Drawing from the Well

Chapter One - Digging the Well
Lesson 9 - Crafting a Story

Setting the Stage:

There are many written, recorded and videotaped examples of good storytelling and story development. Finding ways for students to see and hear successful storymaking will increase their own ability to create and deliver effective communications. If you have access to a local storyteller you may want to arrange for a classroom or school visit. Whether you use a live performance, a video or an audio program, you will want to discuss the elements and dynamics of crafting a story. Another way to generate interest for students is for teachers to model how to tell a story from their personal life and turn it into a storytelling performance. The year we chose the question, "What is family?" as the essential question to investigate, two teachers told stories about their own upbringings and about significant family members as a way for students to consider crafting stories.

In this lesson students will be exposed to basic elements for composing and presenting dynamic stories. The more exposure they receive, the greater the vocabulary they will have for imagining and creating their own work. Refer to the Narrative Rubric. (See Appendix/Methods of Evaluation)

Note: At the end of this lesson are plans for preparing students for Digging the Well, Lesson 10.


  • The students will identify the elements of a story.
  • The students will analyze oral stories.
  • The students will tell engaging oral stories.
  • The students will create a narrative in writing and adapt for oral presentation.

NM State Standards: Language Arts I-A (7-1, 2 & 8-1, 3) I-D (7-1, 2, 3, 4) II-A (7-1, 5 & 8-1, 2) II-B (7-8, 10, 11 & 8-7) III-A (7-2 & 8-2, 3)

Materials and Resources Needed:
Handout #5: Elements of Crafting a Story (See Appendix/Samples and Activities) One or more of students' writings or Free Writes
Recording equipment, mics, cables, adaptors and tape
Oral presentation rubric

Duration: two to three class periods


  1. Locate a video or audio recording of a powerful story, relevant to students' heritage. One video that has proven to be useful is Joe Hayes' La Llorona. (Appendix/Resources) Joe Hayes is a beloved storyteller of the Southwest. His telling of the story La Llorona is legendary. If time permits, you may wish to view the full half-hour video of Joe's bilingual version of this story. Or you may view a portion and begin discussion about how to craft a story. Either way, students can make connections between the storymaking criteria and the telling of La Llorona. Use the students' viewing of the video to spark a discussion about the elements of crafting a story. Have students assume they are the storyteller and have them respond to the following considerations:
  2. Present and discuss: Elements of crafting a story:
    1. Point of View
      Who is telling the story and what is their relationship to the story?
      Why tell this story?
      Why tell this story now? What place does it have in our times, our culture?
      What question does the story answer?
      Have you a personal connection with the story?
    2. Dramatic Structure
      What are the goals of the story? What are the desires?
      What happens in the story? How does it build?
      How do the events take you to a resolution?
      What is the dramatic question--the set-up and pay-off?
    3. Emotional content
      Look for underlying themes: life, death, vulnerability, mythic, loss, bravery. Be honest and show care in telling the story.
      Examine how the hero or anti-hero has returned from the abyss. What has been lost and what had to come back?
    4. Use your own voice to tell the story with authenticity.
    5. Draw from the senses, create a sense of place.
    6. Pay attention to the fluency of the piece; how is it sequenced, how do the transitions flow out of the previous events, what pacing is inherent to the piece?
    7. Soundtrack (for consideration within a video, audio or website context)- look for natural sounds, music, sound bites, echoes, commentary to fill out the story.
    8. Economy - short, concise, to the point.
    9. Target Audience - Who are you trying to reach? What results are you looking for?
  3. Putting the elements to work, and developing technical skills: After discussion about the elements of crafting a story and relating them to La Llorona or another fully developed story, have students do the following:
    Exercise #1:
    • Review their own stories (use either the old object, the photo, or a developed Free Write) and analyze how and where the elements of crafting a story are evident.
    • Now, with an eye to these elements, have students re-tell their written story orally, putting the elements of crafting a story to work. Encourage students to use their imaginations. If they originally did not have a 36 dramatic structure, have them develop one. Adapting a written story to an oral telling is not easy. Maintaining the sequencing, pacing, details and characters takes practice. Also the delivery of the spoken word is distinctive from the printed word. Help students not be intimidated by this process. Have them take a shot at it and see what happens.
    • Start this exercise in pairs and then, after one run through, have students tell the story to a larger group of 5 or 6. All stories, when told, evolve. A second telling is different from the first. Have students notice the changes.
    • As the exercise progresses, have students reference the ORAL PRESENTATION RUBRIC to self-evaluate their oral delivery.
    Exercise #2:
    • In a small group or individually have students develop a creation story or a myth about their own community or family. Again, this is an exercise in blending known information with imagination. Students can make a list of places or events that occur in their community and pick one to be the focus of their story. The goal of the story is to creatively tell how and why this place or event came into being. This exercise is a good opportunity to reference Native American myths or other fables which tell how something originated.
    • Using the tape recorders, have students do a "story pass". One student starts a story and begins to develop the plot. At a pivotal point the story is passed to the next student to carry on the story. In creating an improvised story, students can remember to draw upon the elements of crafting a story. Particularly for the beginning voice, it is important to establish place, a description of the character(s) and an underlying question or theme. This may change as the story is passed, but it is a good exercise to be conscious of the story's intent.
    • Using the list of elements to craft a story, students need to select and read a story, then highlight where the elements are addressed.

Technology Skills
As a team, students may act out one of their stories, giving each student a particular role, such as animate or inanimate observer or participant in the story. Trying on different points of view within a story can help students see the multi-dimensionality of a given story. In La Llorona, for example, the story would be told differently if Maria or one of her children told the story, instead of the narrator. Working with point of view is a very tangible way to foster compassion and deeper understanding. Record these dramatizations with audio or video recorders.

Student and Teacher Assessment:
Use the Oral Presentation Rubric (See Appendix/Methods of Evaluation) throughout the storytelling activities to give students feedback as they practice their oral skills. At the end of these activities, have students fill in the rubric to assess themselves. Then have them reflect on their speaking skills answering designated questions for "Reflecting on Your Speaking." (SeeAppendix/Methods of Evaluation) We suggest using questions #4 and #5. Have students put their rubric and reflection in the portfolio.

Suggested Benchmark for writing a narrative: Have students choose their best or favorite writing from all the previous lessons, including the Free Writes. Have them do a final draft to submit to the teacher for evaluation. They can self-assess using the Narrative Rubric and answer designated questions from "Reflecting on Your Writing" (Appendix/Methods of Evauation) to submit or include in their portfolio. Students who have not reached satisfactory competency at this point should receive some guidance to rewrite and work on their weak areas.


Before students begin their primary project in the Drawing from the Well program they will need to form groups. How these groups are formed can range from teacher appointed to student determined. In the best case scenario, a combination of the two works best, whereby students have input and the teacher makes the final approval. The following is a suggestion for forming groups with student input. And remember, using the rubrics for defining expectations and assessing performance helps keep groups focused and on task.

Procedure for teachers to follow:
Drawing from the topics identified from the initial web, which was centered around the essential question or the central theme for the research, have students choose their top three topic choices in order of preference. Collect these requests at the end of class and before embarking on Lesson #10, list the #1 choices and assemble the groups with the following considerations:

  • a strong reader/writer
  • a strong spokesman
  • a "techie"
  • a leader or disciplined, organized person
  • a creative type (artist, musician, etc)

Look at this group as a whole and consider bad mixes or influences. This is a big issue for students. Juggle to balance. For those who did not get into their preferred group, list their second choices ON TOP of the other categories (so they have priority for their second choice.) Continue to work from student interests while balancing groups. Usually, everyone gets his/her first or second choice, unless the students conferred in advance and a clique all responded in the same way. Talk with the few students who did not get their top choices, and perhaps suggest a trade-off. Actually, the categories are still broad enough that an interest can be addressed in any group. (Music or art, for example, could be part of any topic.)

In choosing the categories, all teachers should have their content standards in mind and have the choices apply to the content they are studying.

Devise a complete list of student groups, aligned with their topics, to announce and post at the beginning of Lesson #10.