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Writing Personal Narratives & Memoirs in the Primary Classroom
This post is designed to be a guide for your unit on writing personal narratives. There may be other lessons you add, depending on the needs of your students.
The lessons below are written to expose children to published writing that is like what you expect from them. Each lesson is designed to help children see what the skill looks like in writing. Usually the teacher will read the mentor text or a portion of the mentor text and the class will spend time focusing on one skill. Children are then expected to practice the skill in their writing.
List of Mentor Texts Remember, your writing units should ALWAYS start by creating a stack of mentor texts. These are the examples you provide for the children. A good stack should have between 10 and 20 books. Children cannot be expected to write what they haven’t been exposed to. Make sure they fully understand the ideas being taught by sharing texts by published authors. This is meant to serve as just a list of ideas, not a comprehensive list of personal narratives.
Day 1 Noticings 2.W.3 Once you have a good stack of books, you are ready to let the children begin exploring. Introduce the unit topic to the class and explain the concept of a personal narrative. Day 1 is meant only for students to explore. They should be given the chance to look at and make their own observations. Put the students in groups of 2 or 3 and hand them a couple of books from your stack. Give them a few post-it notes and ask them to mark what they “notice” about the books. If students seem confused or stuck, sit with them and help them find ideas. For some groups these noticings may take all of writing time, other groups will be done exploring after 15 or 20 minutes. If children need more time to explore, give them another day. When they are finished, come together as a group and share the noticings. This is when the teacher begins an anchor chart for personal narratives. Begin a chart that says Personal Narrative Noticings at the top.
Day 2 Noticings Noticings on the second day are slightly different. Students will be given personal narratives and a book with a different style of writing. On this day students are asked to decide which book is a personal narrative. For the book that is not, students work to explain why it is not. You might want to use this Which Book? recording sheet for students if you feel like writing their thoughts will help them organize their thinking better.
Day 3 Choosing a Topic 2.W.5 Once you feel like your students understand the concept of a personal narrative, they are ready to begin trying to write their own! We have created a brainstorming sheet to get your children thinking of many possibilities. Doing this at the beginning of the unit helps keep students writing as they finish books. Have children complete this Things I Have Done page. When most are finished, allow them to partner up and talk about their ideas. This may lead to more ideas.
Day 4 Stretching a Memory 2.W.3 Once students have a topic, they need to work on stretching their memory so that it can fill a book. Begin this lesson by reading Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee. Help students see how the author took one small event and stretched it into a book. Encourage children to think of one of their ideas from yesterday’s lesson that they could stretch into a book. Use this Planning Your Story page to teach children to sketch their beginning, middle and end.
Once students have planned their story, they are ready to begin writing. Students who write in papers created into actual books tend to write more and create stories that are more like real authors. Need blank books for students? Find some here…. http://www.thecurriculumcorner.com/2012/05/17/blank-books-papers/
Day 5 Authors Use Rich Words and Phrases 2.W.3 (Suggested mentor text: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen) Read aloud the story and discuss how the author uses language to share the story. The book Owl Moon is full of rich text that helps the reader visualize what is happening! Choose a favorite passage and read it to the class without showing the pictures. Have the children describe what they are seeing in their heads. The teacher may choose to draw what the children are describing. As a follow up, read another passage from the book and have the children draw what they are seeing in their heads as you are reading. Again, it is helpful to not show the children the pictures. When children are finished drawing, have them share their pictures. Discuss how the words the author chose helped them visualize what was happening. Another book we love is Apple Picking Time by Michele Slawson.
Day 6 Authors Use Illustrations to Show Emotion 2.W.3 (Suggested mentor text: Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems) The book Knuffle Bunny is always a favorite in elementary classrooms! Children love Trixie’s invented language and the author’s pictures. This book is great for teaching children how authors use illustrations to show how a character is feeling. Throughout the book, the exaggerated pictures of Trixie help the reader see how upset the little girl is. Have the students look at the pictures as you cover the words. Ask them to tell how they think Trixie is feeling on each page and what clues made them think this. If you feel like students would enjoy a follow up to this lesson, repeat the activity with Knuffle Bunny Too.
Day 7 Authors Use Temporal Words to Show the Order of Events (first, next, etc.) 2.W.3 A great book to use to show how authors use temporal words is My Rotten Red Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco. (Thanks to Shannon for suggesting this title!) As you read, make a list of the time order words the author uses. You can also model this skill with your own writing. Tell a story of making something or an event while using sequencing words. Create an anchor chart that includes the different temporal words writers might use in their writing.
Day 8 Authors Use Quotation Marks to Show Speech (Suggested mentor text: Fireflies! by Julie Brinckloe) This is a skill that not all children will be ready to try in their own writing. However, this is a good introduction to quotation marks for all students. Those who are ready can be expected to test it out as they write their personal narratives. This book can be read during writing workshop or at a previous read aloud time and revisited for this lesson (this will help keep your writing workshop lesson to a true mini-lesson time.) Reread a page where the author uses quotation marks in the book. Show students the marks and have children share why they think they are used. For classes where this is a new skill, explain the purpose. On chart paper, model using quotation marks in your own writing. It is a good idea to use chart paper instead of a smaller book for this lesson so that students can clearly see where the quotation marks and commas are placed. The chart paper can also be left in the room as an anchor chart.
Day 8 Authors Write Strong Conclusions 2.W.3 (Suggested mentor text: The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant) For this lesson, it is a good idea to model your own writing about going on a trip or having visitors. When you end your story, use a simple ending. After reading aloud The Relatives Came, ask students to suggest ways you might make your ending better and more interesting to the reader. With your class, rewrite your ending.
Day 9 Authors Use Powerful Adjectives, Adverbs and Verbs 2.L.1 (Suggested mentor text: Stellaluna by Janell Cannon) Read aloud the book Stellaluna. Create an anchor chart to take note of powerful words the author uses throughout the text We like the idea of using a book book so the students can follow along and help find the words. We found one at Amazon…
Day 10 Authors Edit Their Work For Punctuation 2.L.2 Write a paragraph from one of your own books on chart paper, remembering to leave out some punctuation marks. As a class, practice editing the sample for correct punctuation. During their writing today, have children find instances where they need to add punctuation in their own writing.
Day 11 Authors Edit Their Work For Capitalization 2.L.2 Write a paragraph from one of your own books on chart paper, remembering to leave out some capital letters. As a class, practice editing the sample for correct capitalization. During their writing today, have children find instances where they need to add capitalization in their own writing.
Day 12 Authors Edit Their Work With Peers 2.L.1 Partner students and have them read their books to a classmate. Encourage them to look at every word and make sure the words they are saying match the words they have written. We suggest modeling this with one student in front of the class first!
Day 13 Publishing In the younger grades, it is not necessary for students to recopy their words to make a final draft. Instead, for young writers to publish, they should double check their work and add details to their drawings.
Day 14 Celebration Your celebration might be small and be just for the class. You an serve cookies and lemonade while students take turns reading their books. Or, make your celebration bigger and invite principals, parents and other classes.