Meredith Costain – writing narrative nonfiction with students

This session was about using nonfiction research together with the elements of narrative, them being characters, setting, events, problem, a beginning, a middle and an ending.


Meredith said to start with a dramatic opening, then move onto interesting plot events.  You must introduce a problem, which for an animal might be a hungry predator or lack of food.  And with all stories, there must be a satisfying ending.  She showed us some examples from her books about pandas, penguins, kangaroos and sea otters.


Meredith gave us an example of how she gets kids involved in the story, using a book about a cheetah.  She had members of the audience act out a hunting scene in the roles of the protagonist cheetah, a brother and sister cheetah, gazelles and hungry hyenas.  This is obviously a very good way at engaging children because look how engaged the adults were


Meredith showed us the rest of the book.  She mentioned that she does not include the mating scenes as she is not writing books such as “50 Shades of Elephant”.

It was our turn to write next. This was an example of an activity that teachers can use in the classroom.  We had to pick an animal that we know a lot about.  We had to choose 2 physical characteristics that our animal has.  On the third line (see below) we had to write where our animal lives.  Next we had to write about an activity that our animal does, describing it using a simile e.g. I run as fast as the wind.  The next stage was to begin telling the story, and we had to remember to include facts.


“I’m a …..”

“I have ……”

“My home is…”

“I ….. as ….. as…..a…..”


Everyone in the audience really enjoyed this activity, hearing people read their stories was enjoyable, and proof that we all know how to write.

Meredith shared some articles from school magazines that she used to edit.  One was done in the style of a diary, another as an interview with an animal.  There was an animal survival guide and a wanted poster for cockroaches, house flies, mosquitos and cat fleas.  These were great examples of activities that teachers can use in the primary school classroom.


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