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Teaching short story writing

Teaching short story writing can be tricky. Kids don’t read a lot of good ones. Reading books (or ‘readers’) designed for reading instruction often don’t contain a complete set of narrative elements and most children seem to leap from readers to novels at some point between grades 3 and 4. Novels aren’t short. I think it was Edgar Allan Poe who determined that a short story should be able to be consumed in one sitting. Even by that standard, a 20000 word story might still be considered a ‘short story’ by definition. It means students aren’t reading the type of story we’re asking them to write. A common writing task in Year 6 might be 300-1000 words, which to be fair, isn’t much space to set scenes, develop characters, creating rising action and suspense, and conclude in any other way than the very common, ‘and then I woke up’.

One method I’ve found that always helps is to have students stop telling stories, and start describing moments – a moment of realisation, a moment of fear, a moment of courage. What is the character seeing in that moment? What are they feeling? Why? How does this moment end?

Writing about a moment allows students to use all of their descriptive writing and language skills, but condenses the narrative structure into a more reasonable and manageable task. No need to for wordy scene setting, no getting stuck on additional characters, and needless dialogue. Just tell me about the moment. And when writers are ready, the question is – what happens next?

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