Sunday, 22 March 2020

Remote learning – storytelling with four hundred students

What everyone thought was going to happen, happened.

Like most people, I am reeling from events happening at the moment. The pace and uncertainty is a real challenge for us. We are taking each day as it comes.

The news that schools were closing was both a relief and shock this week. It has left us with a quandary. The majority of our classes, this term, are working on Shakespeare. Year 10 were starting to read ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Year 8 were working on ‘Macbeth.’ Year 9 were finishing off ‘Julius Caesar.’ How do you effectively teach Shakespeare via remote learning? Answers on a postcard for that one.

Thankfully, we have some regular systems in place so I can easily transfer them to online activities. Spellings. Reading logs. Vocabulary testing. Knowledge testing. Easy. What about teaching? Well, I love thinking myself out of a problem. How can I engage with students? How can I teach students remotely and make it productive? How can I support parents at home without making it overly complicated?

Then, I came up with a solution. Interactive storytelling.

Like most, we have a homework platform. Ours is Show My Homework. So, when the news of the shutdown came. I set my first piece of homework for Year 7, 8 and 9.  This is what I sent to students:

With school being closed as of Friday, we are going to set an interactive writing task over the next few weeks. Each year group is going to work on a different interactive story. 

The story is written in parts and for each part we will pick a winner in the year group. The winner's work will be the starting point for the next part of the story. At the end of the process, we will print and publish the completed story. 

The Year 7 story is called  'A strange event'. 

Write the opening sentence to our story entitled 'A strange event'. 

* The sentence has got to hook people and raise a number of questions. 

* It should only be one sentence long - you can cheat and have two sentences, if you really need to.

*Look at the examples provided, but don't steal them. 

*Do you want the story to be told in the first person or the third person? You decide. 

Submit your opening to Show My Homework by the end of Sunday. You will get the next part of the story on Monday. 

The response has been phenomenal from students. These are some examples from Year 7:

Her life would never be the same, as she picked herself up from the rubble that she use to call home.

I was tired, I was cold, I was hungry and a long way from home.

I thought we would be safe... that it would never affect us.

The house was being swallowed by fire.

He looks just like me...

I changed the story title for different year groups.  Year 8’s story was entitled ‘The Surprise’. Here are a few examples:

She knew where they lived.

I thought it was completely normal to see voices as colours.

The operation was just about to start, the knife was nearly all the way in, but little did they know I was awake and could feel everything.

The only time I knew what to do and it was already too late.

What everyone thought was going to happen, happened.

Year 9’s story was entitled ‘The Mistake’. Here are a few examples:

It’s been months since it happened, but the image is still engraved in my mind.

They often say life is full of regrets, yet I had none...

He dropped the shovel and admired his work, as he stood beside the home made grave.

I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea.

The decision I’ve just made I now regret.

The plan now is to whittle the sentences down to one key sentence per year group. I might cheat and include a top ten of sentences. There’s just so many good ones. Then, we are going to write the next paragraph. At each stage, I intend to do some explicit teaching or guidance on writing. I might even film a video for it or two.

The next paragraph is about introducing the protagonist. I am very grateful for the writer Dan Walker for allowing me to share his opening to his novel. Students are going to look at how to introduce their character. They will, however, be continuing from the opening sentence I have selected. Here is the link to a resource I am using. 

Each new week will bring a different part of the story. We will introduce our setting, our antagonist, our complication, our crisis and resolution, but each stage is influenced by the students.  All responses written by students are small – not even 200 words. Ideally, I am working on 1 to 5 sentences. The whole purpose being the activity is teaching students about storytelling at the same time as writing a story.

We don’t know how long we are going to be closed, so I am thinking how I can expand and explore ideas. I might get to a stage where we need a subplot. Or a flashback. Or a prequel. Or a sequel. I am even thinking at a later stage we get students, at home, creating PR materials such as covers, posters, trailers, etc. Who knows where we will get to?

As I said, the response has been phenomenal. I have several submissions during the typing of this blog. I am loving the collective and interactive nature of the story telling. To be honest, I have no idea where these stories are going to go. Three separate stories. No plan. No end point. No overall structure. A scary notion, but one that’s interesting. However, we are all working together, uniting people.

Over the weeks, I will place more materials on the blog as and when I create them.

Thanks for reading,



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks a lot. You really help me a lot. I will also share with others.
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  3. I'm inspired to join in, and it looks like a great way to get the buy in from all. My question... How do you propose I can do this with Mathematics whilst keeping to a very prescriptive SOW. Recommendations gratefully received.

  4. Amazing idea. I'm going to try this, with a few amendments, with my SEN students. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi Xris,

    My name is Alice from Samuel Windsor.

    This month, in response to the current state of the world, we've created a roundup of the best teacher blogs, who we believe are perfect in giving our readers an insight into what it's like working in academia.

    And in our roundup, we've featured your Learning from my mistakes blog

    Here's a link to our article:

    We'll be sharing this on our Twitter and we'll be sure to tag you!

    Best wishes,


  6. Your post is really helpful to me.Thanks for your great post. I am very happy to read your post. This is really very helpful for us.
    So, I like this blog. Thanks again.

  7. Thanks I am so up for this! What examples did you give to kick off the opening sentences? Would you mind sharing?

  8. I just used an opening sentences from stories. There are some on this blog.

  9. Great I'm really into this! Like your recent one on show not tell too


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