Writing Stories in Third Grade

Teaching students to write great narrative stories can be a daunting task. Characters?  Setting?  Plot?  Problem?  Solution?  Do it all at the same time?!  

How can we, as teachers, make sure that students are understanding the complexities of narrative writing, using their new skills effectively, and having fun?

As I have taught story writing to class after class of third grade students, I have found a few things to be most valuable year after year.  Take a peek at my 6 must-do strategies for teaching story writing!

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #1: Find good anchor books

Anchor books are key to kicking off a new unit and helping key concepts to really 'stick'.  This year, I have a class of kids who will do almost anything for "just one more story" and who am I to say no?

Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon -  This is one of my all time favourite Writing anchor books, especially for encouraging struggling writers.  In this story we follow the main character as he learns that anything can be the inspiration for a good story.  Great ideas for writing are all around us!

Chester's Masterpiece by Melanie Watt is a great story during the 'editing' stage of writing.  Chester, a precocious cat, playfully argues with the narrator about the best ways to write his own story.  It's a great way to introduce the need for students to edit and revise their work in order to produce quality writing.

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #2: Choose a theme for your stories

At times, broad writing topics such as "write a story about whatever you want"  can be overwhelming for third grade students.  After a miserable failure with this my first year in third grade, I began narrowing down the options and giving each class a theme.  This helps to guide our mini-lessons, and allows me to teach specific skills related to a particular genre of narrative story.  Here are a few of the themes that we have enjoyed:

  • Animal Stories
  • Who-done-it Stories
  • Time-Travel Stories (inspired by 'The Magic Treehouse')
  • Space Stories
  • Under-the-Sea stories

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #3: Model writing as a group

Throughout the story writing unit, I always take time to model the story-writing process through a collaborative class book.   We take an idea and explore it all the way from idea, to rough draft, and finally correct it and write a good copy as a group. I like to use chart paper so students can see me physically writing out the story in real-time, and modelling how to craft each aspect of the narrative story.  We add a little more onto our story each day!  Through practicing with whole-group writing, students are are able carry out each skill with greater confidence when they begin to write independently.

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #4: Teach an important skill each day

As students write their whole-class story, they are also introduced to a new writing skill daily.  It is during this short lesson that they are introduced to vital story writing techniques such as:

  • How to brainstorm ideas before you begin
  • Planning to have a beginning, middle, and end
  • Turning a plan into a creative story
  • Creating an engaging topic sentence
  • Using dialogue
  • Using punctuation
  • Crafting complex and compound sentences
  • Ending stories in a satisfying way

Pictured above: Detailed story planning pages, used to teach pre-writing skills via graphic organizers.  Part of this no-prep unit.

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #5: Conference one-on-one

Once students have begun their independent writing time (immediately following the mini-lesson, and modelled whole-group write) I pull 3-4 students for one-on-one conferences.  Here I am quickly able to give personalized help. For my struggling students, we can work on adding capital letters and punctuation to their sentences.  For my advanced writers, we may be working towards developing a more complex plot line.  This one-on-one time is vital for developing differentiated instruction.

I help my students to self edit each page of their work as well as to do a final edit with a peer (if they are ready) or with me if they need more one-on-one assistance.

After students have completed a quick checklist on each written page, they do a larger edit using this page.  (Available in my story writing unit)

Teaching Students to Write Stories Tip #6: Share, Share, Share

Inspire students to keep on writing by allowing them to share their work out loud, even in the incomplete stages!  As often as I am able, I love to allow students to stand up (at their desks, or on the carpet) and share out loud their favorite 4-5 sentences from their current piece of writing.  It helps them to build confidence as authors.

As you continue I continue in this process I may also allow the rest of the class to offer up "Two Stars and a Wish".  The "stars" are things that they love about the piece of work, and the "wish" is something that they wish the piece would have.

We also love binding our work into final books to send home to our families. It gives students a sense of pride when their stories feel valued by their teacher.  I love creating class books featuring all 24 of my little authors!

Check out my Story Writing Unit on Teachers Pay Teachers to create easy all-in-one booklets for your students.  All of the pages and templates seen in this post can be found in that unit (along with many more!)

Do you have any tried-and-true tips for teaching story writing?  I'd love to hear them in the comments below.  Happy Writing!

Writing Stories in 3rd Grade