Fables first! I begin my narrative writing unit with fables. Kids choose a moral, think of a situation that will teach it, and develop animal characters with human traits. After a little instruction on dialogue, structure, and technique, they’re ready to write an effective short story.
Analyzing Elements of Fables
Videos really grab students’ attention! This year, I chose The Grasshopper and the Ants. After that, we read a short text version of the same story, followed by “The Fox and the Crow.”
We analyzed the characters, setting, and plot to write generalizations about fables:
- Characters are usually animals with human traits. (Note: When animals are personified, the name of the animal is capitalized.)
- Settings are not specific. Much of the time the setting is simply the countryside.
- The beginning of a fable introduces the characters and setting (exposition), the middle provides a brief story (rising action and climax), and the end wraps it up with a lesson (resolution).
- Fables are short pieces of prose. They are written in paragraphs and sometimes use dialogue.
- Fables are entertaining, but their main purpose is to teach a moral, or lesson.
Today I’m discussing writing with fables. For more on teaching with fables, visit my earlier blog post.
For their initial planning, kids focused on the moral first. They explored a variety of proverbs then chose lessons for their stories.
My students generated a plot by thinking of a short series of events that would teach the lesson. Then they considered which animals exemplified human traits needed for their characters.
Not all fables have dialogue, but this is a great place to teach it. I used a PowerPoint presentation to show my students how to use direct quotes in their writing.
Improving Writing Techniques
To improve writing early in the year, we focused on writing good beginnings and endings, beefing up our word choice, and using different sentence beginnings.
The introduction, or exposition, introduces the characters and setting. Kids can be inched toward stronger beginnings through examples.
- Example 1: Some Ants put grain away for the winter. A Grasshopper came over.
- Example 2: All summer long a colony of Ants gathered grain and stored it for the winter. As they worked, a Grasshopper, carrying his fiddle, hopped over to watch them.
Looking at the ends of fables, kids notice that the last paragraph wraps up the story, providing resolution. The moral is either implied or stated. Having a character state the moral is more effective than just listing it.
“Choose specific nouns, active verbs, and effective transitions.” (If I had a dollar for every time I remind my students of this…) As we look through the sample fables again, we notice words that are specific to the characters, setting, and plot.
For transitions, students listed a few terms that would help their readers move through the text. At this point in the year, I let them use simple transitions, such as next, meanwhile, and in the morning.
I simply asked my students to be sure the beginning of each sentence in a paragraph began differently. We talked about a few simple strategies to achieve this: add a transition term or use a synonym. They’ll learn more about varying sentence structure and length as the year goes on.
Drafting, Editing, and Finalizing
Time to write! After finishing their drafts, they checked their fables with this self-editing sheet (and then asked a friend to check it too).
Of course their masterpieces had to be published. They wrote final drafts, added illustrations, and hung them for all to see at our open house.
Even reluctant writers can achieve success with fables. They’re short and sweet – – – a perfect beginning to your effective narrative writing program.