Wisconsin Weather Work: Weather Stories
If you talk with meteorologists who are passionate about weather, many will recall key weather events in their childhood that often was the start of their current career. This lesson explores one such story from a UW-Madison meteorologist.
Where do we hear stories in our everyday lives?
What are the elements that make up a story?
What makes a story well told?
- To build an appreciation for oral narrative.
- To listen to, interpret and analyze oral narrative.
Our conversations are filled with stories. It is how we tell each other about our days. We tell stories about what happened to us at school, at work, at home, while playing, while shopping, while walking the dog... These stories about our everyday lives are called personal experience narratives.
Listen for stories. Sometimes you know a story is coming because of a cue given by the speaker. "When I was growing up in Green Lake..." or "You know what happened to me today?" might be the start of a story.
Many times in conversations, a speaker doesn't tell a fully developed story. Instead, he or she will give a one sentence condensed version such as, "Sparky ran away again but I found him in the McCormick's yard." Some of the elements needed for a story are present: 1) one or more characters -- Sparky and the speaker, 2) action or challenge -- Sparky ran away, 3) resolution -- the teller finds Sparky. What's missing is dialogue ("Mrs. McCormick said, "Please don't let Sparky eat my tulips again!") and details (Is Sparky a dog or a hedgehog? What does Sparky look like? Was the teller sad, angry, worried, or excited when Sparky ran away?).
Tellers will vary the depth of detail in their story based on many factors, decisions that we all make all the time in our conversations. The most frequent decision that a teller makes is to gauge how much information the audience (listener) needs in order to understand the story. Inexperienced tellers often give too many details. People who know each other very well often need to give few details because of shared knowledge (the listener in the story above knows who Sparky is, what Sparky lookes like, etc, so the teller deletes those details). Coworkers in the same profession can tell stories to each other without having to explain some details because both the teller and listener share similar experiences and knowleged, including jargon.
Some people love to tell stories and will infuse their conversations with well developed personal experiences stories. Sometimes people who love to tell stories will develop a repertoire, a collection that they have worked on and mentally carry, ready to tell when opportunities arise. Interviewing these types of people can be very enjoyable because it's always fun to hear a story!
Constructing a personal experience story is step one. Telling it is step two. What makes an oral narrative a well told story? A few concepts go a long way toward making a story well told.
- Repetition is a technique some storytellers use. By reinforcing a concept, the storyteller solidifies the point of his or her story, making it more memorable.
- Voice inflection is another way a speaker can make a story better. By using his or her voice to provide emphasis in one place, or silliness in another place, the storyteller makes the story come to life.
- Imagery is another way to make a narrative interesting. By vividly describing a scene, the storyteller makes the story take shape in the listener's mind. By engaging the imagination of the listener, the story becomes real for both the listener and the teller.
Discuss with your class the ideas explored above about how our conversations are infused with personal experience stories. Assign listening exercises--students should listen for stories in conversations during the day on the playground, in the office, in the lunchroom or lockerroom. They should listen to themselves too--what is a personal experience story they told today?
Ask the class who they know that is a good storyteller. Is one of the class members acknowledged as a good storyteller? Is someone at their home or in the community? Discuss the qualities of the stories and the telling that make that person's stories good to listen to. (Some community people, especially ministers or rabbis, may tell other types of stories like legends or myths. Acknowledge good storytelling abilities related to those types of narratives, but try to keep the focus on personal experience stories.)
Everyone has a personal experience story about weather. What are some that meteorologists tell? Play this audio clip of Jon Martin, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UW-Madison, tell his childhood "storm of the century" story. You can read along via this transcript.
Discuss the story with your students:
Jon tells his story with many details, including the dates of the storm, how many days the Boston Globe and Boston Herald ceased operations, how much money he and his friends made shoveling snow, and the kind of gestures his good friend Robby made while talking. All of these details are important and make a narrative compelling. Details help listeners connect with characters and feel a part of the action. What are other details that your students appreciated hearing?
Jon creates mental images for his listeners, as in this example: "In the meantime we had to go shovel off the roof of my church because there was a big stained glass window against which a huge drift had developed and nobody knew if it was gonna hold, so we hadda go up and shovel that off." Can your students identify other sections of the story that provided them with vivid imagery?
Characters are crucial to a good story. Description of a character's motivations, actions, and appearance creates good stories. Dialogue helps to develop a character too. Listeners like to hear people speak in stories. Notice how Jon describes his friend Robby. "That was the 26th of January and my friend Robby down the street, who I mentioned earlier, he'd always come down, knock on my door and just stand there. And, I'd say, "So, so what do you want to do, Robby? Play hockey or somethin'?." He'd say nope. And he'd start pulling at an evergreen tree in my front yard, flickin' off little things and say, "Big storm coming, another one Wednesday." That was his forecast. It was continuously the case. You know, he was such a, he was so interested in winter storms." Ask your students if there are other places in the story in which Jon develops particular characters? If so, how does he do it?
The language of stories draws listeners into narrative too. Slang, colloquial speech, special terms, and regional dialects make each storyteller unique and interesting. Jon doesn't simply say the temperature dropped. He says it "dropped like a rock." He has Robby answer "nope" instead of the plainer, less interesting "no." Jon's Boston accent reminds listeners that he is from New England and his story is imbedded in a specific place. What are other aspects of Jon's use of language that strengthen the story?
As your students read through the transcript, they will see speech that looks "wrong" on the page. For example, when Jon describes how heavy the snow was and its pressure on the church's roof, he says "Nobody knew if it was gonna hold, so we hadda go up and shovel that off." Writing "gonna" instead of "going to" is a decision made by the transcriber. "Gonna" is common in speech and is what Jon said, but it's uncommon in written text because "gonna" is not a grammatically correct word. Have your students find other places in the transcript that look "wrong." Discuss these differences between written and spoken narratives. Debate whether the person writing the transcript should write exactly what the teller says, or should correct the grammar.
Standards and Benchmarks
|Grade 4||Grade 8||Grade 12|
|Language Arts||A.4.1; A.4.2; A.4.3, A.4.4; B.4.1; C.4.2; D.4.2; E.4.1||D.8.2 A.8.1; A.8.3; A.8.4; B.8.1; E.8.1||A.12.1; A.12.2; A.12.4; A.12.11; B.12.1; C.12.2; D.12.2; E.12.1|
|Social Studies||A.4.1; A.4.2; A.4.7; B.4.1; B.4.8; B.4.7||A.8.1; A.8.3; A.8.7; A.8.8; B.8.1; B.8.8||B.12.8, B.12.9|
|Career Development||K 4.1, K 4.4, K 4.5, K 4.6||K8.1, K8.3, K8.4, K8.5, K8.6||K12.1, K 12.2, K 12.5, K 12.6, K 12.11|