Search Stories Give Reading Assignments a Fresh Twist

Today, I presented to a group of education students at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. I was asked to talk about using social networking to increase reading comprehension, which is something I touched on in Harness the Power of Social Networking.

One of the workshop instructors, Jen, is a close friend of mine and, after my presentation, I stayed to hear hers. Her idea was so great, I simply had to share it.

Jen is a former middle school English Language Arts teacher, and she participated in The Writing Project several years back. As part of that program, she got a hold of Ordeal by Cheque, a story published in Vanity Fair in 1932. Although this story had a beginning, middle, and end, like any story, it was written in a more unique way. It was written entirely in checks. Jen’s students would read all the checks — who they were made out to, the amount, the memo line, who signed them — and use their inference skills to figure out what happened. One hundred dollars to Tony Spagoni. That could be a car repair, a fancy dinner, or perhaps a payoff to the mafia. After reading Ordeal by Cheque, students would write their own, more traditional stories using the checks as a prompt.

After sharing the check lesson, Jen showed this Google commercial, which you may remember from last year’s Superbowl. If you haven’t seen it, take a look:

Rather than telling a story by check, this commercial tells an entire story via Google searches. What an interesting way to have students tell or read stories!

As a teacher, you could create a similar search story about something you’re studying in class or just one that you make up. Then, students could watch it and write out a longer version of what happened, using inference skills. Better still, students could author their own search stories, to communicate creative writing pieces or their own autobiographies. Perhaps they could create a search story as an article or book synopsis, like this 2-minute video about the entire Harry Potter series:

Or maybe they could make a search story to explain the steps of a math problem or a historic event. There are a ton of possibilities.

UPDATE: The tool originally referenced in this post, Google Search Stories, is no longer supported. But search stories are still possible! To create such stories, you and your students can use FREE screencasting tools, such as Screencast-o-Matic or Jing, to record your screen while you search and play music in the background.

It’s something students could use repeatedly throughout the year without much technical expertise. Search on!

Lesson Integration Ideas

Elementary Classrooms

Grade: K-3
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to read and identify sight words. The student will be able to write a sequenced story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

Create a series of search stories that display sight words (or spelling words) and associated images. Students can watch the videos as a class or individually, if you want to stress different words for different students. Some words might be difficult to associate with photos, but nouns like house, bike, and school could work. Done well, students could even create a story based on the order the words are displayed. For example, “The boy was at his house. Then he rode his bike to school. He found a cat and brought it home.”

Middle School Classrooms

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to use reading comprehension strategies, including inference, to understand a text passage.

Create a search story for students (or use one of those already published on YouTube), and have them write a story that fills in the blanks. If you want to extend the lesson, have students make their own search stories, based on previous creative writing assignments. Then, other students can write their own stories, using their peers’ videos as prompts. Students will have fun comparing the original stories with those written based on the videos.

High School Classrooms

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Any subject
Objective: The student will be able to comprehend various texts and synthesize his/her knowledge in order to communicate the main idea and supporting details to others.

Instead of asking students to write brief summaries of reading assignments — whether they be textbook chapters, articles, or poems — have them create a search story. Students can share their stories with one another, small groups, or the entire class. Then, they can assess whether other students’ stories do a good job of listing the main idea and supporting details of the text.

Katy Scott

I spent 5 years teaching in low-income districts in Phoenix, where most of my students were English-language learners. There, I taught 3rd- and 4th-grade self-contained classes, as well as 7th-grade resource. I spent a year teaching 5th- and 6th-grade science in an inner-city KIPP school in New Orleans. I did double-duty as a technology integration specialist for the last four years of my teaching career. I am now the Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where I work to help PreK-12 teachers and students utilize technology to better understand science. I'm a maker, a snorkeler, and a certified Google Education Trainer.

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4 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this post on search stories! I love it so much that I’m blogging about on my own website and adding a link to your blog. This tool is addictive. I can’t wait to try it out with my students!

    • Katy Scott says:

      Thanks for the mention, Jessica! I’m glad the blog was of some use — and, yeah, Search Stories is quite the time suck. But it’s an AWESOME one. 🙂

  2. Katy,

    Just wanted to mention that I took my students to the computer lab recently and they made their own search stories. Once they saw a few examples, they were thrilled about making their own! While it was challenging for some of them to create a story in only 7 search terms, they really enjoyed the activity, and I could see the wheels turning as they thought through the process of choosing the most important details to tell their stories. The only potential problem that I saw was students not having YouTube accounts, so I set up an account explicitly for their search stories and gave everyone the username and password. Once the activity was finished, I changed the password to avoid tampering. Such a fun and creative experience!

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