Make Writing with LEGO Instead of Writing Old School

If you really stop to think about writing and the process it sure looks an awful like the process we use in Makerspaces.

You have an idea, you draft, you revise, you tweak, you try new things, and keep working through the process until you end up with a finished product that you feel good about.

Last week I worked with an 8th grade language arts teacher to revamp the writing process. Students in this class have been hard at work on a new writing project. At the point of this activity students already had a main character in mind and minor characters. Their goal with this writing project is to pick a well known character and turn the personality so it’s different than what everyone thinks. As a baseline students have been reading Dorothy Must Die and looking at how she is portrayed so differently than in the original Wizard of Oz.

Before the students entered my room for the writing challenge they had already discussed characterization and they had a basic plot outline in mind for their story. The goal of my activity was to help them visualize and really see the story come to life.
For days I struggled. I had all sorts of ideas for brainstorming writing ideas, but these students were coming mildly prepared. I had to go a different route. I also knew that just a wide open free build would lead to disaster with 8th graders. Students need parameters and goals in order to build something of value. However, I did not want it to feel like school.
In the end I came up with an activity I simply called Make Writing that is based on book I recently read called Make Writing by Angela Stockman(yes, very clever title to my lesson :))
Here is what I used:
LEGO Build To Express four question framework
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Keep in mind you can do all of this without these specific materials. Base plates are nice to keep things within a specified space. LEGO pieces can be pulled from anywhere so you don’t need StoryStarter. You can create your sets easily and for cheap. Ask for donations or pick up bins of LEGO from online or garage sales.
Time: 40 minutes
# of Students: 12-15 at a time as we split kids during the block.
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Step 1: Students entered the room and I had them sit at a table. The max number of students were 5. At each table there were baseplates for each student and one StoryStarter kit for all the kids to use and share collectively at their table.
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Step 2: I opened up the lesson by telling the students that we were going to create their stories by NOT writing. We were going to MAKE their writing. I challenged them to draw out their inner child of when they were 4-5 years old when we built things without consequence, without worrying about judgment, and just built for ourselves.
Step 3: Here is what I shared for structure
1. Don’t think like you do in school. Think like a kid who is playing.
2. Your builds only have to make sense to you.
3. There are any right or wrong answers. Build for you.
4. Don’t worry if you don’t finish in the timeframe as all the builds build upon one another.
5. Less talk from the bald ugly guy so lets build!
Step 4: Build #1: Foundation and Warm Up Build
Students were asked to build models of their main character and any other key characters to their story they have crafted in their mind. They were given 4 minutes to open the kit, examine the pieces, and start building.
After the build they had 2 minutes to go around the table and explain their builds.
Step 5: Build #2: Abstract Thought
Students were now asked to think about the characters they just built. What are their character traits/personality traits? They were asked to build models of these traits. Students were given five minutes as this was tough for them. How do you bring simple words like evil, funny, sweet, etc. into tangible builds? During this build pieces start to slowly become limited so students now have to learn how to work together, share pieces, and rethink how they want to build. I observed so many moments of students sharing and helping one another. This was not a goal of the activity, but was an inspirational byproduct.
After the build they had 2 minutes to go around the table and explain their builds.
Step 6: Build #3: Story Development
Students were given another five minutes to build the obstacles and challenges their main character would be facing in the story. Not only did they have to build the obstacles, but they also had to build a model showcasing how their main character would undergo change due to the obstacles. All great stories have main characters that change in the story.
After the build they had 2 minutes to go around the table and explain their builds
Step 7: Build #4: Story Bits
This final build was more of a conclusion build. Students were given four minutes to build more of their story to complete the whole story on their baseplate. They could work through a part of their story they were struggling to conceive or just clean up any final builds.
After the build they had 2 minutes to go around the table and explain their builds
Conclusion
1. I had zero behavior or off tasks behaviors. Each student was fully engaged and participated the entire time. I did not even have a student ask to go the restroom.
2. I had students asking and begging to make this a class and to do this more.
3. I witnessed students embarassed by their builds and they had to work through embracing their creative sides.
4. I observed builds that did not look like much, but when the students explained their builds I was blown away.
Take this for an example. The build of a black section with the one red piece does not look like much, but it represents a character from Beauty and the Beast remixed where the black represents the evil the character shows on the outside, but the red showcases that the character has a soft part inside beneath the layers. This red will eventually take over all black through the storyline.
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5. There were students who I know hate writing and would not embrace rough drafts, but through this activity their stories came alive.
6. By asking them to build and to physically build models of their stories they become so engrained in their story. When you have to think about pieces and how you want to showcase your story you fully understand the content.
7. I was given hope that my message of bringing the makerspace mindset and culture into all classrooms is not only needed, but can actually be done.
This was a wonderful day of learning. I was so inspired by these students and it gives me great hope for the future.
Coming soon will be a video of a class that I recorded.
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2 thoughts on “Make Writing with LEGO Instead of Writing Old School

  1. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and incredible work here! I’ve never had kids prototype conflict before. What a fantastic idea. I’m compelled by the intuitive way they repurposed pieces too–the idea of centering a red tile inside of black to indicate a character’s dimension is so cool. This makes interviews and exhibition a critical part of the work, no? I find the same in my own sessions with kids…..