Surprise someone (or yourself) with a story

Illustration by Agilulfo Russo from our Level 4 reader, Dracula by Bram Stoker. © Helbling Languages

Illustration by Agilulfo Russo from our Level 4 reader, Dracula by Bram Stoker. © Helbling Languages

Have you ever thought of giving a story as a present to someone? What about your students?  Older or younger, lower-level or higher-level, all our students enjoy telling (and even writing) stories and if you suggest they write their story to give as a present to a friend or a family member, they will be more motivated.

Let’s look at how you can guide your students from  initial preparation through editing to creating a small booklet to present their story.

 1 Who are you writing for?

Explain to your students that when we write a story our theme and voice are influenced by the audience. If you write for a wider audience, the story will probably be different from a story you write for your friend or family. So the first question to ask is : who is this story for?

2 What is your theme?

Think about the person you are writing the story for. How does s/he affect the type of story you would like to write? Are you going to write about a shared memory, maybe a trip you went on together? What about telling the story of how the two of you met? Or maybe it is the story of something you would like to do together?

You can also write  a fictive story. Imagine that you are in the past, in the favourite era of you and the person you are writing for. You can also travel to the future or to an imaginary place. You can change your names, and imagine that you are older or younger.

3 Starting to prepare

When you are writing a story, it is important to have a list of the characters in your mind as well as the places they are going to visit and a basic storyline of all the events. Prepare a sheet with the basic structure of your story. Remember, this foundation and pillars will hold your story together, as if it were a house you are building. After defining this basic structure, imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like in your story.

Here is a checklist to follow.

1 Define your main characters.

  • What are they like?
  • What do they like?
  • What do they look like?
  • How do they know each other?

2 Describe setting

  • Are you in a city?
  • In the countryside?
  • Which city and which country?
  • When is it set?
  • What is the time frame of the story?

You can also use our Setting Expert Role Cards to create the setting.

Read our writing sequence about creating a mysterious setting and use our charts:

3 The plot

Use our Plot Expert Role Cards to develop your story.

4 Dialogues

You can change the pace in your story by using dialogue. Does the person you are writing for or writing about have any typical phrases or style they use when speaking? Collect these and translate them into English. Keep your dialogues short and realistic. Say them out loud to check they sound authentic.

5 Length

How long is your story going to be? If you are planning to create a booklet or printed edition of your story, think about the format and adjust the length. How many pages would you like to have? You can present a one-page story on an A3-size sheet if you illustrate it and decorate it nicely, or you can make your own booklet, by folding the paper into as many sheets as you wish. It’s up to you.

Here are some solutions.

  • an A3 page poster-style with your own design, and then you can roll it up
  • print and attach A4 sheets together, don’t forget to add a cover page
  • fold A4 pages into an A5 booklet – as many as you like, and either set the printer to print your story as a booklet or copy your story in your own handwriting

6 Illustration

There are several ways to illustrate you story. The length and presentation of the story will define the techniques you can use to illustrate it.

  • Use your own photos. Print and stick them onto the printed pages, or insert them into the document you are creating on your computer and print them with the text.
  • Illustrate your pages with drawings. You can have full-page illustrations, or you can simply decorate the pages with small drawings.

7 Editing your story

When you have written your story, do some basic editorial checks before printing or designing it. In this post you will find practical tips.

8 Design

The presentation of your work is as important as the story your write. The content is influenced by your design, and the visual appearance of your work will be the first thing your audience sees. Think carefully about it. Some basic things to keep in mind:

  • You need a cover unless it is a poster story. Use heavier paper or cardboard for the cover.
  • Look at our ideas about length in point 5, and use those formats to present your story.
  • Handwriting or printing? If your handwriting looks nice, go for it. You can also experiment with different fonts and styles if you print your story.

You will find some arts and crafts ideas in these two posts:

Extra tip: You might want to create a graphic story. Visit this post for some ideas and apps:

4 Some language fun

1 Narrative structures

Remember to revise the narrative tenses before your students start writing the story. Start by asking them to explain the differences between these three situations.

  1. When I got home, my dog ate my dinner.
  2. When I got home, my dog was eating my dinner!
  3. By the time I got home, my dog had eaten my dinner.

In which situation did I have the chance to save my dinner?

2 Improve your style

You can also work on your choice of words and sentence structures when you are writing.

  • Use the theasurus in your dictionary and look for synonyms to improve your vocabulary.
  • Think about the length of your sentences. It is better to keep the sentences shorter and your paragraphs longer.
  • You can use some literary devices. For examples and activities, visit this blog post: Celebrate World Poetry Day on 21st March!

Get creative and write a story before the end of the year. If your students have already written stories, share your experiences with us.

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