Introduction to The Writing For Pleasure Centre
Introduction to the session
In this session, you will be taken on a whistle-stop tour of our Short Story writing projects. These are class writing projects used by Writing For Pleasure Centre schools. The session will show you how a project is typically planned and delivered and you will get the chance to start writing your own!
After the session, you can download all our Short Story resources so you can do one of the projects with your class.
Why do these projects?
You must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader – Nancy Kress
One of the biggest mistakes writers make in developing their story is neglecting the importance of setting. Character, plot, and dialogue are all essential to story progression; however, so is setting. It serves a purpose far beyond a backdrop for the action. Setting can frame mood, meaning, and thematic connotations – Haley Newlin
Writing stories is a kind of magic – Cornelia Funke
I would suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft – George R.R. Martin
We tell stories all the time and so it is natural for young writers to want to write them. Children at this age can, however, have the misconception that engaging stories are simply based on action and plot alone.
Our writing projects for Year Four show children how writers think carefully and deeply about their characters – and also about their settings. We need to develop children’s ability to write stories which are character-driven, while others stories focus on creating a vivid setting. When children get to Year Five, they will then be able to combine what they have learnt over the years in our Developed Short Story project. Finally, in Year Six, they are invited to write a whole host of short stories as an anthology. This is what we call our Flash-Fiction project.
The importance of having a class publishing house
- DOWNLOAD our example of practice.
The importance of purpose and audience
Purpose and audience. It’s essential that children are making and sharing meaning for others. Texts that they can show, tell, perform or read to others. For children in the EYFS, the audience can be very immediate: peers, teachers and caregivers. For children in KS1 & KS2, you can start to think about audiences beyond the classroom.
The purpose and audience for the Short Story(ies) you’re going to start writing today is to entertain your pupils. Please begin thinking about what kind of story they might want you to write for them.
I’ve already established the purpose and audience today but when working with your class, you’ll want to talk about this together. At the beginning of any writing project, you and your class should get together to look at our Publishing And Performing Menu and decide where you want your final pieces to be published and for whom. Our schools also use our writing wheels for the same reasons.
The importance of studying mentor texts (also known as: examples or WAGOLLs)
The importance of product goals
Let’s take a look at some mentor texts and set our product goals (DOWNLOAD the mentor texts here).
I would like you to look at the mentor texts I’ve provided and make a list of things you think you’ll have to do or include to write a great Short Story. This list will become our product goals.
NOTE: Here’s an example of what a product goals list can look like. These examples are taken from two separate projects in a Year Three classroom. One is Fairy Tales and the other is Information. The class always reads a variety of mentor texts before making their product goals list together.
Generate your own ideas: Have an ideas party!
I’ve introduced the project. We know the purpose and audience for these stories. We’ve studied a variety of mentor texts and we decided on our product goals. It’s now time to start generate ideas for what we want to write about! I have to say, this is my favourite part of teaching writing with children. Like the children in your class, I would like you to spend a few minutes coming up with a variety of ideas of what your Stories could be about.
An example of what an Ideas Party can look like in KS2. Here the teacher asked the children to come up with a variety of short story ideas for each of the themes in the middle of the paper. The children worked together to ensure they had ideas evenly spread across the different themes by keeping a tally chart. After around twenty minutes, the class had generated around 200+ story ideas.
Why don’t you do the same now? Write down the following themes in your notebook and come up with as many ideas as you can in the next 10 minutes. The themes are: superheroes, mystery, love, friendship, spooky, sci-fi and fan-fiction.
In addition to having an ideas party, you can also teach idea generation techniques writers actually use. Here are two you could use today:
Mini-Lesson #1. Idea generation technique: Idea Web
Children really enjoy creating idea webs. The idea is simple. You take two characters, two settings and two problems from a collection of books you know and love. You then build a map around them. You draw lines and try to make connections between them to create an original writing idea. It can throw up storylines that you might never ever have thought of!
The best thing to do with this mini-lesson is to do one together as a whole class first. Then you can invite children to have a go in groups, pairs or on their own. It’s good to provide some time for children to share the ideas they generated with the rest of the class.
Mini-Lesson #2. Idea generation technique: Spark Line
From a little spark may burst a flame – Dante Alighieri
I often find it helpful to use a spark line to generate ideas for writing. This is where I take a line I like from a book, poem, or anything I’m reading actually, and turn it into something new. It’s called a spark line because it’s usually sparked something within my mind. I often ‘watch my thoughts’ when I do this kind of reading. Anything can trigger a response in me. A word, phrase, some painting with words, the style of the writer, what the writer is writing about, a setting, or even a character.
The easiest thing to do with this mini-lesson is to share with your class where you’ve done it yourself. Share with them a piece you’ve written as a result of a spark line and answer any of their questions about your process. You can then invite them to try it out during that day’s writing time.
Take a writing register
Once everyone has an idea, it’s useful to take a Writing Register to make a record of what everyone is writing about. Here are two examples. On the left, is an example from a Year Two class who were making information books. On the right, is an example from a Year Four class who were writing memoirs.
Working through the writing processes
I would now like us to start working on our Short Stories. Obviously, with your classes you’d give them many days and even weeks to work their way through these writing processes and you’d teach them lessons everyday to help them write successfully. As adult writers, I’m going to leave you to write on your own. However, I have supplied you with just a few examples of mini-lessons I would typically teach children over the course of this kind of project. With your pupils, you would just teach one thing each day.
Mini-Lesson #3: Planning River
The ancient Egyptians used symbols to share meaning in around 3,000 BC and it wasn’t a bad system. It’s an idea still used by writers today. Below are some examples. Children are invited to plan their writing using symbols, pictures or other images. Some children put the plan on a line or in a river. Others like to use arrows to show how they go from one point to the next. Planning rivers can be used for any type of writing.
For this mini-lesson, simply show children how you’ve used a planning map to plan a piece of your own writing. You can then invite them to do the same during that day’s writing time.
- DOWNLOAD our drafting advice example of practice
Mini-Lesson #4 Playing God: Choosing a narrator
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change – Wayne Dyer
In my experience, children naturally gravitate towards third-person fiction. It allows them to ‘play’ with their characters as if they were toys. They can make them behave how they want, say what they want and they can play ‘god’ by telling us what they’re thinking and feeling.
However, don’t forget, your class have also learnt to write first person narratives through our Memoir writing projects. They may also write in first person if they enjoy writing realistic fiction. You may also have children in your class who enjoy writing ‘choose your own adventure’ stories which carry the convention of writing in the second person so that the reader feels like they are the one in the story – and the one making the decisions.
By the time children reach Year Six, they are experienced enough to begin thinking about the choices they make for their narrator and they can even experiment with writing the same piece from different points of view to see which works best. Flash-Fiction is an ideal time and opportunity for this kind of mini-lesson because children are expected to write a wide variety of short narratives – not just one.
When we write in the third-person objective, the narrator can only act as a mere mortal – they do not have the power to read characters’ minds nor can they know for sure how the characters are feeling. In the third-person limited, the narrator is almost at a level of demi-god. They can read one or two character’s thoughts and emotions. Finally, third-person omniscient, allows the narrator to play god. They know everything about everyone. They are all knowing!
The best thing to do in this mini-lesson is show children examples of writing you’ve crafted which show different narrator choices. For example, show them a memoir, a choose your own adventure tale, and a variety of third-person narratives. Ask them why they think you made the decisions you did. You could also show them where you’ve written the same story but tried out different narrator perspectives – you could ask them which one they think works best and discuss why. Finally, invite children to experiment with some of their stories; using different narrators.
Mini-Lesson #5 Story openings
It’s said that people will often read the first ten pages of a book before deciding whether it’s for them or not. Obviously, the children in your class aren’t writing novels for this writing project, but the premise is the same. They must have a great opening. There are different types of narrative openings and these can be shared with children. They include:
I often ask children to try out writing a variety of openings using some of these different types before choosing a favourite. They can also discuss them with their friends at their tables too. The best place for this is on a ‘revision and trying things out page’.
For this mini-lesson, the best place to turn to is the books you are all reading in class. Ask the children to get them out of their trays and look at what type of opening the author has used. Perhaps they find some that don’t match my list above? That’s great! You can add your own too. I’ve spent quite a lot of time on this mini-lesson and have returned to it many times in an academic year. I’ve always dedicated part of my working wall to making a poster where children provide me with examples they’ve found from their own reading.
Mini-Lesson #6 Parenthesis (brackets, dashes and commas)
Sometimes you might find that you want to add in a little extra information about something but you don’t want to have to put it into a new sentence, so you can use parenthesis. If this bit of information isn’t absolutely vital to the meaning but is just there to supply a little interest or intrigue, you can put
either commas, brackets or dashes round it, and this is what’s called putting something in parenthesis. Children like the idea of parenthesis because it’s about making a choice. Here are some examples:
I find that it helps to tell children to think of this extra information as a kind of whisper or afterthought. It can often sound almost chatty – get children to have a look in ‘The Hobbit’ and see just how many times Tolkien puts little comments to the reader in brackets. However, a class I taught said they liked using dashes when they wanted to be more informal, and preferred brackets if they wanted to be serious or seem posh. Also they said they tended to prefer commas in non-fiction writing and for stories but dashes for personal narrative. It’s a good thing to encourage this kind of discussion in this mini-lesson. Finally, show children where and why you have done it yourself, and invite them to put something in parenthesis in their own writing today.
Mini-Lesson #7 What you want to say, then How best to say it
Many adult writers first need to put down on paper what it is they want to say before they can think about how best to say it. This is something we can share with children.
In this mini-lesson, share how you will sometimes write down a sentence – just to see what it is you want to say before you read it back and think about how best to say it. You can then invite your class to give it a try during that day’s writing time.
Mini-Lesson #8 The poetry that hides in things
No ideas but in things – William Carlos Williams
Within objects, we can find deeper meanings. By painting with words to describe objects, we can share with our readers what is otherwise impossible. Objects can be used as a metaphor for more abstract, psychological or philosophical concepts within our stories. Through direct description of an object, we can reveal the poetry within it.
Children should already know that they can bring their poetry, fiction and non-fiction to life by ‘painting with words’. Painting with words can include:
- Comparing something to something else (through simile and metaphor.)
- Showing what someone or something does instead of simply telling them.
- Using the different senses to describe things in interesting ways.
- Giving nature or things human characteristics or emotions through personification or pathetic fallacy.
- Giving sharp, precise and objective description of objects through imagism.
This is a mini-lesson that can be repeated many times. The best thing to do with it is to share how you use some of these techniques yourself in your own writing and for the class to take time looking in the books in the class library at where other authors have done it. You can then end the mini-lesson by inviting children to try some of the techniques for themselves.
Mini-Lesson #9 Prove it!
Sometimes when we say it directly, we lose the intrigue and appeal of what it is we want to say. Anton Chekhov famously said: ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’. The easiest way I’ve found to apply this technique to my own writing is to search for where I’ve used the words is, was, are and were, as these lead me to tell. By replacing them, I naturally begin to show. For example: The boy is walking up the hill instead becomes The red-faced boy heaves, complains and puffs his way to the top of the hill.
Another way to look at it is to read your writing back and shout out ‘prove it!’. The boy was sad… well… Prove it!
The best thing to do with this lesson is to show children how you have used this technique yourself in your writer’s notebook. Explain how you went about it and answer any of the children’s questions. You can then invite your young writers to have a go for themselves during writing time. In my experience, this mini-lesson is most effective when the majority of your class are revising their pieces.
Mini-Lesson #10 From rubbish to gold
This is a versatile mini-lesson. It’s about showing children what is possible. For that reason, this mini-lesson is best taught when the majority of your class are revising their pieces. It’s a mini-lesson that works for poetry, fiction or non-fiction.
The concept is simple. You take a rubbish sentence (perhaps based on the sort of sentences you’ve been seeing during pupil-conferencing) and you show how it can be transformed (through revision) into gold. Next, transform a rubbish sentence from your own writing. You could do this live in front of the children. Finally, invite children to do the same with some of their ‘rubbish’ sentences during that day’s writing time.
Using the revision checklist
Children like to know what they have to do and how to do it. They also get a great deal of satisfaction and confidence in knowing they are doing a good job. That’s what revision checklists are all about. Please feel free to use our example checklist to reflect on how your Short Story is coming along.
NOTE: Usually, this checklist would be based on what we discussed when we studied the mentor texts and established our product goals. This was the list of things we said we were going to do or include to write a great Short Story.
Writing For Pleasure schools ensure that each class sets themselves up as a publishing house at the beginning of the year and children publish their work onto this publishing house.
Because of this, they take proof-reading (editing) really seriously. Their children are given ample time in which to ensure that their manuscripts are transcriptionally accurate before they go through to publication or performance. They give children very specific things to edit for and give them multiple days in which to complete it. For example, by using the CUPS technique. Each day, children may be asked to proof-read for one of the following:
- Use of vocabulary (cohesion/repetition/proper noun/pronoun use as opposed to ambitious vocabulary
Children are encouraged to keep count of the number of edits they DO make and children are praised for the number of changes they make prior to publication. Teachers check children’s manuscripts prior to publication and if they are not transcriptionally accurate enough, the teacher will ask the pupil to work on it again.
Here’s an extract from a teacher’s lesson plan showing how she is ensuring that her class have the best chance to publish their very best writing. If you truly want high levels of accuracy, then you need to give children plenty of time to achieve it. If you rush them, you get rushed results and then you’re disappointed.
Publishing or performing
Now their manuscript is revised and proof-read, the children are in a position to write up their final copy and publish or perform it to their waiting audience.
It’s important that at the end of a writing project you celebrate the children’s hard work by having a publishing party. This is what other authors do out in the real-world so children should be entitled to it too.
- Other class writing projects in this series – LINK
- Our BIG book of mini-lessons: lessons that teach powerful craft knowledge to 3-11 year olds – LINK
- Our writing development scales and assessment toolkit – LINK
- Our book Real-World Writers: A handbook for teaching writing with 7-11 year olds – LINK
- Our book Writing For Pleasure: Theory, research and practice LINK
I hope you enjoyed this session. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact us – LINK