A Step-by-Step Plan for Teaching Narrative Writing
July 29, 2018
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“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” This proverb, attributed to the Hopi Indians, is one I wish I’d known a long time ago, because I would have used it when teaching my students the craft of storytelling. With a well-told story we can help a person see things in an entirely new way. We can forge new relationships and strengthen the ones we already have. We can change a law, inspire a movement, make people care fiercely about things they’d never given a passing thought.
But when we study storytelling with our students, we forget all that. Or at least I did. When my students asked why we read novels and stories, and why we wrote personal narratives and fiction, my defense was pretty lame: I probably said something about the importance of having a shared body of knowledge, or about the enjoyment of losing yourself in a book, or about the benefits of having writing skills in general.
I forgot to talk about the power of story. I didn’t bother to tell them that the ability to tell a captivating story is one of the things that makes human beings extraordinary. It’s how we connect to each other. It’s something to celebrate, to study, to perfect. If we’re going to talk about how to teach students to write stories, we should start by thinking about why we tell stories at all . If we can pass that on to our students, then we will be going beyond a school assignment; we will be doing something transcendent.
Now. How do we get them to write those stories? I’m going to share the process I used for teaching narrative writing. I used this process with middle school students, but it would work with most age groups.
A Note About Form: Personal Narrative or Short Story?
When teaching narrative writing, many teachers separate personal narratives from short stories. In my own classroom, I tended to avoid having my students write short stories because personal narratives were more accessible. I could usually get students to write about something that really happened, while it was more challenging to get them to make something up from scratch.
In the “real” world of writers, though, the main thing that separates memoir from fiction is labeling: A writer might base a novel heavily on personal experiences, but write it all in third person and change the names of characters to protect the identities of people in real life. Another writer might create a short story in first person that reads like a personal narrative, but is entirely fictional. Just last weekend my husband and I watched the movie Lion and were glued to the screen the whole time, knowing it was based on a true story. James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces sold millions of copies as a memoir but was later found to contain more than a little bit of fiction. Then there are unique books like Curtis Sittenfeld’s brilliant novel American Wife , based heavily on the early life of Laura Bush but written in first person, with fictional names and settings, and labeled as a work of fiction. The line between fact and fiction has always been really, really blurry, but the common thread running through all of it is good storytelling.
With that in mind, the process for teaching narrative writing can be exactly the same for writing personal narratives or short stories; it’s the same skill set. So if you think your students can handle the freedom, you might decide to let them choose personal narrative or fiction for a narrative writing assignment, or simply tell them that whether the story is true doesn’t matter, as long as they are telling a good story and they are not trying to pass off a fictional story as fact.
Here are some examples of what that kind of flexibility could allow:
- A student might tell a true story from their own experience, but write it as if it were a fiction piece, with fictional characters, in third person.
- A student might create a completely fictional story, but tell it in first person, which would give it the same feel as a personal narrative.
- A student might tell a true story that happened to someone else, but write it in first person, as if they were that person. For example, I could write about my grandmother’s experience of getting lost as a child, but I might write it in her voice.
If we aren’t too restrictive about what we call these pieces, and we talk about different possibilities with our students, we can end up with lots of interesting outcomes. Meanwhile, we’re still teaching students the craft of narrative writing.
A Note About Process: Write With Your Students
One of the most powerful techniques I used as a writing teacher was to do my students’ writing assignments with them. I would start my own draft at the same time as they did, composing “live” on the classroom projector, and doing a lot of thinking out loud so they could see all the decisions a writer has to make.
The most helpful parts for them to observe were the early drafting stage, where I just scratched out whatever came to me in messy, run-on sentences, and the revision stage, where I crossed things out, rearranged, and made tons of notes on my writing. I have seen over and over again how witnessing that process can really help to unlock a student’s understanding of how writing actually gets made.
A Narrative Writing Unit Plan
Before I get into these steps, I should note that there is no one right way to teach narrative writing, and plenty of accomplished teachers are doing it differently and getting great results. This just happens to be a process that has worked for me.
Step 1: Show Students That Stories Are Everywhere
Getting our students to tell stories should be easy. They hear and tell stories all the time. But when they actually have to put words on paper, they forget their storytelling abilities: They can’t think of a topic. They omit relevant details, but go on and on about irrelevant ones. Their dialogue is bland. They can’t figure out how to start. They can’t figure out how to end.
So the first step in getting good narrative writing from students is to help them see that they are already telling stories every day . They gather at lockers to talk about that thing that happened over the weekend. They sit at lunch and describe an argument they had with a sibling. Without even thinking about it, they begin sentences with “This one time…” and launch into stories about their earlier childhood experiences. Students are natural storytellers; learning how to do it well on paper is simply a matter of studying good models, then imitating what those writers do.
So start off the unit by getting students to tell their stories. In journal quick-writes, think-pair-shares, or by playing a game like Concentric Circles , prompt them to tell some of their own brief stories: A time they were embarrassed. A time they lost something. A time they didn’t get to do something they really wanted to do. By telling their own short anecdotes, they will grow more comfortable and confident in their storytelling abilities. They will also be generating a list of topic ideas. And by listening to the stories of their classmates, they will be adding onto that list and remembering more of their own stories.
And remember to tell some of your own. Besides being a good way to bond with students, sharing your stories will help them see more possibilities for the ones they can tell.
Step 2: Study the Structure of a Story
Now that students have a good library of their own personal stories pulled into short-term memory, shift your focus to a more formal study of what a story looks like.
Use a diagram to show students a typical story arc like the one below. Then, using a simple story—like this Coca Cola commercial —fill out the story arc with the components from that story. Once students have seen this story mapped out, have them try it with another one, like a story you’ve read in class, a whole novel, or another short video.
Step 3: Introduce the Assignment
Up to this point, students have been immersed in storytelling. Now give them specific instructions for what they are going to do. Share your assignment rubric so they understand the criteria that will be used to evaluate them; it should be ready and transparent right from the beginning of the unit. As always, I recommend using a single point rubric for this.
Step 4: Read Models
Once the parameters of the assignment have been explained, have students read at least one model story, a mentor text that exemplifies the qualities you’re looking for. This should be a story on a topic your students can kind of relate to, something they could see themselves writing. For my narrative writing unit (see the end of this post), I wrote a story called “Frog” about a 13-year-old girl who finally gets to stay home alone, then finds a frog in her house and gets completely freaked out, which basically ruins the fun she was planning for the night.
They will be reading this model as writers, looking at how the author shaped the text for a purpose, so that they can use those same strategies in their own writing. Have them look at your rubric and find places in the model that illustrate the qualities listed in the rubric. Then have them complete a story arc for the model so they can see the underlying structure.
Ideally, your students will have already read lots of different stories to look to as models. If that isn’t the case, this list of narrative texts recommended by Cult of Pedagogy followers on Twitter would be a good place to browse for titles that might be right for your students. Keep in mind that we have not read most of these stories, so be sure to read them first before adopting them for classroom use.
Click the image above to view the full list of narrative texts recommended by Cult of Pedagogy followers on Twitter. If you have a suggestion for the list, please email us through our contact page.
Step 5: Story Mapping
At this point, students will need to decide what they are going to write about. If they are stuck for a topic, have them just pick something they can write about, even if it’s not the most captivating story in the world. A skilled writer could tell a great story about deciding what to have for lunch. If they are using the skills of narrative writing, the topic isn’t as important as the execution.
Have students complete a basic story arc for their chosen topic using a diagram like the one below. This will help them make sure that they actually have a story to tell, with an identifiable problem, a sequence of events that build to a climax, and some kind of resolution, where something is different by the end. Again, if you are writing with your students, this would be an important step to model for them with your own story-in-progress.
Step 6: Quick Drafts
Now, have students get their chosen story down on paper as quickly as possible: This could be basically a long paragraph that would read almost like a summary, but it would contain all the major parts of the story. Model this step with your own story, so they can see that you are not shooting for perfection in any way. What you want is a working draft, a starting point, something to build on for later, rather than a blank page (or screen) to stare at.
Step 7: Plan the Pacing
Now that the story has been born in raw form, students can begin to shape it. This would be a good time for a lesson on pacing, where students look at how writers expand some moments to create drama and shrink other moments so that the story doesn’t drag. Creating a diagram like the one below forces a writer to decide how much space to devote to all of the events in the story.
Before students write a full draft, have them plan out the events in their story with a pacing diagram, a visual representation of how much “space” each part of the story is going to take up.
Step 8: Long Drafts
With a good plan in hand, students can now slow down and write a proper draft, expanding the sections of their story that they plan to really draw out and adding in more of the details that they left out in the quick draft.
Step 9: Workshop
Once students have a decent rough draft—something that has a basic beginning, middle, and end, with some discernible rising action, a climax of some kind, and a resolution, you’re ready to shift into full-on workshop mode. I would do this for at least a week: Start class with a short mini-lesson on some aspect of narrative writing craft, then give students the rest of the period to write, conference with you, and collaborate with their peers. During that time, they should focus some of their attention on applying the skill they learned in the mini-lesson to their drafts, so they will improve a little bit every day.
Topics for mini-lessons can include:
- How to weave exposition into your story so you don’t give readers an “information dump”
- How to carefully select dialogue to create good scenes, rather than quoting everything in a conversation
- How to punctuate and format dialogue so that it imitates the natural flow of a conversation
- How to describe things using sensory details and figurative language; also, what to describe…students too often give lots of irrelevant detail
- How to choose precise nouns and vivid verbs, use a variety of sentence lengths and structures, and add transitional words, phrases, and features to help the reader follow along
- How to start, end, and title a story
Step 10: Final Revisions and Edits
As the unit nears its end, students should be shifting away from revision , in which they alter the content of a piece, toward editing , where they make smaller changes to the mechanics of the writing. Make sure students understand the difference between the two: They should not be correcting each other’s spelling and punctuation in the early stages of this process, when the focus should be on shaping a better story.
One of the most effective strategies for revision and editing is to have students read their stories out loud. In the early stages, this will reveal places where information is missing or things get confusing. Later, more read-alouds will help them immediately find missing words, unintentional repetitions, and sentences that just “sound weird.” So get your students to read their work out loud frequently. It also helps to print stories on paper: For some reason, seeing the words in print helps us notice things we didn’t see on the screen.
To get the most from peer review, where students read and comment on each other’s work, more modeling from you is essential: Pull up a sample piece of writing and show students how to give specific feedback that helps, rather than simply writing “good detail” or “needs more detail,” the two comments I saw exchanged most often on students’ peer-reviewed papers.
Step 11: Final Copies and Publication
Once revision and peer review are done, students will hand in their final copies. If you don’t want to get stuck with 100-plus papers to grade, consider using Catlin Tucker’s station rotation model , which keeps all the grading in class. And when you do return stories with your own feedback, try using Kristy Louden’s delayed grade strategy , where students don’t see their final grade until they have read your written feedback.
Beyond the standard hand-in-for-a-grade, consider other ways to have students publish their stories. Here are some options:
- Stories could be published as individual pages on a collaborative website or blog.
- Students could create illustrated e-books out of their stories.
- Students could create a slideshow to accompany their stories and record them as digital storytelling videos. This could be done with a tool like Screencastify or Screencast-O-Matic .
So this is what worked for me. If you’ve struggled to get good stories from your students, try some or all of these techniques next time. I think you’ll find that all of your students have some pretty interesting stories to tell. Helping them tell their stories well is a gift that will serve them for many years after they leave your classroom. ♦
Want this unit ready-made?
If you’re a writing teacher in grades 7-12 and you’d like a classroom-ready unit like the one described above, including slideshow mini-lessons on 14 areas of narrative craft, a sample narrative piece, editable rubrics, and other supplemental materials to guide students through every stage of the process, take a look at my Narrative Writing unit . Just click on the image below and you’ll be taken to a page where you can read more and see a detailed preview of what’s included.
What to Read Next
Categories: Instruction , Podcast
Tags: English language arts , Grades 6-8 , Grades 9-12 , teaching strategies
Wow, this is a wonderful guide! If my English teachers had taught this way, I’m sure I would have enjoyed narrative writing instead of dreading it. I’ll be able to use many of these suggestions when writing my blog! BrP
Lst year I was so discouraged because the short stories looked like the quick drafts described in this article. I thought I had totally failed until I read this and realized I did not fai,l I just needed to complete the process. Thank you!
I feel like you jumped in my head and connected my thoughts. I appreciate the time you took to stop and look closely at form. I really believe that student-writers should see all dimensions of narrative writing and be able to live in whichever style and voice they want for their work.
Can’t thank you enough for this. So well curated that one can just follow it blindly and ace at teaching it. Thanks again!
Great post! I especially liked your comments about reminding kids about the power of storytelling. My favourite podcasts and posts from you are always about how to do things in the classroom and I appreciate the research you do.
On a side note, the ice breakers are really handy. My kids know each other really well (rural community), and can tune out pretty quickly if there is nothing new to learn about their peers, but they like the games (and can remember where we stopped last time weeks later). I’ve started changing them up with ‘life questions’, so the editable version is great!
I love writing with my students and loved this podcast! A fun extension to this narrative is to challenge students to write another story about the same event, but use the perspective of another “character” from the story. Books like Wonder (R.J. Palacio) and Wanderer (Sharon Creech) can model the concept for students.
Thank you for your great efforts to reveal the practical writing strategies in layered details. As English is not my first language, I need listen to your podcast and read the text repeatedly so to fully understand. It’s worthy of the time for some great post like yours. I love sharing so I send the link to my English practice group that it can benefit more. I hope I could be able to give you some feedback later on.
Thank you for helping me get to know better especially the techniques in writing narrative text. Im an English teacher for 5years but have little knowledge on writing. I hope you could feature techniques in writing news and fearute story. God bless and more power!
Thank you for this! I am very interested in teaching a unit on personal narrative and this was an extremely helpful breakdown. As a current student teacher I am still unsure how to approach breaking down the structures of different genres of writing in a way that is helpful for me students but not too restrictive. The story mapping tools you provided really allowed me to think about this in a new way. Writing is such a powerful way to experience the world and more than anything I want my students to realize its power. Stories are how we make sense of the world and as an English teacher I feel obligated to give my students access to this particular skill.
The power of story is unfathomable. There’s this NGO in India doing some great work in harnessing the power of storytelling and plots to brighten children’s lives and enlighten them with true knowledge. Check out Katha India here: http://bit.ly/KathaIndia
Thank you so much for this. I did not go to college to become a writing professor, but due to restructuring in my department, I indeed am! This is a wonderful guide that I will use when teaching the narrative essay. I wonder if you have a similar guide for other modes such as descriptive, process, argument, etc.?
Hey Melanie, Jenn does have another guide on writing! Check out A Step-by-Step Plan for Teaching Argumentative Writing .
Hi, I am also wondering if there is a similar guide for descriptive writing in particular?
Hey Melanie, unfortunately Jenn doesn’t currently have a guide for descriptive writing. She’s always working on projects though, so she may get around to writing a unit like this in the future. You can always check her Teachers Pay Teachers page for an up-to-date list of materials she has available. Thanks!
I absolutely adore this unit plan. I teach freshmen English at a low-income high school and wanted to find something to help my students find their voice. It is not often that I borrow material, but I borrowed and adapted all of it in the order that it is presented! It is cohesive, understandable, and fun. Thank you!!
So glad to hear this, Nicole!
Thanks sharing this post. My students often get confused between personal narratives and short stories. Whenever I ask them to write a short story, she share their own experiences and add a bit of fiction in it to make it interesting.
Thank you! My students have loved this so far. I do have a question as to where the “Frog” story mentioned in Step 4 is. I could really use it! Thanks again.
This is great to hear, Emily! In Step 4, Jenn mentions that she wrote the “Frog” story for her narrative writing unit . Just scroll down the bottom of the post and you’ll see a link to the unit.
I also cannot find the link to the short story “Frog”– any chance someone can send it or we can repost it?
This story was written for Jenn’s narrative writing unit. You can find a link to this unit in Step 4 or at the bottom of the article. Hope this helps.
I cannot find the frog story mentioned. Could you please send the link.? Thank you
The Frog story was written for Jenn’s narrative writing unit. There’s a link to this unit in Step 4 and at the bottom of the article.
Debbie- thanks for you reply… but there is no link to the story in step 4 or at the bottom of the page….
Hey Shawn, the frog story is part of Jenn’s narrative writing unit, which is available on her Teachers Pay Teachers site. The link Debbie is referring to at the bottom of this post will take you to her narrative writing unit and you would have to purchase that to gain access to the frog story. I hope this clears things up.
Thank you so much for this resource! I’m a high school English teacher, and am currently teaching creative writing for the first time. I really do value your blog, podcast, and other resources, so I’m excited to use this unit. I’m a cyber school teacher, so clear, organized layout is important; and I spend a lot of time making sure my content is visually accessible for my students to process. Thanks for creating resources that are easy for us teachers to process and use.
Do you have a lesson for Informative writing?
Hey Cari, Jenn has another unit on argumentative writing , but doesn’t have one yet on informative writing. She may develop one in the future so check back in sometime.
I had the same question. Informational writing is so difficult to have a good strong unit in when you have so many different text structures to meet and need text-dependent writing tasks.
Creating an informational writing unit is still on Jenn’s long list of projects to get to, but in the meantime, if you haven’t already, check out When We All Teach Text Structures, Everyone Wins . It might help you out!
This is a great lesson! It would be helpful to see a finished draft of the frog narrative arc. Students’ greatest challenge is transferring their ideas from the planner to a full draft. To see a full sample of how this arc was transformed into a complete narrative draft would be a powerful learning tool.
Hi Stacey! Jenn goes into more depth with the “Frog” lesson in her narrative writing unit – this is where you can find a sample of what a completed story arc might look. Also included is a draft of the narrative. If interested in checking out the unit and seeing a preview, just scroll down to the bottom of the post and click on the image. Hope this helps!
Helped me learn for an entrance exam thanks very much
Is the narrative writing lesson you talk about in https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/narrative-writing/
Also doable for elementary students you think, and if to what levels?
Love your work, Sincerely, Zanyar
It’s possible the unit would work with 4th and 5th graders, but Jenn definitely wouldn’t recommend going any younger. The main reason for this is that some of the mini-lessons in the unit could be challenging for students who are still concrete thinkers. You’d likely need to do some adjusting and scaffolding which could extend the unit beyond the 3 weeks. Having said that, I taught 1st grade and found the steps of the writing process, as described in the post, to be very similar. Of course learning targets/standards were different, but the process itself can be applied to any grade level (modeling writing, using mentor texts to study how stories work, planning the structure of the story, drafting, elaborating, etc.) Hope this helps!
This has made my life so much easier. After teaching in different schools systems, from the American, to British to IB, one needs to identify the anchor standards and concepts, that are common between all these systems, to build well balanced thematic units. Just reading these steps gave me the guidance I needed to satisfy both the conceptual framework the schools ask for and the standards-based practice. Thank you Thank you.
Would this work for teaching a first grader about narrative writing? I am also looking for a great book to use as a model for narrative writing. Veggie Monster is being used by his teacher and he isn’t connecting with this book in the least bit, so it isn’t having a positive impact. My fear is he will associate this with writing and I don’t want a negative association connected to such a beautiful process and experience. Any suggestions would be helpful.
Thank you for any information you can provide!
Although I think the materials in the actual narrative writing unit are really too advanced for a first grader, the general process that’s described in the blog post can still work really well.
I’m sorry your child isn’t connecting with The Night of the Veggie Monster. Try to keep in mind that the main reason this is used as a mentor text is because it models how a small moment story can be told in a big way. It’s filled with all kinds of wonderful text features that impact the meaning of the story – dialogue, description, bold text, speech bubbles, changes in text size, ellipses, zoomed in images, text placement, text shape, etc. All of these things will become mini-lessons throughout the unit. But there are lots of other wonderful mentor texts that your child might enjoy. My suggestion for an early writer, is to look for a small moment text, similar in structure, that zooms in on a problem that a first grader can relate to. In addition to the mentor texts that I found in this article , you might also want to check out Knuffle Bunny, Kitten’s First Full Moon, When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry, and Whistle for Willie. Hope this helps!
I saw this on Pinterest the other day while searching for examples of narritives units/lessons. I clicked on it because I always click on C.o.P stuff 🙂 And I wasn’t disapointed. I was intrigued by the connection of narratives to humanity–even if a student doesn’t identify as a writer, he/she certainly is human, right? I really liked this. THIS clicked with me.
A few days after I read the P.o.C post, I ventured on to YouTube for more ideas to help guide me with my 8th graders’ narrative writing this coming spring. And there was a TEDx video titled, “The Power of Personal Narrative” by J. Christan Jensen. I immediately remembered the line from the article above that associated storytelling with “power” and how it sets humans apart and if introduced and taught as such, it can be “extraordinary.”
I watched the video and to the suprise of my expectations, it was FANTASTIC. Between Jennifer’s post and the TEDx video ignited within me some major motivation and excitement to begin this unit.
Thanks for sharing this with us! So glad that Jenn’s post paired with another text gave you some motivation and excitement. I’ll be sure to pass this on to Jenn!
Thank you very much for this really helpful post! I really love the idea of helping our students understand that storytelling is powerful and then go on to teach them how to harness that power. That is the essence of teaching literature or writing at any level. However, I’m a little worried about telling students that whether a piece of writing is fact or fiction does not matter. It in fact matters a lot precisely because storytelling is powerful. Narratives can shape people’s views and get their emotions involved which would, in turn, motivate them to act on a certain matter, whether for good or for bad. A fictional narrative that is passed as factual could cause a lot of damage in the real world. I believe we should. I can see how helping students focus on writing the story rather than the truth of it all could help refine the needed skills without distractions. Nevertheless, would it not be prudent to teach our students to not just harness the power of storytelling but refrain from misusing it by pushing false narratives as factual? It is true that in reality, memoirs pass as factual while novels do as fictional while the opposite may be true for both cases. I am not too worried about novels passing as fictional. On the other hand, fictional narratives masquerading as factual are disconcerting and part of a phenomenon that needs to be fought against, not enhanced or condoned in education. This is especially true because memoirs are often used by powerful people to write/re-write history. I would really like to hear your opinion on this. Thanks a lot for a great post and a lot of helpful resources!
Thank you so much for this. Jenn and I had a chance to chat and we can see where you’re coming from. Jenn never meant to suggest that a person should pass off a piece of fictional writing as a true story. Good stories can be true, completely fictional, or based on a true story that’s mixed with some fiction – that part doesn’t really matter. However, what does matter is how a student labels their story. We think that could have been stated more clearly in the post , so Jenn decided to add a bit about this at the end of the 3rd paragraph in the section “A Note About Form: Personal Narrative or Short Story?” Thanks again for bringing this to our attention!
You have no idea how much your page has helped me in so many ways. I am currently in my teaching credential program and there are times that I feel lost due to a lack of experience in the classroom. I’m so glad I came across your page! Thank you for sharing!
Thanks so much for letting us know-this means a whole lot!
No, we’re sorry. Jenn actually gets this question fairly often. It’s something she considered doing at one point, but because she has so many other projects she’s working on, she’s just not gotten to it.
I couldn’t find the story
Hi, Duraiya. The “Frog” story is part of Jenn’s narrative writing unit, which is available on her Teachers Pay Teachers site. The link at the bottom of this post will take you to her narrative writing unit, which you can purchase to gain access to the story. I hope this helps!
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MASTERING THE CRAFT OF NARRATIVE WRITING
Narratives build on and encourage the development of the fundamentals of writing. They also require developing an additional skill set: the ability to tell a good yarn, and storytelling is as old as humanity.
We see and hear stories everywhere and daily, from having good gossip on the doorstep with a neighbor in the morning to the dramas that fill our screens in the evening.
Good narrative writing skills are hard-won by students even though it is an area of writing that most enjoy due to the creativity and freedom it offers.
Here we will explore some of the main elements of a good story: plot, setting, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution . And we will look too at how best we can help our students understand these elements, both in isolation and how they mesh together as a whole.
WHAT IS A NARRATIVE?
A narrative is a story that shares a sequence of events , characters, and themes. It expresses experiences, ideas, and perspectives that should aspire to engage and inspire an audience.
A narrative can spark emotion, encourage reflection, and convey meaning when done well.
Narratives are a popular genre for students and teachers as they allow the writer to share their imagination, creativity, skill, and understanding of nearly all elements of writing. We occasionally refer to a narrative as ‘creative writing’ or story writing.
The purpose of a narrative is simple, to tell the audience a story. It can be written to motivate, educate, or entertain and can be fact or fiction.
A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING NARRATIVE WRITING IN 2022
Teach your students to become skilled story writers with this HUGE NARRATIVE & CREATIVE STORY WRITING UNIT . Offering a COMPLETE SOLUTION to teaching students how to craft CREATIVE CHARACTERS, SUPERB SETTINGS, and PERFECT PLOTS .
Over 192 PAGES of materials, including:
TYPES OF NARRATIVE WRITING
There are many narrative writing genres and sub-genres such as these.
We have a complete guide to writing a personal narrative that differs from the traditional story-based narrative covered in this guide. It includes personal narrative writing prompts, resources, and examples and can be found here.
As we can see, narratives are an open-ended form of writing that allows you to showcase creativity in many directions. However, all narratives share a common set of features and structure known as “Story Elements”, which are briefly covered in this guide.
Don’t overlook the importance of understanding story elements and the value this adds to you as a writer who can dissect and create grand narratives. We also have an in-depth guide to understanding story elements here .
CHARACTERISTICS OF NARRATIVE WRITING
ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Set the scene by introducing your characters, setting and time of the story. Establish your who, when and where in this part of your narrative
COMPLICATION AND EVENTS (MIDDLE) In this section activities and events involving your main characters are expanded upon. These events are written in a cohesive and fluent sequence.
RESOLUTION (ENDING) Your complication is resolved in this section. It does not have to be a happy outcome, however.
EXTRAS: Whilst orientation, complication and resolution are the agreed norms for a narrative, there are numerous examples of popular texts that did not explicitly follow this path exactly.
LANGUAGE: Use descriptive and figurative language to paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read.
PERSPECTIVE Narratives can be written from any perspective but are most commonly written in first or third person.
DIALOGUE Narratives frequently switch from narrator to first-person dialogue. Always use speech marks when writing dialogue.
TENSE If you change tense, make it perfectly clear to your audience what is happening. Flashbacks might work well in your mind but make sure they translate to your audience.
THE PLOT MAP
This graphic is known as a plot map, and nearly all narratives fit this structure in one way or another, whether romance novels, science fiction or otherwise.
It is a simple tool that helps you understand and organise a story’s events. Think of it as a roadmap that outlines the journey of your characters and the events that unfold. It outlines the different stops along the way, such as the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, that help you to see how the story builds and develops.
Using a plot map, you can see how each event fits into the larger picture and how the different parts of the story work together to create meaning. It’s a great way to visualize and analyze a story.
Be sure to refer to a plot map when planning a story, as it has all the essential elements of a great story.
THE 5 KEY STORY ELEMENTS OF A GREAT NARRATIVE (6-MINUTE TUTORIAL VIDEO)
This video we created provides an excellent overview of these elements and demonstrates them in action in stories we all know and love.
HOW TO WRITE A NARRATIVE
Now that we understand the story elements and how they come together to form stories, it’s time to start planning and writing your narrative.
In many cases, the template and guide below will provide enough details on how to craft a great story. However, if you still need assistance with the fundamentals of writing, such as sentence structure, paragraphs and using correct grammar, we have some excellent guides on those here.
USE YOUR WRITING TIME EFFECTIVELY: Maximize your narrative writing sessions by spending approximately 20 per cent of your time planning and preparing. This ensures greater productivity during your writing time and keeps you focused and on task.
Use tools such as graphic organizers to logically sequence your narrative if you are not a confident story writer. If you are working with reluctant writers, try using narrative writing prompts to get their creative juices flowing.
Spend most of your writing hour on the task at hand, don’t get too side-tracked editing during this time and leave some time for editing. When editing a narrative, examine it for these three elements.
- Spelling and grammar ( Is it readable?)
- Story structure and continuity ( Does it make sense, and does it flow? )
- Character and plot analysis. (Are your characters engaging? Does your problem/resolution work? )
1. SETTING THE SCENE: THE WHERE AND THE WHEN
The story’s setting often answers two of the central questions in the story, namely, the where and the when. The answers to these two crucial questions will often be informed by the type of story the student is writing.
The story’s setting can be chosen to quickly orient the reader to the type of story they are reading. For example, a fictional narrative writing piece such as a horror story will often begin with a description of a haunted house on a hill or an abandoned asylum in the middle of the woods. If we start our story on a rocket ship hurtling through the cosmos on its space voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system, we can be reasonably sure that the story we are embarking on is a work of science fiction.
Such conventions are well-worn clichés true, but they can be helpful starting points for our novice novelists to make a start.
Having students choose an appropriate setting for the type of story they wish to write is an excellent exercise for our younger students. It leads naturally onto the next stage of story writing, which is creating suitable characters to populate this fictional world they have created. However, older or more advanced students may wish to play with the expectations of appropriate settings for their story. They may wish to do this for comic effect or in the interest of creating a more original story. For example, opening a story with a children’s birthday party does not usually set up the expectation of a horror story. Indeed, it may even lure the reader into a happy reverie as they remember their own happy birthday parties. This leaves them more vulnerable to the surprise element of the shocking action that lies ahead.
Once the students have chosen a setting for their story, they need to start writing. Little can be more terrifying to English students than the blank page and its bare whiteness stretching before them on the table like a merciless desert they must cross. Give them the kick-start they need by offering support through word banks or writing prompts. If the class is all writing a story based on the same theme, you may wish to compile a common word bank on the whiteboard as a prewriting activity. Write the central theme or genre in the middle of the board. Have students suggest words or phrases related to the theme and list them on the board.
You may wish to provide students with a copy of various writing prompts to get them started. While this may mean that many students’ stories will have the same beginning, they will most likely arrive at dramatically different endings via dramatically different routes.
A bargain is at the centre of the relationship between the writer and the reader. That bargain is that the reader promises to suspend their disbelief as long as the writer creates a consistent and convincing fictional reality. Creating a believable world for the fictional characters to inhabit requires the student to draw on convincing details. The best way of doing this is through writing that appeals to the senses. Have your student reflect deeply on the world that they are creating. What does it look like? Sound like? What does the food taste like there? How does it feel like to walk those imaginary streets, and what aromas beguile the nose as the main character winds their way through that conjured market?
Also, Consider the when; or the time period. Is it a future world where things are cleaner and more antiseptic? Or is it an overcrowded 16th-century London with human waste stinking up the streets? If students can create a multi-sensory installation in the reader’s mind, then they have done this part of their job well.
Popular Settings from Children’s Literature and Storytelling
- Fairytale Kingdom
- Magical Forest
- Underwater world
- Space/Alien planet
2. CASTING THE CHARACTERS: THE WHO
Now that your student has created a believable world, it is time to populate it with believable characters.
In short stories, these worlds mustn’t be overpopulated beyond what the student’s skill level can manage. Short stories usually only require one main character and a few secondary ones. Think of the short story more as a small-scale dramatic production in an intimate local theater than a Hollywood blockbuster on a grand scale. Too many characters will only confuse and become unwieldy with a canvas this size. Keep it simple!
Creating believable characters is often one of the most challenging aspects of narrative writing for students. Fortunately, we can do a few things to help students here. Sometimes it is helpful for students to model their characters on actual people they know. This can make things a little less daunting and taxing on the imagination. However, whether or not this is the case, writing brief background bios or descriptions of characters’ physical personality characteristics can be a beneficial prewriting activity. Students should give some in-depth consideration to the details of who their character is: How do they walk? What do they look like? Do they have any distinguishing features? A crooked nose? A limp? Bad breath? Small details such as these bring life and, therefore, believability to characters. Students can even cut pictures from magazines to put a face to their character and allow their imaginations to fill in the rest of the details.
Younger students will often dictate to the reader the nature of their characters. To improve their writing craft, students must know when to switch from story-telling mode to story-showing mode. This is particularly true when it comes to character. Encourage students to reveal their character’s personality through what they do rather than merely by lecturing the reader on the faults and virtues of the character’s personality. It might be a small relayed detail in the way they walk that reveals a core characteristic. For example, a character who walks with their head hanging low and shoulders hunched while avoiding eye contact has been revealed to be timid without the word once being mentioned. This is a much more artistic and well-crafted way of doing things and is less irritating for the reader. A character who sits down at the family dinner table immediately snatches up his fork and starts stuffing roast potatoes into his mouth before anyone else has even managed to sit down has revealed a tendency towards greed or gluttony.
Understanding Character Traits
Again, there is room here for some fun and profitable prewriting activities. Give students a list of character traits and have them describe a character doing something that reveals that trait without ever employing the word itself.
It is also essential to avoid adjective stuffing here. When looking at students’ early drafts, adjective stuffing is often apparent. To train the student out of this habit, choose an adjective and have the student rewrite the sentence to express this adjective through action rather than telling.
When writing a story, it is vital to consider the character’s traits and how they will impact the story’s events. For example, a character with a strong trait of determination may be more likely to overcome obstacles and persevere. In contrast, a character with a tendency towards laziness may struggle to achieve their goals. In short, character traits add realism, depth, and meaning to a story, making it more engaging and memorable for the reader.
Popular Character Traits in Children’s Stories
We have an in-depth guide to creating great characters here , but most students should be fine to move on to planning their conflict and resolution.
3. NO PROBLEM? NO STORY! HOW CONFLICT DRIVES A NARRATIVE
This is often the area apprentice writers have the most difficulty with. Students must understand that without a problem or conflict, there is no story. The problem is the driving force of the action. Usually, in a short story, the problem will center around what the primary character wants to happen or, indeed, wants not to happen. It is the hurdle that must be overcome. It is in the struggle to overcome this hurdle that events happen.
Often when a student understands the need for a problem in a story, their completed work will still not be successful. This is because, often in life, problems remain unsolved. Hurdles are not always successfully overcome. Students pick up on this.
We often discuss problems with friends that will never be satisfactorily resolved one way or the other, and we accept this as a part of life. This is not usually the case with writing a story. Whether a character successfully overcomes his or her problem or is decidedly crushed in the process of trying is not as important as the fact that it will finally be resolved one way or the other.
A good practical exercise for students to get to grips with this is to provide copies of stories and have them identify the central problem or conflict in each through discussion. Familiar fables or fairy tales such as Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Cinderella, etc., are great for this.
While it is true that stories often have more than one problem or that the hero or heroine is unsuccessful in their first attempt to solve a central problem, for beginning students and intermediate students, it is best to focus on a single problem, especially given the scope of story writing at this level. Over time students will develop their abilities to handle more complex plots and write accordingly.
Popular Conflicts found in Children’s Storytelling.
- Good vs evil
- Individual vs society
- Nature vs nurture
- Self vs others
- Man vs self
- Man vs nature
- Man vs technology
- Individual vs fate
- Self vs destiny
Conflict is the heart and soul of any good story. It’s what makes a story compelling and drives the plot forward. Without conflict, there is no story. Every great story has a struggle or a problem that needs to be solved, and that’s where conflict comes in. Conflict is what makes a story exciting and keeps the reader engaged. It creates tension and suspense and makes the reader care about the outcome.
Like in real life, conflict in a story is an opportunity for a character’s growth and transformation. It’s a chance for them to learn and evolve, making a story great. So next time stories are written in the classroom, remember that conflict is an essential ingredient, and without it, your story will lack the energy, excitement, and meaning that makes it truly memorable.
4. THE NARRATIVE CLIMAX: HOW THINGS COME TO A HEAD!
The climax of the story is the dramatic high point of the action. It is also when the struggles kicked off by the problem come to a head. The climax will ultimately decide whether the story will have a happy or tragic ending. In the climax, two opposing forces duke things out until the bitter (or sweet!) end. One force ultimately emerges triumphant. As the action builds throughout the story, suspense increases as the reader wonders which of these forces will win out. The climax is the release of this suspense.
Much of the success of the climax depends on how well the other elements of the story have been achieved. If the student has created a well-drawn and believable character that the reader can identify with and feel for, then the climax will be more powerful.
The nature of the problem is also essential as it determines what’s at stake in the climax. The problem must matter dearly to the main character if it matters at all to the reader.
Have students engage in discussions about their favorite movies and books. Have them think about the storyline and decide the most exciting parts. What was at stake at these moments? What happened in your body as you read or watched? Did you breathe faster? Or grip the cushion hard? Did your heart rate increase, or did you start to sweat? This is what a good climax does and what our students should strive to do in their stories.
The climax puts it all on the line and rolls the dice. Let the chips fall where the writer may…
Popular Climax themes in Children’s Stories
- A battle between good and evil
- The character’s bravery saves the day
- Character faces their fears and overcomes them
- The character solves a mystery or puzzle.
- The character stands up for what is right.
- Character reaches their goal or dream.
- The character learns a valuable lesson.
- The character makes a selfless sacrifice.
- The character makes a difficult decision.
- The character reunites with loved ones or finds true friendship.
5. RESOLUTION: TYING UP LOOSE ENDS
After the climactic action, a few questions will often remain unresolved for the reader, even if all the conflict has been resolved. The resolution is where those lingering questions will be answered. The resolution in a short story may only be a brief paragraph or two. But, in most cases, it will still be necessary to include an ending immediately after the climax can feel too abrupt and leave the reader feeling unfulfilled.
An easy way to explain resolution to students struggling to grasp the concept is to point to the traditional resolution of fairy tales, the “And they all lived happily ever after” ending. This weather forecast for the future allows the reader to take their leave. Have the student consider the emotions they want to leave the reader with when crafting their resolution.
While the action is usually complete by the end of the climax, it is in the resolution that if there is a twist to be found, it will appear – think of movies such as The Usual Suspects. Pulling this off convincingly usually requires considerable skill from a student writer. Still, it may well form a challenging extension exercise for those more gifted storytellers among your students.
Popular Resolutions in Children’s Stories
- Our hero achieves their goal
- The character learns a valuable lesson
- A character finds happiness or inner peace.
- The character reunites with loved ones.
- Character restores balance to the world.
- The character discovers their true identity.
- Character changes for the better.
- The character gains wisdom or understanding.
- Character makes amends with others.
- The character learns to appreciate what they have.
Once students have completed their story, they can edit for grammar, vocabulary choice, spelling, etc., but not before!
As mentioned, there is a craft to storytelling, as well as an art. When accurate grammar, perfect spelling, and immaculate sentence structures are pushed at the outset, they can cause storytelling paralysis. For this reason, it is essential that when we encourage the students to write a story, we give them license to make mechanical mistakes in their use of language that they can work on and fix later.
Good narrative writing is a very complex skill to develop and will take the student years to become competent. It challenges not only the student’s technical abilities with language but also her creative faculties. Writing frames, word banks, mind maps, and visual prompts can all give valuable support as students develop the wide-ranging and challenging skills required to produce a successful narrative writing piece. But, at the end of it all, as with any craft, practice and more practice is at the heart of the matter.
TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT NARRATIVE
- Start your story with a clear purpose: If you can determine the theme or message you want to convey in your narrative before starting it will make the writing process so much simpler.
- Choose a compelling storyline and sell it through great characters, setting and plot: Consider a unique or interesting story that captures the reader’s attention, then build the world and characters around it.
- Develop vivid characters that are not all the same: Make your characters relatable and memorable by giving them distinct personalities and traits you can draw upon in the plot.
- Use descriptive language to hook your audience into your story: Use sensory language to paint vivid images and sequences in the reader’s mind.
- Show, don’t tell your audience: Use actions, thoughts, and dialogue to reveal character motivations and emotions through storytelling.
- Create a vivid setting that is clear to your audience before getting too far into the plot: Describe the time and place of your story to immerse the reader fully.
- Build tension: Refer to the story map earlier in this article and use conflict, obstacles, and suspense to keep the audience engaged and invested in your narrative.
- Use figurative language such as metaphors, similes, and other literary devices to add depth and meaning to your narrative.
- Edit, revise, and refine: Take the time to refine and polish your writing for clarity and impact.
- Stay true to your voice: Maintain your unique perspective and style in your writing to make it your own.
NARRATIVE WRITING EXAMPLES (Student Writing Samples)
Below are a collection of student writing samples of narratives. Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail. Please take a moment to read these creative stories in detail and the teacher and student guides which highlight some of the critical elements of narratives to consider before writing.
Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of story writing.
We recommend reading the example either a year above or below, as well as the grade you are currently working with, to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.
NARRATIVE WRITING PROMPTS (Journal Prompts)
When students have a great journal prompt, it can help them focus on the task at hand, so be sure to view our vast collection of visual writing prompts for various text types here or use some of these.
- On a recent European trip, you find your travel group booked into the stunning and mysterious Castle Frankenfurter for a single night… As night falls, the massive castle of over one hundred rooms seems to creak and groan as a series of unexplained events begin to make you wonder who or what else is spending the evening with you. Write a narrative that tells the story of your evening.
- You are a famous adventurer who has discovered new lands; keep a travel log over a period of time in which you encounter new and exciting adventures and challenges to overcome. Ensure your travel journal tells a story and has a definite introduction, conflict and resolution.
- You create an incredible piece of technology that has the capacity to change the world. As you sit back and marvel at your innovation and the endless possibilities ahead of you, it becomes apparent there are a few problems you didn’t really consider. You might not even be able to control them. Write a narrative in which you ride the highs and lows of your world-changing creation with a clear introduction, conflict and resolution.
- As the final door shuts on the Megamall, you realise you have done it… You and your best friend have managed to sneak into the largest shopping centre in town and have the entire place to yourselves until 7 am tomorrow. There is literally everything and anything a child would dream of entertaining themselves for the next 12 hours. What amazing adventures await you? What might go wrong? And how will you get out of there scot-free?
- A stranger walks into town… Whilst appearing similar to almost all those around you, you get a sense that this person is from another time, space or dimension… Are they friends or foes? What makes you sense something very strange is going on? Suddenly they stand up and walk toward you with purpose extending their hand… It’s almost as if they were reading your mind.
NARRATIVE WRITING VIDEO TUTORIAL
Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.
When teaching narrative writing, it is essential that you have a range of tools, strategies and resources at your disposal to ensure you get the most out of your writing time. You can find some examples below, which are free and paid premium resources you can use instantly without any preparation.
FREE Narrative Graphic Organizer
THE STORY TELLERS BUNDLE OF TEACHING RESOURCES
A MASSIVE COLLECTION of resources for narratives and story writing in the classroom covering all elements of crafting amazing stories. MONTHS WORTH OF WRITING LESSONS AND RESOURCES, including:
NARRATIVE WRITING CHECKLIST BUNDLE
OTHER GREAT ARTICLES ABOUT NARRATIVE WRITING
Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies
7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love
Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students
How to Write a Scary Story
The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing , can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.
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How to Teach Narrative Writing
Last Updated: February 20, 2022 References
This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. This article has been viewed 26,551 times.
Narrative writing is fun to teach, but it can also be a challenge! Whether you need to teach college or grade school students, there are lots of great options for lessons. Start by getting your students familiar with the genre, then use in-class activities to help them practice creating their own narratives. Once your students understand how narratives work, assign a narrative essay for students to demonstrate and hone their skills.
Introducing the Genre
- A specific point-of-view on the events of the story
- Vivid details that incorporate all 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste)
- A reflection on what the experience meant
- Have your students read narrative essays, such as "My Indian Education" by Sherman Alexie, "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, "Learning to Read" by Malcolm X, or "Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan.
- Show your students a movie, such as Moana or Frozen and then plot out the structure of the story with your students.
- Have your students listen to a podcast or radio segment that features a short narrative, such as the Modern Love podcast or NPR's "This I Believe" series.  X Research source
If you want to show a film but you are short on time, show a short film or sketch comedy clip , such as something from a channel you like on Youtube. Choose something that will grab your students' attention!
- Who are the characters in this story? What are they like? How can you tell?
- Who is telling the story?
- What happens to the characters?
- How do they work towards a solution to the problem?
- Where and when does the story take place?
- What is the mood of the story?
- For example, start by looking at the action and characters in the introduction. How does the author introduce the story? The characters?
- Then, move to the body paragraphs to identify how the story develops. What happens? Who does it happen to? How do the characters respond?
- Finish your map by looking at the conclusion to the story. How is the conflict resolved? What effect does this resolution have on the characters in the story?
Using In-Class Activities
- For example, you might start the story by saying “Once,” which another student might follow with “upon,” another with “a,” and another with “time,” and so on.
- You might also give the story more structure by giving your students a model to follow. For example, you might require them to follow a format, such as this one: "The-adjective-noun-adverb-verb-the-adjective-noun." Post the format where all of the students can follow along as they tell their story.
- To build a story sentence by sentence, you might start with “Once upon a time, there was a princess named Jezebel.” And then the next student might add, “She was betrothed to a foreign prince, but she did not want to get married.” And another might add, “One her wedding day, she fled the country.”
- Allow each student about 7 to 10 minutes to write their paragraph.
- Return the stories to the student who wrote the opening paragraph so they can see how other people continued their story.
- Ask students to share how their story progressed after they passed it to their neighbor.
- For example, if the author of a story writes, “Sally was so angry,” then they are telling. However, the author would be showing by writing, “Sally slammed the car door shut and stomped off towards her house. Before she went inside, she turned, shot me a furious look, and shouted, 'I never want to see you again!'”
- The first example tells readers that Sally is angry, while the second example shows readers that Sally is angry using her actions and words.
- A great way to practice this concept is to give students a plot point or have them create their own. Then, have the students work on showing the plot point using only dialogue.
- What does the character look like? Hair/eye/skin color? Height/weight/age? Clothing? Other distinguishing features?
- What mannerisms does the person have? Any nervous ticks? How does their voice sound?
- What is their personality like? Is the person an optimist or pessimist?
- What are their likes/dislikes? Hobbies? Profession?
- The diner was empty, except for me, the waitress, the cook, and a lone gunman.
- I was lost in a strange city with no money, no phone, and no way to contact anyone.
- The creature disappeared as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had arrived.
- Invite students to share what happened on their islands at the end of the 5 days.
- Display the island drawings and descriptions on the wall of your classroom.
Make it your goal to do 1 activity in class each day ! This will help to ensure that your students are getting lots of exposure to what a narrative is and how it works before they write their own narratives.
Assigning a Narrative Essay
- Tell your students if you are using a theme or focus. For example, if you want students to write their narrative on an experience with reading or writing, then you might provide examples, such as the first novel they read and fell in love with, or the time they had to totally rewrite a paper for an English class.
- Also, include details in the rubric on the required length of the essay, special features you expect to see, and any formatting requirements.
- Make sure to provide students with feedback on their pre-write activities. Encourage them on what sounds like it has the most potential and steer them away from topics that seem too broad or that would not hold up well as narratives.
- For example, if a student submits a freewrite in which they discuss wanting to write about all of the English teachers they have ever had, this would be too broad and you would want to encourage them to narrow their topic, such as by writing about 1 teacher only.
- For example, if the paper is due on April 1st, then students ought to start drafting at least 1 week in advance, or sooner if possible. This will help to ensure that they will have plenty of time to revise their work.
- Does the story seem complete? What else could be added?
- Is the topic too narrow or too broad? Does the paper maintain its focus or is it disorganized?
- Are the introduction and conclusion effective? How might they be improved?
For a creative way to showcase your students' stories, have them to transform their essays into a different format and share it with the class! For example, your students could turn their essay into a podcast, short film, or drawing.
You might also like.
- ↑ https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/learning/lesson-plans/using-the-modern-love-podcast-to-teach-narrative-writing.html
- ↑ https://www.roanestate.edu/owl/describe.html
- ↑ http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/comics-classroom-introduction-narrative-223.html
- ↑ https://www.ecu.edu/cs-educ/TQP/upload/tqpPersonalNarrativeAug2014.pdf
- ↑ https://secure.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Books/Sample/00465Chap07.pdf
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/
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How to teach narrative writing.
In this post, I share 5 tips for How to Teach Narrative Writing and provide details about the Narrative Writing Units I have created for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students. Be sure to download 3 FREE narrative writing graphic organizers !
As teachers we spend a tremendous amount of time teaching our students to write. And for good reason! The ability to clearly express one’s thoughts in writing is an essential academic and life-skill. Study after study has shown that students who are able to master writing skills early on struggle less in overall literacy and communication .
The Common Core writing domain focuses on three big types of writing: informative, opinion and narrative writing. Each genre serves a unique purpose and follows a specific structure which we must explicitly teach our students.
In earlier posts I shared tips and resources for teaching Informative Writing and Opinion Writing . Today I’m excited to move on to the final genre, Narrative Writing.
I love to teach narrative writing. Personal narratives are a great genre to start the year with because they allow you to get to know your students a little bit better. Most kids love to tell us stories about their lives, so writing personal narratives often comes naturally to them.
Imaginative narratives, on the other hand, allow students’ creativity to shine! Many students find it very motivating and engaging to be allowed to write the stories they create in their own mind.
Today I’m sharing 5 tips for teaching narrative writing, as well as details about my narrative writing resource. It is a writing unit that has everything you need to bring narrative writing into your kindergarten , first grade, or secon d grade literacy centers!
Tips for Teaching Narrative Writing
1. read narrative writing mentor texts .
Before you can ask your students to write in a genre that is new to them, you must first immerse them in it. So to begin your unit, you’ll want to share examples of narrative writing with your students. These mentor texts provide students with examples of excellent narrative writing.
As you read them aloud, highlight the way the author structures their writing. Identify the author’s purpose, the topic, the order of the events, and how the author felt. All of these things will help students better understand what type of writing we are asking them to do.
When you’re picking narrative mentor texts to share with your students there are a few things to consider . First, do you (the educator) think it is excellent? Second, is it easy for your students to understand? And finally, is it relevant to the type of writing you are teaching? If you answer “Yes!” to all three, then you’re good to go!
To help you out I’ve created a list of excellent mentor texts you can use when teaching narrative writing to kindergarten, first, or second grade students.
A List of Narrative Writing Mentor Texts:
- New Shoes – Chris Raschka
- Jabari Jumps – Gaia Cornwall
- Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale – Mo Willems
- Library Mouse – Daniel Kirk
- Rocket Writes a Story – Tad Hills
- Diary of a Worm – Doreen Cronin
- The Night I Followed My Dog – Nina Laden
- Rubia and the Three Osos – Susan Middleton Elya
- The Three Snow Bears – Jan Brett
I’ve saved all these titles on one board so you can easily take a closer look at these mentor texts. Click here to see this list on Amazon .
2. Model Your Own Narrative Writing
When modeling your own narrative writing I suggest you use an experience you’ve shared as a class. It could be as simple as a short nature walk outside the school building, a field trip you went on, or a class celebration you had. Show your students that narratives don’t have to be about big events. Small moments, like a walk outside, can be stretched out and turned into a great narrative writing piece!
Next, model how you plan your writing using a graphic organizer. Highlight how you have a topic, use temporal words to order your events, details and a closing sentence. Don’t be afraid to put the events out of order! Let the students catch the mistake and help you fix it!
Model how you use the graphic organizer to guide you as you write out your full piece.
Finally, reread your work aloud to ensure it makes sense and that the events are in the correct order. Check for any silly mistakes and come up with a fitting title!
3. Use Anchor Charts
You want your students to know that when they write a narrative piece they are writing a story to entertain the reader. It can be a true, personal story from their life, or an imagined fictional one. Creating an anchor chart with this information helps to remind students their purpose for writing.
Create a second anchor chart that reviews temporal words. Words such as yesterday, today, first, next, or last describe time or order of events and help make a narrative story more clear for the reader.
When writing fictional narratives, an anchor chart of fictional sentence starters can help students to get ideas for a story.
Finally, you’ll want to create an anchor chart using the writing you model. This will serve as another example of excellent narrative writing. As a class, add labels to identify the title, the topic, temporal words, details, and the closing sentence in your shared writing.
All of these anchor charts can be posted in your writing center. Encourage your students to refer back to them and use them as support as they write their own pieces.
4. Allow students to edit and share their writing
Provide a good writers checklist at your writing center. For narrative writing you’ll want the checklist to include items such, “Does my writing have a title?” “Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end?” “Did I use temporal words?” as well as reminders to check for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors.
You can also create a rubric specific to the genre. Model how you use it to assess your own work and how it can be used to provide feedback to others.
Give students the opportunity to share their writing with others! Pair students with partners and let them read their pieces to each other. Encourage them to provide feedback using the editing checklist and the rubric as a guide.
5. Provide Daily Opportunities for Students to Write
As with all things, writing takes PRACTICE! Students need dedicated instructional time to learn the skills and strategies necessary to become effective writers, as well as time to practice what they learn.
When you think about your daily instructional schedule, make sure you are giving your students ample opportunities to practice their narrative writing through whole group instruction, small groups, and/or through independent practice in writing centers.
Narrative Writing Units For Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade Students
Today I’m excited to share with you the details about my Kindergarten Narrative , 1st Grade Narrative , and my 2nd grade Narrative writing units! I love them because they have ALL the resources you need to give your students the practice needed to master narrative writing.
These narrative writing units were developed with standards-based research specific to each grade. You can use them within whole class or small group lessons, or as a literacy center activity where students can practice narrative writing independently!
Let’s take a closer look at each one….
Kindergarten Narrative Writing Unit
The kindergarten resource has everything you need to incorporate narrative writing into your literacy centers all year long!
To help your students better understand the genre you’ll get two mini-lessons , one on personal narratives and the other for imaginative narratives. I recommend focusing on personal narratives at the start of the year and moving onto imaginative narratives in the second semester.
You’ll also get a list of suggested mentor texts and online resources, academic vocabulary posters, printable anchor charts, graphic organizers and differentiated writing prompts.
These seasonal and all-year-long writing prompts come in 3 differentiated versions to meet your Kindergarteners where they are developmentally throughout the year. Each writing prompt comes with a vocabulary word web to assist young writers in brainstorming ideas and spelling words while writing.
Finally, you’ll get a narrative writing editing checklist appropriate for the kindergarten level.
First Grade and Second Grade Narrative Writing Units
The first and second grade resources were designed with standards-based research specific to grade. You’ll get a personal narrative mini-lesson and imaginative narrative mini-lesson to use as a review of the genre. You’ll also get a list of suggested mentor texts and online resources, academic vocabulary posters, anchor charts, graphic organizers and seasonal writing prompts!
You won’t hear students say, “I don’t know what to write about!” when they are using this resource! The seasonal writing prompts include choice boards for personal narratives and imaginative narratives, as well as sentence starters and vocabulary banks to assist in brainstorming ideas and spelling words while writing.
The personal narrative and imaginative narrative seasonal prompts are both PRINTABLE & DIGITAL. The digital version has been PRELOADED for you, with 1 click add them to your Google Drive or upload them to SeeSaw.
Finally, you’ll get self-editing checklists and rubrics for both personal and imaginative narrative writing. The rubric makes a great self-assessment tool and can be used as a guide for peer feedback.
I love these resources because they can be used in so many different ways. They offer opportunities for students to practice both personal and imaginative narrative writing as a whole class, in small groups, as a literacy center activity, for homework, or as a meaningful activity for when they have a substitute teacher!
FREE Narrative Writing Graphic Organizers
Are you ready to begin teaching Narrative Writing in your classroom? To help get you started, I am happy to offer you 3 FREE narrative writing graphic organizers! You can download them here.
Writing is an essential skill that benefits students well beyond the walls of our classrooms. As teachers, we work hard to plan engaging activities that we hope will build our students’ confidence and help them to develop a lifelong love of writing.
I hope the information and resources I’ve shared on narrative, opinion and informative writing will help to bring stronger instruction and more meaningful writing practice to your kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms!
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Teaching narrative writing tips and activities.
Last week, I walked you through how I thought Opinion Writing should be taught! Today, you’re going to get teaching narrative writing tips. Like the last week, I’m going to share best practices I think are best, mentor text suggestions, and even a closer look at Common Core expectations. I hope you can walk away with ideas, activities, and inspiration for your narrative writing lesson plans. All of the images you see below (except for the read-alouds) are part of my ELA writing units. The links to all grade levels are at the bottom!
Time to check grade level expectations from Common Core
Common Core writing domain focuses on three big types of writing: informative, narrative, and today’s topic OPINION WRITING! It begins kindergarten and each year, gets progressively more in depth and detailed. Here is a look at K-5’s expectations for opinion writing, according to Common Core.
- Kinder: Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.
- 1st: Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.
- 2nd: Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.
Intermediate (3rd and 4th) Standards:
- 3rd: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (a- Establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.) (b- Use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations.) (c- Use temporal words and phrases to signal event order.) (d- Provide a sense of closure.)
- 4th: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (a- Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.) (b- Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.) (c- Use a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events.) (d- Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.) (e- Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.)
Outline of narrative writing teaching unit…
- What is narrative writing?
- Teaching the difference between big events and small moments
- Write an introduction
- Sequencing events
- Teaching how to write conclusions
- Tying it all together & practice opportunities
Stock up on your narrative writing mentor texts!
All of the pieces within this blog post should have a mentor text example along with it. Each time you teach your students about a component of narrative writing, use a strong example! Each of the book links below are affiliate links to Amazon.
- What You Know First by Patricia Maclachlan
- Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino
- Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
- Bigmama’s by Donald Crews
- Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
- Roller Coaster by Maria Frazee
- Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
- When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
- Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
- The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
- Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
Let’s begin… Start by teaching WHAT narrative writing is.
First, we are going to kick off our writing unit with teaching WHAT narrative writing is and how it’s different from the other big writing pieces. Since it is one of the three types of writing pieces, it’s important for students to really understand what goes into personal narratives and fictional narratives. The big components I’m going to talk about in this blog post (focused towards K-4) is introduction, events (we will get more in detail later), and conclusion. It’s important that students understand all the pieces of that before they try writing their own.
It is also important for students to recognize the difference between personal narratives and fictional narratives. Since they’re going to be asked to write both types of narrative writing pieces throughout their units (links below), it’s important they know what goes into each one.
After you introduce narrative writing and teach the types of narrative writing, give them some activities to help them practice determine what parts of the story they’re listening to or reading. One activity is a story read aloud. The teacher will read aloud a sample personal narrative, then he or she will reread it one sentence at a time. Then, students will turn and talk with a partner to identify if that sentence is part of the introduction, events, details, or conclusion. Another activity they can do is a fold-and-snip book where they lift a flap and write a sample sentence under each (or they can write the purpose of each personal narrative component).
Teach big event & small moments
Now it’s time to teach about big events and small moments. When you’re teaching narrative writing, it gets tricky for younger students to differentiate between big events that happened and smaller moments within those moments. For example, a big event would be taking a trip to Disney World. But focusing on a smaller moment within that event could be meeting Cinderella or riding the new Avatar roller coaster. This helps students focus in on writing more specific details, feelings, and actions when they’re writing their narratives.
Give the students lots of practice with big events and small moments. With partners and groups, give students an example big event and ask them to come up with sample smaller moments. First, give them specific big events on a smaller circle map. Then, ask them to come up with their own big event examples.
Move on to introductions
Students will now be ready to move on to introductions because you taught them components and small moments. They’re ready to start practicing! First, you need to introduce introductions (mouthful, right?) You’ll teach them the different ways that you can introduce their narrative and hook their reader. Then, you’ll let them practice identifying sample introductions. This will benefit them in two ways. One way is that they’re getting tons of exposure to different examples of strong introductions. Another way is that they’ll be comfortable with the different types of introductions, which are using dialogue, asking questions, giving details, giving facts, using onomatopoeia, and using emotion.
Once they’ve listened to mentor texts and practiced with strong examples, it’s time for them to start practicing coming up with their own. First, ask students to work with a partner to come up with a clever introduction when they see a picture card. Then, they can practice writing a sentence or two on a worksheet when giving a topic.
Teach how to sequence events
After your students practice introduction, you can get into the bulk of your writing… the events. This is one of the hardest parts of teaching narrative writing because the majority of the story detail is in this piece of their writing. Within the body, students are going to cover the sequenced events, details, feelings, actions, and emotions.
One way to ask them to practice this is by showing them sequenced events on a picture strip. This shows details of a story line that students can verbally discuss with a partner. After they study the pictures, they can try to create 3 sentences for each picture to describe the events. A big focus of this part of narrative writing is temporal words, or words such as first, next, then, last. This will help students be able to organize their events in a chronological order.
Another way to help kids with events is to show them strong mentor texts as examples. When reading aloud a story, such as Owl Moon, it is important for the teacher to stop and discuss when they find new events and details that the author has provided. Then, students can write about the ‘first, next, then, and the last events in the text they read.
Don’t forget to include details when you’re teaching narrative writing. If you look at the Common Core standards listed above, you will see that second grade is the age that students are expected to start adding details. They’re expected to start using feelings and actions to help explain their story. Give them lots of practice opportunities to perfect adding these into a story.
Teaching narrative writing conclusions
And finally, we will move onto conclusions in narrative writing. When you’re teaching narrative writing, it’s important that students know the different types of conclusions, like giving a suggestion, asking a question, or describing a vivid image. First, you can read a few mentor texts’ conclusions to show examples. Then, you can ask them to come up with their own examples after learning about each specific type.
After a few activities that show students different examples of all types of conclusions, let them practice coming up with their own when they’re given a topic.
Tying narrative writing all together
And now for the fun part!
Finally, you’ve taught all the pieces of your narrative writing unit. Therefore, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Choose high-interest and engaging topics for students to write about. Give them lots of different prompts to pick from. Provide them with scaffolded graphic organizers that will help them brainstorm and pre-write. They’re going to rock those narratives!
Are you ready for some Narrative Writing Resources?
- Kindergarten Narrative Writing
- 1st Grade Narrative Writing
- 2nd Grade Narrative Writing
- 3rd Grade Narrative Writing
- 4th Grade Narrative Writing
Want more writing blog posts for ideas and tips?
- How to teach opinion writing
- Tying writing into your math block
- Warming up for your writing block
- How to make their writing interactive
- Read more about: Common Core Aligned , Uncategorized , Writing Blog Posts
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Step 2: Study the Structure of a Story. Now that students have a good library of their own personal stories pulled into short-term memory, shift your focus to a more formal study of what a story looks like. Use a diagram to show students a typical story arc like the one below.
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Teach your students narrative writing with this engaging, hands-on unit!This 3 week unit aligns with Lucy Calkins and meets every Common Core Standard for 7th grade narrative writing. This no-prep unit includes lessons plans, PowerPoint slides, mentor texts, graphic organizers, assessments, assignments, and more! Organized neatly into 14 ...
1. Ask students to contribute a word or sentence to a story. Telling a story 1 word or 1 sentence at a time is a fun way to help students understand the basic meaning of a narrative. Start a story that your students can build onto by saying 1 word, and then going around the room and having each student contribute a word.
Narrative writing can go in two big directions for our writers- personal & fictional. Within these two are narrative writing elements that you'll want to showcase to your students. I like to focus on dialogue, focusing on small moments and experiences, using sensory details, using their imagination, and providing a clear ending. Presenting ...
RoseandMay's English Classroom Resources. $4.95. Zip. Middle School English: Narrative and Descriptive Writing Unit for Grades 7-8This highly engaging and enjoyable creative writing unit is designed to help students write effectively with a particular focus on narrative and descriptive writing.
Arrange your students in a circle. The teacher joins the circle. Start the round-robin by reading aloud one of the Narrative Sentence Starter Cards. Moving in a clockwise direction, ask the next person to continue the story. The teacher finishes off the story when it returns to the starting point.
Narrative Writing Teaching Resources for 7th Grade In Learning Areas; English Language Arts and Reading; Writing; Composition; Text Types and Purpose; Narrative Writing; resource types. ... A fairy tale themed narrative writing teaching pack containing 8 worksheets and posters. 8 pages Grades: 1 - 7 teaching resource
Use this standards-based Narrative Writing Rubric for 7th grade to assess your students' narrative writing skills! This helpful rubric covers the major standards in seventh-grade narrative writing, including organization, technique, transitions, style, and conclusion. You can use this worksheet in ...
Tips for Teaching Narrative Writing. 1. Read Narrative Writing Mentor Texts. Before you can ask your students to write in a genre that is new to them, you must first immerse them in it. So to begin your unit, you'll want to share examples of narrative writing with your students. These mentor texts provide students with examples of excellent ...
Narrative Writing: Removing Irrelevant Details. In this sixth-grade worksheet, students hone their narrative writing skills by practicing identifying and removing irrelevant details to strengthen a story. 7th grade. Reading & Writing. Worksheet.
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This helps students focus in on writing more specific details, feelings, and actions when they're writing their narratives. Give the students lots of practice with big events and small moments. With partners and groups, give students an example big event and ask them to come up with sample smaller moments.
Mar 26, 2020 - Explore Marie Barnes's board "7th grade writing narrative", followed by 398 people on Pinterest. See more ideas about writing, teaching writing, classroom writing.