Justin ran desperately through slashing brush that was doomed by the fire raging behind him. As he ran, his mind raced to Sam … where was he? Justin threw a fervent look back over his shoulder, but saw no one. There was nothing to do but keep going–faster, faster! He had to make it to the river! Through the surrounding haze of smoke, he thought he caught a glimpse of it before the air was filled with a tremendous crashing sound. He looked around wildly and what he saw made him involuntarily freeze in his tracks …

Don’t you love it when a story begins with a solid hook that engages you from the very first sentence? I know I do; it brings the story to life and pulls me into the very moment that the character is experiencing! Well, happily, this same principle can be applied when you’re struggling with teaching a reluctant writer.

Let me guess. You have at least one child who just doesn’t care for writing. The writing assignment you give out gleans nothing but sighs and excuses. Is there a way to ignite a love for creative writing in their heart?

Pretty much all throughout my education at home I eagerly awaited being finished with school for the day, so I could go write my poetry, my heart’s ponderings, and informative articles that were waiting to be recorded. But when it came to writing science papers or a book report–ugh! I understand why some kids aren’t too keen on writing. Most of these assignments are … necessary? Yes. Exciting? No.

So, if there is, perhaps, a young fellow among your children who scoffs at the very idea of writing, I encourage you to give a little thought to what he really loves. What fires him up? What stories or books capture his attention? What does he love to talk and dream about? Use these topics, settings, and people to create those solid hooks—we’ll call them story starters—that are custom-tailored to his interests. He’ll have an automatic connection with this writing assignment! The stage is then set for his imagination to fill in the missing details and construct an amazing story.

The very best way to create a story starter that gives your student this kind of inspiration is to write it yourself. You are the one who knows him best. Remember as you write, each story starter should be fairly easily wrapped up … we’re asking for a story, here, not a book … yet you don’t need to have a particular ending in mind.

You can start with a question prompt, or a paragraph prompt (as shown above), yet, to me, the ideal starter length is about 200-300 words. That’s enough to draw them into the story and reveal a touch about the character so they can jump in and write a fantastic conclusion! If you have an older child who loves to write, this is something that they may enjoy doing for a younger sibling. If writing custom starters just isn’t an option, however, you can still give it a try by simply doing a search for story starters online, or by pulling a specific situation from a book that your child is unfamiliar with.

Once you have your starter, print it with lines underneath, cut it out, and tape it into a notebook, or just read it to your student and let their creativity flow. It’s that simple.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when using this method:

  • You can use these starters as often as they fit into your teaching schedule. If they get involved with the story, consider giving a whole week to complete it!
  • It’s best not to set a word limit (either minimum or maximum) for the story’s finish. This allows their creativity to truly fly without being confined. But, definitely require more than a “… and he figured out what to do, saved the day, and lived happily ever after …” approach.
  • If they struggle with the actual motor skills of writing, consider letting them dictate the story to you. This may not be exactly ideal for your situation, and you may wish for them to get the actual handwriting practice, but the point of these story starters is to really let that young writer’s creativity soar! If their handwriting limits their creativity, just take down the dictation, and let them truly enjoy the writing process. The rest will probably come in time … or your son may be the next G.A. Henty. Did you know that he dictated his epic stories?

The story starter is an effective tool for engaging your child’s creative juices, by putting their imagination in a comfortable and familiar place. You may be positively astounded at what you see coming from the pen of your “reluctant writer.”

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.