Alan's Terrible Day

The Jigsaw Procedure in Narrative Writing
by: Douglas Adams

Age range: high school students. (however, this activity can be easily adjusted to fit middle school or even college-age students)
ability level: intermediate
materials: copy of hand-out Alan Almost Didn't Get to Work This Morning.
Note: This activity combines reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary in a communicative format.
  1. Ask 'Has anyone ever had a bad day?'. Elicit some examples from students.(this is a pre-reading question and brief discussion to introduce students to the reading and develop interest in the topic.)
  2. While you distribute the hand-outs, tell students they're going read about a man who had a terrible day.
  3. Ask different volunteers to read Alan Almost Didn't Get to Work This Morning.(the reading serves as a pre-writing activity.)
  4. Divide the students into groups of 3-5 (ideally 3).
  5. Tell the students that they're going to be writing a story and that every story needs a main character, a star as it were. Elicit a volunteer from among the students to be that star. Then write the following sentence on the board:
    Juan's plane crashed deep in the African jungle early yesterday morning...
  6. Write the following outline on the board:
    Group 1: time of the crash to lunch time
    Group 2: after lunch to dinner time
    Group 3: after dinner to midnight
    Group 4: midnight to the end.
    (if you have a large number of students then you can add additional time frames-for ex, another day)
  7. Ask for a group to volunteer to be group 1. Then 2, 3, etc...
  8. Explain that each group should take their period of time and write about the terrible things that happened to Juan during that time. Explain that no one can kill Juan except the last group(if they choose to do so).
  9. Each group independently writes their part of the story. Walk around and help as needed. After each group has pretty much finished their section the jigsaw element of this activity comes into play.
  10. No single group knows what events the group before them and after them has written for poor Juan. Therefore, each section of the story is not likely to connect very well with adjacent sections. Thus some information exchange is in order. There are two ways to go about the process of exchanging information. The first method is more complex than the second, but is also the most communicative.
    method 1:
    Group 1 sends someone to group 2 to tell them about the final actions of their section. At the same time group 2 sends someone to group 1 to tell them about the beginning actions of their section. Group 2 also sends someone to group 3 to tell them about the final actions of their sections. This cycle continues down through the groups. Logistically, this can be complicated. However, I suggest that the teacher just go from group to group saying ' X go to group one and tell them about the beginning of your story. Y go to group 3 and tell them about the end of your story.'
    11a. If you use method 1, then the various groups have to use their delegates to work together and compromise on a good transition between sections.
    method 2:
    Group 1 sends someone to group 2 to tell them about the final actions of their section. At the same time group 2 sends someone to group 3 to tell them about the final actions of their section, etc... The disadvantage being that there's less opportunity for students to talk and negotiate meaning.
    11b. If you use method 2, then after everyone has exchanged information groups 2, 3, and 4 re-write the beginning of their sections to fit the ending of the preceding group.
  11. After all the revisions have been made each group selects someone to write their section on the board. (If time is short, for 50 min classes, then each group selects someone to read their section aloud. Start with group 1 of course.) If you have students write on the board then you can go back with the class and do some editing, with regards to verb tenses, sentence length, etc... This is a form of peer correction.
In addition to developing narrative writing skills this activity is also a very good way for students to practice using different verb tenses/aspects in a discourse. Furthermore, this activity can serve as a format for students to practice writing longer sentences (T-units); using sequence markers( First, After that, While...); and learn new vocabulary in context while negotiating for meaning.

Alternatives & caveats: I have already pretty much outlined several alternatives for using this activity and as far as caveats are concerned, remember to always adjust any activity you find to fit the needs and abilities of your students.
Sample story from R/W level 31 | Writing Center | Activity center | Teacher Center | Home