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Writing Short Fiction Lessons at a Glance
This resource was reviewed using the Curriki Review rubric and received an overall Curriki Review System rating of 3, as of -0001-11-30.
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The unit offers six weeks of instruction (organized into six steps) and is suitable for a wide range of middle school classrooms. Each step contains four lessons aligned to New York City and State learning standards in English Language Arts.
Step 1: Create a Character
In Step 1, students develop main characters as the springboard for creating compelling and realistic short stories. With teacher guidance, students imagine believable and memorable characters and then sharpen their personalities by defining their experiences and relationships. Having created central figures that are multidimensional and unique, students are ready to invent the conflicts upon which to build their fictional pieces.
Lesson 1.1: Analyze a Character
After being introduced to the unit of study, students analyze the main character in Paul Fleischman’s short story “Gonzalo” from the book Seedfolks in preparation for creating their own fictional characters. Students identify the unique traits of the character in the mentor text as well as traits of other fictional characters that are familiar to them.
Lesson 1.2: Imagine Your Character
After constructing a fictional character as a class, students create their own memorable and believable characters, scaffolded by a short list of guiding questions. By the end of the lesson, students will have developed character sketches for the central figures of their realistic short stories.
Lesson 1.3: Develop Your Character’s Network
This lesson has two parts. In the first part, students create relationship webs that include a variety of people in their characters’ world such as friends, family and acquaintances. Students extend their thinking about each of these relationships by writing about potential problems the main character may have with some of the people in the web. In the second part, students use Your Character Sketch (Handout 1.2a) and Develop Your Character’s Network (Handout 1.3a) to begin posting character profiles on an electronic page that they will later share with classmates.
Lesson 1.4: Sharpen Your Character’s Identity
This lesson has two parts. First, students sharpen their characters by “interviewing” them. Students ask questions about their characters’ strengths, weaknesses, fears and secrets in order to gain additional insight into their personalities. Second, students update online character profiles and share them with classmates. Peers provide constructive feedback to further character development.
Step 2: Plan Your Plot
In Step 2, students develop plots for their stories. They build on characters and a manageable conflict to create clear and thoughtful story maps for their short fiction pieces. Developing an organized story map is necessary before students begin writing to ensure that stories focus on a conflict, build toward an engaging climax, offer a thoughtful resolution and adequately reveal the character’s personality.
Lesson 2.1: Brainstorm Conflicts
Students identify potential conflicts involving their main characters in order to develop a compelling central focus for their stories. After developing a list of stressful areas or points affecting their characters’ lives, students explore the hypothetical situations (“what could happen if” scenarios) that could result. These situations serve as story possibilities.
Lesson 2.2: Generate the Plot
Students try out several possible plotlines in order to determine the best possible direction for their realistic short stories. They then select one and pitch their idea to a classmate in order to receive constructive feedback.
Lesson 2.3: Map the Outside Story
Students plan for writing by breaking their stories into discrete scenes. They first identify the climax and use it as the hub from which they build rising action and falling action scenes. At the end of the lesson, students have a creative and logical sequence of actions and events recorded on an organizer that will serve as a guide when they begin drafting.
Lesson 2.4: Map the Inside Story
Using maps of the action in their stories, students determine the thoughts and emotions related to each particular scene as well as their progression leading up to and after the climax.
Step 3: Try Out Writing Strategies
In Step 3, students experiment with a collection of strategies that allow them to effectively engage their readers with their story’s events and characters. Students experiment with these strategies in their climax and introductory scenes using ideas from their story maps. These “experiments” may or may not make it into the draft of the short story. The idea is to develop a “toolkit” that students can draw upon when drafting their stories as well as in future narrative writing.
Lesson 3.1: Use Description to Set the Mood
Students learn how writers set the mood of a scene using vivid descriptions of the setting, the characters and the action. Guided by their story maps, students identify the moods they wish to communicate in their climax scenes and develop them using descriptive language.
Lesson 3.2: Show Your Character’s Personality
Students learn how to reveal their characters’ personalities and motivations through the use of action, dialogue and interior monologue. They add these elements to make the climax scenes developed in the previous lesson even more effective.
Lesson 3.3: Determine a Point of View for Your Story
After learning the differences between first and third person narration, students experiment with each by starting a draft of their first scene using first person and rewriting the scene in third person. They compare the resulting paragraphs and choose the point of view that will be most effective in making their stories interesting and bringing meaning to them.
Lesson 3.4: Use the Computer for Drafting (Supplementary)
This supplemental lesson is targeted to classrooms in which students are inexperienced in using word processing software. Students learn about good file saving practices in preparation for typing their first drafts. Students learn to upload their typed documents to the Online Classroom.
Step 4: Write Your First Draft
In Step 4, students produce a complete first draft of their short stories. In doing so, they draw on the drafting techniques discussed in the mini lessons on ensuring plot consistency and writing effective endings as well as the narrative craft techniques introduced in Step 3.
Lesson 4.1: Begin to Draft
Students begin drafting their stories from beginning to end. They use the story maps and brief story pitches generated in Step 2 to guide them in incorporating both the inside (thoughts and emotions) and the outside (actions) of their character. In addition, they apply the craft strategies introduced in Step 3 to their writing.
Lesson 4.2: Draft an Effective Ending
Based on their story maps, students create endings that effectively resolve their central conflicts. In addition, they show how their characters have changed throughout the course of their stories.
Lesson 4.3: Ensure Plot Consistency
Students reread their first drafts, comparing them to the story maps they created in Step 2 to ensure that their plots are cohesive and consistent with their plans. Students eliminate any inconsistencies they find by adding, deleting or refocusing scenes as needed.
Lesson 4.4: Use Dialogue to Advance the Plot (Supplementary)
Students learn how to use dialogue to advance the plot and bring characters to life. The mechanics of punctuating and formatting dialogue are also addressed in the lesson. Students apply their newly acquired skills to their draft stories.
Step 5: Revise
In Step 5, now that students have a complete draft, they refine their texts. They guide readers from scene to scene with appropriate transitions and sharpen clarity and readers’ engagement by applying additional craft strategies. Through peer review, students have another opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses in their work and to plan for improving their stories.
Lesson 5.1: Transition from Scene to Scene
After learning different ways to signal the transitions between scenes in their writing, students review their draft short stories and revise them so that readers can clearly understand any changes in location, time and characters.
Lesson 5.2: Use Foreshadowing
Students learn specific foreshadowing strategies to make their stories more believable and consistent. Armed with this knowledge, they reread and revise their short stories to establish important facts and to introduce key character traits before their climax scenes.
Lesson 5.3: Grab Readers with Your Beginning
Using a set of guiding questions, students revisit the opening paragraphs of their stories in order to more fully engage their readers. Students stimulate readers by introducing their main characters through use of vivid detail, providing interesting background, or starting off the story with a dramatic event. Strategies selected should work to introduce the main character and conflict in an interesting and clear way.
Lesson 5.4: Peer Review
After learning the importance of sharing both warm and cool feedback and giving specific comments, students confer with classmates to improve their stories. As reviewers, they respond to one another’s work and then, as writers, they use the feedback they receive to develop and execute a revision plan.
Step 6: Edit and Publish
In Step 6, the final step of the unit, students edit and proofread their short stories for accuracy of grammar and spelling. At the end of this process, students celebrate their accomplishments by publishing their short stories in the class eZine and commenting online on one another’s stories.
Lesson 6.1: Edit for Run-on Sentences
Students edit their stories for grammar and punctuation using the Editing Checklist (Handout 6.1a). They pay particular attention to identifying and eliminating run-on sentences. Students work on computers to correct their typed drafts.
Lesson 6.2: Reflect on Your Work
Students make final refinements to their stories using Handout 2.2b, Short Fiction Rubric. The rubric serves as a guide as students prepare their stories for publication. Students also reflect upon what they have learned throughout the Short Fiction unit and establish future writing goals.
Lesson 6.3: Publish on Writing Matters
Students create appealing titles for their stories. They insert drop caps into their first paragraphs. Then they publish their finished pieces on their Writing Matters class ezine.
Lesson 6.4: Respond to Other’s Writing
Students read one another’s work and post their comments on the class ezine. The process is scaffolded by a series of “sentence starters” that keep the remarks focused and thoughtful.