A Pirate's Resources

A Pirate's Guide... to discussing literature

Stories have always been an essential part of our lives, whether we are young or old. From bedtime stories to movies, we love to immerse ourselves in a good tale. As a student who loves literature or film (and will have to write papers about them!), it is crucial to understand the various elements of a story and how they come together to create a compelling narrative.

But why is it important for students to understand these elements of story? Not only will it help them in writing their own stories and papers, but it will also make them better readers and thinkers. Understanding how stories work, students will be able to analyze and discuss any book, movie, or piece of literature with more depth and insight.

Gaining a solid understanding of plot, character development, backstory, transformation, and other crucial story elements will better equip you to appreciate and analyze any work of literature or film that comes your way. One significant advantage of having this knowledge is the ability to critically evaluate and discuss a story with others. Rather than just memorizing definitions, A Pirate's Guide t' th' Grammar of Story takes students through progressive exercises that help them to truly understand and internalize these concepts. 

Overall, understanding the various elements of a story is a valuable skill that will serve you well in all areas of life, not just in literature discussions. That said - we know that all students will have to read novels and short stories and write papers on them in middle school, high school, and beyond, so this preparation becomes essential in equipping them to understand and discuss any story with ease. 

From Overwhelmed to I CAN do This!

The approach that Chris found, after years of working with professional storytellers, is actually pretty simple and straightforward. It’s as simple as giving someone a very narrow and specific thing, and asking them a question. For example, you could ask your child: “if you are a sea creature, what sort of sea creature would you be?” You could even limit their options further by suggesting: “would you be a dolphin, a shark, a whale, a salmon, or a sea monster?” In doing this, we ask a specific question, and then give a limited list of options to choose from. So much easier than saying, here’s a blank sheet of paper, write! It’s something they can do, a question they can easily answer.

Once they’ve chosen a sea creature, you can ask deeper questions about it. For example, “where does the dolphin like to swim? Does it swim in waves in the ocean? Does it live in the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean?” Keep asking questions, building on the answers they’ve already given. “What kind of food does the dolphin like to eat in the Pacific Ocean, after it swims it the waves? Does it have any friends? Does it swim alone or with a group of other dolphins?”

In this way, you are giving your child very specific things to answer. The questions are very limited, and it is within their ability to be creative, instead of giving them a blank slate and telling them to write whatever they want to write.

This is our general philosophy around teaching creativity and specifically creative writing. Therefore, the curriculum that Chris designed is structured somewhat in this way. He took the writing of a story, and broke it down into its pieces. These pieces are what we call the
Grammar of Story.

The Grammar of Story

In keeping with our general philosophy that creativity flourishes when there are limitations, A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story takes the complexity of a Story, and breaks it down into the pieces, or elements, that create it. These are things you are certainly familiar with: setting, rules, symbols, characters, villains. There are other things that you might have heard before: beginning/middle/end, mystery, act of villainy, ticking clocks, and so on. All told, the workbook consists of 33 elements of story, with exercises for each one.

At the same time, we’ve got a pirate story that is woven in and throughout these exercises. The story is about a notorious pirate named Captain Yogger LeFossa, who captures your child and brings them aboard his ship and invites them to go on a treasure hunt, where x marks the spot. The story weaves in and out of the exercises, and the exercises themselves are involving your child in this larger pirate quest. It was done simply to make creative writing fun and interesting, and also to demonstrate these elements of story through the fictional story of these pirates, its crew of talking monkeys, and their adventures.

For a quick overview of how this workbook works, you can watch our 2 minute video flip through
As you can see, the exercises are directive - asking the student for specific responses, something they can easily do. Then the exercises build on each other, adding to what they’ve done before, and in the end, creating a lot of raw material for stories that you student would want to tell.

As Chris designed the curriculum, he drew not only on our experiences as homeschooling parents, but on those of the parents we interacted with in our coop groups. We didn’t want this book to be teacher intensive, but something a parent could hand to their child and have their child do. It does not intimidate, or require a lot of background or explanation, and there isn’t even a big teacher’s guide (though, after many requests for one, we’ve published one
here). Instead, he designed it to be easy to use, very intuitive, and a workbook you could simply open up and start to work within. As a result, it’s something that parents and their kids can do along side each other (time permitting) - you don’t have to be teaching this. It can be a journey that the two of you can go on together. Ultimately, the goal was for this subject to be FUN. Because we believe that if you can get kids to enjoy writing, and engage with it, then they will continue to want to write.

How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Heave Ho!

Ready for a challenge?

Thirteen times throughout the workbook, your student will come across a section called Heave Ho! Whenever we yell “Heave Ho!” they should be prepared to do some more difficult exercises. These exercises were designed to challenge your student by taking what they’ve just learned, and going a bit deeper and farther. They can be difficult, and your student might be discouraged.

If this happens, take a deep breath, and help them to relax. These are not required lessons. If the Heave Ho! is hard for them to understand, spend some time with them, listening to what they know, paying attention to what part they are struggling with. Depending on their age and understanding, you may decide to have them skip a specific Heave Ho! Or you may choose to go back, read through the previous exercises so you understand, and then gently walk them through the material.

Whatever you choose, remember that being creative is a vulnerable thing. Our goal is for this workbook to help your child open up and enjoy the process of being creative. The Heave Ho! sections should stretch them but not break them, or your relationship. Only you can assess your student’s difficulty with a section, so use discernment to encourage and support them.


How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Scratch Yer Noggin’

It’s time for a review. Creativity is hard work. Learning grammar is hard work. And though we’ve done our best to have this be as fun and easy as possible, we also want to make sure that our students don’t forget what they have been learning as each new element and exercise comes along. So we created the Scratch Yer Noggin’ sections to test their memory of past sections.

There are ten of these review pages throughout the workbook. Each one includes some defining, some brainstorming, and some demonstrating that the material is also being understood. While we don’t provide an answer key for these (definitions can be checked against the glossary terms on page 1), this is the one place in the workbook where you could, if you need or want to, grade their work. It’s your choice if you have your student spend some time reviewing in preparation, or do the
Scratch Yer Noggin’ as an open book review.

The final
Scratch Yer Noggin’ (page 311) is a comprehensive review of the entire book. We encourage your student to see how much they know - they might review before hand, take the “final” without looking back to see how far they’ve come, and then go back and find the answers to any material they may have forgotten.


How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Raise the Anchor and Set Sail

Throughout PGGS, you’ll find 8 sections called “Raise the Anchor and Set Sail.”

This means it’s time for your student to write a story of their own! In the first of these, we walk your student through it from start to finish, even providing an example of a short story that we created based on the work we did in the previous exercises. So we encourage your student to go back to their mindstorming work from the previous exercises, asking themselves some easy questions - does anything stand out? Is something interesting? What are the things you liked? They should flip back through their exercises (as far back as they want to go), and could even highlight or circle those things that interested them most. Then they should start to put those together. Encourage their curiosity. As the workbook demonstrates in our example, our curiosity can take a simple mindstorming exercise and take it to a brand new place, like this:

In the exercise, I did a mindstorm about “things monkeys throw.” I said: bananas, bean bags, water balloons, bagels, barbecues, Bunsen burners, bowling balls, and broccoli. Then I asked myself the question, “I wonder who they are throwing these things at?” The first thing that came to mind “other monkeys in a parade.” Then I thought of a character, Monkey Mary. Then I wondered what she wanted. …

As you can see, WONDERing is a big part of storytelling. I wonder who’s doing this? I wonder why? I wonder who else is there? I wonder what would happen if? Encourage your student to wonder about some of the things they mindstormed. You can model this for them as they are getting started, but let them make it their own.

Now, if they are feeling hesitant to write, that’s perfectly normal. As we encourage them in the exercise, there is no right or wrong way to tell their story, especially not at this stage. They shouldn’t worry about whether or not it is good or bad (whoever thought sticking “good” and “bad” stickers on stories ought to be eaten by a kraken, so be careful that you as a parent/teacher don’t do this!). They should simply write whatever comes out of them, as it happens. They are learning and growing and trying things out. Encourage them to give a good effort, without judgement or grading. If you must assess the work, focus on their attitude and willingness, and respond with interest and encouragement, not praise.

That’s all there is to it. As the workbook progresses, they will have more and more material to draw from, and their openness to telling their stories will hopefully grow and flourish.


How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Where's the Teacher's Guide?

As your student begins the workbook, you’ll notice right away that there is NO teacher’s guide. None is needed, as all the teaching is done by First Mate Manfred within each exercise. There is a short teaching portion (sometimes just a few sentences and a definition), and then the learning really takes places as your student follows the examples and works through the incremental steps of the exercises. Seriously, when Chris sat down to teach this complex thing called storytelling, he broke it down into the smallest possible steps, so there would be no gap in learning, no moment when a student would just throw up their hands to say “how did they get to that?”

That said, some sections are harder than others. Some concepts (like Values, or Light and Dark) are just more complex than others (like Setting or Plot). And some parents want a teacher’s guide. So, here you are! Click on
Specific Elements to get a series of posts which go through, exercise by exercise, a bit more on each element. As much as possible, in each post you’ll find ::

  • An explanation of the element in greater detail and examples both in real life and in the story world.

  • “In Real Life” :: I’ll offer suggestions for how to challenge your student to dig deeper into the element (in life and in story).

  • “Finding it in the Story” :: when possible, I’ll give specific examples for your student to find within the story chapters.

There are two things I’d like to highlight. First, if you and your student want to dig deeper, every one of these concepts can be found “
In Real Life.” Finding examples of it in the “story” of our daily lives, in the story that Grandpa tells, in the story that we watch in a movie is the best way to really understand and own these concepts. When that happens, you and your student will begin to realize that story is everywhere, and story is important in many places that are not traditionally “story” settings. For example, my daughter was in a Mock Trial recently. The team that won? Well, according to the judge (and I quote him): “Story vs argument is a no brainer - the story will win. So when you are thinking through your opening statement and your closing argument, you’ve got to be thinking about what story you want to tell.” But to tell a compelling story requires understanding what makes a story compelling - the elements. These very same story elements are also part of our own daily lives - we operate very much like characters in our own story, and understanding what makes a story character tick is often a clue to what makes us tick as well.

Second, once your student has read through the story and the teaching, and done the exercises, they will be able to define and identify story elements. Putting them directly into a story is the next step. To get there, have your student go through the
Pirate’s Guide story itself (I would suggest after each exercise or two, and again perhaps at the very end), and identify the elements they’ve been learning. To help guide you as they find these (on their own), I created “Finding it in the Story,” a master list of each element and a few of the places (though by no means all. If your child really wants a challenge, have them write up what they find that I “miss” and send them to me - I’ll add them to the page!) where they can find those elements in the chapters preceding it. I’ve added a few from other parts of the story, as well, in the hopes that they will start to be on the lookout for these things! Of course they will have already read it, but in reading it again, with this new understanding of setting, or mystery, or hero, they will be able to see it in context and that will help bridge the gap between definition/identification, and putting it into practice. I’ll post these “Finding it in the Story” helps at the end of each element, and here in a master list.

As always, if these resources don’t answer your question, don’t hesitate to write and ask! We love to hear from parents and students, and could talk about story all day.


How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Getting Started

Welcome to the pirate ship! It’s time to get started! The first steps are simple!

Parent, please start by pre-reading the Letter from Yogger LeFossa (pg. 6-7) and the corresponding Note from the Publisher (pg. 322-3), as these will give you a sense of the workbook and our hopes for your time in it. Hopefully you will laugh a bit!

We recommend then sharing the book with your student, going over the Table of Contents and format for the book. Generally, they will enjoy a portion of a pirate story, then do an exercise, and then more pirate story as a prize (or carrot for beginning the next day). Take note - the “teaching section” of each exercise (that brief portion before they begin putting pencil to paper) is told from the point of view of the Monkey First Mate. Scurvy Spat is your student (some kids love this, some would like a new name!). And the story, whether it is its own chapter or integrated into the exercise, is always italicized.

Plan for your student to spend some time in the workbook each school day - we generally recommend starting at around 20 minutes a day, and slowly increasing the time until it fits both your schedule and your students energy/ability. If that’s the wrong amount of time, scale up or down to meet your students' needs. Each lesson moves in small incremental steps, building slowly into more creativity and expressive thoughts. It’s okay if an entire lesson isn’t completed in a single sitting - just pick up where you left off each day. Some exercises are longer than others, some are harder, so there is no right or wrong in how much to complete. You are the best gauge for your students effort and energy.

Every now and then there are sections where they can choose to dive deeper (
Heave Ho), review (Scratch Yer Noggin’), or write their own story (Set Sail) - do these only as they work well for your student - they are entirely extra. Click the links for more specific information on each of those sections. Always remember, there is no right or wrong in these creative exercises!

The first week, I recommend looking at the Table of Contents, the Glossary, and the general format. Spend a few minutes reading the first chapters of the story, and do exercise one - it is the perfect, simple introduction to mindstorming (our pirate’s word for brainstorming), and will give you both an idea of what to expect in the coming days. Check out the first Raise the Anchor and Set Sail, and then take a break. Get ready to start fresh the next day, and set sail for some creative writing adventure!

Please feel free to contact us at any time if you have questions, concerns, or just to share how it’s going!


How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: In the Midst

Hopefully you’ve gotten a good taste of how A Pirate’s Guide works, and the seas are calm and your student is having fun. But what if you hit some rough waters?

This happens. It happens in real life, and it happens in stories. It’s what makes for rising tension and dramatic moments. So don’t be surprised, and don’t threaten to walk the plank. If your student hits a difficult patch (and it is likely to be a unique place and reason for each student), take a deep breath, look over the material with them, and walk slowly through it. Plan to take more time, and plan to be more present than you may have been.

When I’ve hit a mental block during my own time working through
A Pirate’s Guide, I try to assess what’s going on - am I hungry? Do I need to eat or drink? Am I tired? Do I need to take a break for the day? Am I just being willful, and need encouragement to push through? Or have I hit a concept that feels beyond me (for me it was values, for another of my kids, it was the Light and Dark section)? When this happens, I will take a break. I’ll go back and re-read the story chapter before the exercise that I struggle with, and see if I can find examples of what they are teaching me in the text itself. At that point, I have to decide (for myself - or for my student) - is this a section to breeze through, and come back to at a later date, or is it one we will work through very slowly until the understanding forms? Only you and your student can assess that. Once you decide, stand tall, work on, and then enjoy a breather before heading back into the waters again.

You can do it, be gentle with your self, gentle with your student, and keep growing together as you build these creative muscles.


How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Conclusion - What’s next?

By the time your student has worked their way through the entire workbook, they will have learned all the essential story elements, the Grammar of Story. But more importantly, they will have the tools they need to be able to go out and create stories of their own. The workbook ends with a final Scratch Yer Noggin’ review, the last chapter of the pirate story, and an opportunity to write their own story.

And now the workbook is done and you might be wondering, what’s next?

Keep creating and telling stories! Their workbook is now so much more than a consumable curriculum for creative writing. What they have created is a truly impressive collection of their creativity and ideas. It can now be a sourcebook for them. As one published author said of PGGS, when she gets stuck in her first drafts, she’ll return to the principles and elements taught in this workbook to spark ideas and get her moving. This can be true for your student, too. Encourage them to flip through their mindstorming exercises, find something that interests them, spend some time wondering, and start writing!

As a parent, your role next is crucial. Continue to listen to the creativity - in whatever form it comes - that is giving you a little peek into your child’s soul. Be interested. Ask questions. Find out more about them. Encourage their attempts and guide their steps. As always, if you have questions or what specific next steps in terms of curricula or writing, just leave a comment or use the contact form to get in touch with us. We here at Wondertale Press are always glad to correspond with our students and their parents!


The GRAMMAR of Story

So what on earth is the Grammar of Story?

In case you haven’t noticed yet,
A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story is not about grammar as you probably think of it. While we may reference nouns, verbs, and adjectives from time to time, this is not about learning the parts of speech, or diagramming sentences, or anything that make us think of “English class.” Instead, the grammar in A Pirate’s Guide is the first of the classical stages of learning: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric. In the Grammar stage, students learn the tools of the subject. Complex material is reduced to its basic elements and the goal is both exposure, understanding, and recall. In the Logic stage, students develop a deeper understanding of the basic elements they learned in the Grammar stage. This is when they begin to play with the tools, to see how they work, what they do. In the Rhetoric stage, students analyze what they’ve already learned, and begin to make it their own.

This means that before we write a full story (the logic and especially rhetoric stages), we need to know the basics (or grammar) of Story. The grammar of piano is scales. The grammar of baseball are the rules and regulations. The grammar of a doctor is basic anatomy and biology. And the Grammar of Story includes all the elements that make up a story. Just as a song is made up of various musical notes, a story is made up of various story elements. Learning what the elements are and how they function allows a storyteller (of any age!) to use the tools they need to more easily tell the stories they have to tell.

A Pirate’s Guide t’ th’ Grammar of Story gives your student a primer to these essential elements, and helps them play around with those elements until they are natural. Then, when they go to write a story, they are writing from their strengths!


How to :: A Guide to using the Guide :: Grading and Assessment

This brings up a big parent question - how do I grade something without an answer key? This is creative writing. Creativity is the key and it is not something you can grade in a traditional way. There are few right and wrong answers when you are brainstorming - imagine us trying to tell you the “right answers” to the exercise that asks them to “list 5 awful ice cream flavors”? This is why we don’t provide a way to grade these exercises. But that doesn’t mean you as a parent can’t assess their progress.

Assessment is about less objective things, and you’ll want to focus on how willing or engaged your student is. Are they writing the first thing that comes to their mind and plowing through to just get it done, or are they thinking about it, letting their ideas come to the surface? If they are prone to plowing through, are they slowly growing more inventive and more thoughtful? Certain things aren’t about the end product, but about the attitude of what you are doing. The questions you ask and the way you assess is meant to validate their openness to the process of developing their creativity and moving towards their strengths as a writer.

We have provided challenge exercises (we call them “
Heave Ho!”) for those who are ready to dig in deeper. And we have another set of review work called “Scratch Yer Noggin.” These pages test your memory of past sections. I recommend using these pages (you can require your student to review and study before filling them out, or allow them to flip back as an open book review) to assess how much your student is grasping, and they certainly could be graded if you require graded work. Better still, let the do these sections in fun, and base your assessment more on their willingness and ability to put into practice the “In Real Life” suggestions, and their ability to “Find it in the Story” as they go along through each exercise. These sections can be found, exercise by exercise in the Teacher’s Guide.

The goal of our workbook is to help your student open up and allow this muscle of creativity to grow and develop through the learning of basic story elements. Your encouragement and interest is all that you both need to have a successful class!