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Literacy help: Alan Peat story bags - How to develop story writing and literacy skills in younger children.

Updated on October 19, 2013


There is no getting away from the fact that the more a child has been read to and the more they try to read themselves then the better their literacy skills are going to be. Parents have a massive influence on this. As a parent myself I considered reading to and teaching my daughter to read the one most important thing I could do to aid her life at school.

Sadly this is not always the case and too many students we teach read rarely at home or in rare cases don't even own a book. Sad I know and to be honest I can't imagine a house without books in it. I jokingly refer to my daughters collection 'her library' because she has so many which are updated as she reads through them.

But lets be fair, it is not only the students who struggle with reading that need help with story writing. A lot of students will benefit from this approach including your high flyers. I have taught this in year 3, although i would consider it to be more a KS1 activity, but in year 3 they do need certain aspects of a KS1 curriculum to help there development as it is a hard transitional year. Saying that I have seen other teachers use it in higher years than that and why not if it will benefit their writing.

What is it all about?

As a reader you have set questions you ask as you read. You need to know things like, who is involved? (Characters) Where are they? (Setting the scene) When does it all happen? (Setting the scene again) What goes wrong? (The problem in the story) Why did it happen? (Motives for the characters) How does it all get resolved? (Resolution).

All these questions you ask as a reader fit nicely with bums on the rugby post or the 5 W's as you may have heard about it. The picture below shows a display I made of the bums on the rugby post idea.

Anyway, young children tend not to think of the reader when they write but I still think it is important to mention this idea. I tend to mention it as me or the TA who are going to read it and we have questions we want to know the answer to. If you can answer them in your writing then you should have a good story and we will enjoy it because you have answered everything we are curious about. If they miss things out, any question we have then we are left wondering about it and therefore your story isn't finished because the reader isn't satisfied.

I have wrote about displays in the class in other hubs

Take a look at 'ideas for displays in your classroom from word walls to maths and english help.'

A few great ideas of how to help your children with displays to go alongside showing off their work.

So how do the story bags work?

First of all you need a set of 8 bags. The bags you get for birthday gifts are ideal for this job as they have a handle at the top that you can use for hanging them up. If you create a display as shown below then it is a great way to remind the children about what they must do in story writing. Plus it is a resource you can use over and over again.

On the front of each bag, so every child can read it easily should be the questions:

  1. Who?
  2. Where?
  3. Where next?
  4. Why?
  5. What goes wrong?
  6. Who helps?
  7. Where last?
  8. Feelings?

Inside these bags should be placed a picture which will relate to the questions you have placed on the bags.

There is more to it than pictures ...

So you find some great pictures to go alongside the topic/story you are learning about in literacy and you place them in the bags. What do you do with them?

First off, my recommendation is to pick pictures which the children can relate to. Either it is pictures they may be familiar with from the topic your teaching, or something they can imagine themselves from past experience or, again from what you have been talking about in your topic.

Three ideas of how you could use the Alan Peat story bags into your lessons:

  1. I recommend at the start of this activity that you model everything for the class. I would do a class story using these and gaining the ideas from the children. How would I set it up?
  • After a short literacy starter which helps the children with their literacy skills, then every child would be given a whiteboard and a pen.
  • Then we would talk about the makeup of a story. Talk about the reader and what they need in a story for them to enjoy it. The sort of questions they ask in their heads and NEED answering. Then the Alan Peat bags would be introduced. If you have a display like the one above then the questions next to the bag would help you, as this is the sort of thing you should be talking about.
  • Explain what you are going to do - take a picture out of the bag and then write a class story.
  • Next take a picture out of the first bag (who?). Ask a few children what they can see. If you get some good descriptions then make a point of saying how great they are and that you would love to see it within their writing. Also mention that you want others to steal (magpie) those ideas because that is the idea of talking about it as a class.
  • Being the first one then I would recommend that you model the writing first. Scribe a story start using the descriptive ideas from the children. Talk about what you have wrote and why. How have I tried to uplevel my work?
  • (Note: when modelling you should always aim for the top end of your class. Model the work so you can push them on in their work. Add in and explain certain elements that you have been looking at in your literacy skills sessions so they can see these skills being used. i.e. if modelling for a year 2 class then I would always try to model using level 3 elements in my work and explain that they are level 3 elements and challenge the whole class to try to use it in their work.)
  • Once this is done then take out the next picture (where?) and get some more ideas from children around the class.
  • The big difference this time is that you want the class to write a paragraph/a few sentences to describe what they can see on their whiteboards.
  • Once they have been given enough time for this then you should ask a few students to share their ideas.
  • Using the better ideas and editing these ideas - explaining this to the children as your first idea is rarely the best one - scribe this paragraph into the story you are creating.
  • This is then repeated for the rest of the lesson using all the bags.

  • Make sure you model reading through your work regulary to check it makes sense and everything is correct.
  • I would also model getting a spelling wrong or missing a word out when writing or missing punctuation out. This was you can show children how to correct their mistakes. Plus it shows the children that it is ok to make mistakes because everyone does it.

2. If your class are used to using the bags then it is perfectly ok to use a group set of these. I would recommend spending time doing a guided writing session with one of your groups to help push them on. The other groups could just get on with their work and come up with a group story.

  • If you were to do this one I would recommend they have to pick jobs in the activity. So you would need a group leader who has final say in what is written and make sure everyone pulls their weight. A time keeper who needs to tell the group how long they have on each bag - say 5 minutes to comlete the paragraph. A scribe who needs to write down their work or type it up if you have sufficent ICT in your room.
  • Plenary would be the groups sharing their stories so you could also have a performer to read it out.

3. If you don't think your class could cope with that then why not split your class into two. One half could work with yourself and one with the TA. Both have a set of bags and the adult leads them a lot like the modelled session. It would be good to introduce the jobs into this idea to get them used to working like that and working independently with the adult there to make sure it all works.

Questions that could go alongside the bags:


  • What does the character look like?
  • Can you use any other senses to describe him/her? What do they smell like? etc.


  • What does the scene look like?
  • Can you use any other senses to describe it? What does it sound like? etc.

Where next?

  • What does the scene look like?
  • Can you use any other senses to describe it? What does it sound like? etc.


  • Why have they moved to a different place?

What goes wrong?

  • What problem do your characters meet?
  • How would your characters react or feel when this happens?

Who helps?

  • How is the problem fixed?
  • Who fixs it and how?
  • Was it a good idea?

Where last?

  • What does the scene look like?
  • Can you use any other scenses to describe it? What does it sound like? etc.
  • Why have they moved here?


  • How do the characters feel after everything is alright in the end?

Why this sequence?

The sequence of bags is very important for children to understand how stories are made up. It shouldn't be diverted from but how does it help the children?

  1. Who? - Introduces the characters which is essential to any story. A reader should like a character within the story and want them to solve the problem.
  2. Where? - Setting the scene which is essential so the reader can picture where they are.
  3. Where next? - A devise to give the story some dynamic and momentum for early writers.
  4. Problem - Central to any story writing. This should be emphasized on to the children that without a problem then the story is boring. It is a must.
  5. Who helps? When ever there is a problem in life there is a solution. It is important that your children understand that the reader will want your charcters to solve this problem.
  6. Where last? This allows the story to have a conclusion.
  7. Feelings - This helps to instill a higher order story telling skill in early writers.

And last of all - what sort of pictures?

I've left this to last because it really is up to you and what you r children need but here are some general ideas:

  1. Pictures of people who have features which are easy to describe. i.e a big nose so they can use a simile like - his nose was as big as a ...
  2. Pictures of different settings like buildings, cities, forrests etc.
  3. A different setting so they can get contrast in their writing.
  4. A problem could be something like a natural disaster - flood, lightning etc. Other problems could be someone getting injured, a picture of a broken limb or something. It could be a picture of a thief.
  5. Then you need a picture of someone helping in some way. Maybe a nurse helping the injured person or a policeman capturing your thief.
  6. Then you need another setting, this can be the same as one before but remind the children to make sure they don't repeat themselves so they must pick something else to describe.
  7. Last of all you need a picture of some emotions - sad face, crying face, laughing face etc.


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    • Arshman Noman profile image


      3 months ago from manzoor colony pakistan

      wow the great article you are the genius

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Great sentence frames, very useful!!

    • profile image

      Carol Green 

      4 years ago

      Please correct the grammatical error in your sub heading 'wrote' - written?


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