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Just write about a small moment from your life. Include enough details, but not too many. Don’t forget transition words! And you better make it interesting. You have 30 minutes. Go.
After hours of mini-lessons, anchor charts, and extensive modeling, I imagine that these words are all that echo through my third graders' minds when the time comes to write a personal narrative. I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who has seen children on the verge of tears because they don’t know how to get started on their writing or what to include once they do. These may be reluctant writers or even perfectionists afraid that their story won’t be good enough. There are also those students whose stories include every minute detail they can remember as they create a narrative that seems to go on forever without any real focus. To help out these students, along with all the others, I use a few different graphic organizers that have made a world of difference to my young writers. This week I'm happy to share with you some of the tools I use to help make planning and writing narratives that are focused, sequential, and interesting a bit easier for my students.
Each year my students create an authority list in their writer’s notebooks, an idea that came from a writing program we use. This list is supposed to include areas of expertise for the students that they could readily write about. As you can imagine, when you are eight years old, there are not a whole lot of things you consider yourself an authority on, and many of my students never really seem to make a connection with their list. Therefore, I decided to have my students create an additional organizer in their notebooks called The Heart of My Writing. Each student draws a heart, then divides it into sections based on what matters most to them — family, hobbies, friends, special events, and more. I find this is the graphic organizer my students turn to first when they are looking for an idea. Many students leave blank spots on their hearts so they can fill them in as the year goes on.
Prewriting Using Graphic Organizers
I’ve discovered the key to helping my students write a narrative that tells an interesting, sequential story is using graphic organizers for planning. While I use several different organizers, there are three I created that are especially popular with my students. The organizers allow students to establish their purpose and effectively plan how their story will unfold.
The following graphic organizer is made for legal-sized paper. My more proficient writers tend to prefer this organizer because it gives them more room to expand upon their ideas.
Mini Anchor Charts
Whenever I create anchor charts with my class during our mini-lessons, I have my students create versions of the chart in their writer's notebooks. I have noticed that when the mini-charts are right there at their fingertips, they tend to be used more frequently.
Graphic Organizers I Use for Character Development
When we focus on character development, my students use these graphic organizers in both their writing and reading. Read more about how I use them in my post, "Bringing Characters to Life in Writer's Workshop." Click on each image to download the free printable.
Scholastic Printables for Personal Narratives
Click on the images below to download a free printable.
Other Great Resources for Narrative Writing
Alycia Zimmerman's post, "Using Mentor Text to Empower Student Authors," is a must-read for your narrative unit. Her guidance on using mentor text has improved my teaching, as well as my students' understanding of the personal narrative immensely.
Beth Newingham's tips for writing leads (and a lot more!) in "My January Top Ten List: Writing Lessons and Resources," are an invaluable resource to any writing program.
Julie Ballew's "Planning Small Moment Stories" shows a developmentally appropriate approach to narrative writing for young authors.
Hopefully you have found a few ideas to make narrative writing easier for your students. If you have a tip for writing narratives or you would like to comment or ask a question, I would love to hear from you in the comment section below. For more tips you can subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter or Pinterest.
Common Core State Standards for Writing
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3a Establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3b Use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3c Use temporal words and phrases to signal event order.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3d Provide a sense of closure.