#Celebratelu & #SOLC17 & #DigiLitSunday: Experimenting with fiction

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

DigiLit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche


I have a confession to make.  Although my sixth graders have clamored to write fiction year after year, our enthusiastic forays into  this genre have always ended with a general feeling of dissatisfaction on both sides: I feel as though I have not taught it well, and they feel as though they haven’t written well.

This March, the familiar question of “when do we get to write fiction?” sounded again.  We had just concluded a unit on essay  writing, and were about to get ready for a unit on test prep – a good time, I thought, to answer this burning question once again: can we write fiction in a meaningful, satisfying, but time conscious way?

I thought carefully about all the things that had led to derailment in the past:

*diving into writing fantasy, which often became convoluted storylines that went on, and on, and on…

*not creating clear parameters for my students, so that some were “all done” quickly and others were unable to conclude because their stories had become so complicated

*not setting up a defined timeframe, so that our “creativity” kept stretching on and on (i.e. story lines were going nowhere, and new characters kept popping up for no rhyme or reason).

And I used those lessons to tighten up the plans for this year:

*we would stick to realistic fiction

*we would think about our storylines in a more limited way:

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*we would spend more time planning before writing:

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*we would have three weeks: two to plan, draft, confer, and peer review, and one to revise and publish.

Last Wednesday was publishing day and our writing celebration.  My kiddos created covers for their short stories, and then sat back and enjoyed each others’ creations:

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And I sat back to reflect upon the initial burning question that had set this particular writing into motion: can we write fiction in a meaningful, satisfying, but time conscious way?  The answer, I thought, was a qualified “yes!”.    Here’s what we learned in the process:

*writing fiction is a lot harder than it looks (some were able to develop their storylines well, and some didn’t quite reach the mark – hence the above “qualified”).

*having a plan of action is really important in writing fiction, because it’s so easy to go off on tangents (new characters! sudden happenings!) and so hard to get back on track.

*working within a time frame helps us stick to our plans (more or less).

*we could use our reading strategies (Notice and Note signposts) as writing strategies.

*we will take what we’ve learned and keep experimenting – who knows, but that some of these short stories will one day morph into the long novels that some of my kiddos long to write. I celebrate that!






16 thoughts on “#Celebratelu & #SOLC17 & #DigiLitSunday: Experimenting with fiction

  1. First, I love the photo because it brought back memories of my former classroom where my students kept their work, notebooks, etc. in the same kind of cartons. I love the dog-earedness of their books, and the work hung above. So authentic.
    Second, I agree with you that fiction is a challenge for kids to write; they do either go off on tangents and lose the thread, or they have a failure of imagination. The realistic fiction is a great idea, and so is creating parameters for the project. I wonder what they learned from it?

  2. Love that you did it. At my beginning of the year, there was a local contest that limited students in the fiction stories, so I did that nearly every year, and it helped them get going. This sounds like you made it a success, Tara. Love seeing the covers!

  3. Fiction is something kids clammer for and teachers fear, with good reason. The processs is bigger and more challenging than expected so the end product is often not what we envision. You have taken an unwieldy beast and made it satisfying and doable. I love how your year of reading work comes into play here. Exactly as it should!

  4. How wonderful that this time the experience was positive for the students and for you. Reflecting and learning form the past allowed you to create supportive structures and expectations for this year. Cheers to all the fiction writers in your class!

  5. Ah! Kids love to write fiction! Giving them time to plan is so important. And, it’s critical that we listen to our students and shift our plans a little so that we don’t stifle their enthusiasm and energy for writing. Kudos to you for figuring out how to do that within the confines of your day.

  6. I have found that kids love to write fiction but they don’t do it well because it is a challenge. The way you had it set up made it so much easier for students to stay on track and focus on getting quality work. Good for you and your students.

  7. I love your process – I always struggled with this as a teacher. I now struggle with writing fiction on my own. It is hard to do. Congrats for giving it a try and making it work. I love the structure you created to keep things going.

  8. Letting us in on your thought process about fiction writing is such a gift. We can learn so much from each other, our successes, our failures, our re-tries. Your students embraced this genre with gusto. Thanks for joining our DigiLit conversation today.

  9. This took me back to my first grade fiction unit, where a few words made it possible for another explosion! You were so wise to make it realistic (for now) and establish parameters. Fiction is so hard! We should remember to appreciate the discipline demonstrated in a good short story 🙂

  10. Tara,
    I love that you recognized dissatisfaction with previous work for students and teacher. As a writer yourself, you know htis is hard so you restructured to make it better. I think the time limits are critical when the work is difficult. We know “this too shall pass” but sometimes we need the timelines to know exactly how long we will struggle! (Remember, I am not a fiction writer!)

  11. I think you have hit on a winning formula for this genre! I love the graphic of the SWBST. That really brings the focus to the front and center of the work.

  12. Great solutions to eternal challenges. I used to do a narrative nonfiction piece with my ELD students, and I’d always tell them, “I wasn’t there–you can make up some of the details to make the story better and I’ll never know!” Not the same as outright fiction, but it scratched the itch for many of the writers.

  13. I love that you went ahead and tried again. Looks like everyone learned something! When I taught grade 5, every story somehow became a story about an alien invasion. I was never sure how to get them to stop writing about that!

  14. I applaud how you thought about what didn’t work before and then made a clear, focused plan with a time limit. I will be trying this if my class can finish their research reports in time!

  15. You bring up so many great points about the creative writing process, that I think are specific to not just fiction writing — creative writing should of course be creative, but there has to be structure too in order for our students to create something that feels meaningful. Thank you for sharing your helpful process and ideas!

  16. Bravo, Tara! I love that you problem-solved your way to a more satisfying result. The parameters you set still allowed your students plenty of choices, but provided the structure they needed to be successful. Thank you for sharing!

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