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Story Exchange, a Great Way to Get Bilingual Kids Writing

November 2, 2016

I recently tried a new activity that worked so well, I want to share the full details with you. In fact, below you’ll even find scans of the actual stories produced by my kids and their grandmother. I hit upon this idea while reflecting on the serial stories I’ve written, as a form of captive reading, that feature my children in starring roles in order to strengthen their engagement in the minority language (for us, that’s English).

Let’s call this new activity “Story Exchange” and the basic idea involves having the child write a story in the target language that features a partner—like a grandparent—as the main character. The partner, in turn, writes a story that puts the child in a starring role.

The idea is quite simple, but it’s very effective, and in a variety of ways…

  • It provides a creative change of pace from writing letters.
  • The idea of writing a story about a family member or friend is inherently engaging.
  • When creating their stories, children practice and stretch their writing ability in the minority language.
  • After receiving the stories written for them, children feel genuinely motivated to read the text. (Who doesn’t want to read a story that stars you?)
  • Children can also exercise their drawing ability by adding an illustration to accompany the story.
  • The stories themselves become special keepsakes that could last a lifetime.

Things to keep in mind

To enjoy a successful story exchange, there are several things worth keeping in mind…

  1. Each story should star the other person and include some of the key interests or traits of that person. You’ll see, for instance, in the tales below that when my kids wrote their stories about their grandmother (my mother, who lives in the U.S.), they incorporated elements like her cat, Daphne; her love of the piano; and her fondness for sandwiches. By the same token, the stories my mother wrote reflect the children in their unique ways.
  2. Be careful that the stories are purely lighthearted and loving and don’t inadvertently cause the reader some discomfort.
  3. Depending on the age of the child, the parents can offer more or less support for writing (and reading) the stories. In our case (my kids are currently 12 and 9), I handled the stories much like their letters: I had them make a rough draft on their own; I then went over that draft with them, helping with the content and mechanics; and after that they created the final draft.
  4. The partner for this exchange should be warm toward the idea and willing to put in a bit of creative effort. My kids and I were delighted with my mother’s stories, which even included a couple of small drawings that they found funny.
  5. The exchange can begin in either direction, with the child first creating and sending a story, or the partner producing and sharing the initial tale. In our case, Lulu and Roy wrote their stories first, but I suspect the reverse—starting with the partner—might help provide useful motivation for the child’s response.

The stories from our exchange

Here, then, are the fruits of the recent story exchange between my kids and their grandmother. We all hope you enjoy them, and hope you’ll try a story exchange of your own at some point. I bet you’ll be glad you did!

Note: To maintain a degree of privacy for my children, I’ve replaced their real names in the stories with the pseudonyms I use publicly: Lulu and Roy.

Lulu’s story to Grandma

Lulu's story to Grandma

Grandma’s story to Lulu

Grandma's story to Lulu

Roy’s story to Grandma

Roy's story to Grandma

Grandma’s story to Roy

Grandma's story to Roy

How about you? What do you think of the “Story Exchange” idea and these stories?

Find more ideas and inspiration for writing activities by browsing all the posts on writing.

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