Teaching kids to write a story is about a lot more than just saying, okay let’s all write a story. Real authors plan their plots, think about their character’s motivations, think about character roles, create a world, and begin with a problem and a solution to that problem before they ever start to write. Even if much of that happens in their heads. It’s these tools, this knowledge about planning, that makes for a real writer.
For years now I’ve felt frustrated that we give kids substandard tools when asked to perform tasks. We hand them dinky, kid sized hammers when they build their first bird house. They get gifted these cheapo brushes and horrible watercolor trays to learn to paint with. We even hand them stupid plastic knives and then tell them to practice cutting up vegetables, as if it’s even possible.
No wonder so many kids feel talent-less. Rembrandt himself would struggle with kiddie paint sets.
The Right Tools For Writing
The right tools for writing mostly means being taught how to write, the techniques needed to be a skillful writer. There are many, many topics within the realm of learning to write and this post just covers one aspect of good writing, the planning stage of story telling. I think grammar, punctuation, and spelling get covered pretty well in schools in general, but then the forms of writing sometimes get lost. There’s no point in having great grammar skills if you can’t do anything with them, so that’s where this lesson comes in.
Use this “Teaching Kids to Write a Story” lesson with kids from about 5th grade to 12th grade.
Plan A Story
I’ve made a printable and developed a one week series of lesson plans to teach kids how to write a short story in easy steps. This is specifically for an adventure story. It may take some students longer than one week to get their story down on paper and that’s okay. Start by downloading and printing our Plan a Story template.
On the first day have your kids fill out the “Plan a Story” worksheet. They will probably need some instruction on what is supposed to go in each box.
Talk about setting and what it is. Remind them of some settings from books and movies you have read or seen. Then ask them to identify the setting in several more books and movies to make sure they’ve got it.
Next talk about characters. This story will have just four characters, a main character (the hero), a sidekick, a villain, and a minion. It is important that each character in a story have a role to fulfill, a reason for being in the story. Using this template helps kids to limit their characters to roles. Identify each of these four types of characters in familiar books or movies. Each character needs a physical description and a desire or motivation. This is the thing the character wants more than anything. If you don’t know what your character really wants it’s hard to have them motivated enough to do anything. Their desires determine how they respond to difficult situations. Talk though some familiar characters and how they are described and what they want.
Problems and Solutions
A story has to have a problem and a solution to the problem. Something has to happen and the problem is why it happens. Talk through stories you know and discuss the problems and solutions in those stories.
Point of View
Last, talk about point of view. Stories are usually written in either first person “I” point of view or third person “he/she” point of view. Discuss some familiar books and talk about which point of view they are written in. Read a few passages to illustrate. The point of view must remain constant through the whole story. Write down your point of view in the little box near the top of the sheet.
On the second day have the students draw a map of their world. This map helps develop the plot. On the map show where the character starts out. This should be where the thing happens that gets the main character started on the journey.
Now mark three places where dreadful things happen your character. It is when terrible things happen and the character overcomes them, perhaps learning something along the way, that a reader gets interested. Make a little note right on the map telling what happens to the character.
Finally mark the place where the problem is finally resolved and make a little note telling how that happens.
The path your character travels can actually be drawn on the map and important landmarks labeled as well.
Now kids can finally start actually writing their stories. If the physical act of writing (or typing) is still a struggle it’s a good idea to allow the student to narrate to an adult who does the writing for them. The purpose of this lesson is to learn to develop a story plot, setting, and characters, not to get faster at typing or writing.
Keep on writing.
Finish the story.
When I did this with my kids I planned for three days of writing for them to finish their stories. These are supposed to be short stories after all, but my two oldest wanted to spend several more days so we stretched it into the next week. They worked for about an hour a day on the writing.
I did the typing for my fifth grader and so he was done in two days. I gave him copy work to fill the extra days, especially since he didn’t do much physical writing during the unit and I do want him to get better at that as well.
Give a Grade
Last of all grade the writing. Specific feedback is really important if you want your students to learn from the experience and hone their skills for next time. Grading writing can be tough so Karen made this rubric to help. As you grade, keep in mind the purpose of the assignment – developing good characters, setting, and plot.
- When our kids do copy work or grammar exercises we use lines and passages from accomplished writers. This helps them study how good writing looks so they can imitate it.
- Read aloud to your kids every day (or close to every day). We have a novel going almost all the time. It’s my kids favorite thing. They don’t realize I’ve horned in extremely valuable learning time as well. They hear good language, skillfully woven. And their horizons are expanded as they get transported to other times and places and get inside the head of another person.
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