Creating narratives – storytelling in the English classroom

Author: Alison Powell
Published: 05/07/2022
Creative writing

According to Will Storr, author of The Science of Storytelling ‘when posed with even the deepest questions about reality, human brains tend towards story’. As English teachers, our job is showing students how stories work, how language functions in the telling of stories – both fiction and non-fiction, and how the young people we work with can build better stories themselves.

It might be that the stories you hear most from your students are ones about what’s happened to their homework. (‘My printer ran out of ink.’/‘I thought it was week B.’/’I didn’t have any paper.’). Here are a few resources that will help bring even more range to the storytelling in your classroom:

Sculpture inspired creative writing is an excellent resource for exercising your storytelling muscles. Students are invited to respond to a series of sculptures (or images of them, at least!) and then to get crafty and make their own before writing about three of their favourites. It’s a lesson that taps into the visual and kinaesthetic parts of the brain, giving creativity a chance to build before bringing stories to the page.

Building on this you could use Creating characters in an instant and encourage storytelling that features human protagonists and narratives where the setting is crucial. Here students are offered two images to respond to – one of a snowy city street and another of a modern city on a bright day. You could use sound in the classroom to help students consider the senses and allow them to discuss their responses in pairs before choosing one of the two images to work with.

We all know that offering style models can help students to improve their writing. Describing a scene presents a description from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows along with annotations so students can examine how the author is using language. For extra challenge, you could remove the annotations and students to explore the extract independently before offering the suggestions.

To encourage students to move beyond their active vocabulary and into the realms of scintillating and delectable language, use the Writing fiction: words to dazzle worksheets. This resource is particularly useful for KS4 students who want to excel in their Language Paper 1 exam, but also works with KS3.

Three new resources will help younger students to put pen to paper with enthusiasm. Creative writing sentence matCreative writing: KS3 homework tasks and the seasonally appropriate Winter: fiction writing activities all include a range of fun activities to get students writing fast fiction.

And if your students are reluctant to proofread or redraft their creative writing, it can be helpful to invite peer assessment. Guidelines for this process are always helpful and the checklist on the How to improve your first draft covers all the bases.

As for the infamous homework stories – insist that these are at least creative. Refuse to accept the standard excuses and encourage stories such as ‘aliens came into my bedroom in the night and made me give them my homework for their research into life on Earth.’ You’ll may still need to issue detentions, of course, but at least you can all have a bit of fun along the way!

This article was first published as an Editor's pick newsletter in 2022. 

Alison Powell

Alison Powell is an experienced English teacher, education consultant and writer. She has worked on a range of education projects including BBC Bitesize, Poetry By Heart and York Notes, as well as sharing over 90 teaching resources on Teachit. She is the founder of WriteClub, which offers creative writing workshops and mentoring: @alisonjpowell @hellowriteclub.