Teach Your Students The Ins and Outs of Writing Creatively With the Help of a Feisty Pirate

I’ve always loved to write. From the time I could physically write letters, I wrote stories. I kept notebooks with stories. And when I wasn’t writing stories down, I was making them up in my head- and often telling them out loud to myself. (I was practically an only child. Don’t judge me.)

Because story making came easy for me, I assumed, when I began teaching second graders before I had children of my own, that creative writing would come easy for all students. After all, everyone can make up a pretend story, right?

Wrong. Creative writing doesn’t come easily to all kids. And when faced with a blank page and a vague writing prompt- “Pretend you’re lost on a deserted island, and write a story about what happens.”- some kids stare at the blank page with terror on their faces. This isn’t just true for young kids. Even older kids often freeze when asked to come up with a creative story.

Some kids need a little instruction for how to come up with stories out of their own heads. There aren’t too many curricula choices for middle and high school that focus primarily on this creative writing process. So I was excited to find A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story. This is a unique curriculum that focuses on teaching creative writing to middle and high school students. It is primarily aimed at kids age twelve and up.

Creative writing curriculum for middle and high school

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What is A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story?

In short, it’s a unique creative writing curriculum. A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story was written by an author with years of experience in training screenwriters, graphic novelists and other professional writers. He has taken the process of creative writing and turned it into a workbook with an interesting story line for kids.
The workbook can be completed in a semester or used as a year-long course. It can be mostly used by students independently (although for the purpose of review I did it with my girls). The publishers say that it can count as a credit for a high school class. I used the book with my middle school aged girls. If my high schoolers were using it, I would probably use it in conjunction with other elements of literature and grammar to count as a high school language arts credit. I’m not sure I would count it as a complete course. This is, of course, according to my state regulations, so things may be different for other homeschoolers.

What do pirates have to do with creative writing?

That’s a good question. This workbook is unique because it doesn’t just give kids lots of information in a pedantic sort of way. Instead it presents a story. Throughout the story, lessons about the writing process are thrown in.

The basic premise of the story is that the reader has been kidnapped by Captain Yogger LeFossa, a pirate captain, and is on his ship with his monkey crew. Captain Yogger nicknames the reader Scurvy Spat and sets out to teach him the “grammar of story” in order to make him able to be a part of the crew.

Parts of the workbook are the story line, and these parts are written in italics. Other parts are the lessons that the reader is supposed to learn from Captain Yogger and his monkey crew.

Many sections of the workbook don’t have the student actually writing a story. Instead they are learning the parts of a story. Some workbook sections are called “Raise the anchor and set sail.” sections, and in these, the students actually use what they’re using to write. There are also “Heave Ho!” sections in which kids will do some more in depth thinking. And there are “Scratch your noggin’.” sections where kids remember and practice the story elements they’ve learned.

What is the “grammar of story?”

As Captain Yogger explains to the reader, the grammar of story has to do with the parts that make up a story. He explains that knowing all about what makes up a story is what will help the reader to really begin learning the art of stories.

In the table of contents, these elements of the story are broken down into twenty-six exercises. Each of these exercises focus on story elements.

  • Mindstorming
  • Being Specific
  • Setting
  • Values
  • Significance
  • Rules
  • Symbols
  • Backstory
  • Connections
  • Problems and the Act of Villainy
  • Characterizations (in two exercises)
  • Character values
  • The Line Between Light and Dark
  • Mystery
  • Character Contradictions
  • Character Desire
  • Story Engine
  • Character function
  • Princesses and Villains
  • Hero and Dispatch
  • Donor and Magical Agent
  • Helper and King
  • Plot
  • Gaps and Expectation
  • Beginning, Middle, and End
  • Transformation
  • Character Arc

How does it work?

The workbook begins with the story of the pirate ship and kidnapping. After an introduction, students are given their first exercise- mindstorming- by the monkey first mate. Throughout the book, readers get more of the pirate story interspersed with the grammar of story exercises.

The book is written in such a way that students could pretty easily use it independently. Some of the exercises are shorter- only one or two pages- and some continue on for several pages.

Review of creative writing curriculum for homeschool

What did we think?

The good…

My girls were thrilled to do JUST creative writing. Most writing courses for this age group are a mix of different writing styles, and they’ve done lots of expository essay writing and paragraph writing. After I introduced this workbook, they begged to do only this writing.
I like the fact that creative writing is taught by introducing the parts of a good story- the grammar of story. I think this is the missing component when we hand kids a blank sheet of paper and expect them to come up with a great, creative story. This workbook presents the parts of a story in easily understandable bites, helping kids work up to a whole story.
Most of the exercises involve list making. In my own experience as a fiction- and nonfiction- writer, making lists is an excellent way to get creative juices flowing. And as my girls worked on the exercises making these lists, they came up with so many ideas for writing stories. This list making is especially valuable for the kid who stares at the blank page with no idea of what to begin writing.

And the not so good…

My girls weren’t thrilled with the pirate story line. It is pretty corny. It’s meant to draw kids in and interest them with the silliness, I suppose. And some kids might like the way that it breaks up the teaching and exercise sections. But my girls didn’t really like it.  After the first few story sections, the girls asked if I would skip to the exercises.
Although the girls liked the exercises and list-making, they would have liked more opportunities to actually write. There is a Raise the anchor and set sail section after the first exercise, and there isn’t another until after the fifth exercise on page 53. I ended up letting the girls write using some of their list ideas after the third exercise. For some students, less frequent writing assignments are probably a good idea- my son for instance-, but my girls happen to be some of those who can take a writing prompt and usually deliver a lengthy story without much difficulty.
All in all, we like the workbook. I think that parents who are looking for a way to break down the creative writing process for kids will appreciate it. I think that kids who are afraid of the blank page and a vague story prompt will appreciate it. And, I think that if you’re looking for a unique writing program that is definitely different from what’s currently available, you can find it in A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story.

Find A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story

A Pirate's Guide t' th' Grammar of StoryYou can find more information about this curriculum on the website, including information about the author and information about how the curriculum meets Common Core standards.

You can purchase A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story on Amazon here.

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