Thursday, August 22, 2013

Using Fanfiction to Engage Students (guest post by : Nikolas Baron)

I love to see students express their imagination through their words. I think that often, children of all ages have something they want to say but struggle with how to say it. Often, they have no idea how to begin, and as their educators, we're at as much of a loss as they are. It's easy to tell them to just sit down and write a story, but if they aren't natural writers, or even worse, they aren't natural readers, this is much easier said than done. In my work with Grammarly, I study how people write and the tools they use to become better writers, and I think encouraging students to write “fanfiction” can be a great way to spark a desire to write more and, possibly, read a bit more as well.
Simply put, “fanfiction” is an original story based on another work, usually a TV show or movie, though there are plenty of examples of fanfiction that are based on books and video games. Fanfiction has a long history in pop culture, dating back centuries, but it didn't quite take off until the 1960s, when many science-fiction magazines started publishing original stories by subscribers. Since then, the Internet has given fanfiction writers a limitless venue through which they can display their works.
The idea behind fanfiction is that you love these works so much, when they're over, you want the adventure to continue, and in order for that to happen, you're going to be the one to write it. You are literally writing an original story based within the universe of a work that you've read and enjoyed.
So, how does this concept translate into helping students learn to enjoy writing? Well, who wouldn't want to go to Hogwarts with Harry Potter? Or fight the empire alongside Luke Skywalker? With fanfiction, you can do this, and it can be fun. We gravitate toward these stories because we often identify with the characters and situations within them, and our students are no different. Encouraging them to write their own stories set within universes they love will hopefully build a desire within them to figure out why they love those stories and use those elements to tell their own stories. You can also encourage them to put themselves into the stories and see what happens. What happens when your student becomes an ensign in Starfleet or comes into the possession of the One Ring? Or both at the same time? Fanfiction is limitless, and because of this, students can be free to express themselves however they want.
Of course, it's important that you spend time reading over their work with them, so that you can help foster their writing abilities. You can support them, while guiding them to becoming better writers. And, hopefully, when they see how they can express themselves through their words, and how they have an audience that cares about what they have to say, they'll have that desire to become better writers.
When they finally find that desire, it will hopefully lead to further polishing their work. In doing so, they might want to fine-tune their grammar. After all, it's frustrating to have a great story hurt by technical mistakes. At Grammarly, we have one of the best grammar checks on the Internet. It will scan their text for over 250 grammar errors and help them learn how to fix them. When they're telling great stories, coupled with excellent grammar, their writing will be unstoppable.

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