Monday, March 22, 2010

Planning Personal Narratives: Events and Elaboration

As I said in my previous post, I've been teaching personal narratives for many years. Many kids, of course, will spontaneously fall into writing personal narratives in their journals. As they write about events in their lives, they practice remembering details, explaining events, and using vivid elaboration.

But I'm working toward students writing an "elaborated sequence of events" for next year's PSSA. On that test, they'll need to read a prompt and write a narrative, going through all of the steps of the writing process in isolation on one school day. Whether I like it or not, this is what my young writers must do.

As we work on personal narratives, then, I need to be very explicit with strategies that they can use for the test next year. One great strategy is the graphic organizer called an "Events and Elaboration" chart. It's easy to make, easy to remember, and yields great results.

1. Students choose an event from their lives to write about. I encourage them to choose an event that takes place in a short time frame--one day is great.

2. Students think about the events (what happened) and elaboration for each event. We do a little pantomime for the elaboration--"what you or others thought, felt, heard, saw, or said." (I came up with the pantomime, but not the words. The Events and Elaboration organizer is an old one from the days of the Maryland Functional Writing Test)

3. Students fold a piece of paper into eight boxes. One column is labeled "Events", and the other "Elaboration". As students think about their story, they write the events, and then try to come up with at least three details (elaboration) for each event.

When left to their own devices, students are likely to write a personal narrative that is just a summary of the events. Having an entire column for elaboration reminds them to think about the details. In future lessons, we'll look at adding dialogue, including vivid setting details, and explaining why things happen.

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