Masterclass resources for Primary English

Suggested activities for masterclasses for Victorian High-Ability Program students in the Primary English course.

Primary English ice-breaker activities

Below are some examples of ice-breaker activities that involve story-telling or writing.

Free Writing

Students pick a topic or even a small item, anything from ‘being a twin’ to ‘chewing gum’. They use pen and paper (or a screen) to write down everything they can think of about that thing for 15 minutes without stopping. Students should be encouraged to write down everything they can think and not to try to be funny. The results will be roughly 80% filler or nonsense. The remainder will be 20% potential gold: weird stuff you had forgotten from your youth or words that are just funny.

Explain to students that this is a good activity to do when you are stuck. It is also good practice for letting your mind roam and exploring all the possible shapes a joke can take or directions it can go in. Some students can also share a sentence or two or words that they think are funny with the group.

You can be Hemingway!

Students choose a short personal anecdote that they would like to tell. They write/type it out on one page (about 250 words double-spaced). Then they are instructed to write the same story in 100 words. Then they write the same story in 50 words and then write the same story in 25 words. Lastly, they must write the same story in 140 characters. Students share their stories.


Students stand in a circle. The first student must say the beginning of a story out loud that must end in the word ‘suddenly’ (for example, “This morning I woke up and ate a piece of toast, suddenly…”). The next student must then add another sentence to the story and end it with the word ‘suddenly’. The story continues until all the students have contributed. 

Student Bingo

Students are given a ‘student bingo sheet’ and meet one another by asking each other questions to fill in all of the boxes on their bingo sheet.

Author visits and videos

  • High ability practice leaders can use their networks and resources to arrange for an author to discuss their writing. This could be online or face-to-face and be followed by an interactive question-and-answer session.
  • Professional teaching associations such as the  Primary English Teaching Association Australia as well as universities may be able to provide this service to schools. Schools can also access Booked Out, a speaker’s agency for writers, artists and thinkers.
  • An example of a video that may provide some ideas for discussion and activities is Big Think with Robert Mckee (1 hour). In this interview, an expert screenwriting teacher discusses the craft of successful screenwriting. This video could be used to open a discussion with students about storytelling in different forms such as television, films and the theatre, since they focused mainly on writing stories in their VHAP classes. This video does contain mild course language, so please watch it first and decide if it is appropriate for your cohort.

Other masterclass activities

Examining the role and importance of stories in society

Students could participate in a debate or ‘circle of viewpoints’ activity in order to examine the role of creative writing in our society. See ‘Circle of viewpoints’ activity in Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox. This could be adapted for the virtual space through using Miro board or another group brainstorming software in which students collaboratively create a mind map of ideas. The following questions may be used as stimuli:

  • How important are the stories that we study in school?
  • What stories should be studied by students in Australian primary and secondary schools?
  • How should schools select the stories that they study?
  • What might be some of the dangers in selecting stories that are too similar to one another?

Students could also examine the ethical implications of creative writing, such as using first person narrative to empower traditionally disempowered members of society. High ability practice leaders could find extracts from a range of first-person novels voiced by different non-mainstream characters and explore the power given to these characters and the effect on the reader.

Collaborative writing activities

Working in pairs or groups, students could develop the work they produced during VHAP classes, or write new stories. Students could read each other’s work and select a character from the other person’s story to use as the basis for their own new work.

In a larger group, students could co-write a story. Images may be a useful stimulus.

  • Students begin to write a short story for up to 10 minutes.
  • Students swap their story and add a middle section.
  • Another student adds an ending.
  • Stories are read out by students or teacher.

Fan fiction may be used to encourage students to write collaboratively. See Kid Fan Fiction: Where the story never ends for examples of stories in a group wiki.

Students could reflect on the differences, challenges and benefits of writing collaboratively compared with writing on their own during the VHAP classes. Reflection questions might include:

  • What ways of working did you have to use?
  • What ways of thinking about yourself and your work had to change?
  • What new events, characters, connections, ideas occurred because you were writing with others?

A final reflection might be: “Have we exhausted all possibilities for ways of writing?”

Story show bags

Students can create items from the stories that they wrote during the VHAP course. They can use materials found in school to re-create physical representations of the characters, setting, elements of the plot, symbols or the themes in their own stories. Students could write an explanation to accompany their showbag and then present their items to the rest of the group.

This could be adapted for the virtual space by asking students to create their story show bag offline and then coming together in the virtual classroom to share with others.

Acknowledgement, resources and references

The activities, resources and ideas for masterclasses were adapted and developed by the Victorian High-Ability Program teaching staff at .

Additional sample activities and suggestions for masterclasses for Primary English may be obtained by contacting Virtual School Victoria at

Being more creative when you think you’re not’ (2019, updated 2020) EveryDay, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Big Think with Robert Mckee.

Booked Out: website to find guest speakers: writers, artists, thinkers.

‘Circle of viewpoints’, Project Zero's Thinking Routine Toolbox (2022) Harvard Graduate School of Education, accessed 1 July 2022.

Gervais, R ‘The Principles of Comedy’, Big Think, YouTube.

On the many different engines that power a short story: it’s not just plot or character that drives fiction’ (2019) Literary Hub.

Primary English Teaching Association Australia.

The Science of Learning Research Center, ‘Pre-activate strategies to guide learning: Psychology, Education, Neuroscience (PEN) Principal #12’, YouTube.

Symbolic archetypes in children’s stories’ (2017) Slap Happy Library.

Where the story never ends’ (2022) Kid Fan Fiction.