Narrative writing is a staple in my high school English classroom. But it wasn’t always.
I used to be a much more traditional teacher than I am now. The only writing my students did, other than personal response, was very academic and formal. They wrote persuasive research, exposition and lots and lots of literary analysis. I developed strategies and lessons that helped my students find success in these formats, but looking back, I don’t think they were ever truly engaged.
I thought they were – until I saw what true engagement looked like when we started to do more narrative writing.
Now, I see kids excited about their writing. They can’t wait to show their peers and get some feedback. They’re proud of their final results and excited to talk to me about their story.
There are several reasons why the kids love the personal narrative and why it is now a must do for me.
1. Everyone wants a chance to tell their story
Narrative writing is deeply personal, so the teacher doesn’t need a hook or a connection to inspire the students. Their stories are already there inside them, and they, like everyone, want to be heard. I found that when I invited my kids to explore them, they were so much more engaged then when we did other forms of writing.
In fact, I rarely have to help them come up with topics with narrative writing.
Narrative writing also invites students to consider events and people that taught them important life lessons. I use a series of quick-writes to help them reflect on the important people, events, and memories in their lives, and by the time we are done, they have a nice list of things they can choose from for their assignment.
2. Personal narratives provide a chance to connect with students
I always model the process with a story about an important moment in my life. My students love nothing more than to get a glimpse into the life of their teacher, so by using something that is meaningful to me, I can not only model the process for the kids, but also show them that I trust them enough to give them a peek into who I am.
3. Narrative Writing provide excellent opportunities for skill building
Because the kids are engaged, it’s the perfect time to focus on skills that you know they need to hone. In the days leading up to this assignment, we’ve done a number of activities and exercises designed to get my kids to flesh out their ideas and to experiment with word choice, tone, imagery and figurative language. We also spent a lot of time looking at how perspective and point of view affect a narrative. So, this assignment is the perfect culmination of those activities – the students can show me what they have learned.
These are all skills I will want them to demonstrate in a few weeks when we do the more formal persuasive research essay – an assignment that they don’t find quite so engaging. However, having the opportunity to work on these skills during an assignment they were invested in, will help them when it comes time for the next assignment.
4. They are fun to read!
I have never enjoyed grading as much as I have with the personal narrative. The stories are funny, entertaining and sometimes sad. Many of the kids show a great deal of insight and wisdom as they reflect on their memory. And, their voices are strong and engaged, making the process a joy, rather than a chore.
I strongly encourage you to try this with your high school students too. If you’d like a little help, you can check out the lesson plan that I have on my TpT store. Just click here to check it out.