I’m sort of the meanest narrative-writing teacher ever. I just couldn’t read another story about birthday parties adorned with hearts and rainbows. And it’s my fault, really. My expectations were too low- I own that! It was hard enough to get my writers who were used to writing about sparkle princesses and Jurassic Park to make the shift to a real story- and I think I settled at that.
One day we went to the fair. We rode the rides. We ate popcorn. It was so fun. The end.
23 more. Rinse and repeat.
This year I decided to make the shift. I couldn’t settle for just a “true” story anymore. I needed more. I was determined to make my writers tell stories that matter! So…
Step 1: Figure out what a true personal narrative is.
So, genres are sort of divas! I looked up the qualifications for personal narratives because I thought my idea of them was correct- but I quickly found that that wasn’t true. A lot of the books on personal narrative lists are actually memoirs, for example. Picky, picky! I wanted to find books that were the in the truest form. I read a lot of qualifying lists and the common threads that I found were that personal narratives need to be 1) in first person 2) true 3) vivid and clear 4) emotions/feelings evoked.
Step 2: Identify real texts that meet those qualifications. I used to use the go-to books to teach narratives. Like Keats. But most of his stories are told in 3rd person. Sad day. I really wanted to stay true to the list and provide my students with a concrete example of what they would be writing. The books that I ended going with were Owl Moon, Big Red Lollipop, A Chair For My Mother, and Come On, Rain. Below you can see the 4 qualifications that I drilled down for kindergarten.
Step 3: Create my own version of a personal narrative to share with my students. They need to see both published works and unpublished versions of this genre- even better: student versions from years past.
When I sat down to make my version of a story that was worthy of telling, it was HARD! Like I said before, if we are honest, no one really and truly is moved by my “birthday party” story. It’s nice and maybe you’d be glad that I had fun buttttttt…. I’m sure it wouldn’t stir your emotions. So, I took to my camera roll on my phone. I started scrolling through my pictures until I landed on a photo that I sent to my husband of a really bad morning where I spilled my coffee everywhere. I remembered the rest of the events from that day and a personal narrative came forth!
I made this version as bare as possible because I wanted to be able to grow it with my writers as the unit progressed. I made a smaller version and stick it in a sheet protector in my conferring mini-binder. Then when I’m conferring with writers, I can model strategies by writing and drawing with a wipe-off marker.
Step 4: Provide tools that will support them in finding their tiny truths. I remembered how I found my story by using my camera roll. I thought it would be fun to ask students to create camera roll memories that they could use throughout the unit. In kindergarten, I actually sent the camera roll home so that their parents could help their children recall times in their lives that were meaningful to them.
I also wanted my students to understand the concept of “turning up” the emotions/feelings in their books. I made them a “feelings-o-meter” to use while they are writing. I have them read their story out loud and then we talk about how their reading felt. They turn their arrow to the appropriate slot. Then, we talk about what we could add to make sure their feelings show through as much as possible.