Fables first! Begin your 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.
Ms. Sneed Begins Narrative Writing with Fables
Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her teaching partner. “Time to start narrative writing,” she said.
Mr. Frank clicked around on his laptop until he found the file on writing fables. “Last year, my class began with fables,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the quality of their first stories.”
“I’d love to try it,” said Ms. Sneed. “Tell me more.”
Mr. Frank opened the file and scrolled through it. “This seven-day lesson plan moves you through all of the steps,” he said.
“Looks pretty simple,” Ms. Sneed commented. A trace of her famous teacher smile lit up her face. “I like where this is going.”
Exploring Elements of Fables
“On the first day,” Mr. Frank continued, “we read two fables.” He scrolled down so Ms. Sneed could see them.
Mr. Frank opened a folder that sat next to his laptop. “Then we analyzed the characters, setting, and plot to write generalizations about fables.” He slid a piece of paper to Ms. Sneed. “I jotted down last year’s generalizations to guide my discussion this year. I’ll make a copy for you.”
- 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.
“Thanks,” said Ms. Sneed. “Asking kids to discover elements themselves is such a great idea. I love the critical thinking.”
“The following day I taught them how to write dialogue.” Mr. Frank clicked on another file and opened it. “This 33-slide PowerPoint really did the trick.” He clicked through the slides to give Ms. Sneed a look.
“Wow, this is so thorough,” she said. “Kids will have no trouble writing their own dialogue after seeing it.”
“When we finished, my students practiced with this worksheet,” said Mr. Frank. “Some of them needed more practice, so I followed up with Writing Dialogue with Cartoons.”
Planning Character Traits, Moral, and Plot
“On the third day, kids explored character traits. With this worksheet, they considered traits for different animals.”
“That’s fun,” Ms. Sneed responded. “I can see how it helps students pick animals for their own stories.”
Mr. Frank nodded and went on. “Next, we explored morals. Some kids already had ideas for this. Others, however, needed some help. We discussed this list of proverbs to get their juices flowing.”
“Hey,” Ms. Sneed interrupted, “that addresses a fourth grade language standard too! Nothing like doing double duty.”
Mr. Frank smiled. “Finally, each student was ready for Fable Plan 1. They selected morals, jotted down ideas for the plot, and chose characters.”
Improving Beginnings, Endings, and Word Choice
“If you look at the lesson plans, you’ll see that students explore beginnings, endings, and word choice on the fourth day. The two fables read on the first day provide models for good introductions and conclusions. In the lesson plans, you’ll also see an example for getting kids to use more concrete words.”
First draft: Some Ants put grain away for winter. A Grasshopper came over.
Second draft: All summer long a colony of Ants gathered grain and stored it for winter. As they worked, a Grasshopper, carrying his fiddle, hopped over to watch them.
“Wow, word choice and elaboration make a big difference,” Ms. Sneed commented.
“Yep. That’s what kids work on with this second planning sheet.”
“Then the kids graphed their fables using story arcs.”
Drafting and Revising Fables
“On the fifth day, my students were ready to write their first drafts,” said Mr. Grow. “With the help of the story arc, the fables pretty much wrote themselves.” He shook his head at the thought. “Truly, it was the best first draft ever.”
“Once they were finished, it was time for revision. I taught one more skill: using transition terms. Kids selected a few from this list and added them to their drafts.”
He scrolled down to an editing sheet. “I let my students work in pairs to edit and revise. It was great! They really loved reading one another’s stories and giving advice.”
Mr. Grow pulled a picture out of his file folder. “After that, they wrote their final drafts and illustrated.” He handed the photo to Ms. Sneed.
“I love this bulletin board!” she said. “How did you do those letters?”
“Oh, that was easy with PowerPoint. And the colors around them are actually placemats from the Dollar Store.”
“I’m stealing all of your ideas!” Ms. Sneed exclaimed. “After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery.”
Mr. Grow smiled. “What’s mine is yours,” he said. “Now let’s put together an entire interdisciplinary fables unit!”
For over 35 years, I taught fourth grade. Today, I tell my tales through the eyes of a fictitious teacher, Ms. Sneed. Hopefully her stories will inspire you to enjoy teaching too!