As I said in my recent article about teaching kids to write poetry, teaching “the arts” can be daunting for homeschoolers who don’t consider themselves artistic. But I believe it’s totally possible to teach your kids creative writing without being a writer yourself.
I’m an author, and I’ve taught creative writing to a wide variety of homeschoolers, from Kindergarten through high school, as well as some sessions with public-school elementary students and college students. It’s something I’m quite passionate about, and I’m back again to share some tips, strategies, and resources that can help you teach fiction writing to your students.
Because this is going to be a longer article than the one on poetry, I’m splitting it into two parts. Today, I’ll focus on preschool through fifth grade. Next time, I’ll do sixth through twelfth grades.
I’ve put together a file of creative writing worksheets that you can download from Google Docs. I’m also making it available on my book blog, The Edge of the Precipice, on the page called “Lit and Writing Resources for Homeschoolers.” These will be especially useful for grades 2 and up.
Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade
What truly little kids lack in understanding of the forms and structures of storytelling, they more than make up for in imagination. The easiest thing I’ve found for this age is to give them an interesting photo and have them make up a story about what’s happening in it. I have a collection of postcards and photos that spark ideas for kids, but since I can’t randomly share those with you, I’ve created a Pinterest board I call “Writing Prompts”. It’s filled with nifty pictures kids could write stories about.
If you want to use picture prompts such as those, I suggest printing off three or four pictures and letting your kid choose one to make up a story about. Then ask them to tell you about what is happening in that picture. Write down what they say, or help them write it, depending on their abilities. Don’t worry too much about story structure at first.
Once they get used to making up stories for you during school time, then see if you can get them to have a beginning, a middle, and an end for each story. You can look at that like a sort of journey – a character begins in one place, moves toward a destination, and ends up in another place. Whether that’s a physical or emotional journey, it’s still the same kind of storytelling. They can go from sad to happy, or from home to a new playground, or from being scared to feeling safe.
There are plenty of creative writing prompts available on the internet. Whole books of them exist. But since photo prompts engage kids visually as well as verbally, they’re my favorite. Also, if you’ve printed off that photo they write about, then they can have an automatic illustration for their story, which kids love. It can be fun to paste the picture they’ve chosen onto a bigger sheet of paper (or print it on its own sheet with lots of blank space) and then write their story down right on that same sheet of paper.
Another fun idea I’ve used a few times is to find (or make) a cheap blank book with about ten or twelve pages. Sometimes I can find these at the dollar store or in Target’s dollar bins, or I’ve made them too. Either way, you also need some stickers that show people or animals – it’s totally fine to use Disney characters or superheroes, whatever your kid is into. Have them put a sticker on the first page and then explain what is happening at the beginning of the story, based on the sticker. Another sticker on the next page, accompanied by the next step in the story, and so on. By the end, you have a “real book” written and illustrated by your child that they can show to other people, read to siblings or grandparents, and so on.
If you can’t find stickers that will work, try cutting out pictures from magazines or catalogs that all go with a certain theme, like Halloween or Christmas, or maybe all pictures of people in winter clothes. Kids can glue those to pages instead of using the stickers. Or have them practice cutting out pictures too – scissors practice is important, after all!
Kids are natural storytellers, and I find that with the primary grades, my biggest problem is getting kids to end their stories, not getting them to make them up in the first place. If that’s an issue for your child too, then try getting them to tell stories about someone solving a problem or fixing something. Once the problem is solved (lost cat gets home, child finds missing toy, etc), then the story has a natural ending.
Second through Fifth Grade
Kids in elementary school will recognize that stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Talk to them about that form, with examples from stories and books that they know. What happens in the beginning of “Cinderella,” for example? Her mother dies and her father gets married again. What happens in the middle? Her father dies and her stepmother is mean to her. What happens at the end? She marries the prince and lives happily ever after.
Kids in this age range also work well with photo prompts like I described using for younger kids. Again, find interesting pictures that look like a story could be happening in them. Feel free to use the ones I’ve collected on my “Writing Prompts” Pinterest board. Let them choose one to write about. Ask them to figure out answers about the picture that answer the questions who, what, where, when, why, and how. From there, they can start to form a story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. (My writing prompts worksheets include a sheet for this.)
After they write their first draft, let it rest a day or so. Then go back through it with them to find and fix spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. If they need help figuring out a title, I have a worksheet for that too.
There are a lot of great resources out there to help elementary-age kids work on their creative writing. I really love the ones put out by Usborne books, which include Write Your Own Story, The Creative Writing Book, The Creative Writer’s Handbook, and The Story Writer’s Ideas Journal. Their books of writing prompts are also wonderful! My First Story Writing Book is perfect for younger kids, say ages nine and under, though older kids might get a kick out of it as well. For older kids, Usborne has Write Your Own Mystery and Suspense Stories, Write Your Own Sci-fi and Fantasy Stories, Write and Draw Your Own Comics, and Write and Design Your Own Magazines. I’ve used four of Usborne’s creative writing books, and they’ve been thoroughly enjoyable for my kids as well as myself, plus a great way to get creative juices flowing.
I hope this has sparked some ideas for you to use with your kids! Like with my tips for teaching kids to write poetry, you can use all of these ideas with any age, with a bit of tweaking to make them fit. And these work great for doing group writing too – if you have multiple kids, let them brainstorm story ideas together and all work on writing one big story. Or they can all choose one prompt and each write their own variations.
Sharing the story you just wrote can be a big confidence-booster for some, but nerve-wracking for others, so you’ll need to judge whether that’s a good fit for your group or not. But if they’re willing to share and encourage each other, that can be a wonderful way to boost creativity and teach your kids what “constructive criticism” is. Any questions? I’ll happily answer whatever I can in the comments!
Rachel Kovaciny was homeschooled K-12, graduated from Bethany Lutheran College with a BA in Liberal Arts, and promptly married her college sweetheart. She now lives in Virginia with her husband and their three homeschooled children. Rachel writes a monthly history column for the newspaper Prairie Times and bi-monthly articles for the online magazine Femnista. She also blogs about books at The Edge of the Precipice and about movies, writing, and life at Hamlette’s Soliloquy. Her 2017 book, Cloaked, was a finalist for the Peacemaker Award for Best YA/Children’s Western Fiction, and her follow-up, Dancing and Doughnuts, is now available in paperback and e-book. To learn more about Rachel and her writing, visit www.rachelkovaciny.com