The Power of (very short) Stories

As soon as I created my own very short story, modeled after VISA’s Go World videos, I knew I would have my students create their own.

For our introductions at the Book Love class I attended with Penny Kittle this summer, she had us watch a few of the Go World videos, and then imitate one of the structures. This is harder than it seems.

Here’s a few of the ones I watched and transcribed. They all represent moments that matter in the person’s life, and they are only in 35 to 60 words.

Lopez Lomong started running when he was six. And he didn’t stop for three days and three nights as he escaped life as a child soldier. Twenty years later he was still running; he just had a different thing driving him every step of the way.

Hours before his race in ’88, Dan Jansen’s sister Jane passed away. He’d promised her he’d win gold. He didn’t — until six years later. Then he skated a victory lap with his daughter — Jane.

Derek Redmond didn’t finish in first place in the 1992 400 meter. He didn’t finish in second or third or fourth. He, and his father, finish dead last. But he and his father finished.

People had been leaping over the high jump bar the same way since the sport began until one day when Dick Fosbury came along and moved the whole sport forward by going over the bar backwards.

You should watch a few of you own. Then write down the words and look at the structure of these very short stories. Then, I challenge you to write your own.

Think about your writing process as you write. Revise in your notebook. Pay attention, so you can share your process with your students. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do as a writing teacher is let them see me struggle as I try to make meaning.

I ended up writing four different versions with four different structures before I wrote a version that pleased me.

Here’s mine:

I am introducing this writing activity to students next week. I thought about having them write a full-blown narrative first and then having them cut their stories down to their own Go World stories. That would be an interesting exercise in word choice. I decided instead to have students write and create their own videos first — then we will tackle descriptive writing and work on exploding our very short stories into ones with a little more substance.

I opted for the fast-track to build community.

Story does that, you know.

Any ideas on how you might use this type of mentor text with your students? or any others you’ve had success with?

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7 thoughts on “The Power of (very short) Stories

  1. […] 1. We focused on word choice, paying particular attention to words we found interesting and unique. This lead to better word choice in our Go World video stories. […]


  2. jackiecatcher September 1, 2014 at 3:10 pm Reply

    I cannot wait to use this this week with my junior/senior writing class! I loved doing this activity too and I like how you discussed your thought process on how to fit it into your class. Beautiful final product.


  3. Katie Wood Ray August 26, 2014 at 1:22 pm Reply

    Amy, I was so moved by your very powerful short story that turned out to be a love story in the end. It completely caught me by surprise and I teared up immediately. In such a very short space of time and text, you literally took me on an emotional roller coaster. It really speaks to the power of just the right words doing just the right work. Thank you so much for sharing it. It made my day.


    • Amy August 26, 2014 at 6:27 pm Reply

      Thank you for the kind words, Katie. You have inspired me with your incredible work for years! So glad I could return the favor. Blessings.


  4. Nancy Peterson August 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm Reply

    Ditto what cmkervina wrote. I am inspired… and since my college classes are full of future teachers who need to inspire their students… I’m definitely going to share this. Thank. YOU.


  5. cmkervina August 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm Reply

    I love this idea, Amy. Wow! I’m not sure how I’m going to use it in my college classes, but I am bookmarking it so I can think about it.


    • Amy August 21, 2014 at 7:16 am Reply

      Thanks for the comments. Might be interesting to see what ideas yr college students came up with to use this kind of project in class.


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