How to Teach Children to Write Short Stories

Some children are naturally creative and enjoy writing their own stories.  Others find that writing a story (or even a brief paragraph) is a dreaded chore.  To help teach children to write their own short stories, try the following tips and activities:

Activity 1 –  
Before you introduce story writing, read some great stories to your class.  As you read, act out what’s happening while moving about the room.  Over-emphasize facial expressions, make wide-sweeping gestures and change the tempo and volume of your voice to keep their interest.  Build up to the climax of the story and then STOP before you read the conclusion.  They’ll be begging to know how it ends.

Continue reading to the end and then close the book.  How the children react is important.  Were they relieved with the author’s wrap-up of the story?  Ask about their favorite character/s and why they were chosen.  Did the author do a good job describing people and action so they could “see” it while you read?  Now go back and read the first few sentences and then the conclusion.  Talk about how they are connected to one another.

Activity 2 –
In this fun demonstration, you’ll be comparing a good story to a good sandwich.  You can either build a real sandwich while you discuss this (very effective) or draw one on the board.  Start with the first slice of bread and compare it to the beginning of a good story.  Show how the foundation supports the rest of the sandwich (or story).

Next, work on building the main part of the sandwich, which is the middle.  As you talk, use condiments like mayo or mustard on the bottom slice of bread and begin to pile on the meat, cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, etc.  The middle (or main) part of a story is like the inside of a sandwich.

Just as the middle of a sandwich makes it worth eating, the middle of a story makes it worth reading. Just like the middle of a sandwich fills it in, the main part of a story fills in details of what is happening in the story.  Finally, just as the main part of a sandwich satisfies the appetite and holds the interest of the eater, the main part of a good story satisfies the reader and keeps his or her interest.  

Last, but not least, place another slice of bread on top the sandwich to close it.  Demonstrate that without the final piece of bread, the main part of the sandwich may come apart or fall off, leaving the eater frustrated and disappointed.  Now compare the top slice of bread to the last paragraph of a story.  It “closes” the story and keeps it together.  Without it, a good story will seem to come apart or fall off at the very end instead of being complete.  Now read another short story and have students identify the sandwich or story parts.

Activity 3 –
Bring an intriguing picture or drawing to class and display it in a high-traffic area within the classroom.  It should be at the children’s eye level where it can observed and studied.  Ideally, it should have enough color, details, people, action, and scenery to interest your students.

Once you’ve displayed it, tweak their curiosity by your silence.  They will wonder, Why is it hanging there?  Why isn’t she telling us about it?  Answer briefly, when necessary, with a simple comment like, “I think it tells an interesting story.”

A couple days later, hold the photo or drawing and ask for suggestions on what story it might tell if it could talk. What is happening in the picture?  Did they notice anyone or anything in particular?  An expression on a face?  Something or someone in the shadows?  An object in someone’s hand?  An animal in the bushes? 

Focus on a particular part of the picture, and have them scheme about what might happen next.  Point out the colors in the picture and how they make it more interesting.  Compare this to using descriptive terms in a story.  (Example: Instead of just writing “the girl,” write, “the girl in the bright red sweater.”) 

Next, divide children into groups and give them a time limit to compose a story for the picture on display.  Stress that each person in each group should be included – no one student gets to compose the story or take charge. They should discuss the story and settle on content as a team.  Who is good at writing or taking notes?  Thinking up good titles or naming characters?  Good with descriptive words?  The teacher may assist with these choices if necessary.  Later, have each group read their story to the class. 

Activity 4 –
In this activity, students will actually be writing their own stories.  They have heard you read short stories aloud and have learned how to build a story “sandwich.”  Now it’s time to assign a topic or give them each a magazine picture to “interpret.”  You may also give them the freedom to write about something that happened to them or someone they know. 

Before they begin, review the importance of a good opening paragraph (the foundation of the story and a sneak peek of what’s to come).  Remind them to fill the main part of the story with details, description, and action (the meat that makes the story worth reading).  And, finally, have them close it up (the top slice or bread) so the story is complete.  Using the tips and activities mentioned above, you can teach children how to write good short stories!