How to start a short story writing unit

short story writing
Nicole at Apple Tree Resources
How to start a short story writing unit

Time to teach your short story writing unit but don't really know where to begin? Let me help! Whether you've just wrapped up a short story reading unit or are beginning this writing unit from a different starting point, I share tips for making your short story writing unit exciting and meaningful for students without adding more stress for you. Join me in this episode to learn more! 


Resources Mentioned:  

Free Plot Mountain Activity



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Hey there, fellow educators! Welcome back to the "Let's Chat Teaching" podcast, your go-to resource for all things related to teaching in the fifth through eighth grade classroom. I'm Nicole Sanders, your host, and today we're diving into the exciting world of starting a short story writing unit with our students. Now, I know we all prefer straightforward answers, but I promise, this one's worth the ride!

So, here's the deal: starting a short story writing unit can go two different ways, depending on whether you've just wrapped up a short story reading unit or not. Now, I know that "it depends" might sound like a frustratingly vague answer, but I'm here to make your life as a teacher easier, not leave you scratching your head in confusion.

Option 1: You've Just Finished a Short Story Reading Unit

If you've recently concluded a short story reading unit, you're in luck because we're going to recycle some of that material. Why reinvent the wheel when you've already covered valuable ground? In this case, you can use all the concepts and activities you introduced during your short story reading unit to transition smoothly into the writing phase.

Let's say you've taught your students about plot structure and its terminology, and even had them use a plot mountain activity to dissect the structure of a short story. Well, you're in good shape. Revisit those notes and have your students do the same. They don't need to rewrite everything; they can just recall what they've already learned and apply it.

This approach allows your students to move from analyzing story structure in someone else's short story to creating their own unique story structure. The best part? It's not more work for you. You can simply print off a fresh set of the plot mountain activity pages. It helps students build on their previous knowledge, setting them free to be creative with that foundation.

You can use this strategy with any aspect you've covered in your previous short story reading unit. Whether it's story elements like dynamic settings, character types, or conflicts, keep the activities as similar as possible. This way, students can use the knowledge they've acquired and apply it when they create their own stories.

This consistent approach of direct teacher instruction, modeling, and then giving out similar activities is a powerful way to scaffold your students' learning. It provides them with a clear path from understanding concepts to applying them creatively. And don't worry; you won't be repeating the same content in vain. If you decide to follow up with a short story reading unit later in the year, you can reuse these notes and activities, reinforcing the learning.

Option 2: You Haven't Just Finished a Short Story Reading Unit (That's Okay!)

Now, what if you haven't recently finished a short story reading unit? Well, there's a different approach. In this case, I recommend starting with a lesson on story structure. Begin by teaching your students the terms and definitions of essential elements like introduction, rising action, inciting incident, climax, falling action, and resolution. Then, as a class, analyze a well-known story structure using a plot mountain activity. Take a story like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," something most students are familiar with.

After defining these terms, give each student a plot mountain activity and do one on the board as well. This gradual release of responsibility model helps students understand what success looks like and allows them to contribute to the process. Students can refer back to the class example when they're working on their own plot structure.

Once the class activity is complete, students will have their own fresh plot mountain activity to fill out. It's the same format they've seen in the class example, so they can apply what they've learned creatively to their own stories.

You can use this model of direct teaching and success modeling for other aspects like dynamic settings, types of conflicts, character development, and points of view. The key is consistency and making the transition from learning to creating as smooth as possible.

So, whether you've just wrapped up a short story reading unit or not, the key to starting a short story writing unit is to focus on story structure. If you'd like a free plot mountain activity to use with your students, check out my website

And, don't forget that all the direct teaching and modeling isn't in vain. You can use these materials again if you choose to do a short story reading unit later. It's all about building a solid foundation for your students.

That's it for today's episode! If you're interested in an online professional development course on teaching short story writing, be sure to check out my "Short Story Writing Made Easy" course at

Thank you for joining me today, and I hope you found these tips helpful!

Have a wonderful week,





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