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Teaching Story Writing Vol. 1

English language learners are often called to write short stories in class and during exams. It is one of the most demanding writing genres, as it requires fine skills in text organisation and a good control of language so that the text is clear and engaging. It is quite common for students to start story writing in a foreign language at a younger age than in their native language, so it is crucial for us to introduce terms like characters, setting, climax, introduction, conclusion/resolution, etc.

As a first introduction to writing stories, it would probably be a good idea to start with a simple process writing task that involves characters the students are familiar with and a topic that is interesting or can make them laugh. Another important thing is to have secondary aims as well, which will ideally include recycling language that has already been taught. Besides being beneficial to your students, this will also make your life easier while composing the story sample you will need.

Here is an example on how to organise a process writing lesson:

Last week, we talked about Keith Haring in class with my intermediate level students. These were my objectives for the writing class that followed:

Main aim: Teach story writing and its necessary components

Secondary aim: Revise art-related vocabulary, past simple/past continuous, adverbs, punctuation

The story I used:

"Keith woke up early that morning in New York. “It looks like a fine day”, he thought. He got dressed, washed his face and ate a delicious breakfast. While he was watching TV, an idea entered his head: “I am going to paint a colourful mural today!” he thought to himself. Then, he went to a children’s hospital nearby and started painting. Suddenly, he heard someone shouting “Hey, what are you doing? Stop!”. Keith put his paintbrush down carefully and told the police officer that he wanted to make the hospital look beautiful. Finally, the police officer smiled kindly and told him, “you are not wearing any shoes!”.

The steps I followed:

  1. Read the text slowly and ask your students to pay attention to the story. Change your voice to stress important words and highlight direct speech.

  2. Ask them to listen two more times and take notes of the words they think are important for the story - you may give them some tips (use normal speed).

  3. Tell them that now it's their turn to help you. They need to find the words you "forgot" and "correct" you. Read the story one more time omitting some small words and pausing if necessary (e.g. I'm going to omit then, suddenly, while, himself, etc). Invite them to shout the words while they are listening.

  4. Read the story one more time omitting most of the action verbs, adjectives, etc. Ask them to complete with what they remember.

  5. Give them some time to write down the story as they remember it, using their notes for help. After that, they can work in teams to compare and contrast their texts. Their task is to reconstruct the text as close to the original as possible.

  6. Display the text on a screen or on the board and ask them to fill in words they omitted and check their punctuation.

A short feedback session is required after each process writing lesson. What did the students omit? Auxiliary verbs? Using Past Simple? Adverbs? Punctuation? Why are these important in story writing?

Ask them to write a different story about the same character(s) as homework, following your example. Both your and their focus should fall on the things they omitted during the writing lesson.


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