Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons (Day 4–Story Openings)
March 6, 2014 Homeschool Den

Day 4: Story Openings–Set the mood or feeling of your story


You’ve set up a good writing space, have your supplies – pencils, journals, resource materials. Now what?!! This is the second in a series of 5 posts with lesson ideas to help young writers get started on their writing journey. Be sure to read the introduction to this series in last Monday’s post, Day 1.

Here are some of our first mini-lesson topics. I used mentor texts and picked them apart to help the kids see some of the elements that make for good writing.

In this series I’ll go into more detail on each one:

  1. What makes a good book or story?
  2. Make your story come alive with details and description.
  3. Creating Interesting Characters
  4. Story Openings: Set the mood or feeling of your story
  5. Gathering story ideas from your own life
  6. Alliteration and more

You can use these lessons in any order.

Day 4: Story Openings: Set the mood or feeling of your story

Writing is often best learned by imitation. We all need good models. The more we read and are exposed to good writing, the more often we’ll come across a style we want to emulate. In this 4th post, we talked about story openings… selecting a number of different books and looking closely at how the author started their story.


We started this day with a mountain of books in front of us.  I started by explaining this:

“Once you have a book in your hand, the author has a challenging job. She needs to set the scene, the mood and the characters. Most importantly, she has to draw you in right away so you’ll want to read more.  Let’s look at the openings of a few stories… your job is to tell me whether you want to hear more or not.”

“Leonardo was a terrible monster…” [Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems]

“Greetings, nephew!” cried Louis’s Uncle McAllister, “I’ve brought a wee bit of Scotland for your birthday.” [The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg]

“In a small, cosy cottage lived Mrs. McTats. She lived all alone, except for one cat.” [Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats by Alyssa Satin Capucilli]

“Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman.” [Millions of Cats  by Wanda Gag]

“The kids in Room 207 were misbehaving again.” [Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard]

“Kaleb and his two daughters hurried along Lancaster County Road in their buggy.” [Just Plain Fancy by Patricia Polacco]

“Before Julius was born, Lilly was the best big sister in the whole world.” [Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes]

Today The kids begged me to read more from a couple of the books.  I asked them what made them desperate to hear more? The author did his job, I told them He made you WANT to read that book and grabbed your attention, right? (The kids laughed.)

Now let’s see what else happens in these opening sentences…

They introduce the characters, right? The kids chimed in…

  • Julius, the baby and Lilly his sister
  • Mrs. McTats and her one cat
  • Leonardo
  • Kaleb and his two daughters

These sentences set the mood or feeling of the book. I re-read the first sentence of the Mysterious Tadpole. I asked, is it a sad story? scary? spooky? No, no the kids replied. It starts off happy. But Leonardo was a terrible monster starts off sad, DD chimed in.

Finally, we described the setting. Did you find out right from the beginning where the story takes place?

  • Just Plain- starts in the country
  • Mrs. McTats starts in a cottage
  • Swimmy starts in the corner of the sea
  • Mrs. Nelson starts in room 207 at school

The author sure has a lot to do in the beginning of a story or book, doesn’t she? Now let’s grab our writing journals and see what we come up with.

We set the timer for 10 minutes and went off to write. When we finished talking about all these, LD rushed off to find a quiet spot to write. DD grabbed Leonard and read that before sprawling on the floor to write. ED took her notebook and wrote at her desk.  Having the writing workshop such an established, predictable part of our day really has helped the kids settle in to the writing habit.  Slowly, even my reluctant writer was beginning to look forward to writing time. What a turn-around!

If you’d like to print this out, just click on the link below.

Writing MiniLessons Day 4– Story Openings


Do you want to learn more about starting your own Homeschool Writing Workshop? Here are some related posts:






Mini-Lessons to Use in a Writing Workshop (in any order):



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