Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 20-30 minutes
For many instructors, this is the first introduction to the notion
of problem statements.
1. Explain to class that all papers are essentially stories, and
all readers on some level want to be told a story. So, even though
it seems a little weird, we're going to spend some time talking
about classic story-telling patterns. Eventually we'll connect
the stories with academic arguments.
2. Ask everyone to write down the plot summary of a fairy tale
in four or five sentences. This means they should think of the
most important events, and write them down. Everyone should choose
a fairy tale that they think other people will be familiar with;
make a few suggestions if people are stumped. Give students 5 minutes
3. Go around the room and ask people to tell you which fairy tale
4. Choose someone who picked a fairy tale you feel will work well
and that you are familiar with (scroll down for a little fairy
5. Ask the student to read his/her version aloud. Edit the fairy
tale to fit the four basic parts (again, see below); you may have
to ask leading questions to get at all of the parts. Begin by calling
the parts "Once upon a time" "Suddenly, the Big
Bad Wolf" "So What?" and "Enter Prince Charming
[or the Fairy Godmother]"
6. Choose another fairy tale and fit it in.
7. Choose a third and ask students to figure out the four parts
in pairs. (And/or ask them to come up with the four parts from
the point of view of another character: e.g. the Three Bears, the
Big Bad Wolf, the Magic Fish.)
8. Translate the fairy tale language into problem statement language: "We're
going to call 'Once upon a time' the status quo; 'Suddenly, the
Big Bad Wolf,' the destabilizing moment; 'So what?' the consequences;
and 'Enter Prince Charming' the resolution. We'll talk next time
about what these look like in academic introductions.
9. Have students pick the parts out of a model/generate the parts
within stories before moving on to academic arguments.
Fairy Tale Review
Status Quo: Cinderella's mother and father were alive, and they
had a happy life.
Destabilizing Moment: Cinderella's parents died, and she was left
to live with her mean step-mother and step-sisters.
Consequences: She cannot go to the ball, and thus cannot escape
the grasp of the mean step-sisters.
Resolution: Her fairy godmother shows up, turns a pumpkin into
a carriage, gives her a great dress, etc., so that she can meet
Status Quo: The King and Queen have a beautiful baby girl, and
they ask the fairies to come and bless it.
Destabilizing Moment: The one fairy they neglected to invite crashes
the party and puts a curse on Sleeping Beauty so that she will
prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep when she grows up.
Consequences: Sleeping Beauty does prick her finger and falls asleep
(and so does everyone else in the kingdom). She can only be wakened
by the kiss of a man with a pure heart.
Resolution: The princes shows up, smooches her, and wakes everyone
Three Little Pigs
Status Quo: There are three happy pig brothers who leave their
mother's house to live alone.
Destabilizing Moment: Their mother tells them that they need to
build houses that will protect them from the Big Bad Wolf.
Consequences: The Big Bad Wolf could eat them.
Resolution: One of the pigs is smart enough to build a brick house,
which his brothers take refuge in.
Hansel and Gretel
Status Quo: Hansel and Gretel live happily with their parents on
the edge of the forest.
Destabilizing Moment: Their parents grow too poor to look after
and feed them, so they lead the children out into the woods.
Consequences: The children can't find their way home and end up
instead in the candy house of the witch who wants to fatten them
up and eat them.
Resolution: Gretel pretends Hansel won't be able to fit into the
stove; the witch sticks her head in and Gretel gives her a push.
Little Red Riding Hood
Status Quo: Little Red Riding Hood is a happy girl with a fabulous
Destabilizing Moment: Her grandmother gets sick, and Little Red
Riding Hood is sent out to bring her cookies.
Consequences: She runs into the Big Bad Wolf, who eats her grandmother
and then LRRH herself.
Resolution: A huntsman passes by, hears the wolf snoring, and grows
suspicious. He kills the wolf and liberates LRRH and her grandmother
from the wolf's stomach.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Status Quo: Goldilocks is taking a lovely stroll through the woods.
Destabilizing Moment: She gets hungry and sleepy.
Consequences: If she doesn't eat or sleep she'll get cranky (and
Resolution: She goes into the three bears' house and eats and sleeps
The Fisherman and His Wife
Status Quo: The poor fisherman catches a magic fish, who offers
him wishes in exchange for his life.
Destabilizing Moment: The fisherman's wife keeps wishing for extravagant
things (to live in a castle, to be king/emperor/pope, to control
the sun and moon.
Consequences: The fisherman gets embarrassed; the farmer's wife
gets greedy; the fish gets angry.
Resolution: The fish restores them to their meager hovel.
Rumpelstilskin (aka The Miller's Daughter)
Status Quo: The miller has a daughter and they have happy life.
Destabilizing Moment: The miller brags to the king that his daughter
can spin straw into gold (she can't).
Consequences: The king tells the girl that she must spin a roomful
of straw into gold, or he will kill her.
Resolution: She convinces a little man who appears to spin the
straw into gold, in exchange for a piece of ribbon, a necklace,
a ring, her first-born child.
Status Quo: The king marries the miller's daughter.
Destabilizing Moment: She needs to find the name of the little
Consequences: If she doesn't, he will make good on her promise
and take her first-born child.
Resolution: She sends messengers out across the land; one of them
overhears his name.