Story Starter Creative Writing Prompt: Scary House

Grade Levels
4th - 12th
Standards
Formats Included
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  • Activity
Pages
7 pages
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  1. What's a story starter?It's just what it sounds like, a story that starts but has no end. More developed than a short writing prompt, this story prompt gives students the first part of a story that ends on a cliff-hanger. Because the story has no end, students will have to create their own drawing o
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Description

What's a story starter?

It's just what it sounds like, a story that starts but has no end. More developed than a short writing prompt, this story prompt gives students the first part of a story that ends on a cliff-hanger.

Because the story has no end, students will have to create their own drawing on their creativity. Even the most reluctant creative writer will find themselves sucked in with this deceptively simple method of getting students to write! Students already have a setting, characters, and even a theme to develop. It’s much easier than starting from scratch but still gives them room to create an original story.

This method also helps students understand the importance of writing to an audience as they themselves go from reader to writer.

Each story is also supported with questions and vocabulary activities to introduce the story and followed by discussion questions. This highly flexible, unfinished story model is perfect for teaching reading, creative writing, or discussion. It's easy to use as a one-time treat or integrate into a larger creative writing unit.

What's this story starter about?

In "Scary House", the neighborhood kids are telling the new kid Parker about the haunted house in the neighborhood. Parker decides he's going to go in and take a look. It is it really cursed? Is it a Mafia hangout? Or is it just an old abandoned house? Your students will decide what happens to Parker when he steps inside! Perfect for Halloween!!

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What's included?

Teacher Notes with all the information here in more detail

A rubric for assessment of the students' writing

Hero Image

Ask students to look at the image and guess what the story is about, what kind of story it might be, and how haunted house stories usually go.
Before You Read Questions

Students are asked to describe the house in the picture, eliciting some helpful vocabulary, not only of parts of houses, but also words about scary or haunted places! Other questions ask students to think about odd houses they may have seen and about haunted houses.

Preteaching Vocabulary

The vocabulary activity focuses on giving them a quick definition or gloss of the most difficult and/or most useful words in the story so that they can comprehend the reading. Then there are a few questions to help students use the words and learn them in context.

  • Have students work in groups or pairs to do the words they know, then guess the words they don’t.
  • Let students use dictionaries or phones to look up the words they don’t know.
  • Draw attention to the parts of speech. Have students look up the words in other parts of speech to get a deeper understanding of the words.
  • Have students find the sentences with the vocab words. Have students decode the sentence using the definitions.

The Story (282 words, ~410-600L)

There are many ways to handle reading short stories in class. Choose the one that works best for your classroom and remember that you can use several different strategies at the same time.

  • Have students read the story for homework before class.
  • Have students read individually in class quietly to themselves.
  • Divide the text into sections and ask students to read the first part to themselves. Then call on a student to summarize what happened. Ask a few students to make predictions about what will happen next. Then go on to the next section.
  • Put students in reading groups.
  • Reader’s Theater. Put students in small groups to read and perform the stories out loud. For more information on doing reader’s theater, check out this post.

After You Read

Comprehension questions ask students about the different theories students have about the house and why it is haunted. Other questions ask students about what the different characters think about the house and what they will probably do. This helps students prepare for writing their ending.

Write the Ending

Students are prompted to finish the story. There are some questions to guide students to the sorts of things students might want to know such as what happens to Parker inside the haunted house and how the house got that way. Students may want to use all, some, or none of these questions. It can be helpful to have students generate their own list of questions they think the ending should address too. This helps students take the perspective of the reader!

You can ask students to approach this assignment in a variety of ways:

  • Write a short outline or summary and share it in pairs or groups before writing a whole story.
  • Write a page in class quickly without planning or editing, then revise and rewrite the story for homework.
  • Brainstorm for ideas as a class (or in groups) and then write individually. Students can fill the board with ideas and details for them to pick and choose when they write.
  • Start with a mini-lesson about a relevant writing skill, such as describing people, writing a coherent story, or building tension. Then ask students to practice that skill in their writing.
  • Use a graphic organizer or story map to map out their story.
  • As a class, come up with a word bank they can use when writing the story.
  • For students who need a bit of help, give them 2 or 3 prompts to fill out in detail.
  • Lower-level students can tell the story orally or act it out in groups or in front of the whole class.

An enclosed single-point rubric helps focus students on what they did well and what they still need to improve.
Projects

  • Other projects include a character profile for the characters. This exercise can help students compile what they know about the characters from the story and also add in some details of their own, based on what the story tells them. This is a great way to analyze any work of literature, as students think about who the people in the story are, what their motivations are, and what kinds of things they would or wouldn’t do.
  • There’s also a project to make a short film of their ending or a new haunted house story. The supplementary material guides students through the process.
  • Finally, there’s a project to draw a haunted house. This activity can help students get their creative juices flowing as they can label the house, building vocabulary. Or it can help them think about what features of a house are really scary. Some teachers enjoy having students draw a picture, then tell a brief story of how the house became haunted, before creating their own story!

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These also work for distance learning as students can read the story on their own, discuss the questions via online lessons or forums, and then send their endings to you. They can even share them on a class blog or forum for everyone to read and critique!

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What do teachers think?

“the storylines are imaginative and varied, and the concept of encouraging written fluency by getting students to create their own ‘flash fiction’ is something my classes enjoyed immensely” —IATEFL Voices

“One of the best [lessons] this year for engagement, and tonnes of language production.” —Peter Clements, British Councils

"The different format and the inclusion of pre-reading motivation questions and post-reading discussion questions and activities really make this stand out among the “writing prompts” that I’ve encountered. I also appreciate the diversity in terms of reading levels and genres." — Brittany G., Teacher

"...a wonderful jumping point for creative writing in the classroom. You could use this book for any age/grade and adapt the expectation of a creative response to suit." "— Carmen M., Educator

Every classroom should own a copy of this" — Catherine H., Librarian

Students love these too:

These stories] improved my reading speed and are useful to extend reading skills.

—Anonymous

We can learn new words and develop creativity.

—Anonymous

Very interesting and easy to understand.

—Anonymous

The book was really fun!

—Yurie S.

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Can I get more?

"Scary House" is taken from the book Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp. This book was a finalist for the 2019 ELTon Award for Innovation in Learner's Resources, presented by the British Council.

Buy the full book in PDF, get it as a money-saving bundle or even buy Stories Without End as a paperback wherever you buy your books!

Or browse the individual story prompts:

Digital Story Starters on Google Forms. Perfect for Distance Learning

Printable PDF Story Starters

  • A Nice Bike: A biker gets a proposal to deliver a package that may or may not be legal.
  • Assassin: A assassin gets the biggest challenge of his life. Can he do this one or not?
  • Bad Dog: A man is trying to get rid of his dog after the dog ruined too many of his priceless antiques
  • Choose a Path: A mysterious road leads to a place where your dreams are realized. What exactly is waiting there?
  • Dyslexia: Can two tech addicts find love with each other?
  • Family Matters: Three families meet. In one the man works and the woman stays home with the kids. In another it’s the reverse. In a third, both parents work. What’s your ideal family like?
  • Gifted: A mom has to decide whether to put her daughter in the gifted class. But what exactly does gifted mean in this case.
  • House Husband: In this gender stereotype reversal story, a househusband rushes home to make dinner for his demanding wife, whose just going to pick a fight and go out with her buddies at the bar any way.
  • I Love Horse(s): A cultural misunderstanding leads to a weird dinner for an American exchange student leaving Japan.
  • Joe and the Beans: A retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” in modern times.
  • Last Human Teacher: Robots can know every fact and even monitor classroom behavior perfectly. So why should people teach?
  • Long Line: Everyone is waiting on an endless line. Why and what happens at the end?
  • Long Sleep: A man faces a choice. Be frozen with his terminally ill wife or live life never seeing her again.
  • Lunch Break: Teleportation devices make lunch times interesting for an international family.
  • Pick a Pet: Which pet should a boy choose for his birthday?
  • Scary House: What’s in the scary house in the neighborhood? The new kid is about to find out.
  • Silvio: What do you do about a middle-schooler who still has an imaginary friend? Accommodate them or challenge them?
  • The Chase: A golfer gets hit by a ball on the course. Should he enact revenge or let it go?
  • The Eyes Have It: They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. But is it really so easy to read someone’s mood?
  • The Glass is Half: Mr. Happy and Mr. Sad have very different days.
  • The Train Pusher: A train pusher in Tokyo falls in love with a commuter. Love or creepy obsession?
  • T-Rex Window: A boy wakes up from a terrifying nightmare where a dinosaur is attacking him. Or does he?
  • Zodiac Personality: Does your horoscope really determine your personality?
  • Mexican Standoff: Five mysterious strangers are all pointing guns at each other. How did it get to this?
  • Magic Tattoo: A tattoo artist gives people tattoos with magical powers. What tattoo will you get?
  • Ghost Hunter: A night in a cemetery could lead to a very scary encounter, a boring night, or maybe something else.
  • Doppelganger: What if you met your exact copy?
  • Don’t Open the Door: Your reflection warns you this will be a bad day. Do you listen?
  • Body Swap: What if you could swap bodies with anyone in the world?
  • Mind Control: What if you had a device that let you control someone else’s mind?
  • Modern Dating: We have online relationships, people marrying video game characters, or even themselves. Will people ever marry their pets? Fall in love with AI? What's the next step in the evolution of relationships?
  • Money Tree: What could be better than a tree that gives you money?
  • Monster in the Closet: What's making a noise in Joanne's closet?
  • Perfect Match: What if a computer decided who you could marry?
  • Robot Companion: Your new fully programmable AI robot has arrived. What will you do with it?
  • Secret Society: You are asked to join a powerful secret society. But are they good or evil?
  • Smart Phone: What's the amazing new smartphone feature or app that has everyone talking.
  • The End of the World: You've been wandering through an apocalyptic landscape your whole life totally alone. Until now.
  • The Protector and the Assassin: Go with the Protector if you don't want to be killed by the Assassin.
  • Three Wishes: You find a magic lamp. What will you wish for?
  • Treasure Chest: What's in the real Pandora's Box?
  • Unimaginable Feast: What dish do you bring to the most magical feast in the world?
Total Pages
7 pages
Answer Key
Does not apply
Teaching Duration
3 days
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Standards

to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Use a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events.
Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

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