Topic String Stories

This exercise was contributed by Chris Forster.

Topic Strings
Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 10-15 minutes

I've found this activity to be a simple and effective way to (re)engage students, usually on the day when 'topic strings' have been introduced.

After having introduced focused, chained and mixed topic strings, and identified them in some examples, I state first that we are going to write a story with a focused topic string. Picking a student at random I ask him/her for a first sentence in a story. The next student must continue the story, preserving the same TOPIC, to create a FOCUSED TOPIC STRING. As we go I write each sentence on the board. This proves relatively straightforward.

After five or six sentences, I then repeat the process for a CHAINED topic string (I sometimes preserve the first sentence of the original story, or start completely from scratch). This often produces some odd results. But by writing the sentences on the board the students have an opportunity to see where they may have backed themselves into a corner.

Finally, if there is time, I allow the students to create their own story using a MIXED topic string. The student first tells me what the relation between their sentence and the preceding one is going to be (FOCUSED or CHAINED), and then gives the sentence. The activity is simple enough that circulating around the room and making every student contribute a sentence is a low-anxiety experience.

This activity also manages to re-engage students who, by the end of a class introducing TOPIC STRINGS, may be drifting off a bit.