Using Storytelling to Improve WritingApril 27, 2021
Once upon a time, homeschool parents overlooked a teaching strategy for writing…
It’s easy to be so hyper-focused on preparing your children for academic writing that you forget how important storytelling can be. That’s completely understandable, especially since K-12 and college standards focus on persuasive and expository writing; and careers often value technical over creative writing. Even recommended reading has shifted from mostly fiction to a focus on nonfiction in many homeschool curriculums.
It may seem like storytelling is just for fun, but storytelling captures the very essence of why we write — to express ourselves — and overlooking it has consequences. How many children develop anxiety around writing that matches, or even surpasses, anxieties around math or test-taking? How many students become so focused on correct grammar and sentence structure that they can barely get an idea on paper? A 7th-grade homeschooler recently said that she’s learned a lot more about writing by starting her own book than she had in all her former years of schooling. The best part is that this same homeschooler writes for fun after school and asks for time to sit with a parent to brainstorm ideas, discuss writing techniques, and review her work. As a parent, what more could you want from your child?
Let’s look at how storytelling can build better writers.
The Benefits of Using Storytelling to Teach Writing
Before we get into the benefits of teaching using storytelling, here’s a quick tip if you have children who are just beginning or reluctant to write. Have them share verbal stories. This provides good practice planning story lines and connecting thoughts and events together. It also takes away the burden of handwriting or typing that some students face. As well, verbally sharing stories can alleviate hesitations related to putting words on paper due to word-finding difficulties, anxiety, or other challenges.
If your children are comfortable sharing their stories, there are many benefits to using storytelling to teach writing:
Storytelling provides a purpose for writing. While all students can appreciate writing to entertain others — because they have listened to or read stories for that purpose — older writers can envision how their stories will impact readers through themes and story elements.
Storytelling builds awareness of the audience. When students write a story, they learn how word choices (e.g., sensory descriptions, pointed dialogue) can impact the story and the effect those choices have on the reader.
Storytelling focuses on grammar and mechanics. Through storytelling, students can learn the emotional impact of punctuation, how breaking sentence structure affects dialogue and impacts readers, and how spelling and other errors can detract from an author’s message.
Storytelling helps develop a love for writing. That love for writing can trickle down into all forms of written expression — including academic writing. Storytellers often “don’t mind” writing for academic tasks because they no longer find it overwhelming. They understand the rules of writing without being overly concerned about them, and they know that writing can be enjoyable.
Using Journalism to Combine Academics and Storytelling
If you’re a parent who’s more comfortable combining creative pursuits with academics, journalism is the answer! Proper journalism attempts to capture truth in a way that both engages the reader and accurately portrays a story with an important message.
Here are some journalism-based activities that can build storytelling skills:
- Watch an episode of your favorite television show and report it as a news story, either verbally or in writing, by role-playing as a journalist.
- Read a feature article from a current newspaper or journal (maybe Scholastic News or Time for Kids) and critique the author’s storytelling. What worked and what could they have done better?
- Research and write a feature article for a science newspaper or magazine, focusing on the story you are telling and the impact it has on the reader.
- Learn about a famous person from history, and then write a feature article telling about the person’s life and accomplishments.
- Interview a grandparent about a point in history; and then translate that interview into a feature article for a newspaper, magazine, or journal.
- Attend a town meeting, and tell the story of the proceedings through an engaging article (yes, this is challenging!).
- Take part in a community event and talk with other participants. Then, tell the story of the experience as if writing for a local newspaper or TV station.
- Find a local organization that is doing charitable work for the community. Take a tour and interview staff, if possible. Put together an article to get the word out about this important organization.
- Follow a local sports team and write a trends article, capturing data while telling the story of the team’s progress and success (or lack thereof!).
The possibilities for storytelling journalism are endless. You can help your children build research and interview skills while supporting the development of writing techniques as they learn about current events and their communities. All of this leads to a win-win-win situation!
What News/Media Can Teach Students About Storytelling
As your children become better storytellers, they become better writers and vice versa. Studying and practicing news and media writing can build a toolbox of storytelling techniques that your students can use in a variety of writing genres.
Journalism places strong emphasis on knowing an audience. A journalist needs to understand not only the purpose of the piece but also who will read it. Developing a sense of audience can help your children write age-appropriate, engaging stories and improve academic writing as well.
Beyond just knowing an audience, learning to write like a reporter teaches your children to ask themselves, “What would I want to know in this story?” They learn to shift perspectives, determine the relative importance of details, and cover a story from a variety of angles.
By making choices about what’s important to know in the story, students learn to write more concisely, a skill that’s valued in the workforce. Learning to remove extra words and streamline the narrative will also improve your children’s storytelling.
Journalism also teaches students to think about how numbers and data can influence the impact and credibility of a story. Your students can experiment with statistics and other forms of evidence as they write different articles.
We all like to read and learn about other people, right? Through journalism, students learn to relate to others by telling their unique stories and adding personal anecdotes. They’ll be able to capture the attention of readers and keep it, pull readers’ emotions into personal journeys, and effectively express themselves.
Whether you choose creative writing or journalism, you can engage your children and help them develop important writing skills. Students can even follow the full writing process, editing and revising, to publish on online creative/fan fiction writing sites (with support and monitoring from adults) or in local newspapers and community publications. Being a published writer or journalist can be very exciting for students, but the benefits of storytelling in their writing lessons will be there regardless of whether a Pulitzer Prize is in the future!