5 Tips for Teaching Narrative Writing

I love to teach students how to write… I love to share ideas and stories with them… and I love to inspire them and give them the confidence to write their own stories. 

1. Story Time

Yes… it’s true! I love to tell a good story, and I would like to think that the students in my classroom like to share their stories with their friends.  Narrative writing is just turning the stories of their lives into a written format. 

Convincing students that they have a story to tell can be tough… I often hear them say “nothing exciting ever happens to me” or “I have nothing interesting to write about”.  I spend time sharing some story ideas with them… and I share my own personal experiences. I emphasize that their narrative story is best if it is focused on one specific event.  Rather than write about a vacation, write about a specific and memorable moment on the trip.  Some of my favorite life moments are small events, but they stuck with me because of the way those experiences made me feel. I will never forget getting my first piece of “grown-up jewelry” - a ring my mum gave me for Christmas when I was 12. Over 30 years later, I wear the ring every day and it’s a reminder of the first time I felt like I was growing up. Or the first time I drove a car all by myself the day I got my license. Wow… it was my first taste of true freedom. 

Sharing your own life moments with students shows your own vulnerability and may inspire them to do the same.  Writing their own story can be a powerful experience and I remind them it is their opportunity to share their experiences, their perspectives, and their take on the world.

2.  Picking A Topic

Too often we assign a piece of writing and assume that students can easily come up with a topic, however, this can be the most challenging aspect. Without a topic that motivates them, the rest of their writing will be a struggle. Ask students to think about a time when… they were challenged, felt grown-up, felt freedom, were scared, were proud, felt like they overcame something, experienced a life-changing event, were delirious with excitement, were profoundly sad… Not all students have had huge dramatic life moments, so I encourage them to think of something small and simple that they will remember forever. 

3.  Think Like A Story Teller

Writing a personal narrative is just like telling a story—there is an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and a conclusion. If there is no problem to solve, no climax to their writing it is probably going to be a really boring narrative. A story about going camping is boring, but a story about getting lost in the woods, or coming face to face with a hungry bear is going to pique my interest. In order to help students with this aspect of their writing, I ask them to fill out a plot diagram before they begin writing. I want them to think of their writing as a story with a purpose. Grab a FREE copy HERE.  I've also included a FREE Writing Reference Sheet in the download.   Both pages are part of my full Narrative Writing Resource found HERE.

4.  Edit, Revise, Repeat...

Students love to think that they can sit down and write their narrative in one sitting.  Many believe that after a few checks of their spelling and grammar and they are "good to go".  I take as many opportunities as I can to work on editing and revising their work.  There is so much power in peer editing and in using mentor texts as examples.  If we don't show students examples of good narrative writing it can be challenging for them to understand where and how they need to improve.  

You can find many examples of narrative writing online, use examples from previous classes, write your own or ask other teachers at your school if they have examples.  Once we review the elements of a good narrative, it is easier to work on peer editing.  A key with peer editing is to only focus on one thing at a time.  For example, I will have students ONLY look for spelling errors, look for a climax, look for grammar errors, look for vivid verbs, look for varied sentence lengths...  This makes it easier for students to provide feedback, and it means that students get to read many different pieces of writing from their classmates.  

5. Give Students the Tools To Find Success

As you know some students can sit down and write an engaging narrative piece with very little help, but others require a lot more assistance.  I have learned over the years to provide all students with the pieces that they need to find success and that providing them with scaffolding for all of the writing steps allows all students to find success.  By guiding students step-by-step through the process from coming up with a topic, to planning, to reading mentor texts and editing, this resource will help your students start and finish a personal narrative.

My full NARRATIVE WRITING RESOURCE includes everything you need to lead students through the Narrative Writing process and it is something I use every year with my students.  It includes brainstorming worksheets, mentor texts, editing practice, rubrics, and more! Grab my FULL Narrative Writing Resource HERE!  Available in both PRINT and DIGITAL VERSIONS.

For more Narrative Writing Resources check out these activities from my amazing 
Secondary English Coffee Shop colleagues. 

Five Minute Fairytales - from The SuperHero Teacher
Snowball Writing Activity - from Presto Plans
Personal Narrative Assignment - from Teaching in Room 213
Narrative Essay (CCSS Aligned) - The Daring English Teacher
Memoir Unit - Secondary Sara

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