Palm Stories are short stories that students write using nothing more than the palm of their hand, and a little bit of imagination. Teachers ask students to close their eyes and picture a number of different things, making point form notes along the way. At the end of their meditative journey, they will have the framework for a detailed story.
Running a Palm Story
The first things teachers need to do is ensure their students have something to write with, and write on, in front of them. Next they need to ask their students to close their eyes. This is a large ask, and requires teachers to have already created a caring environment that fosters trust.
Teachers will act as a guide through the story, instructing students to take notes along the way. Alternately, teachers can provide their students with my Palm Story Handout to aid in the ideation process.
Handout: Palm Story Notetaking Sheet
Every Journey Begins…
Teachers need to ask students to look at their hand. They should find one of the major lines on their hand. They should then look for another line that passed through the first.
Students should then draw those two lines as a quick sketch. If using the Palm Story Notetaking Sheet they can draw it in the space provided.
Ask students to look at the major line on their hand and envision it as a path. They should then take a moment to close their eyes and picture the path. They can envision it as a dirt road, an asphalt highway, a raging river, or even a pathway made of clouds that rests high above the world. There is no limitation to where their story is set, or what their path looks like.
Once they’ve envisioned the road, ask them to look around and take in their surroundings. What do they see? Is it peaceful, or post-apocalyptic? Are they in a fantasy forest, or a gritty urban centre?
Next, ask them to listen carefully and take note of what they hear.
Once students have had enough time to fully picture their surroundings they should pause, open their eyes, and take notes about what they heard and saw.
The next time students close their eyes, rather than looking around, they should look down. They should see their own feet, view their hands, or pull back and look at the protagonist in the third person.
Does the protagonist look like them, or are they someone different, entirely? Next, becoming the protagonist they should be asked to consider what the protagonist wants. What are the things that drive them into action, or make them pull away in fear?
After being given a few moments, they should make notes about the protagonist.
The First Steps
With knowledge of the protagonist and the path, students should be asked to close their eyes and begin their journey. They should be asked to look around as they move through their world – note that I didn’t say walk through their world. For all we know, they could be flying, swimming, or moving in a vehicle – while taking careful note of the sights, sounds, and experiences.
After some time, let them know that they suddenly see something!
Students should be informed that they see an item on the ground. They’re not sure what it’s used for, but it’s definitely something interesting. Even though they can’t be sure what its exact purpose is, they have a few good ideas.
Students should be asked to open their eyes and take notes about what the item was, and what it could be used for. You may also want to ask them to draw a quick sketch of it.
At this point, redirect their attention at the line on their hand. Tell them that soon they will be coming to the other line that crosses through it.
The other line on their hand is a crossing. Something that is difficult for them to pass. Perhaps it is a river, a checkpoint, a wall, or a crevasse erupting with flames.
They should be picturing this problem, when they realize how to overcome the issue. Gaining the ability to pass the crossing, they will continue on their way.
All goes well until they seem something on the horizon. As they get closer they realize that they’re not alone. Just before them is…
The other in another character. It could be a wise bearded man (I’m partial to those), or a talking rabbit. It might be a little girl in a white dress, or a teenage boy in a flannel jacket. Once again, it could be anything. Though the protagonist has never seen this character before, they feel as if they know something about them.
The protagonist feels as if they know what the other desires. Just as they pass this character, the character leans towards them and says just one thing. That one line of dialogue would prove immensely useful to the protagonist.
Students should be asked to open their eyes, take notes about what the character looked like, what they wanted, and most importantly what they said.
Walking for some time, the protagonist has almost reached the end of the line of the student’s hand. Soon they will reach the end of their journey.
The End in Sight
Before them looms the thing towards which they had been journeying. Is it a concert venue? A place of enlightenment? A treasure chest full of cursed gems? Maybe it’s a cat cafe where the protagonist can enjoy a latte while cuddling cute marmalade kitties?
As they reach the end, they suddenly become aware of why they’d needed the item all along. With its use, they reach the end of their journey. However, there are always new things on the horizon.
Students should pause and take notes about what the end was, why they were there, and how they reached it.
Finally, students should close their eyes and take a moment to appreciate the efforts of their protagonist. They should enjoy the moment of denouement. But, of course, things can’t stay the same forever. Even though things seem well know, they should consider two things they experience in their journey that led them to feel as if a change would soon be coming.
Writing those final notes down, students should open their eyes and appreciate a palm, well journeyed.
Sharing the Stories
Sometimes I like to pause during the palm journey and allow students to share different parts as they make their way along the line on their hand. I give them a chance to talk about their path and hear from other students what the paths before them look like.
Other times, I allow the students to complete the journey on their own. Some teachers may find music helps the experience, though others may decide that they don’t want to influence the students’ visualizations with auditory stimuli.
Writing the Story
Students will now have the following elements:
- A Protagonist
- A Setting
- An Important Object
- A Rising Action blocking their way
- A Secondary Character
- A Line of Dialogue
- A Destination
With these elements, you can ask them to chart them on a plot graph, or just allow them to dig in and start writing their own story with this new framework.
This is a very powerful activity, but there are a few things that can hold students back. As I mentioned previously, feeling comfortable closing their eyes in an important step, but it is not the only possible concern.
An Inability to Visualize
Some people do not have the ability to visualize. When you are asked to close your eyes and picture an apple, you can probably flip through an album of different apples from smell and yellow, to large and green. But take a moment to appreciate that this is a gift that not all possess.
If asked to picture yourself canoeing on a lake as a loon calls out, you may be able to see the mist rise and hear the paddle splash as it enters the water.
Your students might not be able to do this.
How do People Know?
The easiest way to know if you have this ability is to think about when you read a book – when you read, do the words come to life like a movie playing in your head, or do you simply see black and white text in front of you as you read each and every sentence?
Some students may respond by saying, “it’s obvious that they see the book like a movie,” while others will be shocked that their peers have a personal holodeck inside their own brain.
There are multiple levels of visualization. Some can transport themselves to a strange world through the power of imagination, others can only hear sounds, or see objects, while some can do nothing at all.
I am one of the people who has no ability to visualize. I’ve tried, I’ve practised, but I can’t even picture a green square with my eyes closed. All I see are the rapidly changing blues and blacks as my brain tries to process what it is literally seeing.
I mention this because even though I can’t see or hear things in my mind, I can still think creatively, and this palm story still works wonders for my own creative writing ideation.
This is something to be aware of though because some students feel like they’re missing out on something. They may need to be encouraged to participate even though it will be different for them – just as it is for me.