It's Time to Conquer The Story Mountain!

There’s often no escaping the story mountain in primary school English lessons (from Year 1 upwards). They are a neat, organised and trusty handout, in other words they’re a teacher’s best friend in story writing lessons. A story mountain represents the shape of a story: opening, build-up, problem, resolution and ending.

Most children are resigned to using the story mountain so when a teacher says they are allowed to draw pictures in the neat boxes before writing their notes, this is typically met with a lot of cheer and relief. For children who hate drawing AND coming up with story plotlines there’s often a lot of sighing, deciding which option is least onerous…

Like it or loathe it, the story mountain is a staple in the primary classroom so getting to grips with it and feeling confident at using one, can help children enormously. For older, primary school children who are sitting SATS or preparing for the 11Plus, the story mountain will obviously not be so relevant for their story planning. Some may even be haunted by it, depending on their experience and ability to remember those key moments earlier on in their primary years. However, so often children reach Year 5 or 6 without a sound grasp of being able to plan their own stories with confidence, despite all that story mountain practice!

For those gearing up for the 11Plus, planning a story is crucial but I feel a more nuanced approach is necessary here to allow them to feel they’re in total control of the planning process, whilst unknowingly using the principles of the story mountain. Because it’s just not cool to get out a story mountain template at this stage in their education.

So, what happened? Or, what hasn't happened to the children who reach upper primary without a sound grasp of story planning?

As teachers (and I was guilty of this in the early days) we think giving children a story mountain template and a colourful model example on the interactive whiteboard (which we’ve discussed etc) is enough for children to go away to create their own version. ‘You’ve got it Monty, now go for it!’.

Instead, children need their teacher to guide them through the different stages of the mountain, in the moment. In other words, we need to be there for them as they ponder the problem, they’ve created e.g the world being plunged into darkness…we need to be ready to challenge them in the moment and encourage their creative thinking by asking them ‘just when things couldn’t get any worse for your main character how could you make things worse for them? Or that’s a great idea but how about stretching it out by talking about how your character feels. By doing this we are helping children to develop their ideas, which needs to be explicitly taught. Also, when children feel encouraged, they are more likely to engage in the ‘here and now’ aspect of story mountain planning.

If you think your child will benefit from a supportive and focused class on how to plan an amazing story using a story mountain, from December, you’ll be able to book a virtual drop-in class! Each class will nurture your child’s natural storytelling voice, bringing it to the forefront of their story planning! Let’s conquer the story mountain and write stories with our hearts and minds.

Posted on October 22nd 2021

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