Getting Our Youngest Writers Started With Personal Narratives

What are personal narratives?

Personal narratives are chronological stories about one’s own life experiences. The central character is the author. They contain a plot
(a number of events occur over a time period) and they take place in a setting. The plot frequently involves a problem that requires solving, a tension or complication that needs resolving. Some change may take place as well.

The personal pronoun “I” is frequently used and the writer usually injects a sense of emotional response to the events taking place in the text.

Helping Young Writers Construct Effective Narratives

Developing writers sometimes find it difficult to travel back into their memories to gather details, but the effort is worth it. As teachers, we need to make it clear that their readers need these details to understand what actually happened.

Our goal is to teach young writers to relate a sequence of events with accurate detail, so that a reader may follow the events.

Initially, young writers will tend to write on broad, somewhat general topics. We need to teach them to focus on smaller, specific details and moments.

“You have told me a lot about your dog in your writing, and its clear you love her, Can you think of one particular time you had with your dog recently? How did it begin? What happened first?”

Some children will write narratives that contain just a single episode or event. It is therefore important that the text that is used to model personal narratives have a sequence of events. This needs to be explicitly drawn to the young writer’s attention.

Some children will initially write sequential narrative but they will tend to sound more like ‘lists’ than stories. These students will benefit greatly from immersion in storytelling. They could begin by telling their stories really well to a partner. Teachers need to point out to students that stories have the capacity to make the listener feel worried, happy, excited, scared. If they learn to build a sense of tension in their storytelling, they are more likely to use language to create a sense of drama in their writing.

Young writers need to be encouraged to write their personal narratives as if they were telling their story to their best friend. That means they need to make it sound exciting! This is where we begin the development of audience awareness.

Encouraged to use sequencing words like first and next to move the narrative forward. They should also use words that assist the reader to know how things looked and sounded and smelt – appeal to the senses!

Further to this, they need to be encouraged to add the real words people spoke.

“Dad, why are you hanging upside down in the tree?”
“Briony, let go of my arm!”

As a revision strategy encourage the reading of the text out loud to ensure all the important details are included and all the ideas are in the right order. First reading could be to themselves, and then to a partner. One young student I had used to read her writing pieces to her dog.

Craft Lessons and Modelling
You could focus on:

• Storytelling with a partner
• Beginnings
• Sketch the event, then write the story
• Sequencing (Stretching out a small moment and making it bigger)
• Focusing on the most important part of your story
• Stretching and writing words
• Planning and Adding details
• Time cue words
• Endings
• Writing a story across a number of pages –Beginning, Middle, End
• Revising by reading aloud Show don’t tell
• Inside /outside (physical world/emotional world)
• Going from the general to the specific
• Describing a setting
• Description of a character


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