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Basic Principles


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Story Workshop®

Basic Session

and Pedagogy

Story Workshop Basic Principles



  • Seeing in the Mind

  • Voice

  • Principle of Attention

  • Sense of Audience

  • Permission

  • Principle of Surprise

  • Process

  • Oral Language/Social Language (Talk, Body Language,

Eye Contact)

  • Gesture

  • Exaggeration

  • Story Movement

  • Organization

Hint: This approach works holistically. We assume that students are actively engaged in activities that address any and all of these principles all the time, all at once. Therefore, activities may focus on a given principle, but never to the exclusion of other principles.

Story Workshop Overview

John Schultz originated and developed the Story Workshop approach to writing and the teaching of writing 40 years ago. The approach draws upon natural, democratic storytelling capabilities and skills and engages multiple learning styles by emphasizing the development of each student’s writing voice, and gives full permission for every student to bring his or her own cultural, linguistic, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic background into the classroom. It addresses and demystifies the processes of creative and expository writing, enabling and motivating students at every level of development to achieve greater flexibility and confidence in the writing tasks they undertake on a regular basis.

The skills students develop and hone in Story Workshop classes help them in all areas of school and better prepare them for the world beyond the classroom. The flexible structure of the approach focuses on four primary areas of the student’s development as a writer: seeing-in-the-mind, voice, movement/organization, and audience awareness. The coordinated applications of these principles are essential to writing, to other endeavors of human thought and culture, and to the development of the basic human capacities for communication and creative problem-solving.

The Story Workshop writing sessions actively involve all participants in a variety of group exercises that develop the essential components of writing and cognitive thinking. Students read and discuss published literary models, participate in word activities to build vocabulary and creative experiences with language, and receive usage and grammar instruction that directly and actively improves their writing and overall communication skills. Students develop their essays, stories, poems and communication skills through oral storytelling, in-class writing, and the reading aloud of their writing in progress.

The principle of coached oral reading, drawing upon theater games developed by Viola Spolen for Story Theater and developed by John Schultz to serve writing students, involves dramatic re-enactment and oral storytelling, and dynamically places the reading content into the context of students’ prior knowledge and whole-life intelligence, boosting comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.

Story Workshop Basic Workshop Structure



  • Recall from Previous Session

  • Oral Reading of Published Writing or Student Writing

  • Recall of Reading

  • Sometimes, Recall and Comment of Reading

  • Word Games

  • Take-a-Place Activity

  • Oral Telling

  • In-Class Writing

  • Read Backs

  • Recall of Student In-Class Writing

  • Final Recall

Hint: These activities are conducted one by one, in a particular order that tends to heighten focus and demand toward successful in-class student writing.

Story Workshop Bibliography

Here is a partial list of sources for further information about Tandem Teaching and the Story Workshop Approach to the Teaching of Writing. The approach assumes the connection between writing and reading, and therefore includes activities, games, and techniques for teaching reading.


Schultz, John. Writing From Start to Finish: The Story Workshop Basic Forms Rhetoric-Reader. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, rev.1990.
_____. Writing From Start to Finish: The Story Workshop Basic Forms Rhetoric-Reader. Teacher’s Manual. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publisher, reprinted 1996.
_____. “The Story Workshop Method: Writing from Start to Finish.” College English. Vol. 39, No. 4. (1974): 411-436.
Shiflett, Betty. “Story Workshop as a Method of Teaching Writing.” College English. Vol. 35, No. 2. (1973): 141-160.
Albers, Randall K. “The Pedagogy of Voice: Putting Theory into Practice in a Story Workshop Composition Class,” Conference on College Composition and Communication. St. Loius, March, 1988.
The Living Voice Moves. Videotape. Developed by John Schultz, Randall Albers, and Betty Shiflett, The Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College, Chicago, 1990.
Keithley, Zoe. “‘My Own Voice’: Students Say it Unlocks the Writing Process.” Journal of Basic Writing. Vol. 11, No. 2. (1992): 82-102.
_____, et al. Tandem Teaching: Process-oriented Principle-based Lesson Plans in Writing by and for Elementary Teachers. Chicago: Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago Teachers’ Center, 1993.
_____, and Chappel, Donna. Fundamentals of Writing: Tandem Teaching Manual and Teacher/Student Writing Anthology. Chicago: Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago Teachers’ Center, 2001.
Mills, Polly, ed. Straight Out of Beethoven: An Anthology of Writing by Students of Beethoven School. Chicago: Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago Teachers’ Center, 1992.
Swanson, Felicia, ed. Sass and Happiness: Voices of 3rd and 4th Grade Students at Jenner School. Chicago: Story Workshop Institute, 2002.
Story Workshop Coachings en Español


Imaginalo. Míralo en tu imaginación. (See it. See it in yr imagination)
Usa tu voz. Oye tu voz cuando está leyendo. (Use your voice. Listen to your voice as you read.)
Lee cada palabra, una palabra a la vez y mira/imagina/nota lo que esa palabra te da a ver. (Read each word, one word at a time and see what that word gives you to see.)
Toma tu tiempo para leerlo, pero léelo a (esa persona) o al grupo completo. (Take your time reading, but read it to (that person) or the whole group.)
¿Que tomo tu atención en oír el cuento/la poema? (What took your attention in listening to the story/poem?
¿Que te sorprendió? What surprised you?

¿Que te dio algo que ver o oír en el cuento/poema? (What gave you something to see or hear in the story/poem?)


¿Quien tiene un momento que puedan contar? Mira el momento otra vez en tu imaginación y cuéntalo al grupo. (Who has a moment they can tell? See a moment again in your imagination and tell it to the group.)
¿Que tomo tu atención del cuento o de la poema? Busca un momento que puedas contar y cuéntelo al grupo. (What took your attention from the story or poem? Look for a moment that you could tell to the group.)
Busca un momento que tomo tu atención del cuento o de la poema y cuéntalo al grupo. No es examen. Dígalo como tú lo imaginas. (Look for a moment that took your attention from the story or poem and tell it to the group. It’s not a test. Tell it the way you see it.)
Confié en tu vista del momento. (Trust your sight of it.)
Confié que el oración tiene sentido. (Trust that the sentence will make sense.)

Story Workshop Basic Writing Coachings


Here are writing coachings in the order in which you may often use them.

Coachings you see here in bold type are sure to get an immediate response.




  • Go to whatever takes your attention.

- Go to what you most want to tell.

- If you have several possibilities, choose one now. You can

get to the others later.


  • See it.

  • See it and tell it so everyone can see it.

  • Listen to your voice.

- Tell it in the voice you talk with.

- Write it the way you talk.



  • Tell it as fully as you can.

- Don’t leave anything out.

- Tell it as fully as you can, while your pen moves swiftly

across the page.


  • See it.

See the objects.

See the gestures.

See the people.

See the spatial relationships.

Listen to it.

Listen to the sounds.

Listen to the talk.

What are the smells here?



  • What happens next?

Story Workshop Basic Reading Coachings

These first three coachings will have an immediate effect.


  • See it.

  • Slow down.

  • Listen to your voice.

Hint: Use one coaching at a time and watch and listen for its effects on the reader.

Once you’ve seen and felt the effect of the first three coachings, try these.



  • Give your voice.

  • Address it as a letter to someone across the semicircle.

  • Exaggerate.

  • Everyone, see it.

  • Read one word at a time.

  • Trust that the sentence will end and make sense.

  • See what the page gives you to see.

  • Pay attention to what takes your attention.

Hint: Consider your expectation of the reader. What is needed now? See what you notice about the effects of each coaching on the reader and the semicircle.

Story Workshop Basic Recall Coachings
Here are recall coachings in the order in which you may often use them.

Bold coachings are sure to get an immediate response.




  • Listen back to anything read or told.

  • Go to whatever takes your attention.

  • Go to what most takes your attention.

  • Go to what you most want to tell.

  • See it.

  • See it and tell it so everyone can see it.

  • See it and tell it happening again right now, in the present tense.

  • Listen to your voice.

  • What happens next?

  • Give the gestures. Use your body. Show us.

  • Don’t summarize the whole thing (story/chapter/book/film).

  • Just tell one moment as fully as you can.

Hint: Ask the teller questions. Use your natural curiosity about what is being told.





John Schultz invented the Story Workshop® Approach to the Teaching of Writing. Polly Mills based this handout on Schultz’s pedagogy. Revised December 3, 2009.




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