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How to Build Creative Writing Skills in Young Storytellers

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At-Home Learning: PBS SoCal and KCET, in partnership with LAUSD and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming with digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Download this week’s schedule.

Creative writing, much like reading, can provide students with a means of “escape.” They can leave their own world and enter a fantasy of their own creation. Writing stretches learners' imaginations and helps them practice critical skills, such as sequencing, problem-solving, and analyzing. Creative writing improves communication skills and broadens students’ vocabulary knowledge. Participating in creative writing contests can help build students' self-confidence in their abilities. When you, as parents and teachers, allow students to lead you on their writing journey, they take on a teaching role that strengthens their understanding and builds their self-esteem.

To support parents and teachers in fostering creative writing skills, PBS SoCal is accepting submissions for original poems and stories from students in grades K-3. To enter the PBS SoCal KIDS Writers Contest, kids can write fiction or nonfiction pieces. Winners will be chosen from each grade level and based on different topics such as humor, illustration, science fiction, and kindness.

So how can parents at home help their children through the writing process to create an original submission for the contest? Here are some tips and questions to embolden students and let them lead the way in creative writing.

"Raindrop" by Brittany Chen
A watercolor image submitted by Brittany with "Raindrop," the 2019 winning story for the Illustration category of the PBS KIDS Writers Contest. Read her story and other

Step 1: Brainstorm
Browse through winning submissions in the past for ideas to jumpstart your list of possible writing topics. Think about stories and books you love and make a list of problems/solutions you could include in your story or poem.

Step 2: Pick a path
Which type of writing would you enjoy creating more? A poem or a short story? Having trouble deciding? Learning more about poetry and about writing short stories can help you decide on a path.

Step 3: Plan it out
Now, select your topic for your story. Use a planning guide, like the one below, to help you organize your thoughts. You can find many different planning guides with a quick online search. Here are some reminders about story plans:

  • Just write your thoughts, no need for sentences.
  • Just write the basics, no need for great detail.
  • You can sketch and draw out your ideas as well.

There is no right or wrong, just do what works for you.

Planning form for writing | Nancy Penchev
Planning form for writing | Nancy Penchev

Step 4: Write
Use your planner to write your first draft. Do not get hung up on spelling and perfection; this is the first draft/sloppy copy. It is helpful to skip lines in the first draft so you can go back and make changes and corrections easily.

Step 5: Edit
Go back and read your first draft OUT LOUD. This will help you see if you left out a word and if the words you wrote make sense. You can also ask an older sibling or parent to read your work and help you correct spelling and grammar mistakes. Use a checklist, such as a free self-editing sheet by Mehitabel Chiott, to help you as you edit:

  • Sentences start with a capital letter
  • Capital letters in names
  • Sentences have proper end marks
  • There is a space between words
  • Does my writing make sense?

Step 6: Final draft
Create your final draft. If you are using a pencil and paper, use your best handwriting. If you are using a computer, select a clear and easy-to-read font. If you are adding pictures, draw your illustration on a separate sheet of paper.

Step 7: Check rules
Read over your draft and make sure you have followed the guidelines for editing. Check the Writers Contest entry form and rules to make sure your entry is complete.

Step 8: Submit your writing to the contest
Email your stories along with your entry form to writerscontest@pbssocal.org. You can also mail your entry to:
PBS SoCal, Attn: Writers Contest, Grade: __
3080 Bristol St. Suite 400.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

All entries must be postmarked by July 31, 2020 and must include an official entry signed by the child’s parent, guardian or teacher.


We liked some of our winning stories so much that we made them (and their illustrations) into videos! All animations were created by Henry Cram.

Nancy Penchev is an innovation lab teacher and instructional technology coordinator. She has taught ECE-5th and currently teaches K-5 social studies lab, where kids do STEM-based project-based learning. Penchev founded Girls Building STEAM and is a local award winner for the National Council for Women in Information Technology, plus a 2019 honorable mention for the STEM Excellence award from ISTE. Check out Penchev's website for more resources and follow her on Twitter @penchevable.

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