How to Use the Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing in a New Prewriting Strategy

What is the best graphic organizer for narrative writing?  After a lot of research, I discovered 13 Strategies for Prewriting to Help Your Students Efficiently Produce Writing.  I combed through the list to determine strategies that had various names and simplify the definition of each.  

However, not every prewriting strategy or graphic organizer is useful for each assignment.  What are some good strategies for prewriting in narrative writing?  How do you know which prewriting strategy to use? And what is the best graphic organizer for narrative writing?

How Did I determine the Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing?

When I was still in the classroom I didn’t put much thought into which graphic organizer  I gave my students.  If I found a pretty graphic organizer that seemed okay I would use it.  I had my students do the steps, but it didn’t impact their work in a significant way because it was just a graphic organizer, not a prewriting strategy.  Of course, their writing was poor when I didn’t combine the graphic organizer with a prewriting strategy to truly support their writing plan. Looking at the writing my students produced I should have figured out the problem sooner. It was my fault and it was up to me to fix it.

Learning About the Best Graphic Organizers for Narrative Writing

Maybe you’ve been in the same situation as me.  Your students aren’t producing very good writing and you don’t know where to start.  You’d very much like to find the best graphic organizer for narrative writing that will magically fix your writing problems.  I’m going to attempt to make your writing teacher’s life better by giving you a great prewriting strategy to help your students.

What are Graphic Organizers?

I have been talking about graphic organizers like everyone knows what they are.  Likely you do because you are a teacher and have been through many years of school and possibly many years of teaching.

A graphic organizer is a visual and graphic tool that helps writers organizer their work.  It allows writers to see relationships between facts, terms, and ideas,  It makes it easier to comprehend, and internalize information.  Graphic organizers can be used in all subjects, but today we are going to focus on writing and more specifically narrative writing.

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What Role Does a Prewriting Strategy Play With Graphic Organizers?

Strategies for prewriting and graphic organizers are different things.  Strategies for prewriting are the plan of action the writer is going to take to write successfully. There is often more than one step in a prewriting strategy.  Whereas the graphic organizer simply helps students organize their incredible ideas in ways that are easy to visualize and understand, thus making it easier to share with their audience. 

Graphic organizers and prewriting strategies are two very different tools, but when we use them together it’s almost impossible not to see improved writing.  We have to teach our students that these are separate tools and show them how they work together to support impactful writing.

What I am going to lay out for you here is a prewriting strategy.  It’s going to take more than a graphic organizer to effectively help your students grow as writers.  Of course, I expect you to tweak this plan so it works better for your students because you know them best.  I’d also love to hear the results of what happened in your classroom, so bookmark this article and come back and leave a comment.

This is a six-step process that I am offering up to you here.  My goal is to combine lots of support for our students with an opportunity to write like a professional.  I believe support and the creative breathing room will help them develop into better writers.

  1. The Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing: Step 1 Brainstorming or Listing

The truth is that you do not need a graphic organizer for brainstorming or listing, but students seem to do better in the younger grades when you hand them one.  Even middle schoolers do better when you hand them a graphic organizer rather than an intimidating blank page.  If giving your students a graphic organizer gets them writing then give them one.  The more they brainstorm and write the more their confidence will grow.

Your students can brainstorm like crazy people or write lists.  Different personalities and writers like using different methods.  Both of these methods allow students to get all of their ideas out quickly without worrying about their organization.  Their brainstorming or listing should include all the crazy, out-of-this-world ideas they can think of.  They should be laughing because some of them are silly and writing questions about things they don’t know.  

When students brainstorm they can do it on a blank piece of paper or a graphic organizer page.  There should be lots of room to write without many restrictions.  They don’t need lines or bubbles.

If your students like a little more organization they should write lists.  Students can organize a list in any way they would like.  They might like to create categories, a list of rhyming words, or write about one topic.  Listing tends to have some more organization.

If you would like a graphic organizer to assist your students with brainstorming or listing you can grab them here.

  1. The Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing: Step 2 – Talking or Visual

Students now have a plethora of ideas in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they are all good.  It’s time to flesh them out a little bit.  There are two ways your students can do this.  


First they can have a good conversation with a friend, classmate, or teacher.  They might have thought their first idea was the best one, but when they chat with someone else they figure out that it’s awful.  Talking about our ideas makes them real and helps us see if they have value.

How to Do It:

In this step of our prewriting strategy, students should mark their best ideas with a star.   Then they should bring their brainstorm or list with them to talk with a classmate.  They will also need some markers or highlighters and a pencil.  Instruct your students that they are going to be looking for their best ideas and also cross out the ones that won’t work.  Then allow your students to talk about their writing ideas.  

The conversations I heard boys have with each other in grades 4-6 were absurd.  A lot of the conversations guys have at any age are silly, hypothetical, and intriguing.  It’s these kinds of conversations we want to foster to help our students understand their ideas better.


If your students are visual learners then you can have them use their brainstorming and listing to create a storyboard.  You students can draw out what is going to happen in the story using their ideas.  A visual of ideas could help students expand the ideas or realize which ideas won’t work and cross them out.  

The Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing: Step 3 – Freewriting

I think freewriting has gotten a bad rap in the writing teacher world.  Teachers are trying to help students organize their work in a meaningful and logical way.  Freewriting seems to hinder that process.  When I was researching prewriting strategies I thought, It’s crazy to have students freewrite as a prewriting strategy.  How could they follow the writing process and stay organized? However, when you pair freewriting with other graphic organizers and parts of your prewriting strategy it’s very useful.

Allow your students to take some time to write out their ideas.  They have already formed some sort of plot and plan by brainstorming/listing and talking or creating a visual.  Your students are excited and ready to put their ideas on the paper, so let them.  Use their passion and excitement to motivate a lot of writing.

Give them a set amount of time for freewriting.  Let them know that they will be doing more work on their writing a bit later and that this is the given amount of time for now.

The Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing: Step 4 – Mind Mapping or Diagramming

Mindmapping and diagramming are very similar techniques.  The goal is to map the story in a visual way that allows the writer to see the various connections.  If they have something in their opening paragraph that alludes to the climax of the story it can be hard to remember that connection but when they map it out they can manipulate their story and plot better.

In mind mapping, students will use a web of circles and lines that show all of the connections in the story.  They can show who is friends and enemies, what the big conflict is, and the events leading up to it. 

Diagramming is a little more formal and organized.  You’d probably want to create a template based on your requirements for the narrative assignment.  To differentiate between the two I would use boxes in the diagram graphic organizer. 

The goal of having students use this graphic organizer is that they can see what parts of the story are big with lots of details and important events and which parts are small.  Then they can see which parts they are spending far too much time on and which parts don’t give enough detail.  When a writer mixes up what is important with what’s not the results are a boring story.  Who wants to grade boring stories?

The Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing: Step 5 – Looping

Looping is a writing technique that is fairly new to me, but I love it already.  So your students have a freewrite done and they can see what their story looks like in a mind map or diagram.  Now it’s time to notice which parts were too big or too small and change them.  

It’s called looping because students are looping back to certain parts of their writing and doing a rewrite.  They can loop back as many times as needed to make their story better.  Sometimes the loop turns into the main story.  Meaning that your students will throw out the original freewrite and focus on the loop they created.  I’m sure you’ve taught students that they picked a watermelon topic when they need to pick a seed.

Here’s a quick example:

Your student is going to write about an amusement part visit.  They spend three paragraphs on getting up and dress.  They spend three paragraphs on the car ride and fighting with their sibling.  They spend 1 paragraph on all the rides.

In the mind map, they saw that this was a silly story about getting dressed and driving.  They loop back into the story at driving to the amusement park, which is one paragraph full of excitement and nerves.  Then they spend 8 paragraphs on the amusement park.  

In the next loop, they realize it’s a list of rides.  So the student loops again and spends most of the focus talking about riding the biggest roller coaster.

The Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing: Step 6 – Plot Diagram or Story Map

Teachers use these graphic organizers when reading narratives all the time.  They are also a popular choice for teaching writing narratives.  I know that some people use these upcoming terms interchangeably, which is fine. They serve a similar purpose.  Teachers usually decide which one to use based on the age of their students. I am going to be a little more specific here.

A plot diagram is that little mountain the main character climbs during the story with an introduction, rising action, climax, and resolution.  

A story map is when students write out the characters, setting, conflict as well as the beginning, middle, and end.

Teachers jump to have students map out the story and determine each step the characters take a long the way.  It should make writing the actual story a breeze, but whenever I used these students were resistant and their stories were boring. I am not saying there is anything wrong with these graphic organizer.  I actually think they’re great when they are in the correct place in the writing strategy plan.   

If you have your students use one of these graphic organizer near the end of their writing, like I am suggesting here, they will see where their story fall short.  It’s another way to look for necessary revisions before editing.  Your students will map out their own story just like the ones they read. Did they forget the resolution or is there no rising action? 

When did I come to believe these should be left for the end? I recently read On Writing by Stephen King.  I am not a fan of his, infact I have never read one of his books because I just don’t like scary stories, but I figure he is a successful writer and has wisdom.  In his book he talks about how he never plans out his stories.  He gets an idea, usually combines it with another idea and sees how it changes and grows as the story unfolds.  He lets his characters become real and control the story.  His method must make for interesting writing since his stories keep selling.  

If we are too quick to have our students nail down the plot they are going to miss this creative opportunity.  If we let them use story maps and plot diagrams to check their work later in the process we will still get a complete story, but it will probably be way more interesting to read.

The Best Graphic Organizer for Narrative Writing is a Prewriting Strategy Plan

This prewriting strategy plan is complex.  It will walk your students through a process that is similar to what real authors do.  Our students have so much imagination and creativity that should get to shine in their writing.  Changing how we have them start the writing process is a good way to help them produce their best writing and grow as writers.

For some reason we tell our students the writing process is not linear, meaning they will have to revisit first steps, but then we teach it to them in a linear way.  However, this prewriting strategy encourages a non-linear writing process, that lets our students’ creativity shine through.  You will likely change this particular strategy around to make it your own.  In the end I hope that your students writing grows with confidence and creativity as you try a new prewriting strategy plan.

If you would like access to a narrative writing lesson that uses this strategy you can grab _____ in my TpT store.

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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.

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