Putting Story Structure to Work
Now, all this about movies has been a diverting interlude (at least I hope it has), but what does it have to do with the classroom? My intention here is not to suggest that you simply tell stories, although there's nothing wrong with doing so. Rather, I'm suggesting something one step removed from that. Structure your lessons the way stories are structured, using the four Cs: causality, conflict, complications, and character. This doesn't mean you must do most of the talking. Small group work or projects or any other method may be used. The story structure applies to the way you organize the material that you encourage your students to think about, not to the methods you use to teach the material.
In some cases, the way to structure a lesson plan as a story is rather obvious. For example, history can be viewed as a set of stories. Events are caused by other events; there is often conflict involved; and so on. Still, thinking carefully about the four Cs as you consider a lesson plan can be helpful. It might encourage you to think about a different perspective from which to tell the story. For example, suppose you are planning a lesson on Pearl Harbor. You might first think of the organization shown in Figure 10. It's chronological and it makes the United States the main character—that is, events are taken from the U.S. point of view. Your goal is to get students to think about three points: U.S. isolationism before Pearl Harbor, the attack, and the subsequent "Germany first" decision and the putting of the United States on a war footing.
Suppose, however, you thought of the four Cs when you were telling this story. From that perspective, the United States is not the strong character. Japan is, because she had the goal that propelled events forward—regional domination—and she had significant obstacles to this goal—she lacked natural resources and she was embroiled in a protracted war with China. This situation set up a subgoal: to sweep up the European colonies in the South Pacific. Meeting that goal would raise Japan's standing as a world power and help her obtain crucial raw materials for finishing the war with China. But that subgoal brought with it another complication. The United States was the other major naval power in the Pacific. How was Japan to deal with that problem? Rather than plundering the European colonies and daring the United States to intervene across five thousand miles of ocean (which the United States probably would not have done), Japan chose to try to eliminate the threat in one surprise attack. If one seeks to organize a lesson plan as a story, the one in Figure 10 is less compelling than the one in Figure 11.
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