Teaching writing narratives can be and should be fun. Mini-Lessons are a great way to tackle teaching writing narratives. Mini-lessons offer our students support to learn about narrative writing while giving them lots of creative room to produce their pieces. But as a teacher with a list of a million things that need to be taught, assessed, and graded it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lose the fun piece of the puzzle.
Teaching Writing Narratives with Mini-Lessons for the First Time
The first time I taught narrative writing I got too caught up in the curriculum because I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying to teach my students, make it meaningful, and alter the curriculum. But I didn’t do a good job of it. We stayed on the same writing assignment for too long. My students were bored and unmotivated and so was I.
Follow Your Teacher Instinct While Teaching Writing Narratives
We do not need to teach every writing lesson during every assignment. It’s okay to pick just a few lessons to teach within a writing assignment. We can keep our lessons short and to the point. We can move on to a new assignment even if the curriculum doesn’t want us to. We need to take care of the students we have in front of us that we know better than anyone else.
Why Teaching Writing Narratives with Writer’s Workshop is a Good Idea
Writer’s workshop is a powerful tool for teachers because it is student-centered. Writer’s workshop allows us to guide students with a short lesson and offer them ample time to write and be creative. Writers become better by writing a lot and often about topics they want to write about. Making writing student-centered gives them ownership of their work which helps them grow as writers. The challenge is to let our students write, support them, and help them stay motivated.
There are three main components of writer’s workshop, depending on who you ask: mini-lesson, writing and conference time, and sharing.
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Narrative Writing Mini-Lessons
Teaching Writing Narratives with Mini-Lessons
With so many subjects and things to teach it can be hard to know where to start. These are several of the basic mini-lessons that I would consider teaching while working through narrative writing with my students. I put them in a particular order to try to foster their creativity. Of course, you can change the order, add lessons, or remove lessons.
If you haven’t purposely used mini-lessons before here is a breakdown of what they usually look like.
The format of a mini-lesson might be something like this:
1. Get your students thinking about their background knowledge of the topic with a strong question, intriguing example, or fast game.
2. Teach about the topic of the lesson.
3. Get your students engaged by having them practice somehow such as talking with a classmate, asking questions, or writing on a post-it.
4. Have your students figure out how they are going to apply the skill they just learned to their writing. I think this is overlooked, but the most important step. If students learn something but don’t apply it the lesson was useless.
Some teachers like to do a status check on what step of the writing process their students are on before they send them off to write. Some teachers use pocket charts, bulletin boards, magnet boards, or checklists. If you want to have this as an additional step of writer’s work, go for it.
- Brainstorming Topics While Teaching Writing Narratives
Brainstorming topics is an important part of writing. Some professional writers are given their topics by a boss, but some have to figure out what topics they plan to write about on their own.
However, we often give our students the topic they are going to write about. I know that teachers need to avoid chaos and have students work on similar assignments, but is there a way to teach them how to brainstorm topics while doing that? If we give our students more control and choice about the most pivotal part of their writing, what they will write about, they will likely be more invested in their work.
Teach your students how to brainstorm topics. You can give some sort of parameters, but offer them more control than a writing prompt gives at least sometimes.
- Prewriting While Teaching Writing Narratives
My students hated prewriting. They hated filling out a graphic organizer when their brain was brimming with great ideas. I would hate that too. I looked into it and there are 13 Strategies for Prewriting to Help Your Students Efficiently Produce Writing. That’s a good amount of strategies. There are lots of choices without there being too many.
Our students need to learn how to use prewriting effectively so that it helps them create the story they dream up. Writing is the best way for them to share their thoughts with lots of people.
When you start to pick out a prewriting strategy to use with your students I would remember that the writing process is not linear – meaning you don’t check off each step as you write, but will likely have to move back and forth between the steps. I like to think of it as a prewriting strategy plan. A prewriting strategy plan is when you plan to have your students use several strategies for prewriting. You will plan for them to prewrite, draft, prewrite, revise and edit. You can repeat each of these steps as much as your students need it.
There is never enough prewriting for our young writers, and it often comes at the wrong time of their creative process. I am reshaping my thinking on the writing process and have a prewriting strategy plan for you in my article How to Use the Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing in a New Prewriting Strategy.
- Drafting While Teaching Writing Narratives
Drafting is when students start getting their ideas down on the page. Without a draft, there is no writing to revise or edit. Writing would not happen without writing the draft.
The most important thing that you can teach your students about drafting is that they should not check their spelling or grammar. They should focus on getting their ideas on the page. Drafting should be messy and it’s okay if the writing is confusing because it’s their first draft. Writing the draft should be the only thing they do.
Need to know more about teaching writing the draft to your students? Check out Clever Tips Every Teacher Needs to Know For Successfully Writing the Draft￼
- Audience and Purpose While Teaching Writing Narratives
You might decide to teach audience and purpose before drafting, and I used to do the same thing. However, I recently read, On Writing by Stephen King. It’s a great read if you are interested in hearing about his process and advice as a writer. I felt like it bridges the gap between teaching writing and professional writing.
When Stephen King writes his first draft he writes it for himself. He literally closes his door and writes for the only person in the room. He enjoys getting his words down on the page, creating characters, and seeing where the characters take the story. Then he writes his second draft for his audience. He thinks about his purpose and what his audience would enjoy and rewrites for them.
I thought this was a genius method, especially for our students. They have brilliant ideas and we stop them before they get to enjoy the story and characters they’ve dreamt up. We insist on a full plot before our students have learned who their characters are.
What would happen if we held out on teaching them about the audience, purpose, and maybe the rubric? I think we would get some creative writing. We would guide them through the revision process with students who are more willing because they are invested in their work.
If you would like to teach this to your students sooner that’s your call. You know your students best, but consider this as an option, tuck it away in the back of your mind.
All that being said, a writer must know whom they are writing for. Your students know that from the style of writing, how the writing will be shared, and their goal as a writer. Every writer will write differently for a first grader and a high schooler. A horror writer will write differently from a journalist. Authors write differently for different audiences and different purposes.
- Plot Diagram or Story Map While Teaching Writing Narratives
Often when teachers start teaching writing narratives they pull out their plot diagram or story map to have their students use as a prewrite. Their students fill it out and follow it to the letter while writing. I always found the results were kind of boring and more of a list of events than a story. It could have been the age of my students or it could have been my method.
Did you notice that I have the plot diagram and story map after students have a draft? It was done on purpose. I want my students to be creative and have freedom while they write their draft- even if it turns out a bit messy and confusing. However, we are teaching narrative structure and that is important. I think having your students fill out either of these graphic organizers after they write their first draft is a great idea. They will have a visual to help them determine if anything is missing from their story.
Mapping out their story can also help them realize that it shouldn’t be an information dump, but a slow reveal of the characters and events. As they fill out their graphic organizers they will likely see there was some sort of information dump, likely at the beginning. Now they can see what they need to do to show the readers their story.
- Pacing A Story While Teaching Writing Narratives
When I am honest I never really knew how to teach pacing well to my students, but they desperately need to understand it. I have read too many personal narratives that start with four paragraphs about waking up and getting dressed and one paragraph about the actual events of the story. Ugh.
Have your students take a look at their plot diagram or story map. Then they should mark the most important events, kind of important events and least important events. Teach your students that they should spend the most words, paragraphs, and time on the most important events. This simple lesson and visual could change your students’ writing.
- Teaching Writing Narratives Sentence Structure
Pacing is also created through short sentences and long sentences. The best way to show students this is with mentor texts and modeling. Once they play with the idea a bit they will get it.
The sentence length and structure can affect the tone and mood of the story. Lots of short sentences can build suspense, and long descriptive sentences can create a calm relaxed feeling.
- Teaching Writing Narratives With Descriptive Language – Show Don’t Tell
Descriptive language is a pain point for fourth-grade teachers. Fourth grade is one of the first times we are asking out students to show us what is happening instead of telling it. It’s a really hard concept, but it will improve their writing.
Next Tony and I rode the roller coaster.
Tony cheered as we climbed into the car on the metal tracks. In mere seconds we could be racing to our death through the twists, turns, and loops.
There is a huge difference between these two examples. One is a simple statement that tells what happened. The other lets the reader know that Tony is excited, the narrator is nervous, it’s a metal coaster with twists, turns, and loops.
Mentor texts and modeling are the best way to teach students descriptive language that can show instead of telling the reader what’s happening. Students don’t even realize they can write like this until they see, understand, and practice it.
- Sensory Details and Figurative Language While Teaching Writing Narratives
We’ve covered how students should describe what is happening by showing instead of telling. But how can they do that? What tools can they use to make that possible?
Sensory details are when students use their senses to describe what’s happening. Maybe Tony and the narrator climbed into the sticky plastic car. I am guessing the narrator smells like sweat and salt because he’s so nervous. Sensory details can help the reader feel like they are in the story. Students have to practice writing sensory details until they can seamlessly weave them into their writing.
Figurative language is a powerful descriptive tool. The goal of figure language is to use words beyond their literal meaning to give the reader a visual of what is happening. There are so many types of figurative language that you can teach your students. Don’t overwhelm your students with all of them. Teach your students 3-5 options and then require that they use two. This gives your students some choice in their practice using figurative language.
If you’d love to hear more about figure language then check out my article NAME AND LINK TO FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE BLOG
- Teaching Writing Narratives With Impactful Settings
The setting of a story impacts who the characters are, the choices they make, and what events are happening around them. A setting has to be carefully developed slowly throughout the whole story. It shouldn’t be a statement at the beginning and then left alone.
The setting is a part of the whole story that impacts everything along the way. It takes a lot of practice for students to understand that the effects of the setting need to be weaved into the whole story. Mentor texts are a great way to show students this. I would also use movies and tv shows to help them understand it.
- Teaching Writing Narratives With Powerful Character Development
I like tv show better than movies because I get to know the characters well over the years. I can see the characters grow and change through the seasons.
Growth and change are the reason we like the main characters in a story. They might grow and change themselves or they may change the world around them by showing others who they are.
In a story, we usually get to see these main characters during the pivotal moments of their lives while they are growing and facing changes. We have to show our students how characters grow and develop throughout a story. Students need to learn that changing characters is what makes the reader cheer for the protagonist. A well-developed character makes the reader feel what the main characters are feeling.
For example, we saw Luke Skywalker when he was born and then again when he was about the learn about the Force and fight his father. We didn’t see the day-to-day life of him growing up. We saw the most pivotal moments.
You can show students mentor texts, modeling, and examples from tv. Also, have them pull out their plot diagram or story map to add notes about how the main character is growing and changing in their story. Is this missing from their story? Have them add it in.
- Teaching Writing Narratives With Interesting Dialogue
Dialogue is a tell-tale sign of narrative writing. Giving characters a voice is a challenge and it makes the story a lot more interesting. Dialogue helps to reveal the character further and move the story along.
Students are usually more than willing to try dialogue. Their characters are likely already saying a lot in their imaginations.
When students first start to add dialogue to their writing they need guidance with dialogue writing techniques. Show students how to use quotation marks and punctuation for dialogue. They won’t get this the first time you teach it. Writing dialogue with the correct technique will take a lot of practice.
- Teaching Writing Narratives With Intriguing Hooks
The hook is the beginning of the story. The hook is the first sentence or paragraph that makes you want to read more.
I like to save writing a powerful hook until later in the narrative process because our students have already revised their story so many times by this point. If I started with having them write hooks they would likely have to do it again at this point.
There are weak, boring, and overused hooks. We don’t want to read them and we want to help our students become better writers than that. Here are some strong ways to start a story:
- Ask a question
- Describe something in detail
- Give a fact
- Using an onomatopoeia
- Funny or sad memory of the character
These introduction strategies get kids excited to try something new. It also gives them a practical way to get going so they aren’t stuck on how to write a good hook.
- Teaching Writing Narratives Using Dynamic Transition Words
Our students started to learn to write by using the transition words first, next, then, and finally. These transition words are what they know and are comfortable with. When students are writing their first draft we don’t need to change that. We do not need to address transitions until later in the writing process. The first goal is for students to get their ideas on the page in any way possible. Let your students go crazy with these overused transitions.
In your mini-lesson use a mentor text to show them strong transition words that show you the order of the story. Give them a list of transition words. Have them go through their work and highlight any transition words they notice. Then they can try replacing those transition words with a word from the list. They need to make sure the sentences still make sense.
Your students do not need to replace every overused transition word in their writing. Nor will your students will suddenly have great transitions. As you read their work the transitions will likely be awkward. But your students will learn through practice.
- Teaching Writing Narratives Conclusions or Resolutions
The resolution or conclusion of the story is where all the loose ends are tied up. It’s where the reader gets to see how events have changed for the characters. Don’t let your students fall back on the end. Here are a few suggestions of how to write a resolution.
- Circular endings are when the story comes back to the beginning.
- Surprise endings are when the story takes a surprising turn.
- Lesson endings are when the main character learns something and expresses it somehow.
- Emotional endings are when the writer tugs at the heartstrings to make the reader feel with the characters and maybe cry or smile.
- Reflection endings are when the narrator takes time to reflect on what happened and how important it is.
- Humor ending is when the writer ends with something that might make the reader laugh to remember the ending more.
- Question ending is when the story asks a question that makes the reader continue to think after they close the book.
- The cliffhanger ending is when the ending leaves the reader wanting to read more. This often gets readers into the next chapter or book.
- Image endings give the reader descriptive vided images that change the reader’s mood and emotions
- Dialogue ending is when the writer ends with a conversation or maybe a quote.
- Teaching Writing Narratives Revising Skills
Your students may not realize it but they have been doing a lot of revising through this whole process. Now it’s time to help your students realize that the work they have been doing is revising. They have rewritten and reworked so many parts of their original draft.
Once your students realize they have been revising and are capable of it you can take it a step further. Teach them what revising is. It is when they add, subtract, rearrange, consider word-choice, ensure readability, and determine relevant details that need to be included. Depending on your group of students you may limit or simplify this explanation.
The easiest way to have your students revise their work is to have them go through them one step at a time. This means that first your students will read and look for things to add, then during the next read they will look for things to subtract, and on the third read, they will look at word choice. How complex of a process this is is completely up to you.
- Teaching Writing Narratives Editing
Have you heard of editing in rounds? It’s what some professional writers and editors do. When a writer edits in rounds they focus on one editing point at a time. During the first read-through they will check their capitals, during the second read-through they will check periods, and on the third read-through, they can check subject-verb agreement. They will continue the process until they are done editing
When writers and editors edit in rounds it’s less likely they will miss errors because they are focusing on one thing each time. This is a great editing skill to teach your students. They can learn to edit like a professional, focusing on one thing, and making fewer errors.
Teaching Writing Narratives Publishing and Sharing
When your students have finished the whole writing process do more than just publishing and collecting their work. Make sure that you have your students share their work. There are so many ideas for sharing student work. You can read my entire article on sharing student work 12 Delightful and Innovative Ways to Share and Publish Students’ Writing.
Your students need to practice how they are going to share their work. It should be well-rehearsed. This is another great skill for students to have. They need to be able to present and share their work. More and more students are struggling to present and share their ideas. If students practice this life skill regularly it won’t be such a big deal for them.
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I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing. Here is an entire lesson for FREE. My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets making this the perfect lesson for your classroom.