Thursday, October 13, 2011

Using Fairy Tales to Learn to Write Stories

We ask children from a very young age to produce writing. Producing writing is, in itself, a complicated art form. Further, we ask children (as young as six years of age!) to produce original works of fiction. Not that long ago, many teachers still asked children to produce a piece of writing from just a title starting point - 'A Snowy Day' or 'My Holiday Adventure'! Astoundingly, many children would go away and do this and I imagine that there are some successful and sophisticated authors out there who started out in early schooling that way.

But engaging children in writing must start with engaging children in story structures. Some of the best stories to use are basic fairy tales. Use Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Billy Goats Gruff. 

The children need to internalise these stories: break them down; explore the characters; have the children retell the stories to each other; use pictures to represent the cards or a story prompts or have the children create a comic strip. This internalisation means that the story is visited at least three times, more if possible.

Once the children reach that level of comfort, then they are ready to reproduce them as pieces of writing. Children as young as six will write extended narratives following the solid structure of the fairy tale chosen.

Support the younger children by building a word wall with the words needed to tell the story. Allow the children to concentrate on the technical side of sentence construction, grammar and punctuation.

As the children move up the school, have them reproduce the stories but with alternative characters. Sven year old children may simply write the story of Little Blue Riding Hood with a tiger playing the role of baddie. Try The Three Hairy Deers as an alternative to The Three Billy Goats Gruff with an ugly Giraffe living under the bridge.

Ten and eleven year old children could take the narrative structure of Little Red riding Hood and twist it into a murder/kidnap mystery with a detective little girl arriving at grandma's house and finding it empty. She could find clues that lead her to the wolf who she has to trap.

Familiarity in the form of fairy tales breeds confidence in the worried writer but allows the flexibility for children of any level to develop technical elements of writing.

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