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Ideas For Writing Stories
Bill Harley


Use folk tales, their themes and characters as a spur to writing.
One common theme is the granting of a magical gift to the hero or heroine, and what the
person does with the boon once they have it. Sometimes they use it wisely, sometimes they
blow it. After the introduction of several tales of this type through reading or storytelling, have the
children write a story about how a character receives a magic gift, and what happens to him/her.
It may help to make a list of things on the board that could become magical gifts (e.g., pencils,
dogs, umbrellas, ear muffs, elephants).

Use characters which reappear again and again in folk tales and have children use
these characters in a story.

Many tales in America, England, and Ireland have to do with Jack, the lazy fellow who
somehow always manages to save his neck, get rich, and marry into royalty. (Especially good
are The Jack Tales by Richard Chase, probably in the school library.) There are dozens of stories
in every culture about the "trickster" character outwitting his enemies and friends (e.g., Brer Rabbit -
see two good, short simple stories in Knee High Man by Julius Lester, an excellent book for
storytellers.) After introducing several stories about one of these stock characters, have the children
write their own stories about that character.
Except for cases where the written language is crucial to the story, memorizing a story word-
for-word is generally not the best way to learn a story. When you know the story, start to tell it to
yourself in your own words. If you get stuck, go back to the book, but when you've read the difficult
part over, put the book down again. Describe what you see in your mind's eye.

Begin a story either by telling it or distributing a print-out so that they can read it, but
stop at a certain point and have the students finish it.

This is a good starting point for writing stories, since it gives definite direction to their work,
and helps in their grasping the concept of story line. On another sheet, I give an example of the
start of a story which leaves the child with the opportunity of defining the conflict and resolving it.
(See "Barnak of the Forest".)

Act out the story.
After telling a story, or after a group of children has read a story, I often have them break up
into groups and develop the story into a short skit. The skit re-emphasizes the story line and
characters, and gives them the opportunity to speak out in front of a group.

I hope this all helps. If there are particular activities related to storytelling which you use and
find to be effective, I'd love to hear about them at http://www.billharley.com/contact.asp.

Bill Harley offers other lesson plans at BillHarley.com

Storyteller, singer, songwriter, author and playwright, Harley tours nationally and is recognized as one of America's finest performers for families. Serious and wacky at the same time, his work chronicles contemporary American life, with a slight off-center bent. Harley has five children's books, over twenty award-winning recordings of stories and songs,and two Grammy Nominations for his spoken word work. Bill has been a regular commentator on NRP's All Things Considered since 1991. In 2001, he was named a member of the Circle of Excellence by the National Storytelling network.


 

 

 

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