Introduction to Golden Thread

(For Teachers)

 

What are the Golden Thread stories?

 

Golden Thread started in the 1990s as a couple pages of notes full of ideas for story writing projects suited to pre-adolescent students in Taiwan.  After a lot of hard work with a half dozen different classes the results are, well . . . mixed.  The point of many of these tales was to get students to write their classmates into humorous or dangerous plot situations--a strategy intended to engage their interest and pique the darker, more satirical side of their pre-teen imaginations. Some of the stories are gruesome.  Nearly all of them are humorous or absurd.  Probably my own perverse imagination is more than a little responsible for the tone of these tales. 

 

Gruesome or not, I'd now like to open up the Golden Thread project to other teachers who may be interested.  Who might be interested?  If you're teaching children in Taiwan and you've a sharp class you think might be good for writing a story--if you're also willing to go through the trouble of correcting and directing their efforts and typing out what they come up with--this page might be a place for you to showcase your students' imaginative outbursts.  I'm interested to know how other teachers and/or writers will push their students toward rudimentary story writing.

 

Some ideas for stories

 

Most of the Golden Thread stories began with a plan: a plot skeleton that students were asked, step by step, to fill in.  Some of the longer ones (the longer vampire tales for example) took over a year to complete.  But there is no limit as to how short a story can be.  As long as there's something to grab onto, the plot idea you offer students may become a good vehicle for their twisted imaginations: for their twisted and eccentric English creation. 

 

I offer a couple of the barest skeletons in what follows.

 

I. The Teacher's Vacation, or: The Students' Return Home

 

The students are asked to imagine what really happened on some vacation the teacher took.  The structure includes the flight overseas, the welcome in the foreign or home country, some difficult situation the teacher got into and why.  How did the teacher get out of their dilemma?

     A variation of this tale is choosing a student in the class to be the traveler.  One can give students the beginning and the end of the story, and have them fill in the middle.  Ex.: Johnny and his friend Chris joined a tour group and went on a two-week trip to Spain.  They each brought $70,000 spending money.  Nine days after they left, however, they ended up broke and in a Spanish jail, and the Spanish police finally sent them back to Taiwan on a special plane and said they'd never be allowed in Spain again.  They arrive back in Taiwan broke, with strange tattoos on their bodies.  What happened?  In this set-up the students must explain by writing brief chapters that advance the plot between point A (leaving for Spain) and point Z (coming back to Taiwan tattooed and broke).

     If you don't want to victimize your students in this way you can make yourself the traveler that comes back broke and tattooed.

 

 

II. Godzilla and Genius Mike

 

The first half of the Genius Mike tale is already written. The teacher takes the first few chapters and teaches them to students as a reading assignment over a handful of class periods.  Then the students suddenly find out they must finish the tale.  See:

 

 

III.  The Basic Vampire Tale

 

This is probably the most ambitious of these projects.  In the vampire tale, there are usually two teen vampires who come to Taiwan to find some fresh blood.  They've had enough drinking the blood of Europe and want to try something new.  The teacher introduces a first chapter on the vampires' background and on their arrival in Taiwan.  This could be a short as a half page or it could extend over a dozen pages.

     After having some difficulty here as foreigners and as vampires, the pair will end up deciding that cram schools are the place where the freshest blood is found.  If the students haven't gotten involved in the writing yet, they get involved here, just at this point of crisis for the vampires.  The teacher gives a writing assignment: write the next chapter.

     The students must write the new chapter and they are told that the chapter may develop the plot in various directions.  The teacher gives them a list of questions to prod them on, perhaps including some of the following: Why is it hard for the vampires to live in Taiwan?  What difficulties do they face as foreigners?  As vampires?  Do they get in any close scrapes, any trouble?  What is the conversation between them that leads them to decide to try enrolling as students in a cram school?  Have they tried to get jobs here?  Etc., etc.

     Whether all of this ultimately is developed over one or a few chapters is up to the teacher.  The pace is determined both by the teacher and the students' English ability.  But each time students hand in the homework the teacher must correct it and edit the best of it together to make up the next chapter.  This next chapter then becomes the reading material for the following class, and then once again the students must advance the plot to the next stage in their homework. 

     Your vampire tale is thus written as a kind of collective effort, good lines or dilemmas taken from different students, who then get to see their work typed into the final draft of the chapter.  It gives a great feeling of accomplishment.

     Of course the cram school the vampires finally choose will be the cram school where you teach.  The vampires will become classmates in the class, after which each of the students must try to write a strong narrative about how one of their classmates became a victim of the vampires.

     One by one, week by week, the students fall prey to the vampires, those who can write the stronger stories lasting the longest simply because their story about a classmate ends up in the tale.  Finally, however, the vampires should be defeated.

     The best example of this kind of tale is one of the first that I did.  It is called Vlad in Taipei.  In reading it one can see how the teachers' writing (usually the opening of a chapter) and the students' writing relate to each other, each side helping out the other to move the narrative forward.

 

 

IV. Visit to Another Planet

 

Students explain their experiences as part of a mission to some planet.  They must describe the creatures or cultures they found there.  Results of this project could be incredibly tedious or fascinating here and there.  I've only tried it twice, and nothing came out good enough to publish on the page.

 

 

V. Real Ghost Stories from Taiwan

 

Students have to write in English some real ghost story they know.  The students should be pushed to go through drafts to make the story better: more suspenseful, more compelling.

 

 

These are just a few of what are certainly endless possibilities.  If you think you have something interesting for the page, just send me the story via email as an attached text doc.  If it's not a complete disaster, I'll place it on the Golden Thread page as you want it to appear, with your name as teacher, your school, etc.: whatever you want.  I give you no guarantees that your story will be placed.  I do promise, however, that I will not change it in any way.  I will simply paste it up as you sent it.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Eric Mader-Lin

 

 

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