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Language Arts » Narrative Writing

Narrative Writing
What is narrative writing? 

Narrative writing tells a personal or fictional experience or story based on a real or imagined event. 

This year, we will focus on personal narrative as the area of assessment in the narrative genre. Along the way, we will explore many narratives written by great authors. We will use these narratives as tools, analyzing them for craft, content, and mechanics. And we will emulate these authors and their techniques in our own writing. 
We begin the year with narrative writing because our summer's adventures often provide great ideas for rich narratives. 

Where can you get ideas for writing personal narratives?

We can write personal narratives about any situation, person, incident, or moment in time just as long as you have a personal connection to the subject. The best way to generate ideas for writing is to start a territory list. In the case of personal narratives, start listing events and people you have some connection to, and once you've exhausted all of those ideas, review the list to see what grabs you. Most often, a great writing idea will hit you.
Use the personal narrative brainstorming graphic organizer below to help you find ideas for your stories.

What are the characteristics of a good personal narrative?

They are stories that focus on small moments in time "showing" the reader how the moment feels, sounds, looks, smells, and tastes. They share the intangibles that "telling sentences" cannot: a stabbing feeling in your gut, time seeming to freeze, a special look shared between you and a homeless person. These details show the reader one special moment and leave out all of the unnecessary, uninteresting, and unimportant events leading up to it. You can't show your reader anything special by telling them, "I saw a homeless person," but you can truly touch them through showing it as a small moment in time.

The following piece by 5th grader, Joy Huang, illustrates the concept of "showing" beautifully:

Telling sentence:
I saw a homeless man in the BART station.

Showing paragraphs:

As soon as I entered the BART station, I felt it. There was a little feeling of doom draped like a veil over a corner of the weather-beaten platform. Inside that veil stood a man in tattered rags, clinging like a drowning sailor to the only thing he seemed to own: A large ragged cardboard sign with the crude words: :Fud needed Help me pleeze Muney also welcum."
Every man and woman gave him a wide berth, as if his loss of a home created a force field which no one could enter. Suddenly, something sharp stabbed me inside my gut. I knew what had to be don. Quickly, painfully, I pulled out my ice cream money and dropped it beside him. Our eyes met, his full of sorrow and longing and mine. And there we froze, a moment in time.

Our students in room 28 this year are also doing a fabulous job of "showing."

Catherine Murphy:

Telling sentence:
It's cold out there.

I look outside to find a thick white blanket outside. My favorite time of the year is here. I sprint to the front of the door remembering my parents are still asleep. Noticing this, I slipped and fell smack down on the hardwood floor. "They'll find me sooner or later," I thought. "Never mind that!" I yanked the front door but it didn't turn. "Duh, I have to unlock it!" Still excited, I open the front door.
The snow cold air was no match for my Paul Frank pj's; a sudden chill hit me just like that.  The icy breath was nothing compared to my beaten up socks, so thin I felt as though I was barefoot. My toes were about to break off my feet. The chill down my spine shocked me all at once, for I was paralyzed.

Arman Keshavarz:

Telling Sentence:
It was cold.


One step out of the cozy, warm, oven-baking, melting cabin: freezing cold, frostbiting nightmare. It's like a blizzard of terror or a frozen tsunami hit antartica; it's like a freezing hell. 
Freezing cold swooping through the air or a one-hundred foot hawk flapping its milky, great wings.

Kellen Sowa:

Telling sentence:
Cats are mean.


Claws like knives, teeth like scissors cutting your flesh. A hair bag of evil. Screeches, clawing, biting, nipping, scratching your flesh till there is nothing left. Razor fangs and claws sharpened. Ready to Pounce. Those beady, little, red eyes stare at your every move. When you turn your back on them, you'll get claws and fangs in your back and neck.
Those hair ball making, feline, destructive, evil, mean, breathing bags of fur and bones. The world would be better without those devils of a pet. They can be the devil's minions themselves. They are gruesome, disgusting, little vermites that watch your every move, every step, and every look; they are spies for their master, the devil himself.  

Use the resources below to help you "show" your story to its fullest potential:

Student Writing Models:
Click on grades 4-5 under the Student Writing Models heading. To view more advanced writing, click on grades 6-8.

Word Lists:

Transition words

Narrative Writing Ideas:


Related Files

pdf pdf file: You need Adobe Acrobat Reader (version 7 or higher) to view this file. Download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader for PC or Macintosh.
doc doc file: You need the Microsoft Word program, a free Microsoft Word viewer, or a program that can import Word files in order to view this file. To learn more about the free Microsoft Word Viewer, visit the Microsoft Word website.

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Alisal Elementary School
Pleasanton Unified School District
1454 Santa Rita Road
Pleasanton, CA 94566
(925) 426-4200

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