Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Teach Writing Skills by Tapping into Student Creativity

By Rhonda McDonald, Reading Specialist, Guest Blogger

Young children come to school with an endless amount of creativity. As educators, we have the responsibility to tap into their prior knowledge to nurture and channel those naturally creative thoughts. The beauty of creative writing is that there are no right or wrong responses. In today's blog post, I will share some developmentally appropriate techniques and resources you can use to teach writing skills that will enable your students to build comprehension through storytelling and writing.

The Relationship Between Families and Storytelling

Distinguishing between fantasy and reality in the verbal storytelling of young children can be difficult because while events in their stories may seem very real to them, the events may have actually come from their vibrant imaginations.

Reading to children from a young age helps them build stamina for listening and improve oral vocabulary. You can help parents understand the value of reading aloud with some discussion questions and demonstrate how to extend the thinking process after reading.

If you have the opportunity to do this, it's important for you to impress upon parents that they are their children’s first and most important teachers. To show parents how they can talk about a story with their kids to help students develop their own understanding of what was real or what was fantasy in their stories, try the following:

  • You could help parents understand how to frame a discussion with their children about a story with  What if . . . questions. The following questions could be used when you model for parents how they could inspire their children to change the plot of a story: What if Little Red Riding Hood went to visit her Grandfather? What if she lived in the desert? What if the main character was a boy?
  • If the main characters are animals, show parents how to encourage their kids to change the main character to a different animal and retell the story from that character’s point of view: Let’s retell the story of The Three Little Pigs and change them to sheep. How would the story be different? How would their houses be different?


Develop Skills Through Book Writing

In order to explore how you can teach writing in conjunction with storytelling, chapter five of Kid Writing in the 21st Century is an ideal place to start. In this professional resource, you'll find authentic examples of writing from children with a range of ideas for kids to easily publish their writing and connect with peers about their books. The fifth chapter also highlights how you can teach kids to write an alternate ending to a leveled reader of a traditional tale. You should model this process prior to asking the students to produce a new ending to a story being read in a guided reading lesson.


Using Fables While Teaching Writing

The Elephant and the Mouse is a level G fable from Fables & the Real World that can offer a great opportunity for your students to practice writing a new ending after they read. In this retold fable, a huge elephant spares the life and home of a small mouse, which leaves the small mouse feeling ready to do a good deed for the huge elephant in return. To help your students consider a new ending, talk about how the story could end differently if the animals did not help each other. You could also have the students change the animals and write about how the larger animal could help a small animal, or vice versa.

The Heron and the Swan is another entertaining fable at level H from Fables & the Real World that can help you tap into students' creativity. In this tale, a heron eats whatever insects and animals that come along, including beetles, a lizard, and a fish; on the other hand, a white swan is so picky about eating that it doesn't eat anything. By the end of the day, the heron is ready to sleep because of its full stomach, but the swan learns it should have been happy with what came its way.

You can encourage kids to practice writing a new ending to this narrative text by having them switch the roles of the animals or by changing the animal characters. You can also consider having students change the things eaten to foods that people would eat. This is a great way to activate their prior knowledge of an area of the world where two animals might be searching for food by asking, What type of food would a rainforest offer a parrot and a monkey? Then you could have students practice retelling and writing the story's ending with mangos, bananas, and papayas.


Pair Informational Texts with Fables to Spark Writing

Nonfiction books for kids that can be paired with fables are valuable tools to help students make real-world connections and develop their writing skills. Animal Helpers is a level H informational text that links with The Elephant and the Mouse because it highlights the theme of unique bonds that certain animals share when they exchange some form of help to each other. All About Lizards is a level H guided reading book that you can pair with  The Heron and the Swan that teaches facts about different lizards. This can spark your students' interest to do further research about a particular lizard and write about it.

When students reach the point of wanting to deepen their understanding of the ideas presented in these nonfiction books, they will want to conduct their own research. During their investigations, they may find new words that they could add to the glossary. You could also ask them to write a new ending to each paired informational text. When writing nonfiction, it's important for you to explain that facts need to be accurate. If your students create their own books about additional animals or write a fictional story about one type of animal, you'll see strong writing habits develop.

Writing is a process, so allow your students the freedom to express their creative ideas. It is important for them to record these thoughts in some manner. Encourage them to sketch out their ideas with rough drawings. The drawings can be organized into a story map, which gives them a base to expand upon. Encourage students to keep rough drafts—rough draft ideas can be kept in a folder and returned to when students need to work on something another day.

After this point, you'll see improvements in your students' abilities to tap into their background knowledge and practice reading comprehension as they develop sentences to go with their pictures. Instead of hearing, “I don’t know what to write about,” soon you'll notice a wealth of ideas bursting in your classroom. Be sure to visit our blog again soon for more ideas to have fun with guided reading and writing!

Rhonda was a Title 1 Reading Specialist in Botetourt County Public Schools, Virginia. She now substitutes and visits schools and libraries to lead writing workshops, story time, and parent workshops. She is also an author of children's books, including several titles in our  Kaleidoscope Collection  and Zoozoo Animal World  series. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more by Rhonda on our blog .