Structure of a session

Overview of a session

Each session begins with a Mindfulness exercise followed by a Feelings Check-in when each child is given the opportunity to say how they are feeling.  A story opener that names a particular feeling is then provided and discussed before 10-15 minutes silent writing .

A key element of the Therapeutic Storywriting model is the Teacher’s Story, which the teacher writes while the children write their stories. The teacher chooses the theme of her story to reflect emotional issues perceived within the group.  She asks the children for suggestions for her own story before the silent writing part of the session and as she develops her story, it is used to provide further points for discussion about pertinent emotional literacy issues.  The engagement of the teacher with her own story is also intended to help establish a focused writing environment.

After the 10-15 minutes silent writing each member of the group has time to share their story if they wish.  Other members of the group are asked to provide constructive feedback on each story and children can ask for ideas for the next part of their story as modelled by the teacher. The teacher’s role is to ensure that all members of the group feel comfortable during these group interactions. The session ends with a short mime game designed to develop listening skills.

Mindfulness Tuning

Mindfulness Tuning is used at the beginning of the group session to settle the children after their arrival in the room.

It is useful, particularly for children with attentional difficulties, to precede this sharing with a moment listening to the sound of a small bell or chime fading away. Actively listening to the moment when the sound has disappeared can create a stillness and focus from which to move into the reflection on feelings.


(Bell) Listen to the sound of the bell and notice when the sound has completely died away. Notice sounds in the room and sounds outside the room. Now we are going to see how our body feels. Be aware of your body supported by the chair. And now take your awareness to your feet. Wiggle your toes in your shoes and notice how they feel. Are they hot or cold? Is there any tingling in your feet? Does one foot feel different to the other? Now we our going to journey up inside our body to see how it feels. So moving up through the ankles to the lower leg. Notice how the muscles of your lower leg, the calf muscles, feel. Are they relaxed or tense? Is there any tingling on the surface of the skin? Now moving up to the knees. The knees that do so much moving as we walk around. Notice how they feel. And then up to the upper leg… (then move to hips, tummy, chest area, lower back, upper back, shoulders, down the arms to the hands, neck, jaw, face , eyes, scalp).

And now still keeping your eyes closed I invite you to take your awareness away from your body and recall the emotions you have experienced today. Remember how you felt when you woke up this morning, what was said, what was done, how did these things make you feel? See if you can find a word to describe how you felt. And now recall your journey to school, what you heard, what you saw, how did you feel on your way to school... (continue through the day to the present point in time).

When I ring my bells I would like you to choose 2 feeling words that best describe how you have felt today and write them down in big letters on the slips of paper in front of you. (Bell)

Feelings check-in

The teacher and the children take it in turns to say how they are feeling and why. Allowing time for the children to share how they are feeling at the beginning of the session gives the message that this is a session where feelings can be shared and reflected upon.

About 10 minutes should be allocated to the feelings check-in.

Focus on one pupil’s story from previous week

Copies of one child’s story (edited and typed out) from the previous week is  given to the group. This is then read through together and emotional literacy aspects discussed. Most children are very proud to have their work read by the group particularly when it has been typed out and corrected.

It is important for each child to know that they will have a turn when their work is typed out and read.

Emotional literacy comments as books given out

A brief comment can then be made about each child’s work as their books are given out.  Attention should also be drawn to comments written on the work by the teacher.  These comments should mainly focus on the emotional literacy aspect of the work by mirroring the feelings expressed by the story characters.

Academic literacy points such as spelling and grammar should only be picked up when the teacher feels the child will really be able to take these on board.

Story Opener

Your story opener needs to be no more than 2 sentences long and is written out on lined A5 paper on which the pupils continue the story. Do not ask pupils to copy out the opener as this wastes valuable creative writing time. Provide pupils with a choice of gender openers.

The opener follows a simple formula:

1)  Give the animal or fantasy character a name e.g. Henry/Henrietta hedgehog– this ensures the child does not slip into the first person in their writing.

2) Put the character in a setting e.g. he/she peered out from behind the bush. This helps to engage the pupils imagination.

3) Name the feeling e.g. He/she was feeling sad or describe the feeling e.g. a tear rolled down his/her cheek. Do not give the reason why the character is feeling this emotion– this allows the pupil to project their own feelings onto the character

Each week the teacher provides a suggestion for a new story theme. Use a different ‘uncomfortable’ emotion each week. Good ones to start with are: sad, lonely, angry, worried, nervous, miserable, furious.

Avoid feelings that relate to mental health issues e.g. crazy, depressed. Also, avoid feelings that are blaming of others e.g. feeling bullied or picked on.

Children can choose to continue with the previous week’s story but will still join in the emotional literacy discussion of the new story opener.

It is best to make up your own openers but here are some examples.


Children and teacher write stories together

Having spent about 20 minutes in discussion, the teacher and the children then write in silence for about 15 minutes. By engaging with her own story the teacher models the focus and concentration required for the writing process. Another aim of the teacher’s story is to use story metaphor to address emotional issues pertinent to the group.

Although the emphasis for the children’s stories is on character development and story line, children will often ask for spellings.  It can be helpful therefore if they have a small personal spelling book in which the teacher can quickly write.

It is useful to remind the children that they will all get a chance to read and talk about their story after this silent writing period.

Share stories/draw pictures

The teacher and the children take turns to read out their writing.  The manner in which the teacher responds to each child’s story is pivotal to this work and the use of active listening is central to this response.


The teacher uses the reading of her own story to initiate discussion around emotional literacy issues and to include suggestions from the children into her story.

The children also have the opportunity to ask for comments on their story from the other group members.  This helps them to clarify their ideas and to get inspiration for the next part of their story.

The children can illustrate their stories during the story sharing period.  Allowing the children to draw while listening, seems to particularly help those who are hyperactive or unfocused, to hear and respond to the other children’s stories.

Mime game

A brief game that relates to the stories written provides a fun ending for the group as well as an incentive to tidy up the table!

The anticipation of this game each week also helps develop the children’s listening skills during the previous story-sharing part of the session.

  • Children and teacher stand in a circle
  • One child is chosen to go in the centre and mime a section from a story (child’s or teacher’s) shared in the session
  • First person to guess the author of the story takes place in the centre and chooses another story to mime

(A child) can achieve this understanding (of self)… not through rational comprehension of the nature and content of his unconscious, but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out daydreams – ruminating, rearranging, and fantasising about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressures.
Bettelheim 1991


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Therapeutic Story Writing book coverTherapeutic Storywriting – A Practical Guide to Developing Emotional Literacy.

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