This Saturday, I will be presenting a session on Digital Storytelling with Interactive Fiction at the NAGC Conference. I’ve written about Interactive Fiction before so I won’t go into an explanation of what it is here. IF has a great deal of potential, however, for aligning with and helping students meet the Common Core standards. Considering just the anchor standards here, since these are where all of the more specific grade level standards are pointing, IF directly or indirectly supports instruction designed to meet all of them. Let’s consider just a few of the important ways IF can be a powerful teaching tool.

Reading

Key Ideas and details

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Common Core emphasizes close reading and analysis of text. Students are expected to build their understanding of something they read from the text itself. While personal connections are still important, the meaning the author is attempting to convey is more so.

IF requires the reader (player) to read much more closely than when reading for enjoyment. Crucial details are included in the descriptions of locations and objects, and to miss those details, including subtle implications in wording, means the reader may not be able to progress in the story or solve an important puzzle.

As one moves through a story, the choices and actions made by the player create consequences. These inevitably affect the progress of the plot and the actions of the other characters, providing a rich, natural way for students to learn how all of the story elements interact.

Craft and Structure

Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

As students get better at navigating an IF story, they can begin to analyze and interpret more deeply, and they can understand better how and why authors put things together as they do. In IF, the structure of the narrative and the connotations of even a single word help to drive the story and assist the reader in becoming immersed rather than simply proceeding randomly.

Good IF authors are also masters of tone and atmosphere. Students can learn a great deal about how text creates mood by studying and reflecting on their experience with stories.

Range of reading and Level of text Complexity

Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently

Another big shift in the Common Core is towards complex text: students need to learn strategies for accessing sophisticated readings, regardless of the “reading level.” IF provides many opportunities for students to do this, especially when they work in pairs or groups to play a game. They can see and hear the thinking strategies of others, and get immediate feedback about how well they did based on how the game responds to their choices.

Writing

Text Types and Purposes

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

A teacher of writing who is looking for an ideal laboratory for working on technique need look no further than interactive fiction. A writer must find ways in a short paragraph description of a setting or event to convey mood, flesh out character, and move plot forward. Authors of IF also need to consider multiple ways that a scene can play out due to the unpredictable nature of the reader’s choices. While there are ways to make the story move in a more linear fashion (what critics sometimes call a story “on rails”), by experimenting with different paths and different sequences, a writer can find out how those changes affect the impact on the reader.

Production and Distribution of Writing

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

When I was teaching writing to my elementary students, the most difficult part of the process to teach was peer review and feedback. Students who are not yet confident in their own writing and the complex set of skills involved will have difficulty in performing the higher-level task of evaluation. Even those who can tell a story is or is not working well will often have trouble expressing why this is so or what can be done to fix it.

IF to the rescue! Students no longer will get feedback from peers like, “I liked it,” or “It’s boring.” Instead, by observing how their peers actually interact with the story, the choices they make and the actions they take, they get instant feedback about how the reader is understanding the text. When an author sees someone make a poor choice over and over, for example, it might indicate that the meaning of the text was unclear or misleading. By conducting a debrief, the author can then ask why the player acted as they did, and gets much deeper insight into their story.

Range of Writing

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

IF is ideally suited to extended periods of routine writing since it is impossible to write any complete work in a single sitting. In fact, it is helpful to remember the words of Peter Kilworth, an early pioneer in the field of interactive fiction, and author of How to Write Adventure Games: “No matter how small an Adventure you write, it will take far, far more time and effort than you thought it would.”

While students may sometimes abruptly end a story simply because they have run out of either ideas of steam, writers of IF tend to maintain momentum longer, because there are multiple ways to attack a work. When one avenue runs dry, there is usually some other unfinished aspect to take on, bringing freshness and energy to the process.

For more resources and information about using IF in literacy instruction, check out my Learnist board on the subject.

Have you used interactive fiction as a teaching tool? Share your experiences in the comments. If not, what intrigues you about the possibilities?