations to current family members, neighbors, or townspeople.
Studying cultural variations of the same narrative
Students could study how different narrative versions of myths, fairy tales, or fables reflect differences in cultural models.
Describe the rules or norms operating in a class, school, peer group, workplace, community organization, or chat room, as well as a text world. What are those indicators or cues that suggest these rules or norms operating in these contexts, particularly the consequences of actions deemed as inappropriate?
Students could study of examples of initiations in contemporary society, literature, and film. They could identify the larger purpose for the initiation as well as norms constituting success in achieving the initiation.
Heroes and anti-heroes
Students could study the topic of heroes and anti-heroes, examining characteristics of what contributes to being a hero in different historical periods and cultures, as well as what prevents contemporary characters from achieving heroic stature.
Studying the influence of binary categories
Students may also reflect on how their responses are shaped by various categories of oppositions: “good/evil,” “right/wrong,” “male/female,” “black/white,” “high/low,” “real/artificial,” “love/hate,” etc. As poststructuralist critics point out, these categories themselves are suspect in that, as binary, either/or constructions, for example, “male”/“female,” or “white”/“black,” they limit or essentialize an understanding of the complexity of experience. Students could reflect on how their responses reflect the application of some of these binary categories.
Studying the news as narrative
Students could record television news stories or find newspaper articles that employ a narrative format. They could then examine the uses of various narrative devices to portray an event.
Studying narrative through different media forms.
Students should examine narratives using different media forms. For example, how is the narrative changed when a book is made into a movie or graphic novel? The values of each media form (e.g. importance of action vs. dialogue) can be evaluated based on how the narrative is altered to fit the norms of its genre.