When teaching narrative writing in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, there are so many writing skills to cover. They range from creating a sequence of events (beginning, middle, and end) to more difficult skills like building strong characterization. With a class full of students at such varying levels of writing, it can be overwhelming to think of where to start with your narrative writing unit.
Narrative writing can be one of the most motivational types of writing for students since the topics can be something they feel connected to in their own lives. Personal narratives allow them to talk about their own experiences they want to share, and fictional narratives let students create a story about absolutely anything that they want!
As you can see in the chart below, students are expected to do a little bit more with narrative writing as they grow as writers from 1st to 3rd grade.
So, 1st grade focuses on developing sequenced events (beginning, middle, end). With 2nd and 3rd grade, the focus is creating a hook/opening, events (beginning, middle, end), and a closing. In 2nd and 3rd grade students also need to begin to develop characterization.
For young writers learning such a new, specific format of writing, it is really important to break it up into small, clear steps.
Below is how I tackle narrative writing step by step:
INTRODUCE NARRATIVE WRITING:
First, I explain what a narrative is with visuals and examples. I go through a pre-written narrative writing example. These examples will differ depending on whether we are working on writing fictional narratives or personal narratives.
We identify and discuss each part of the piece of writing. For first graders that means the beginning, middle, and end. For second and third graders, that means an opening, events (beginning, middle and end), and closing.
GUIDED WHOLE GROUP PRACTICE:
I like to model the actual process of writing a narrative as well. With modeling a personal narrative, I like to pick an experience we have had in school that year so that it is easy for students to participate. I keep this model basic and clear so that students are not overwhelmed in what they need to produce in their first piece of narrative writing. While modeling, I refer to the prewritten example that I provided earlier. I also display sentence starters and transitions to use as a guide.
INDEPENDENT NARRATIVE WRITING PRACTICE:
First, students can practice the narrative format by using picture prompts for beginning, middle, and end. They use the visuals to describe what happens from the beginning to the end of their story.
Next, it’s time for students to begin fictional narrative or personal narrative writing from scratch! At first, I usually provide a writing prompt for the entire class that is easily relatable. The prompts will vary depending on if we are working on writing personal narratives (“Tell about a time when…”) or fictional narratives (“Write a story about…”). However, you could also give multiple options or have students develop their own individual topics.
During the prewriting phase of the writing process, students brainstorm using graphic organizers.
I like give students two graphic organizers – one for them to first brainstorm ideas for their drafts, and then one to organize their ideas into a narrative writing format.
While writing their drafts, students can refer to sentence starters to help guide them in writing their stories.
After writing their drafts, I give students an editing checklist to use as a reference. This makes it easier for them to make sure they have included each part of a piece of narrative writing.
TARGET NARRATIVE WRITING SKILLS:
As students are ready, I target specific narrative writing skills either as a whole class, or with just a small group that is ready for taking their writing to the next level.
To introduce a particular narrative writing skill (i.e. writing narrative hooks), I display a poster that is student-friendly with visuals and examples. Then, I have graphic organizers or practice pages that students can use to work through each strategy on their own.
Most students will need help with the following narrative skills:
Writing a Strong Narrative Hook:
Breaking narrative hooks down by hook types is so helpful for giving them some tools for creating their own leads. Grab the posters below and a couple practice writing pages for free here.
Writing a Strong Narrative Ending:
Similar to writing hooks, breaking down narrative endings by type is also a helpful way for students to try out different closings for their piece of writing.
Small Moments Writing:
So often, personal narratives can just turn into a list of moments in order. By teaching and practicing small moments writing, students can see how much more powerful their writing becomes when they zoom in on the most important moment in their story.
When teaching narrative writing in 2nd grade, students need to learn to describe characters by their actions, thoughts, and feelings. By 3rd grade, the Common Core asks that students also use dialogue to develop characterization in their writing.
Describing Character Feelings
You can display a poster of different ways to describe similar feelings to build stronger word choice in their writing. Students can use this poster to go through and edit their word choice in their own piece of writing.
Using Fiction Story Elements:
You can have students prewrite with story elements graphic organizers to ensure they hit each element in their own writing.
ONGOING NARRATIVE WRITING PRACTICE:
I love using fictional narrative and personal narrative journals to provide students with tons of ongoing practice! I use them as informal free-writes just for continual practice, but some or all of the entries could be used for writing pieces that go through the writing process (prewriting, drafting, editing, revising, and publishing) as well.
All of the materials shown in this blog post for teaching narrative writing in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade can be found in the Narrative Writing Unit in my TpT shop!