Helping Early Writers Develop Their Stories

When young children begin writing, they often create one-sentence stories. That is, their stories consist of a single sentence which is usually accompanied by a drawing. As they get older, they are expected to expand on that one-sentence story and write pieces of more substance. Many young writers have difficulty developing stories past the one-sentence stage. Therefore, it is helpful and beneficial to these young writers to participate in writing exercises that will help them to accomplish this.

Discuss with the students how writers often have to spend a lot of time developing an idea for one story. Talk to them about how once you have an idea, you have to “push your thinking” to come up with more things to say about that idea. Teach them that “pushing your thinking” means always trying to think of one more thing to say about your writing idea.

I think the best way to help students learn to develop their ideas is by giving them example, after example, after example. I like to work with the students on developing stories together as a whole class, then small groups, and then individually. This gives them lots of examples to think back on for guidance while easing them into developing a story independently.

A good way I’ve found to introduce this is to read a book that builds on itself. This shows the students how an author can slowly develop an idea by adding to it one thing at a time. A few I like are 39 Uses for a Friend and 40 Uses for a Grandpa both by Harriet Ziefert, and Courage by Bernard Weber. Make sure to discuss how the author is developing their story while reading.

Next, I like to write a story as a class with each student adding a piece. You can start it off with a topic like “going to the beach”. Ask the students to “push their thinking” by coming up with a list of more things you do at the beach. For example:

“What do you do at the beach?”

Have a student add something to your story such as “I play in the sand.”

“Okay, how do you play in the sand?”

Then the next student adds something like, “I build a sandcastle.”

Keep going throughout the class to show them how the process of developing story points works.

After you’ve gone over some examples as a class, have the students work in small groups, and then individually, to develop their own short story. I find it’s helpful to give them a handout with one or two examples of building a story on it. This gives them something to easily refer to while working. Also, I like to start in small groups before individually, because they’re less likely to get stalled for ideas if there are multiple kids contributing to the discussion.

Another fun idea is to give the class a general topic like, “getting ready for school,” and have each student write down a story point. Then put all the pieces of paper in a bowl, bag, etc., and have each student draw a piece out one at a time. When the student draws a story point, they have to act it out (get out of bed). Then another student draws a piece of paper and acts that point out (eat breakfast). Continue until all the pieces of paper have been drawn and acted out. Have the previous students act out their points each time a new piece of paper is drawn. If you want, the students can rearrange the points at the end into an order that they think makes sense. This gets the students up and moving around and usually keeps their interest while also providing some laughs as the students act each story point out.


Hannah T

About Hannah T

I am a 2010 graduate with a degree and certification in Elementary Ed., and I have worked with students from birth to junior high. I believe that one of the most important qualities to surviving a teaching career is a sense of humor. I also strongly feel that students are most successful when they are active and hands-on learners. My Mom was a Special Ed. teacher for almost 30 years, and my Dad was an English major, so I enjoy bouncing blog ideas off the two of them. This usually results in an exchange of great stories with my Mom, and a correction in my writing from my Dad. When they're not available, the job falls to my rescue dog, Coozie.

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