Before everything went to hell this week, a fascinating thread from @DSilvermint appeared in my Twitter feed. In the thread, Daniel examines how the behind-the-scene writing processes of “plotters vs. pantsers” has influenced Game of Thrones, especially in recent seasons:
So, as one in the library life does, I started thinking about plotters and pantsers in the context of storytime. Even if you aren’t a Game of Thrones fan, the entire thread is well worth reading!
My big takeaway was that both plotters and pantsers are planners – they just have very different processes.
Pantsers, for example, are better at planting seeds and watching them grow. They often get THE BEST IDEA EVER in the middle of storytime or at the last minute, and they aren’t afraid to run with it. A pantser’s characters and stories feel more authentic, and I think this is true of their storytimes, too – they come off with a very natural feel. In storytime, pantsers think deeply about the materials they might use – they’re just very open about what happens next with them! Because pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, however, “they’re prone to meandering plots and can struggle to bring everything together in a satisfying conclusion.” Storytime pantsers sometimes get lost in the flow, struggling with pacing or losing the thread of their early literacy based storytime. When under a time crunch, pantsers may fumble the final pieces, rushing through or skipping important elements *coughSeason8cough*. Pantsers may also have a hard time organizing a storytime repository – a knowledge base and storehouse of personal experiences to draw from in the future.
Plotters, on the other hand, plan with the whole picture in mind. It’s easier for plotters to “deliver tighter stories and stick the landing when it comes to endings, but their characters can sometimes feel stiff, like they’re just plot devices.” In storytime, plotters might have a hard time adapting in the moment: letting go of a book that’s just not working, adjusting their plan when mostly toddlers show up to a preschool storytime, or managing interruptions effectively. Plotters sometimes force the plan at the cost of audience engagement. And by sharing less ownership with the crowd, plotters can also miss out on interesting opportunities that come from following children’s inquiry.
What am I? Well, here’s what I like to walk into storytime with:Can you tell? I’m a total Plotter!
At first glance it seems like a linear, straightforward list with little room for variation. But there’s a lot going on under the surface. Here’s some things that aren’t readily apparent:
This isn’t a thematic storytime (e.g. all the books aren’t centered around one concept or theme, such as Farm Animals) – so where did I start? These days I’m most likely to draw inspiration from…
- New Books
- Diverse Books
- Broad Concepts (e.g. In the Sky, Round Things)
- Early Literacy Skills
- Recent or Children’s Everyday Experiences
In this case, I was looking at new books and came across The Mouse Who Wasn’t Scared. Eventually Mouse comes across a cat in a cabin in the woods, and this connected beautifully with my recent Mouse House makeover. Voila! A storytime is born!
Speaking of connections… you don’t see many obvious transitions in my plan. Throughout storytime I use a variety of transitions between activities, such as songs, rhymes and conversational connectors. To set the stage for Mouse House, I asked the kiddos if they remembered where Mouse found the cat in the story we just read. Then we talked about other kinds of houses before playing our hide and seek game. During our last round, I hid the Mouse behind the barn to set the stage for our next book.
How I plan read-alouds is heavily influenced by my time as a teacher. I primarily think in a “Before/During/After” approach. How will I set the stage BEFORE a certain book or activity? What background knowledge should I activate? Do I expect the crowd to participate with me in some way – e.g. make animal noises? What questions will encourage connections or facilitate comprehension DURING reading? So on and so forth.
Knowledge of Group Dynamics
I’ve been doing this storytime at this particular branch for almost a year, and I have a good amount of regulars. After MUCH trial and error, this is the structure that seems to work best for our group. I incorporate some key elements in every storytime because of this knowledge. For example, traditional wisdom tells us to read the longest book first… but I usually slot the longest book second (after some sort of movement) because I have so many late arrivals. This gives everyone a chance to trickle in and, if the first book is short, minimizes interruptions.
Built In Flexibility
I mentioned my regulars, but I still meet new families every week and I have no idea which regulars I’m going to see! And it’s such a mixed-aged family storytime- I see babies to older teenage siblings and every age in between.
So I build in room for the unknown – opportunities to read the room and adjust course. I lined up a few different “Farm Book” options ahead of time, picking one in the moment depending on the trending age of my crowd. Likewise, I was ready with a few different “Farm Songs.” Building in these opportunities for divergence ahead of time gives me more practice and also boosts my confidence/ability to respond flexibly to other unplanned for storytime moments… like fire alarms! Creepy crawlies! Puke!
Even though I’m a plotter by nature, I frequently remind myself I have permission to pants-it and run away with something if it feels right, or abandon something that’s just not working. My teaching career taught me some serious organizational skills, AND it also taught me the importance of following children’s lead and honoring their interests. (*cough* As long as the administrator doesn’t catch you not using the right page in the curriculum… *cough*)
Pantsing and plotting are two TOTALLY legitimate storytime styles with both benefits and drawbacks, and I think most people are a little bit of both. Thinking about my storytimes in this way really helped me see what I’m good at and where I’d like to grow more. I’m curious… What’s your storytime style? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What does your planning process look like? I’d love to learn more in the comments below!