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One Time Stories

Do you know the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?” I’m experiencing it first hand. My oldest daughter, Hannah, was given a writer’s notebook by her third grade teacher. She is in love. Serious love.

Last Friday she asked her teacher if she could bring her notebook home over the weekend to “make it more me” (Hannah’s words, not mine), but she was told her notebook needed to stay at school. Hannah was disappointed. On Sunday she told us, “I feel lost without my notebook, may I have one for home too?” We picked one up a few hours later. She started writing in it immediately.

Today she came downstairs in her jammies and hair sticking every-which-way with her new notebook clutched to her chest. Before saying good morning, she said, “Mom, I have to write, but I don’t know what to write about.” She plopped on the couch beside me and snuggled under the blanket.

I set my laptop aside (saving the story I was working on) and asked, “What do you feel like writing?”

“A story, a real one,” she didn’t even have to think about it, “I just don’t know what story to write. It’s like I can’t even think of a story.”

I could feel the tension coming off of her. I was reminded how frustrating it is to really want to create something, but not knowing what. She tapped her pencil on the notebook. “I was thinking,” she continued, “If I made a list of story ideas then I wouldn’t be stuck like this.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said, “Where are you going to make your list?”

“On this page, but I don’t have any ideas. I’m stuck.”

“That’s tough,” I acknowledged. Then I added, “You know, Hannah, sometimes if you think about One Time Stories, ideas come to you. Do you mind if I make a list in your notebook?”

“I’ll try anything,” she said in typical drama-Hannah fashion.

I smiled. “Okay, I’ll make the list here, so if you have your notebook open, you can see this list and make your story idea list on the facing page.”

She snuggled closer. “So each of these One Times should give you a few story ideas, like one time with a friend. Do you have any one times with friends?”

She smiled, “Yeah, when I stay over at Eva’s.”

“Any other times?”

“Hun-huh, when Caroline and I played on our bikes.”

“How about a time you were hurt?”

“Yeah, I just stubbed my toe Mamaw’s deck yesterday. Or I could write about the time I got hurt on the swing set.”

We continued making the list and story ideas flooded Hannah. (Except when we came to the one time I was naughty — which she insisted she had no ideas for . . . “Well, none I want to write about,” she confided.)

This works in classrooms too. In fact, it is one of the tried-and-true notebook lessons I return to again and again. Clicky-here to find a copy of what I give to students to tape into their notebooks. Often I ask students to start with a partner and use the list to tell stories aloud to one another, then later they create a list in their notebooks. (If you use this in your classroom, please let me know in the comments of this post. Thanks, in advance, for your feedback.) And, like most of my best ideas, this isn’t one I thought of, I simply tweaked the list. It came from an All-Write Coaches’ Meeting, but I don’t know from whom. If this was your idea, please let me know so I can give you proper credit! 😉

Try it out in your own notebook — like Hannah suggested, it is good to have a list to choose from when you need to sit down and write. Tomorrow you could try your hand at a One Time Story and then join us for Slice of Life.

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

11 thoughts on “One Time Stories Leave a comment

  1. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog! I am new to the workshop concept this year and am finding your information and resources to be extremely helpful as I teach 6th grade for the first time! I really like the One Time entry idea. Unfortunately, I am unable to access the copy of what you gave your students. Is there anyway you could post the actually document or PDF of the document? Or, email it to me? Thank you!


  2. As a third grade teacher I love this idea. As a storyteller I love the story. As a reader I love the way it is in written. Here I go… off to my first day. And I know there will be a Hannah who is waiting for her Writer’s Notebook.


  3. Thanks for the post. I often do the heart mapping for ideas but I like this one too. It is good to have lots of ways to get ideas flowing. I will add this to my shares with University students and first grade students.


  4. Thank you for a wonderful idea, i can hear my fourth grader’s voice, she is not a strong writer but i am going to give her more opportunities!


  5. oh great idea! I was coming over here to see what all I have missed in the last week (life has been CRAZY) and needed some inspiration for tomorrow- now I have it! I will be using this tomorrow and will let you know how it goes! Thanks!!


  6. Thank you for sharing this. It works on many levels for me–I’m a teacher of writing and a father of a third grader who loves to write. And I think I’ll use your Scribd link, too–thanks!


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