I got there early. Very early. I was afraid of rush hour traffic, but of course, it was Saturday and traffic was light. Even though I was early, children streamed ahead of me through the gates of Central Johannesburg College, Alexandra Campus. They were neatly dressed, many in T-shirts that said Rose-Act Saturday School. The program out of Rosebank Union Church in the wealthy suburb of Four Ways rents the college facility for an extra-tuition school for children from the crowded Alexandra township across the road. (For my American readers, “tuition” here means “instruction”, not the money paid for a private school, although these students do pay a modest fee to demonstrate their commitment to be in class.)
I've been here before. This time I am teaching English to grade five and grade six for three Saturdays, talking about writing stories, and hopefully, by the time I leave, writing some! Today we talked about what makes a good story, using Cinderella as a model. The story of the poor abused orphan who grows up to marry the rich and powerful prince seems to strike a chord with boys and girls alike.
Their assignment this week is to plan their own story: Who is your character? What does your character want? What obstacles keep him/her from getting what he/she wants? And what will he/she do to overcome those obstacles? –typical get-started-writing-a-story questions. First we planned a story together on the board.
These children have seldom been asked to do anything other than memorize and recite by rote. Creative thinking is new to most of them. At times I struggled to get any response, but eventually the grade sixes came up with a boy named Bongani, who is twelve-years old and lives in the city—maybe a place much like Alexandra since we are often told to write what we know. He wants a Play Station, but the gran he lives with has a houseful of cousins to take care of and not enough money, so he must find the money himself. He washes cars (might get chased away by bigger boys.) He paints houses, and he saves. His cousins might tempt him to take a short cut and steal the Play Station, but we know that won’t make a happy ending since he might end up in jail—if not now, then later if he keeps stealing. We talked about several ways the story could end.
The grade fives were a little harder to get going. They created Matthew, age 12, who wants to be a soccer star. His story required a lot more input from me. They dutifully copied down the questions I wrote on the board for planning their own stories. We will see what they come up with by next week
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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