Standard Lesson

Collaborative Stories 1: Prewriting and Drafting

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 30-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students complete two prewriting activities, one on brainstorming ideas using story maps, and one on creating beginnings of stories. They then work on two collaborative-writing activities in which they draft an "oversized" story on chart paper. Before starting the activities, the teacher reads aloud the first few sentences from a variety of children's books that have unusual, exciting, or particularly descriptive openings. Each student works individually to read what has been written before, adds the "next sentence," and passes the developing story on to another student. The story is passed from student to student until the story is complete. In a later lesson Collaborative Stories 2: Revising, the story is revised by the groups.

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From Theory to Practice

Writing stories is a common activity asked of young children, but often the hardest parts of writing the story are developing the idea and getting started with that first sentence. Having children collaborate on writing stories may bring into play the "two heads are better than one" idea, allowing for language and plots which can be enriched by a variety of ideas and student backgrounds. Collaborations during the writing process offer support for writers, according to Short and Harste in Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers. Specifically, they remind us that through "a shared writing process, writers are able to offer demonstrations to each other about strategies they use while composing." The group process supports less proficient writers, partly because they can participate in grand writing activities while feeling "less overwhelmed by the amount of writing they need to contribute to the book."

Based on her research into collaborative writing, Helen Dale believes that: "Writing together allows students to work through the writing process in a social context in which they can both see the variations possible in areas like brainstorming and organizing and also experience the recursiveness of the writing process." (70)

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Children’s books with interesting beginnings
  • General classroom supplies (chart paper, assorted colored markers, crayons)



Student Objectives

Students will

  • participate in a discussion about beginnings of stories.
  • work in small groups to write an interesting beginning to a story and establish possible story ideas for later use.
  • demonstrate reading comprehension and inferential skills by "adding on" to a collaborative story.
  • use descriptive language and supporting details in the writing process.

Session One

  1. Gather students together. Review story elements with students by referring to and recalling any favorite books which have been recently read aloud. Have students discuss interesting characters, different settings, conflict/resolution examples, and story endings of several different stories.
  2. After discussion, inform students that they are going to be doing a project that begins with working in groups at the computer to develop some possible ideas for a story that the class will write together. Let them know that they will be talking about ideas for characters, conflicts, resolutions, and settings.
  3. Gather students at a computer or use an LCD projector to show them how to use the Story Map interactive to generate story ideas. Have student groups work collaboratively with the tool. As students work, circulate among groups to ask questions about their ideas, to help them expand any details, and to lend any technical assistance needed. They will need to print out their work for later reference.
  4. When all groups are finished, have each group share their story ideas with the rest of the class. For each group, elicit feedback from the whole class by asking three questions:
    • What do you like best about this story idea?
    • Do you have any questions about the idea?
    • Do you have any suggestions for this group?
  5. Allow groups to make revisions of their story maps after discussion.
  6. Student groups will be using their story map ideas as a reference point for writing some possible story beginnings during Session Two. Later, in Session Three, they can be used as the basis for a collaborative story which will be created by having students write individually, one sentence at a time.

Session Two

  1. Gather students together. Tell them you are going to be reading just the first sentence or two from several interesting books. As you read each selection, tell students what the story is about and how the author could have used a less interesting beginning. Encourage students to provide alternative beginnings during discussion. For example, the first sentence of Judith Viorst’s Alexander, Who Use to Be Rich Last Sunday is, "It isn’t fair that my brother Anthony has two dollars and three quarters and one dime and seven nickels and eighteen pennies." After reading the first sentence, you could tell the students that this is the story of a boy who spends all his money, and that the author could have started with something less interesting, like, "One day a boy named Anthony was at home."
  2. After you have read and discussed several selections, have students work in groups to write an interesting story beginning that will work for their story map idea from Session One. (Alternatively, instead of small-group work, you may choose to generate great beginnings in a whole-group writing activity.) Encourage students to come up with more than one idea in their groups.
  3. As they work, circulate among the groups to assist with spelling, ask questions, or prompt as needed, without interjecting your own ideas.
  4. Students should write their ideas on chart paper so that they can be mounted on the wall for sharing with the rest of the class. When all students are finished, gather them together and have each group share their ideas. Have students talk about their favorites, and tell how they relate to the story ideas.
  5. If you are going to go on to use the ideas for a collaborative story, have students vote on a favorite. Then post a blank sheet of chart paper and write the chosen beginning sentence (or sentences) at the top of the chart paper to model size of print and use of space. This will become the first page of a collaborative story, which will be written by students with colored markers one sentence at a time.

Session Three

In preparation for this session, you will need a selection of literature books about writing and writers to read aloud. Some possibilities are

  • If You Were a Writer by Joan Lowery Nixon
  • What Do Authors Do? by Eileen Christelow
  • Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One by Kate Duke
  • Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera B. Williams

Spend some time prior to Session Three reading aloud selections from these and other books that have stories about writers and writing, and engaging students in open-ended discussions about how writers work.


  1. Gather students together. Tell them they are going to work together to write a story, with each child adding a sentence one at a time. Discuss the prewriting story-mapping activity they've done and the decisions they made regarding characters, setting, and plot structure.
  2. Have students generate a quick list of what they know is included in a good story, and chart their responses. Leave the chart on display throughout the writing process. Items might include the following, but should reflect the students’ own thinking:
    • interesting character
    • good sentences
    • unusual words
    • a problem and solution
    • exciting events
  3. Give directions for writing the collaborative story, writing the following on the board for review:
    • Read as much of what is written of the story first.
    • Add a sentence that makes sense.
    • Use a different colored marker than the person before you.
    • If you need help with spelling, ask another student.
    • Pass the story on to another student.
  4. Emphasize that students are to read the whole story first before adding their sentence to the story so that the story will make sense.
  5. To make the later revision process easier, have students use a different colored marker for their writing than the person before them so that each new sentence will be clearly delineated. Reserve a different color for the later revision process.
  6. Students wishing to talk about their entries with other students should be allowed to do so, but each student should be making their own decision about what to add to the story.
  7. For those students in the class who have been known to have difficulty coming up with ideas, have them first play with a story builder Website, such as Wacky Web Tales to get their creative juices flowing.
  8. To manage the process, have a class list posted where students can cross off their names as they add to the story and find students who have not yet contributed. Another possibility is to have all students’ names on individual pieces of paper. As students make an addition, they would draw another student's name and pass it on.
  9. If all students have had a chance to write and the class feels the story is not "complete," keep going, with students making a second addition.
  10. Conversely, if the story becomes "finished" and all students have not had a chance to add a sentence, have those students read the story to see where sentences can be inserted.
  11. As the story develops, check the story occasionally, to lend any guidance as appropriate.


  • For very young children or those who are still emerging readers and writers, this activity can be done at a story-writing center with students meeting with an adult helper one at a time. The adult helper can read the story-so-far with the student and then add that student’s sentence.

    This could be a very open-ended activity where students create the story by passing the developing story around during the course of a school day, each student adding a sentence to the page. As the story circulates, students would be working on other assignments and activities. This activity does not need to take place during a writing workshop time or even during language arts work time.
  • For older, more skilled readers and writers, consider using the parallel lesson for grades 3-5, Leading to Great Places in the Elementary Classroom.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Teacher observation and anecdotal notes based on class discussion of story elements should be the prime assessment for this activity. Teachers may choose to comment on or create minilessons based on the quality of student writing, regarding conventional uses of language and/or regarding creativity and content.

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