Short Stories

I have taught short stories in English before, no big deal, think up an idea and write. The problem is that my students this year needed more support than that. I tried what I though was a really structured short story writing task. I was wrong, it was not structured enough and the drafts I received were not very well written, it took me forever to work out the spelling and grammar errors. So I re-evaluated my teaching practice and decided to adjust the task.

Below is the original plan followed by my new approach.

The plan (originally)
Science Fiction short stories– teach students what science fiction is, what does it include, what are some key themes. – I have a powerpoint that I designed that stepped them through this.
Creative writing- students follow prompts and participate in short story writing, this activity is aimed at getting the kids to use creative/descriptive language and think about how they will keep their story interesting.
Students plan– students spend time selecting a character, key events and writing the details about their plot. I thought that making them plan thoroughly and carefully would allow them to organise thoughts and get them to a place where they could start.
First draft- students had time during class to write their stories. I wondered around helping where possible and most seemed to be doing ok. Unfortunately the drafts were disasters. It took me way too long to edit and suggest ideas. I didn’t want a story about how a kid with a robotic arm brushed his teeth then went to the toilet then had breakfast then…. then…. then…
I was devastated and had to rethink the approach. I spoke to a few colleagues and one suggested re-starting and actually giving them time limits to write each section of the story with a bit of a prompt.
The Plan (revised)
I gave the students back their drafts and told them that I didn’t feel comfortable passing any of their stories. I always try to be honest with kids. They seemed upset but I followed up by saying that I really thought they could do better and I wanted the best for them. No one jumped up and down when I said we would re-start the assignment but I pushed on anyway.
Structure- I gave them 4 character choices, 4 key themes/story lines and three options for how to write an intro in a story. I then gave them thirty minutes to write an intro. Once they were done they had to get a friend to read it and give feedback.
I did this for each section of the story using leading questions and a checklist for each part. It worked really well and I slowly backed off with the strict structure.
The students have now completed their all new stories and have had a friend carefully edit and read through their story. I have taken these corrected stories and sit with each child and read it out to them channeling my best Hollywood narrators voice. The use of this voice makes them think about how interesting it is and whether it makes sense or not. They have really stepped up their game and the new work is of a much better quality.
Lessons Learned
I have learned:
  • this group of kids works better in short segments with a very specific goal
  • drafting with each student if time permits and reading aloud to them helps
  • peer drafting is golden
  • the Hollywood narrator voice and making a fool of myself pays off

I am optimistic about the future as a class. 🙂


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