Getting Your Writing Engines Started with Short Stories

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Getting Your Writing Engines Started with Short Stories

Short Story

What makes a short story worth reading?

Why read short stories?

How does a writer build a story?

What makes an ordinary story extraordinary?

How is writing a short story like driving a race car?

Authors: Tr. Missy Hammons

Tr. Dena Cole

Thoughtful Education

Student Learning Goals

Mastery Learning Goals

As a result of this unit of study, I will:

  • read and interpret historical documents;

  • use a variety of notemaking tools;

  • evaluate the impact of post Civil War reconstrution upon the South;

  • explain reasons for conflict after the war;

  • communicate ideas through writing, speaking, and listening;

  • construction definitions;

  • know different approaches to reconstruction after the Civil War;

  • identify causal relationships;

  • research, plan, organize and create essays;

  • use graphic organizers to make comparisons and organize writing.

Understanding Learning Goals

As a result of this unit of study, I will:

  • understand the difficulties of reconstructing values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors;

  • understand that racial and/or religious hatred is as destructive as a war;

  • understand reconstruction is more than rebuilding physically and takes time to gradually reshape social norms;

  • understand causal relationships that made reconstruction of the south difficult;

  • understand the historical lesson to be learned from the reconstruction period.

Interpersonal Learning Goals

As a result of this unit of study, I will:

  • appreciate history from different perspectives;

  • reflect upon the effectiveness of reconstruction;

  • develop personal awareness of my own perspectives and examine where they stem from;

  • rank and evaluate effectiveness of different approaches taken to reconstruction;

  • learn the value of cooperation/compromise

Self Expressive Learning Goals

As a result of this unit of study, I will:

  • Create essays, summaries, persuasive arguments, charts, and/or speeches to demonstrate understanding of Reconstruction of the South..

My Personal Learning Goals

My personal learning goals for this unit of study are:


State Learning Goals

Identify your purpose


  • character (villain, hero, protagonist, antagonist)

  • setting

  • plot

  • conflict (problems, suspense, mystery, romance, dilemma)

  • genre (realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, science fiction)

  • purpose/audience

  • voice/tone

  • point of view

  • theme

  • characterization


WR-M-1.1.00 Purpose Audience

  • Narrowing the topic to present an idea or theme.

  • Choosing a perspective genuine to the writer.

  • Analyzing and addressing the needs of the intended audience.

  • Adhering to the characteristics of the form.

  • Applying a suitable tone.

  • Allowing voice to emerge when appropriate.


  • Communicate to an audience about the human condition.

  • Utilize characteristics of the short story.

  • Create and sustain a point of view.

  • Create and sustain a suitable tone or appropriate voice.

  • Apply a fictional perspective in short story writing.

What do you want students to know?

  • Elements of the short story that engage the audience.

  • Narrowed purpose/topic.

  • Recognize the different genres of short stories.

  • Examples of voice, tone, and point of view.

What habits of mind do you want students to develop?

  • Respect for other writers.

  • Keeping an open mind when reading and writing short stories.

  • Create an “I Can” attitude. (Persistence)

What big ideas, concepts, or generalizations do you want me to understand?

  • Writers compose short stories to communicate ideas about the human condition by painting a picture, recreate a feeling, telling a story, capturing a moment, evoking an image, or showing an extraordinary perception of the ordinary.

  • Planning a short story gives the author complete autonomy in deciding the purpose and audience.

What skills do you want me to develop?

  • Listening and sharing with other writers.

  • Plan and write a short story.

  • Reading and identifying elements of short stories.

  • Develop questioning techniques during peer conferencing/Author’s Chair.

  • Explain how to establish a purpose and narrow a topic for writing short story.

  • Planning and prewriting using organizers.

Essential Questions

    1. What makes a short story worth reading?

    2. Why read short stories?

    3. How does a writer build a story?
    4. What makes an ordinary story, extraordinary?

    5. How is a good writer like a good driver?

Assessment Task Alignment

Essential Questions

Assessment Tasks


What makes a short story worth reading?

Why read short stories?

How does a writer build a story?

What makes an ordinary story extraordinary?

Open Response

Identify THREE literary elements use in the writing. Tell how each of these elements are used to engage the reader.

Open Response

Reading Prompt

  1. Think like the writer. Read and examine the purpose of the piece. Describe the writer’s purpose for this writing.

  2. Use evidence from the story to explain the focused purpose. How do you know the writer’s purpose?

  3. Explain why the writer might want to write with this focus in mind.

Writing Journals

Where do ideas come from?

What are the stories you have to tell?

Writing plans for a short story.
Task Rotation

Split Cherry Tree

Appreciation for Short Stories

Graphic Organizers













Evidence gathering

Communication Skills




Alignment of Activities



Self Expressive



Reading models of proficient short stories and defining criteria for a good story.

Identify criteria for purpose and audience in reading and writing.

Brainstorming—what stories do I have to tell that people would want to read or benefit from reading?

Examining the Kentucky Holistic Scoring Guide and setting personal writing goals.



     Comparative Analogy

How is writing a short story like owning an expensive car?



Mapping using graphic organizers to plan a short story.
Graphic Organizer

Visualization of Literary Elements




Listen to and compare story writing to the lyric of songs:
“Fun, Fun, Fun, Pink Cadillac

Bodily Kinesthetic






Writer’s Club

Reciprocal Learning

Peer Review

Critical Writing Friend

     Author’s Chair

Students share ideas and receive feedback from peers prior to writing.

Writing and sharing short stories.

Feedback: Writer’s Club
Analyze and provide feedback to writing team


Learning Logs

Students reflect and communicate goals, concerns, questions and attitudes in regard to writing decisions and choices.







Sequence of Learning Activities





Learning Styles
& Multiple Intelligences


Purpose Audience
WR 07 1.1.02


Short Story

The Story of Song

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Metaphorical Teaching

How is writing like driving a car? How is a good short story like an expensive car?

Brainstorming: Give One Get One

Write to Learn: Provisional Writing

Criteria for a Good Story

Notes and Visualization
Task Rotation

In Honor of James

Personal Writing Goals








WR 1.1.00

Purpose Audience

WR 1.1.02

Short Story



WR 1.1.00

Purpose Audience

WR 1.1.02

Short Story



WR 1.1.00

Purpose Audience

WR 1.1.02

Short Story



Middle School Grade 7

Reading and Writing

The Hook

Everyone loves a good story.

We love hearing a good story, telling a good story, or watching a good story play out; but, what makes a story worth reading over and over again? What are the stories you have locked inside of you. The following task rotation will help you as you begin planning and writing your own story.
You will discover how all stories are similar and how all stories are different. You will learn that everyone has a story to tell and you will discover that there is an audience for every story that is told. You will begin to create your own short story and share it with your peers. You will learn that writing is not a race, but rather it is a process. Like a good race car driver, you will learn that technique is vital to crossing the finish line as a winner.
Get ready, fire up your imagination, get your engines started and let’s go!



Activity One: Start Your Engines

What makes for a good story?

What are the elements of a good story?

Read “In Honor of James.”

Identify THREE literary elements used in the writing.
What techniques did the writer use to engage the reader and hold his/her attention?

Your Turn: What could you write about? What stories do you have to tell? Make a list of possible stories you might want to share with others. Decide on the idea you most want to develop and share with others.

Activity Three: Focused and Deliberate

Think about the story, “In Honor of James.”

What questions do you think the writer had to ask about his/her audience prior to writing the story? Why are these questions important?
Your Turn: Think about the story you want to write. Who is your audience? What questions do you need to ask yourself before planning the story? How can these questions help you remain focused and deliberate with details?
Write a rough draft of your story, keeping the purpose and audience in mind.

Activity Two: Knowing the Finish Line

Think about the story, “In Honor of James.”

Why did the writer want to write the story?

How did the writer let the reader know the focused purpose?

Your Turn: Think about the purpose of your story. What important message do you want to convey to your reader? Why might this message be relevant or important for others to read about?

Crossing the Finish Line a Winner

Review the story of “In Honor of James.”

How did the writer make the story interesting to the reader? What writer techniques did you find appealing to you as a reader? Why?
Your Turn: Revisit your rough draft in Writer’s Club. Let other’s read your rough draft and share what they found interesting or appealing. How can you revise the piece to make it more interesting to the reader? Make your revisions and share the piece with your writer’s club prior to publishing.


Self Expressive

In Honor of James


he sun shone down onto the white, churning waters of the Colorado River with the intensity of a laser beam. Every rock below the surface of the water produced a tremendous amount of bubbles. Looking downstream, the entire surface of the water seemed to be one large layer of bubbles. This was the might of the Colorado River. This was what brought hundreds of insane, adventure craving extremists to the river each year.

Mark Johnson stood on a large boulder, projecting out into the raging waters, staring at the river he had left so long ago with a saddened heart. His attention was turned toward two large, jagged rocks sticking up in the middle of the rapids. The bright green paint from his friend James’ kayak was still there, leaving a grim reminder of the raw power of the river.

Everything was different from the last time that Mark was here. Mark, who had once been just like those others craving adventure, was on a much more solemn trip this time. On his first trip, Mark had simply experience the rush of adrenaline that came with risking his life. Now, Mark was on a mission to complete a trip in memory of his fallen friend. He was looking at each rock, no matter how small, as though his life depended on it. Mark could not take a chance on dragging the bottom of his kayak on a rock that he did not know about.

Gradually, Mark’s mind began to drift back to that tragic day. Even now, five years later, Mark’s eyes began to fill with tears. That day had been much like this day. Early that morning, Mark and James had decided to attempt to “run” the most dangerous part of the river; to attempt to prevail over the untamed river, and to make fun of their friends that had “chickened out.” Everything was going perfect, until James tried to paddle around two large rocks in the middle of the river. In the blink of an eye, he was swept into one of the large rocks, instantly crushing his kayak into a million pieces. Slowly, James’ lifeless body slipped below the surface of the water. Mark, who had been watching in terror from his kayak on the other side of the river also hit a rock, but with less force. His kayak was also destroyed, but Mark remained conscious. As he struggled to pull himself up onto the rock, he flet an excruciating pain in his right leg. The pain surged all the way up the side of his body. It began as a dull throb, as it moved up his body it became an intense stabbing pain. For an instant, Mark thought that his kayak paddle had gone through his leg, but he quickly realized that that wasn’t the case at all, partly, because he was still holding the paddle in his hand.

With much agony, he pulled himself up onto the rock. He looked downstream to see if James had surfaced yet, but all that he saw were the splintered remains of James’ kayak being washed downstream. Just as the image had appeared, in Mark’s mind, it disappeared just as suddenly.

Mark had been lucky so many years ago; he had only suffered a broken leg—a leg that had bothered him since then. His friend James, however, had not been so lucky. He died on that trip, a trip that Mark was now going to complete to honor James’ memory.

As Mark walked along the riverbank, he felt something that he hadn’t felt since his childhood. He felt fear!

“Do you really want to do this?” Mark asked himself. It was a question that he had been asking himself since he first thought of completing the trip. It had taken him three years to gather courage enough to make the trip, but now the courage was gone and all that Mark felt was apprehension. He stood motionless for a couple of minutes; thinking whether or not he should even go forward with the whole, insane idea. His friend, a much more experienced rafter, had died on this river. Now, Mark was going to try to “run” the river himself.

Mark closed his eyes, trying to make his fear go away; but instead, he saw the image of James’ lifeless body slipping below the surface of the water. Then, after opening his eyes, he felt a small felling of confidence emerge from deep within himself. It was almost as though James was standing there with him, telling him to “Go on with the trip, defeat the river, survive and put the haunting memories behind you.” With that small feeling, Mark started walking toward his kayak.

For the first time in almost five years, Mark would be riding in a kayak. Because of his inactivity in the sport, Mark knew that his mission would become that much more difficult. So, Mark was willing to use anything that might help increase his chances of surving the rapids. One advantage that Mark had was his unrelenting determination to succeed.

Another “special advantage” that Mark had was his kayak. It was a Duablo XR II Special with a seven foot body known for its maneuverability and stability. Its oval shape that came to a point at each end, made quick turns easier. It was also painted a bright red to make spotting it easier if it should capsize. Its seat was specially designed to fit Mark’s figure to ensure he would remain comfortable during the ride.

As Mark stepped into his kayak and sat down, he felt that old familiar rush of excitement overwhelm him. The feeling was quickly replaced with a feeling of utmost concentration. For if Mark lost his concentration for only a half second, the water would carry him into a rock; crushing his kayak, and leaving him to suffer the same fate as James.

Mark carefully paddled out into the middle of the river. Almost immediately, he felt the current “grab hold” of his kayak. He paddled fiercely, maneuvering his kayak around rock after rock. Soon Mark was totally exhausted, but he dared not stop paddling; if he did, he would surely not make it through the rapids. For each rock that he made it around, two more seemed to appear just in front of him.

For a brief moment, Mark thought that it was hopeless. “There are too many rocks,” he thought to himself. “I can never make it around all of them!” Then the image of James’ lifeless body reappeared in his mind, making him more determined than ever. All the fear and all the doubt, Mark channeled, using it to help him concentrate on the fast approaching rocks.

Suddenly, a wave of water splashed up and hit Mark in the face, knocking his goggles off, and blinding him for a few seconds. Mark quickly took one hand off the paddle and began rubbing his eyes. His vision was blurred and all that he saw was a collage of brown and white colors. A feeling of total desperation swept over him. For an instant, Mark thought that he would never see the light of day again; but then, he came back to reality and knew that it was only water. AS he blinked, trying to clear the water from his eyes, Mark heard a sound similar to water running down a drain.

Once he regained his vision, all that Mark could see were the bubbles coming up from the rapids, gushing between two rocks. B y the time he realized that he was headed for an “alley” between the two rocks, it was too late to attempt the steer around them. He could only hope the space between the two rocks would be wide enough for him to squeeze through.

As he came closer, Mark closed his eyes and held onto the paddle for dear life. He felt his stomach tighten and for an instant, he thought of bailing out of the kayak. All Mark could think about was if this was how James had felt before he died.

Mark opened his eyes once again; this time the rocks were directly in front on him. He quickly closed his eyes and braced for the fatal impact. In an instant, it was over. Instead of feeling his kayak caught between the two rocks, it just continued along its path.

In amazement, Mark turned back and looked. The water had caused him to misjudge the amount of space between the two rocks. Oddly enough, there was room for almost two kayaks.

As he continued to look at the rocks, he realized that he had just made it past the place where James had died. “It must have looked the same way to James,” Mark mumbled to himself. “Except instead of trying to go between the rocks, he had tried to negotiate around them. The current must have been so strong that it just carried him into the rock.”

Mark then felt a strong sense of pride engulf him. He had made it past the place the place where James had died. “This one is for you James,” he said softly, while paddling toward the bank, tears once again filling his eyes.

As he neared the bank, he could see a celebration erupting from his friends. As he ran onto the shore, he was overwhelmed with the feeling of the moment. What had begun as a solemn trip to honor a fallen friend, had turned into a triumph of man over nature.

The celebration continued long into the night. Each person, in their own way, paid tribute to the memory of James. The most touching, however, came from Mark himself. The kayak that he had used to conquer the river was turned into a monument on the side of the riverbank, so everyone would know that Mark had done this to honor James—a person that had loved the river and taken his last breath there. It would also warn everyone in the future of the extreme dangers of the river and to hopefully keep others from suffering the same fate as James.

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