Fiction writing is neglected in English classes everywhere for many reasons. We don't have enough time. Or we know some students might write pages and pages and pages and we feel too guilty about not reading all of those pages! Or maybe some of us don't do it because we feel it's just not academic enough. I have had all of these thoughts and more about fiction writing.
But, as my years as an English teacher have progress, I've come to realize that teaching fiction writing is absolutely critical in an English classroom.
Fiction writing isn't fluff.
We need to make it part of our curriculums NOW and stop neglecting this important component of an English curriculum. I have managed to squeeze more and more fiction writing into little corners of each school year and this year I plan to teach an entire unit. Check out this editable Google Slides Fiction Writing Unit to see exactly what topics I cover.
Personal narrative, information and argumentative writing have been front and center for years now and I hope this article convinces you to bring back fiction writing. I'll lay out five reasons why in the rest of this article...
1. Students Learn Plot Elements
Personal narratives and fantasy, dystopian, horror, sci-fi and fairytale stories really have a lot in common. Each of these genres of writing has these elements: setting, characters, dialogue, description, conflict, climax, resolution. So why not teach these aspects of a story through a free choice fictional unit where students choose the genre they want to write? Why always teach personal narrative, year after year after year without ever giving fiction a chance? The same aspects of a story can be taught through fiction writing!
2. Students Build Stamina
When you let students write fiction, many want to continue writing after class! Isn't that the ultimate goal of an English teacher? Students applying what they learn outside of the class for intrinsic purposes? Not because anyone forced them? Enough said.
3. You Can Teach a Whole Lot of Standards
The common core standards actually state:
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
Key word: imagined
There are many other terms found in the standards that could be covered during a fiction writing unit: dialogue, pacing, description, transition, sequence, conclusion, purpose, audience, planning, drafting, revising, editing, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, passive voice...
Shall I say more?
4. Students Actually Want to Share
During fiction writing units students actually beg to share. They are thrilled to watch an audience's reaction to their imaginative stories. Be warned though...it can be quite exhausting having student after student come up to you wanting to read an excerpt from their story. Try it. You'll see.
5. Students Elaborate...Finally!
Okay, not every student is going to be a writing machine. But, you can be sure that many, many students will surprise you with their elaboration skills. Students transform into real storytellers before your eyes, when you let them write fiction.
Okay so now that I've convinced you to bring fiction back, read on to avoid five common pitfalls when teaching fiction writing...
The Pitfalls of Teaching Fiction WritinG:
Okay so, if I haven't convinced you yet why you should start teaching fiction writing then you can go ahead and move on from here. But if I HAVE convinced you, here are some pitfalls to avoid when teaching a fiction writing unit:
1. Writing Epic books
If you notice a student is writing pages and pages and pages praise them! Say something like, "Wow I think you might become a published author one day!". THEN, guide them toward another short story idea. I would limit your fiction writing unit to students writing short stories. These short stories can be any fiction genre students would like, but they have to be short! How else are you going to be able to read them all and grade them? You need to set a limit.
2. Not Reading Mentor Texts
Every writing unit needs to be preceded by a reading unit. This is probably the very best piece of advice I picked up when I attended the Reading and Writing Institute in NYC. I always start out by sharing samples of the kind of writing my students are expected to write soon. So...introduce lots and lots of great fictional short stories to your students. Aren't sure where to find these mentor texts? Check out this resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. There are many, many fictional mentor text links provided in this resource to share with your students!
3. Letting Students End with "To Be Cont..."
Students need to be aware of the cliches in writing and this is definitely a cliche, especially if you know very well that the story is probably not going to be continued. Teach students that this phrase is only used when there actually is a sequel written or firmly in the works.
4. Having a Free for All Mentality
I've definitely done this. I've said something like this to students, "Okay everyone! It's October. Let's write scary stories." Then end, haha! As I stated earlier, actual content CAN and SHOULD be taught during a fiction writing unit. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean you can't teach valuable academics too!
5. Moving On Too Soon
Every writing unit should end with some sort of culminating event where students' stories are published and celebrated in some way. It is so important to honor students' hard work, their creativity and their willingness to try something new. The best way to do that is by sharing students writing in some way. Read 10 Ways to Publish Student Writing to get more inspiration about how to do this.
So there you have it. I believe bringing back fiction writing is essential for students and you as the teacher. It is enjoyable and there is so much that students can take away from endeavoring to write a fictional short story, not to even mention they build their creative muscles in the process!
About the Author
Amanda Werner is a full time middle school English teacher in the Bay Area. She has been teaching for eleven years and still feels like a novice. Every year is a unique and exciting challenge to inspire a new group of students in becoming avid readers and writers. Amanda reads educational literature voraciously and writes about the teaching of writing on her website amandawritenow.com. Amanda received her B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in Humanities at Western Washington University. In her free time, Amanda loves being outdoors with her husband and daughter.