Developing story writing

Stories play an important part in a child’s language and literacy development. Earlier we looked at how to develop a child’s ability to retell stories, which ties in closely with the ability to write well later on. Today we will look at story writing skills for school age children.

Children need to understand about the structure of stories and the difference between written and oral language. The more familiar your child is with these ideas, the better stories they will write. Many children develop this understanding by listening to stories when they are young and reading stories when they are older but some children need extra help.

To help your child understand the structure of stories and the characteristics of written language try these ideas: 

Encourage your child to read widely. Offer books about your child’s interests but also offer good quality, well written books.  Ask your local or school librarian for good books suited to your child’s age, ability level and interest. If you child does not like to read, read aloud to them.  Children can’t read aloud at the level of their understanding until around ten years of age so keep reading to them and read them books which are harder than the ones they read themselves. Try books on tape or CD too.

Talk about the structure of stories as you read together.  You can also talk about the structure of stories in things like movies. Talk about:

  • the beginning, middle and end.
  • the characters and settings.
  • the central problem of the story,
  • the character’s reaction to the problem
  • their plans, intentions and attempts to solve the problem
  • cause and effect relationships between parts of the story, what happens and how does that effect what happens next

Talk about the differences between written and spoken language and look for examples as you read. Perhaps compare a book and a movie of the same story. Some of the differences are:

  • written language uses more complete sentences
  • written language uses words to provide detail and context, because the reader cannot see what the writer is experiencing
  • written language needs referencing of information such as if a person is talking or thinking “he said” or “thought the girl” is used to reference the speech or thoughts
  • stories are usually told in past tense. Conjunctions (joining words) provide important information about how the different parts of the story tie together in time (next, suddenly, later, before that) and cause effect (because, even though, however).

To help your child to write stories try these ideas:

Use a story map to plan the story first. Your child probably uses these in class and your child’s teacher may be able to give you a copy of the ones they typically use. You can download free printable story maps and other planners for writing from this site

Use a visual to help your child generate ideas. This might be a picture or series of pictures, a video clip, a picture book, an interesting photo or cartoon. Wordless story books work well and are available at libraries. Your child could draw a picture or take a photo themselves to help them think of ideas.

Try talking through your child’s story first.  Put the ideas on a story map as you discuss them. Ask your child to tell you the story before they begin to write. Perhaps record the story as you go. Most mobile phones have a voice recording function.

Help your child to brainstorm, plan, draft and edit their story.  Brainstorm ideas about the topic first. Write down all the ideas until you can’t think of any more then mark the ones you like the best. Next put the ideas onto a story map and fill in the gaps with extra information. Draft the story. Don’t be too fussy at this stage, rather try to keep the ideas flowing. Next read your draft aloud together as you edit and make changes.  This helps your child hear any bits that don’t make sense and any mistakes with grammar. Remember to edit for meaning as well as grammar, spelling and punctuation. Does it make sense? Does it sound good? Is there a better or more interesting word that could be used? Are there a range of different sentences rather than lots of sentences that are similar? Can you add some extra descriptive words or phrases to make it “sparkle”?

Present your story in an interesting way and share it with others.  Try a voice recording; a video of your child reading their story; type, illustrate and print it with a computer; make a power point display.

To encourage reluctant writers:

  • use topics around your child’s interests such as favourite movie characters or sporting stars, topics such as space, dinosaurs, superheroes…
  • use your child’s real life experiences and add a little imagination “remember when your went fishing with Dad, lets pretend you caught a whale”.
  • break it into manageable steps, “let’s just write the first three sentences”
  • don’t start with a blank page, use the story maps and visuals discussed above
  • reduce the amount of handwriting needed. Perhaps take turns to write one line each or let your child dictate the words and you type or write them down.
  • use a variety of interesting ways to present stories as listed above
  • use literacy aides such as frequent word lists, spell checkers and word processors to help your child.  You child’s teacher may be able to suggest suitable software to help your child write and spell if this is an area of difficulty.
  • publish, display and share your child’s work

To help parents and teachers support children to develop literacy skills Talking Matters has developed a “Starting School Pack” which can be downloaded for free from the front page of our website.  There is also a large amount of free information about language and literacy in the downloads section of our website.

If you are concerned about your child's language or literacy browse our website to see how Talking Matters can help your child.

Related posts

How stories help your child

Top 10 language ideas

Developing grammar

Verbs and conjunctions

Visuals for older kids

We hope you have fun developing stories with your child and sharing them with family and friends.

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