I love this story starter by Taylor Sapp. Also called unfinished stories or stories without end, or even story prompts, a story starter is a creative writing prompt in the form of the beginning of a story. Students read and then finish the story!
What makes them so great is that they give students a lot of support, more than a traditional one sentence prompt. A story starter creative writing prompt has a setting, characters, the beginning of a plot, maybe even a theme. So there’s a lot to work with. Even reluctant writers or students lacking confidence will have help. But there’s still room for students to take the story any way they want!
I’m going to be showing you our most popular story starter, “Scary House” which you can find on Teachers Pay Teachers. However, this will give you an idea how our Stories Without End story starters work and thoughts on using them in the classroom. Browse all the story starters on Teachers Pay Teachers or check out our two books of creative writing prompts:
- Four pages of teacher notes and suggestions for using the different parts of the activity (some of these ideas are duplicated here and on the Teachers Pay Teachers product descriptions, too). These activities are highly flexible and adaptable so you can easily fit them in your classroom. These are just a few suggestions to get you started. And if you want a low-prep activity, just follow our teacher notes and go!
Before You Read
The first thing you’ll see is a hero image and some Before You Read questions to get students thinking about the theme of the story, discussing some issues related to the story, and activating schemata.
This story shows an abandoned, maybe haunted house and asks students to describe what they see and talk about ghosts and haunted house. You can use this activity to see what vocab students have, how they feel about scary stuff, and what they think about ghosts. I always like to know what vocab my students might need (haunt, spirit, scream, creak, terrified) and their tolerance for horror.
A simple matching activity introduces some of the vocabulary in the story students may not know. We’ve kept it simple so you can supplement it how you like. I like pairing students off and seeing how many definitions they know between the two of them. They can also use process of elimination and part of speech to guess others. Follow-up by going over the answers and discussing answers.
The Story Starter: Reading in Class
The story itself is 282 words and approximately a 410 – 600L Lexile level or K/L in the Fountas Pinnell scale. It’s a fairly straightforward haunted house story. Three friends are walking past a scary old house when they hear a strange noise. After talking about some of the rumors surrounding the house, the new kid, Parker, decides he’s going to go inside!
What is waiting for him inside? Ghosts or criminals? A deep, dark secret or something ridiculous? Your students can decide. They are sure to have opinions and ideas after this set up!
Having students read in class can be tricky. Here are some ways to do it ensuring comprehension and not wasting class time!
- Have students read the story for homework before class. Or have them do an initial reading at home and then read it again in class.
- Divide the text into sections and ask students to read the first part to themselves. Then call on a student to summarize what happened. Ask a few students to make predictions about what will happen next. Then go on to the next section.
- Put students in reading groups, organized by reading level, with stronger readers together and weaker readers in separate groups.
- Read to the students out loud as they read along silently. Pause periodically to check comprehension or elicit questions.
After You Read
Each story is followed by after-you-read questions to ensure students understand the story, and also lead them toward deciding on an ending. In the case of Scary House, students are asked about the characters and how scared they are!
Writing the Ending
Now students are ready to write. Notice that some guiding questions are provided which students can use or ignore, whatever they’d like! Depending on your classroom and what your students are used to, you can handle the writing in different ways. And you can have them do this in class or in a group-I’ve heard of students doing groupwork online independently, which is pretty impressive!
- Students can write a short outline or summary and workshop it in groups before writing.
- They can use a graphic organizer or story map to map out their story.
- Have students brainstorm ideas or an outline in groups that they can then use individually. They can also write a group story by swapping ideas and choosing the best ones.
- Start with a mini-lesson about a relevant writing skill, such as describing people, writing a coherent story, or building tension. Then ask students to practice that skill in their writing.
- Have students being their ending and stop at another cliffhanger or key moment. Students switch papers, read what the last person wrote and finish the story. This adds an extra layer to the project!
Here’s two pages of my ending idea but there are hundreds of ways this story could go. The only limit is your students’ imagination. Let students share their endings
Besides finishing the story, there are other creative projects and students may want to do these before or after writing the end. Students can do a character analysis, taking information from the text but also from their own imagination.
Here’s one I did for Parker. I’ve underlined in red the questions that are not in the story. Doing this really helped me with my story. Once I decided Parker was a bit skeptical of ghosts and fantasy in general, I knew how he would act inside the house. That took me a long way in writing.
A second project has students draw the house. You can see my quick sketch above. Drawing out the house was also beneficial as it gave me a sense of what the house looked like and the general floor plan. Even though my story only uses two rooms, once I drew it, I knew it would be a traditional New England house with an entrance hall that opens into a living room and then a kitchen at the end in back! Your students will have completely different ideas!
I’d love to hear how you use these creative writing story starters in class and what your students think!
And check out our full collections of story starters: