FICTION FROM ARTIFACT WRITING WORKSHOP
by Pegi Deitz Shea
In many of your “country profiles” in social studies, you come across artifacts of a culture: textiles such as Hmong pa’ndau, Pakistani handwoven carpets, Chilean arpilleras; figures such as Guatemalan trouble dolls, Russian nesting dolls, Native American Kachinka dolls; daily tools such as engraved Chinese chopsticks; folk art such as Ukranian eggs; and musical instruments such as a Mbundu marimba, etc.
Using artifacts to generate stories can help you get students’ “hands-on” a culture. This following workshop can be conducted within the parameters of one culture, or it can be used to explore a variety of cultures. Depending on the number of artifacts available, students can write their stories individually or participate in small or large group stories. As always, model the process first for them, with the artifact in your hand. (When I conduct this workshop in classes, I provide all artifacts.)
1. Distribute artifacts. Discuss their use or meaning. Encourage students to apply all their senses to “know” the artifact. Students write down details.
2. Ask the students to think of a character from the culture who might use this artifact. Have them describe this character on scrap paper.
3. Ask students to think of a problem this character might face with this artifact. (Loss or breakage, inability to use artifact properly.) This will begin the story. Then have them think of how this problem could be solved by the character. This is the ending of the story.
4. Now they must figure out the plotting of the story--how the character gets from problem to solution. Ask: A) Are there other characters who can help? Remind them to use dialogue. B) Are there tools that can help? Action! C) What prevents character from solving the problem easily? Obstacles lead to suspense!
5. Research to supply details. After the children have their stories, have them research the culture more deeply. Then they can go back to their stories and weave in descriptions of the settings, clothes, houses, food, etc.
6. Revise, and display stories with their artifacts, and enjoy!