Short Texts: Inspiration for Writing

Short texts can be the inspiration behind student writing projects—and it doesn’t have to be complicated or take weeks to complete.


Earlier this week, I was working in a 3rd grade classroom. The week was choppy for both kiddos and teachers—1 day off for a holiday + 1 day of professional development + 1 fun field day. Part of our goal was to keep kiddos reading and writing, regardless of the schedule changes.

We read aloud Pencil A Story with a Point by Ann Ingalls. 3rd graders loved the kid-friendly puns woven across the pages! This word play opened up opportunities for pop-up, flexible small groups to discuss the meanings behind the words and phrases. It was exciting to see all of the meaning making happening across the classroom! As I listened into small group discussions, it became clear that kiddos might enjoy giving this a try through their own mini writing project. The result—beginning drafts of some pretty cool short stories using our read aloud as a mentor text.

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Here’s a strategy for using a short text as inspiration for writing.


  1. Grab a short text [picture book, short story, infographic, 2-page spread].

  2. Read the short text, stopping along the way to give students opportunities to discuss the text in small groups. NOTE: If your students are new to pop-up, flexible small groups, model how this looks, sounds and feels before having them give it a go. For more on small groups, check out What Are You Grouping For?, Grades 3-8: How to Guide Small Groups Based on Readers - Not the Book.

  3. To activate students’ writing muscles, brainstorm ideas together. Note: For Pencil A Story with a Point, we brainstormed a list of supplies that could become main characters in a story. 3rd graders came up with things such as tape, super glue, chalk, colored pencils, stapler, 3-hole punch, etc. We also brainstormed problem/solution ideas. We noodled around about questions such as:

    • Will the supplies get along or have conflict?

    • Will the supplies solve a problem or experience something new together?

    • Where will the story take place [setting]?

    • What are the different ways you could begin the story [once upon a time, dialogue, asking a question, etc.]

  4. Invite students to pick their favorite writing tool [pen, pencil], their favorite writing spot, and give them time to write! Note: Create a shared agreement with students regarding how long they will write. Give them a few minutes to settle in and then set a timer.

  5. As students write, use the classroom to collect data [observations, student work samples] AND respond by hosting small groups or one-to-one conversations as needed. Think about:

    • Who is on a roll with their writing? Who is slow to start?

    • Who has an interesting beginning that could be used as a model to help others?

    • Who needs to talk their ideas out before writing?

    • Who needs to draw some pictures about their ideas before writing?

  6. When the timer signals, give students 2 minutes to finish up their thoughts. Survey students to see who wants more time to write during a future workshop. Plan accordingly.

MANY ASK—Should these types of writing opportunities be edited? Published? Shared? That is up to you and your kiddos! Stay tuned—more about these questions will be forthcoming.