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.
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.