Ten-Word Stories for Writing Inspiration

I’m always excited to find picture books that would work well as writing prompts for elementary school kids, so I was extra excited to find Ten-Word Tiny Tales: To Inspire and Unsettle by Joseph Coelho (Candlewick, 2023). This new volume has stories that are each, as the title suggests, just ten-words long. With a variety of illustrators contributing, Ten-Word Tiny Tales then has a range of interesting pages to pour over as you read the brief stories. The illustrations show that particular person’s take on the author’s “tiny tale” but the book as a whole can be used to spearhead children’s own creativity.

I talked about this on my YouTube short yesterday!

Writing Tiny Tales

One way to use Coelho’s book as writing inspiration is to imitate his idea of writing a tale in just ten words. It is much harder to write a story in just ten words than the kids will realize. It is a fun challenge, though, to find just the right words to capture character, action, and intrigue in a single sentence. In addition to reading Ten-Word Tiny Tales, consider learning more about the tradition of flash fiction, which can also be shortened to a six-word tale or lengthened to a twitterverse story of 140 or 280 characters.


Illustrating the Tales

A key part of picture books is the pictures. A story can be marvelously told in just illustrations. Wordless picture books are evidence of this. In Ten-Word Tiny Tales, each tale is illustrated by a different illustrator. Consider using the tales as inspiration for students to draw their own illustration for the tale. Maybe they pictured a different giant, or a different mysterious creature outside the window on the tenth floor. What creative character can they create based on the details in the author’s story?

When I read that the teacher led them into the portal, I immediately thought of reading a story and how that takes us to a different world.

If you have encouraged kids to write their own tiny tales, it would be fun to see their own illustrations. Or, do they want someone else to illustrate their story? A whole class booklet could extend this project into your own “class” volume of illustrated tiny tales.


Setting the Scene

Describing an item or image is great practice in remember vivid verbs, interesting adjectives, and moving adverbs. Even if you are not working on writing stories, it would be great practice to explain the scenes. If someone else couldn’t see the illustration, how would you describe it? Describe the setting (place and time), the characters, and the action in that one particular illustration. This will be a great practice in these foundational skills of description?


Expand the Story

One thing I’ve done with my writing students (particularly when I was teaching as inspired by the IEW writing program) is to practice the before, now, and after descriptions of a scene. In other words, we look at the image and write (or draw) what happened immediately before the scene, what is happening in the scene, and what we believe will happen next. With Ten-Word Tiny Tales, students can consider the image in the book to be the “right now” image and then create the before and after scenes as well.

What happened just a moment ago? When did the first giant come out of the cliff? When did the Venus flytrap begin edging toward grandma’s chair, and why? Asking questions about an image lets students answer with their own creative story.


The book has additional ideas at the end for teachers to use as well.  I love it when I find a picture book that is amusing to read but also full of teaching potential. I feel like Ten-Word Tiny Tales is one such book, and I’m excited to use it with my students this year.

Do You Want Ten-Word Tiny Tales?

Get this book at bookshop.org or at Amazon.com.

Please note that I am an affiliate for these sites.

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