Staff development: Workshop session

Deborah Abela

Getting started

  • Name one thing you would do if you were Prime Minister.
  • What is the best excuse for not handing in your homework?
  • What would be the greatest job in the world?
  • Would there be downsides?
  • You inherit a million dollars on the condition that you give it all away.
  • You have woken in an unfamiliar house with strangers. What has happened?
  • What would you choose to do as your greatest adventure?

Why and because

Two groups to write sentences beginning with Why and Because. Match them up and see if a story can be created.

Three bags: person, place and object

Pick one card from each bag. You have 10 seconds to create the scenario for a story.

TV segment

Topic: Reducing your carbon footprint: three-minute TV segment. In groups of five decide: How you will approach this topic. Where you will film it. Who you will interview. Who will conduct the interview (regular hosts or character). The angle of your piece.

Ways for schools to collaborate: Each school creates a film around a common theme and screens them at a Film Festival with schools, family and friends or on a specially created website or blog.

Issues that are important to you

Write a list of issues that are important to the class. Family? Friends? Anti-bullying? Anti-racism? The environment? Trees? Whaling? Sport? What kinds of stories could come out of this? How would you choose to tell them? Humour? Hip-hop poetry? Song? Posters? Story?

Ways to collaborate: Multiple schools create an anthology that will be bound and added to each library. You could also record an audio version, burn it to CD and include it in the book. Mural. Each school can pick a theme they feel strongly about and create their own mural.

What makes a great story?

With creative writing it’s important to write about what interests you.

Some basics

  • Originality — fresh and imaginative in content and expression.
  • Characterisation — should be lifelike, believable and portrayed through action and speech as well as description.
  • Story construction — strong beginning, logical sequence of events, satisfying end.
  • Language skills — show don’t tell, no clichés, easy on adjectives.

Story beginnings

What’s the job of a good beginning? Read beginnings from several different books. What do you think we can expect from these books? What do these beginnings tell us about: the type of story? What might happen next? Do they leave you wanting more?

Finish the next part of the story:

  • My life was boring until …
  • Why me?
  • Was this how my life was going to end?
  • I didn’t mean to do it.

Read the beginning of a novel … what happens next?


Stephen King starts his stories by putting two characters in a situation. For example, two people are stuck in an elevator, two kids who don’t like each other are stuck in detention.

Choose your genre — horror, comedy, romance, drama, action, thriller — and write what happens next.

The opening ‘scene’

Think of your work as painting pictures with words. Write an opening to a story based on the following scenarios:

  • It’s winter during the war. The main character is a newspaper seller, about 16 years’ old, who has a brother and sister in the armed forces.
  • A young girl/boy is one the run. She/he hasn’t eaten in days and is protecting a younger brother who is sick.
  • A girl at a train station. It’s late. The last train has just pulled out. She has a battered suitcase and a letter tucked in her jacket pocket.

Write two characters on the board. Ask the students to suggest a list of words that would describe them, then swap them and see if interesting characters emerge. For example, school principal and vampire, a truck driver and an opera singer.

Character profiles — character and story

Ask students to write up a character profile. They can include the following:

What methods do writers use to describe character? Ask the students in groups to come up with a list of adjectives or possible characters. Combine an adjective and a character that may not normally be found together as a way of breaking stereotypes and creating interesting characters.

 Adjective  Character
 lighthouse keeper
 ghoulish  princess
 gold fish
 decrepit  barn
 ambitious  vampire

  • What is this character’s favourite thing? Is it known or secret?
  • What do they look like?
  • Do they like animals?
  • Would you want to go on holidays with this character?
  • What is the best/worst thing this character has ever done?
  • In what way is this character very good? In what way is she/he very bad?
  • What are the greatest fears of this character?
  • What weather does this character bring into the room?
  • How would their mother or father describe them?
  • What will this character be when they are older?

<< Back to About being a presenter

Author Debrah Abela

Children‘s book author Deborah Abela

The interview

After completing character profiles, the students are interviewed by the teacher either in character or the character can be someone they know.

Real life stories

Write a fictional account of a real life incident.


Detail is everything. Write about one of the places below. Imagine everything around it. What can you see and hear? What does it smell like? What is the temperature?

  • An old house
  • A disused train
  • A chocolate shop
  • A lighthouse
  • A submarine.


Stamp your writing with your own creative touch. Avoid clichés and ‘overdoing it’ unless there’s a point to it, for example to show how clichéd a character is. (Having said that, many bestsellers are full of clichés.)

Simple is often better.

The boring sentence

Find other ways of saying: It was a windy day. The house was falling down. The sea was rough. Ask the students to also think about sounds, smells and temperature to build their picture.

Adjectives versus details

Go easy on adjectives and instead add lots of detail to bring your story to life. ‘A beautiful forest’ is a vague term that doesn’t paint a specific picture and could mean many things to many readers, but ‘a scramble of trees dripping with wisps of stringy lichen,’ is a more specific picture.

Readers’ theatre

Rewrite a section of a novel to perform as a dramatic reading with selected props, costumes, makeup, etc. For examples go to Part 8 in the Teaching support kit for Grimsdon (.pdf 380 kB)

Questions to ask yourself

  • Does my story have a new angle or a clever twist?
  • How is my idea different from other stories?
  • Does the story flow well?
  • Is it believable?
  • Does the dialogue sound real?
  • Is there a convincing narrative hook?

Find more Teachers’ notes on Deborah Abela’s website.

Suggested reading: Rekulak, Jason 2001, The Writer’s Block: 786 ideas to jump-start your imagination, Running Press Book Publishers, Philadelphia.

More resources for teacher professional development can be found on Jen McVeity's website The Seven Steps to Writing Success