Teaching the Personal Narrative

In the beginning of the school year, we always begin with teaching the students to write about their own lives.  (They are the experts, after all!)  I have taught units before where students write a small vignette (which I always feel is similar to a prose poem – and actually kind of difficult for middle schoolers to do well) and units where they write an autobiography covering their entire (or most of their) life up to that moment.  They are two very different types of writing!  This year, our piece is a personal narrative, so I think that it falls somewhere between the two genres that I have taught before.  It is not as event-centered as a full autobiography, but is more like traditional prose writing than the vignette.  The samples of my own writing that I have used in the past aren’t quite what I want to model for my students this year.  I’m hoping that they will choose one or two aspects from their life to write in great detail about.  So, it is back to the drawing board (or back to the notebook!) for me.

I started writing a new piece today that I will model for my students.  I began, of course, with the first stage of the writing process (prewriting) and brainstormed what I could possibly write about.  I used listing, stream of consciousness (which to them I just call “writing what you are thinking”), and outlining in my prewriting stage.  I came up right away with what I would write about.  (See, following the process works!)

I continued on to the second stage (drafting) and quickly became aggravated at myself for “telling” a lot of the story rather than “showing” it.  As I was drafting, I kept trying to “show” but it was much easier and faster for me to “tell” instead.  So, I gave in and got a lot of the narrative written out – though I was very unhappy with the quality of the writing.  Then, I realized that this was actually a good thing because I can use this to model for my students how to truly utilize the next stage of the process (revising) and how sometimes it is “radical surgery.”  

Next, I will go back and rewrite all of the “telling” so that it is actually “showing” in a new draft and will make the narrative much more like what it is supposed to be.  This first draft (though not the type of writing I ultimately want my piece to be) is really important in the process because it is taking me to the next step.  I didn’t set out to have these things happen in the piece that I will model for my students, but I am very glad that they did!  

Today is Day 9 of my 1,000 Word Pledge, and I have been at 1,000+ words each day.  It does feel really good to keep track of the progress.  This was a good idea.  How is everyone else doing?

~Melissa 🙂

3 thoughts on “Teaching the Personal Narrative

  1. I sometimes think that “telling” isn’t so bad; sometimes writers give a whole story about the selection of house paint, when it’s just better to say, “the house was red”


  2. First off, thanks for the comments on my blog! I also have taught the personal narrative in previous years, I usually end up getting a lot of stories about birthday parties, guess it might be the most memorable event in the life of a 7 or 8 year old 🙂 This year, our grade level has chosen to have students make a personal connection to a character in a novel, then write them a letter about it, not sure how it will turn out though!


  3. If your students put even half your thought and effort into their own narratives, you’ll have a lot of A’s on your hands!

    Congrats on day 9! “They” say it takes about three weeks to ingrain a new habit. So you’re already halfway there! ; )


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