Short story writing: sentence stems

One year, I taught short story writing to a Foundation English class in a Speculative Fiction Unit. I developed this quick start activity from one of my observations of a Senior English lesson on the novel Snow Falling on Cedars: the topic of Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp, was covered. The name itself, Manzanar, resonated with mystical, supernatural power, when taken out of real-world context. It could be a character from the future or antiquity. It captured my imagination. So I wrote down a few sentence stems for a short story and gave it to the Year 9s.  I have used this process writing activity very successfully ever since with classes from Year 9 to Year 12.

Here is how it works. For a week, every lesson starts with this quick write. It is important to use the same sentence starters. Students could write the same story they started earlier, from memory, not from notes. Or they start a new story.

The purpose is to overcome writer’s block. By developing their ideas repeatedly, students gain confidence. By sharing their stories with the class, they become successful storytellers. Writing becomes fun. While the more academic classes are more concerned about relevance of the task to their assessment success, often the storytelling aspects appeals to children with vivid imaginations, stoked by what they watch and play.

Here is an example of one student’s work.

manzanar20181122_0001  Students will naturally start extending themselves as they become familiar with the task. It opens up conversations about grammar, spelling and punctuation.


Soon enough students who could not write a paragraph are writing pages.


Manzanar PDF: Sentence stems.


Inequality – teaching resource link

How do you solve a problem like inequality? Economic policymakers have been grappling with this for a long time, with varying degrees of urgency. The…

via Throughout history, the best ways to reduce inequality have been disease and destruction — Quartz

Dystopia with an environmental focus: World Shaker and The Lorax study (Part 1)

Art activities: word wall. Handprints : the Earth is in your hands

I made blackboards to hang at the back of the classroom for illustrated quotes and word walls. I bought exercise books for students to use as journals that were kept in the classroom.

Encourage students to scribble down their ideas, do independent research and think deeply to form their own opinions – then, develop persuasive techniques.

dystopia thumbs up.JPG

Consumption was the subject of one lesson and developed arguments for and against technology using a thumbs up/thumbs down template.

“Show me you and the universe” is an activity from a book about teaching gifted children but it proves entertaining and insightful with students generally in English or Humanities.

Students work in small groups or pairs to devise a representation of themselves and the universe. They may choose to express their idea in any form: drama, text, drawing, spoken word … it is a lovely way to connect the personal to the big picture. Explore the connections between part and the whole, microcosms and macrocosms. Often their presentations are delightful and insightful.

Resource: “World Shaker” spelling list.