Volume II - 1994

Story Tails
by John Dumicich and Christine B. Root

      John Dumicich is an adjunct associate professor of ESL at the American Language Institute and also teaches at Hunter College, City University of New York. He has done extensive teacher training in language acquisition for the United States Information Agency in Eastern Europe and Pakistan.

      Christine B. Root is a teaching fellow in ESL at Harvard University. She is the co-author with Karen Blanchard of Ready to Write (Longman), with Tsukasa Matsui of Campus Life USA (Kinseido), and with William Grohe of Speaking Globally: English in an International Context (Allyn and Bacon).

      For many students, revision is one of the most difficult aspects of the writing process. Whether it is because of laziness, frustration, or a sense of already having written, it has been our experience that students fight the idea of revising their written drafts.

      In the steps of the writing process, brainstorming can be fun and lively; writing the first draft takes work, but students seem to understand that producing a written product is a vehicle for experimentation with their new language. Beyond this point, however, the writing process often seems to break down. To encourage students to consider and reconsider their written drafts, we have found that the following activity, which we call "Story Tails," instills in students an awareness that a piece of writing can and should be viewed and reviewed for both content and mechanics.

      Story Tails call on students to (1) "associate" their ideas to the picture, i.e. write about themselves using ideas merely suggested by very simple drawings, and (2) "connect" what they wrote about one picture to what they write about another picture, i.e. use the continuation of the drawings to rethink, expand, revise and rewrite their pieces many times over. The activity capitalizes on the considerable value that research shows can be derived from playing on interconnections between images and words.

      The idea for Story Tails was inspired by Crockett Johnson's charming children's book, Harold and the Purple Cravon. It tells the story of a small boy named Harold who, holding firmly onto a purple crayon, makes a very simple line drawing of whatever it is he wants or needs as he moves through the pages of the book. Finding himself in water over his head, for example, Harold draws himself a boat and climbs aboard it. When lost, he draws a policeman to point him on his way. Having just launched "Drawing on Experience" (JILL, 1993) in which students are called upon to write from their own drawings, we were captivated by Harold and the possibilities that his techniques for changing his environment inspire complementary to drawing and writing activities.

      Having let the visuals and story lines of Harold percolate for awhile, we hit upon the idea of Story Tails as a way to engage ESL students. Using prompts from which they can write and rewrite their own stories, students are given the opportunity to practice verb tense dexterity as well as work on their revision skills.

      We have found the following Story Tail to work very well. Instruct students as follows:

A. You are going to write a story about yourself using the drawings below to give you ideas. (Each drawing is at the top of the page on the left side of a ring binder. Under it are blank lines. On the page at the right in the binder, there are also blank lines under a one-word heading: "PREDICTION". ) The arrangement is as follows:

B. Look at the first drawing. Use the space below it to write about where you are and what you are doing. Base your writing on the thoughts that the drawing triggers in your mind.

C. Using the space on the opposing page, use your imagination to predict what you will do or what will happen in the next drawing.

D. Turn the page and look at the next drawing. Revise your story, if you need to, based on this additional visual. You can keep or change any parts of your story that you want.

E. Continue the same procedure throughout the Story Tail. Use the pages on the right for your predictions, and the pictures and spaces on the left to revise your story.

F. Review your previous stories. Then revise and make the final changes .

G. Write your complete story on the last page. Don't forget to include a conclusion.

H. Think of a good title for your story. Write it at the top of your story .


Coreil, Clyde. (1993). "Drawing on Experience: The Interview with John Dumicich." The Journal of the Imagination in Language Learning. Jersey City, New Jersey.

DeCecco, John P. (1967). The Psychology of Language Thought, and Instruction. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Gawain, Shakti. (1978). Creative Visualization. San Rafael, California: New World Library.

Goldberg, Natalie. (1990). Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life. New York: Bantam Books.

Johnson, Crockett. (1955). Harold and the Purple Crayon. New York: Harper and Row.

Rico, Gabriele Lusser. (1983). Writing the Natural Way. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, Inc.

Root, Christine. (1993). "Drawing on Experience: The Article." The Journal of the Imagination in Language Learning. Jersey City, New Jersey .

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. (1956). Language Thought and Reality. Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press.

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