Teaching Children to Write by Story Retelling and Extension

Learning how to write a story takes time and is developed in stages. It involves much more than plot. Starting from scratch means creating a setting, characters and dialogue. That is a big task, but we can help. If we want our children to learn how to write a story, we need to prime the pump with creative writing ideas. If we provide some of the elements, it makes it easier for them to start creating. Once they are creating, they will produce. With production comes refinement. The more they write, the better they will write.

Two simple techniques are story retelling and story extension. Begin with a familiar, well-loved story. Fairy tales are excellent, even for older kids. I used this technique in my French classes when we were learning The Three Little Pigs (my junior highs were in shock when we began). Eventually, we retold the story so that nothing changed–neither the characters, nor the plot, but the story was restated in new language. Kids are often very clever in the way they retell the story. When they retell, they are allowed to add as many details as they like as long as the meaning, the characters and the sequence of the story remain unchanged.

Story extension takes the story past the original ending. It answers the questions what then and what if . . . ? You would be surprised how creative your children will be when they need not invent the characters or the setting. Even the basic plot line has been previously developed. All they have to do is fine tune and add the odd character or twist in plot. It gives them a foundation and parameters, freeing them to take risks with the part for which they are responsible. This is much more manageable and makes them more comfortable. You should help them get started by brainstorming with them (that’s the grist). Ask some questions. Stir their imagination pot. Prime the Pump.

Once they have experience using familiar stories, you can give them a picture and use the ideas in it for grist. Start a file of good pictures with interesting characters and some kind of action (avoid landscapes). Magazines are great for these. Then you can prompt them by asking things like:

“What is a good name for the girl in the picture? Where do you think she is going? Where did she come from? Why is she smiling/sad/angry? What do you think she is saying to the dog? Who is the other person? What will happen if it starts to rain/snow?”

You get the idea. The possibilities are endless. Remember that a pump cannot pump air and few of us can pull ideas from a vacuum. Give your kids some grist (creative writing ideas) to get them going. Then watch them create. Happy writing!


Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges.  Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write.  Visit her website at HomeschoolWell.com.

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One Response to “Teaching Children to Write by Story Retelling and Extension”

  1. avatar Patsy Brekke says:

    Excellent approach! Growing students do not have a full tank of information from which to write. Don’t torture them with the blank page approach. Aesop’s fables are perfect fodder for new and reluctant writers alike. The are short and sweet, and oftentimes quite open ended. Students need fuel for writing and imitation, retelling, and extension are the perfect way to go.