Thursday, March 18, 2010

Planning Personal Narratives

I have to admit--I made it through my entire school career without ever once writing a personal narrative. Not once. I filled out the bubbles on the SRA sheets, I answered questions on the lines of my workbook, and I balanced my preferred reading books on my knees under my desk. But I can't remember ever writing a personal narrative.

And this is a shame. As a genre, the personal narrative is a wonderful way for young writers to make sense of their world. There is so much to consider in the writing of a personal narrative. What does the audience know already? What does the audience need to know? Which events are important to explain in detail? Which events can be skipped?

This week, students have been starting to plan their personal narratives. The true power of the personal narrative is to help students look back on events that have happened to them, put those events in context, and figure out the "so what?" Why is this a memorable experience? Why does it stand out in my memory?

I decided that the issue of theme was too important to wait until the end of the writing process. If we think about themes early in the writing process, then students are more likely to weave their themes into their narratives. (That's the hopeful view!)

First, students read the book Those Shoes and talked about the theme. (This is a nice little first-person narrative that tells about a boy who longs for a pair of expensive shoes, but does not get them.)

Then, they looked at a list of themes that I had prepared. It's easier for students to talk about theme when they have a variety of themes in front of them. Here's a link to a version that I put on Slideshare:

Choosing a Theme

Many students easily chose a theme from the list, and explained to their partners why that theme fit their narratives. Some had themes that they wanted to add to the list, which was wonderful! Some students were torn between two themes. In these cases, students decided to either combine both themes into their narratives, or wait until they get into the writing to see which theme is strongest.

In each class, one student shared their story at length so that the class could help them with the theme. Fourth grade narratives are always entertaining! We talked about how sometimes what we think will be boring (a wedding) turns out to be we can learn from our mistakes (alas, from a poor pet's demise)...and how working together leads to better decisions (choosing a puppy).

I can't wait to see how the narratives turn out. At this point in the process, things look very promising.

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