Storycraft: Using the world of #Minecraft as inspiration for writing

It all started, as it often does, in the confines of an ordinary classroom during a routine English Language Skills lesson. Having just finished a unit of study on storytelling, my students were tasked with creating a story of their own. If you read my other blog, you will know that I am a fan of giving students as much choice as possible during project work like this, and this was no different – with guidance when needed, I let them choose their project partners, the topic of their story and the mode in which they would tell it.

I admit to feeling a little apprehensive as one group of three formed. None of these students were ones noted for their active participation in class or motivation when it came to writing. Furthermore, each had a patchy record when it came to completing homework tasks. Nevertheless, I decided not to interfere and gave them a chance to show me what they could do collectively.

While the other groups were busy brainstorming ideas, this particular trio seemed a bit stuck. There wasn’t much on or off task talk going on and their paper was blank. I went over to see if I could inject some impetus into their planning. I suggested they think of a story or a topic that they all liked and tried to build something from there.

“Build?” said one of the boys with a look of revelation on his face. “Teacher, could we tell our story in Minecraft?”

At this time (about 18 months ago), I wasn’t entirely sure what Minecraft was. I had heard my 5th graders talking about it but had yet to check it out myself. I asked them to explain it to me a little and off they went, giving me a barrage of information about blocks, building shelters, defence against creepers, survival mode, creative mode and more and more….

“Go for it,” I said and suddenly they were discussing, brainstorming ideas and planning their story with just as much, if not more, enthusiasm than the other groups. A week passed and the day for our story presentations came, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Minecraft group – had that momentum from the lesson carried over into a finished article? Had they been able to realise their idea? If so, in what format would it be presented?

The other groups came and went, reading out stories they had written, performing original sketches, telling their stories through images and video and finally we came to the group I had been most curious about. They went to the class computer a loaded a Powerpoint file. What followed was a story much longer and more detailed than any of the others. It was clear that the three students had enjoyed writing it and were enjoying presenting it. What was also noticeable was that the whole class, who had been getting a bit restless when it was not their turn to showcase their efforts, was hanging on every word!

You can see the story here (nothing changed by me except for the names and used with permission from the authors):

And it didn’t stop there. I decided to let it run further. First, it was showcased on the class blog along with an audio recording (as were the other groups’ efforts). Seeing how it received a huge number of hits compared to the other stories, I used it again in class a few days later as a reading text. Once we had finished reading, the students made their own questions and quizzed the rest of the class about it. Other groups also wanted to act it out so we adapted it to be a drama activity. Finally, I had several students in the class volunteering (that’s right – with no suggestions from me and no grades or rewards on offer) to write their own Minecraft adventures.

And that was that. From thereon in, Minecraft featured in at least 2 or 3 groups’ work each time we did a project. News spread to my other classes and they started to follow suit. Soon, I was seeing underground homes, treehouses, retelling of story chapters, and wildlife presentations about in-game animals. And it wasn’t just their language skills on show but also their technical ones as they collaborated online to create their projects, took screenshots of what they made, screencasted and edited videos with voice recordings…

Needless to say, I was impressed by this sudden impact on my students’ work but I’ll leave more details of their other projects for future posts.

Image taken from original student work, used with permission.

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