Off to a Sizzling-Start story … or NOT!

BANG! KAPOW! The teacher punched her way through teaching her students about the Sizzling Start. ‘Who will rid me of this bothersome writing term?’ she screamed, valiantly, desperately.

If a child picks up the message the most important part of their short story is the Sizzling Start, he/she, wanting to please the teacher, will write something like … Bang! Crash! As the boy opened the door something on the table exploded. It didn’t hurt him so he went out to play. And then, he fell and hurt his leg. Then he went home to get a band-aid.’ (Sorry … feeble attempt, but you get the picture.)  This is happening in classroom short story writing.

It doesn’t matter if the story starts with a BANG AND KAPOW sizzling start if it falls apart because the story has no legs. The sizzling start is more than BANG AND KAPOW!

Good short stories don’t have boring starts. Story beginnings must capture the readers’ attention and curiosity. The first sentence/paragraph must have a ‘reason for being’. It can be description, dialogue, action or thought. It could start smack bang in the middle of the plot too.

If I was teaching kids (and adults) to write short stories (and I do), I would want them to spend much more time reading good short stories; working up great ideas for stories; discussing and planning those stories, before they write their first drafts. And I’d do it many times, not just once. Then, I would get them to check out that first sentence again; to improve, to adjust, to grab a reader’s attention.

Teachers don’t have a lot of teaching time left in a day’s required curriculum, sadly – but if Curriculum Departments and schools want kids to become adept at writing it has to be a natural part of every day, not just dribs and drabs to pass NAPLAN tests. 

Some children are natural story-tellers. Some find it much harder. Do you think it’s important for children to be able to write narratives? Why? What can we do to help kids not lose the ability to tell stories? How can we encourage it?

Think of all those Year 9 students who are required to write their forced 1000 word narrative. How many will ever write another story? How many will think it’s the stupidest task they’ve ever had to do?

teaching short story writing

What if in Years 3-8 narrative writing was a part of every day, as natural as having a good friend? As natural as storytelling? After all, storytelling is in our genetic make-up. 

Teaching short story writing to children is more than teaching a formula. To be able to write in narrative form requires children to have the pre-requisites … like being able to speak in narrative form (i.e. telling stories); to grow up in a secure environment where books are valued and parents read to their young. What if this doesn’t happen? How can teachers hope to help their classes fulfill the NAPLAN Narrative Writing test?

I would love to hear your opinion on this topic … whether you’re an author, teacher, parent, librarian, or whatever.
Thank you for reading my ravings, if you got this far. 

Now get your head around the 10 NAPLAN Criteria for the Narrative Writing Task:   

  1. Audience – The writer’s capacity to orient, engage and affect the reader
  2. Text structure – The organisation of narrative features including orientation, complication and resolution into an appropriate and effective text structure
  3. Ideas – The creation, selection and crafting of ideas for a narrative
  4. Character and setting – Character: The portrayal and development of character. Setting: The development of a sense of place, time and atmosphere.
  5. Vocabulary – The range and precision of language choices
  6. Cohesion – The control of multiple threads and relationships over the whole text, achieved through the use of referring words, substitutions, word associations and text connectives
  7. Paragraphing – The segmenting of text into paragraphs that assists the reader to negotiate the narrative
  8. Sentence structure – The production of grammatically correct, structurally sound and meaningful sentences
  9. Punctuation – The use of correct and appropriate punctuation to aid reading of the text
  10. Spelling – The accuracy of spelling and the difficulty of the words used. The following table shows criteria and the range of score points for the writing task. Etc etc etc….

2 thoughts on “Off to a Sizzling-Start story … or NOT!

  1. Oh dear! That is not good feedback for your young’un, Dimity. It must be so frustrating – you know a better way, but you can’t change the teacher’s attitude. You could photocopy the article and leave it lying around in the staffroom 🙂

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  2. 100% in agreement here, Sheryl! I won’t even start on the English teacher feedback my child received regarding creative narratives, but I was appalled and infuriated. Not from a mumma pov but from my professional teachy pov. This is a great post that really hits the nail on its narrative head. Hear hear! Dim

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