In this blog post, we’ll explore micro fiction reading and writing. I’ve found great success with this assignment and believe it to be an engaging way to teach important reading and writing skills.
English teachers, your students are eager to tell stories.
Storytelling is a tribute to the universal human experience.
Stories connect us.
They allow us to think about and play with language.
They highlight important themes and ideas, and the list goes on.
I know that I’m preaching to the choir when it comes to the love of the written word. If I’m being honest, though, sometimes we have to “hook” students into reading and writing, am I right? Sometimes students have lost the innate love of a story.
And that’s not even addressing the fact that, as teachers, we must align our work to standards. We may feel that time spent writing fiction must be cut at the expense of other “more important” skills.
But let’s not forget the power of the story and the fact that our students are storytellers (some of them may just need to remember how and why).
What is Micro Fiction?
This type of storytelling is also known as flash fiction or sudden fiction. Unlike a regular short story, it is limited to a certain number of words, typically 1000 words or less.
When I assign micro fiction writing to my students, they are asked to write 300-500 words. Some call this short-short writing a subset of flash fiction, even longer than its cousin, the six-word story.
Why Micro Fiction?
So, those skills… what can we do with micro fiction?
Well, you can definitely teach reading strategies and discuss author choices (plot, organization, syntax, diction, etc.) and theme/author’s purpose.
➡️ Because these texts are short and accessible, they pair easily with poems, longer short stories, podcasts, TED talks, etc.
➡️ Students can make connections and discuss how a common thematic message is conveyed in both texts.
➡️ It is also interesting to examine the impact and importance of what is not said in a micro fiction story vs. a text with a theme that is well-developed.
And that’s just the reading of microfiction.
➡️ When I ask my students to write “short” stories of 300-500 words, they must be purposeful as writers. They must consider the impact of their words, practice sentence combining and the elimination of wordiness, think about show vs. tell, characterization, and plot. Most importantly, they must explain to me why they made these choices.
Starting the Unit
To start the unit, we read a variety of these short-short stories, exploring the differences between writing “long” and writing “short.”
We look at and write six-sentence stories.
We consider the following questions:
➡️ Can a story be “good” in six words or less?
➡️ How about 400 words or less?
We discuss the following six word stories and the impact of word choice, as well as what is not said. As we do this, we review elements of plot, connotation vs. denotation, syntax, and more.
We then listen to the winner of this three minute fiction contest on NPR (here’s the link to the podcast AND transcript), discussing the questions below.
I ask students to reflect overall about what is gained and lost by writing short.
From here, students write their own short, short story (20 words or less) individually or with a partner.
Here are some prompts for this initial writing exercise:
- Leave a message after the beep…
- But, Jackie, I never knew…
- Excuse me, but I believe you dropped your…
- To run or to hide…
I suggest giving students a time limit and then asking them to discuss their choices.
What did they leave out? How did they start/end and why? As we talk about their stories (which students are usually eager to share), we return to discussion of some of the previous questions, but as writers instead of readers.
Next, as we progress through the unit, we work on strategies to eliminate wordiness.
We also examine characterization, along with diction and literary devices. I’m happy to share this activity I’ve had for what feels like forever. Feel free to make a copy for your next fiction writing unit.
Additional Thoughts on Writing Short
I’m always impressed with students’ work during this unit.
As I said above, the final product is a 300-500 word story. Or, to up the ante, two different stories with the same theme, a difference in tone/mood, a difference in perspective, etc.
When they are finished writing, my students leave comments in their Google Docs to explain their overall message, as well as the impact of diction, organization, and syntax choices.
It’s also really nice that this assignment is versatile enough to fit in any number of places during the year.
- We have used it here as a capstone project after extensive study of author’s style moves.
- We have also used it to open the year to review reading and writing skills and build students’ revision and sentence variety skills.
- You can also tailor the subject/theme to a certain time of the year or unit.
As a final step, I’m always looking for real-world publication ideas. There are places students can submit their micro fiction stories online such as Ember Journal or Write the World. Here is a link to their past competition which has examples you can use in your next micro fiction unit.
Micro Fiction Activities
I hope that this post met the goal which was to give you some practical ideas for teaching flash fiction in your English classroom!
As students progress through their analysis and writing of micro fiction, I love using station activities and digital writer’s notebook work.
These resources are available in my TpT store. If you feel that these activities would be helpful to your students, and you’ve enjoyed the free content in this blog post, please stop by to check them out and support my work: