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Opinion

If computers can write, why not students?

Computer software can now generate interesting short news stories – if only America's students were so skilled. What the country needs is a new way to teach writing. Forget the academic and unnatural "five-paragraph essay." Go for the rhythm of storytelling.

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If we start there with students, we can help them see the threads that exist between speech and text. Students can learn a lot, for example, by being asked to tell a family story aloud and then to write it down.

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We can also teach students the elements of storytelling. Most stories have a hero who must overcome obstacles on the way to solving a problem. Teaching the elements of story and plot also connects reading to writing. At school, we read stories but we write FIVE-PARAGRAPH ESSAYS.

If we teach students to write stories, we’ll also be teaching them the communications skills businesses actually look for. The business world, where I spend much of my time, has lately discovered the power of storytelling. Google “storytelling and business” and you’ll get over 30 million hits. There are seminars, how-to business books, conferences, speaker forums, storytellers for hire, story coaches for CEOs.

Companies are spending lots of money to send highly paid professionals to workshops where they learn how to turn a 120-slide power point into a story-like presentation. They are taught to use anecdotes, dialogue, dramatic pauses, story arcs, foreshadowing – all the tools that are natural to humans, but which have been ground out of us by our schooling.

Daniel Pink, in his bestselling book, “A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age,” makes the case that American society’s obsession with left-brained rational thinking is finally giving way to a more balanced approach, one where we start to value and reward right-brain thinkers – the artists, the designers, the entertainers – the people who know how to tell stories. According to Mr. Pink, the future belongs to the storytellers.

So let’s give kids an early start. Let’s help them learn the craft of writing in a way that’s natural, expressive, and human. It will be a lot of fun. And if we have to break up a few topic sentences along the way to allow a story to emerge, so be it. And that, dear reader, is my thesis statement.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.

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