Just write about a small moment from your life. Include enough details, but not too many. Don’t forget transition words! And you better make it interesting. You have 30 minutes. Go.
After hours of mini-lessons, anchor charts, and extensive modeling, I imagine that these words are all that echo through my third graders' minds when the time comes to write a personal narrative. I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who has seen children on the verge of tears because they don’t know how to get started on their writing or what to include once they do. These may be reluctant writers or even perfectionists afraid that their story won’t be good enough. There are also those students whose stories include every minute detail they can remember as they create a narrative that seems to go on forever without any real focus. To help out these students, along with all the others, I use a few different graphic organizers that have made a world of difference to my young writers. This week I'm happy to share with you some of the tools I use to help make planning and writing narratives that are focused, sequential, and interesting a bit easier for my students.
Each year my students create an authority list in their writer’s notebooks, an idea that came from a writing program we use. This list is supposed to include areas of expertise for the students that they could readily write about. As you can imagine, when you are eight years old, there are not a whole lot of things you consider yourself an authority on, and many of my students never really seem to make a connection with their list. Therefore, I decided to have my students create an additional organizer in their notebooks called The Heart of My Writing. Each student draws a heart, then divides it into sections based on what matters most to them — family, hobbies, friends, special events, and more. I find this is the graphic organizer my students turn to first when they are looking for an idea. Many students leave blank spots on their hearts so they can fill them in as the year goes on.
Prewriting Using Graphic Organizers
I’ve discovered the key to helping my students write a narrative that tells an interesting, sequential story is using graphic organizers for planning. While I use several different organizers, there are three I created that are especially popular with my students. The organizers allow students to establish their purpose and effectively plan how their story will unfold.
The following graphic organizer is made for legal-sized paper. My more proficient writers tend to prefer this organizer because it gives them more room to expand upon their ideas.
Mini Anchor Charts
Whenever I create anchor charts with my class during our mini-lessons, I have my students create versions of the chart in their writer's notebooks. I have noticed that when the mini-charts are right there at their fingertips, they tend to be used more frequently.
Graphic Organizers I Use for Character Development
When we focus on character development, my students use these graphic organizers in both their writing and reading. Read more about how I use them in my post, "Bringing Characters to Life in Writer's Workshop." Click on each image to download the free printable.
Scholastic Printables for Personal Narratives
Click on the images below to download a free printable.
Other Great Resources for Narrative Writing
Alycia Zimmerman's post, "Using Mentor Text to Empower Student Authors," is a must-read for your narrative unit. Her guidance on using mentor text has improved my teaching, as well as my students' understanding of the personal narrative immensely.
Beth Newingham's tips for writing leads (and a lot more!) in "My January Top Ten List: Writing Lessons and Resources," are an invaluable resource to any writing program.
Julie Ballew's "Planning Small Moment Stories" shows a developmentally appropriate approach to narrative writing for young authors.
Hopefully you have found a few ideas to make narrative writing easier for your students. If you have a tip for writing narratives or you would like to comment or ask a question, I would love to hear from you in the comment section below. For more tips you can subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter or Pinterest.
Common Core State Standards for Writing
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3a Establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3b Use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3c Use temporal words and phrases to signal event order.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3d Provide a sense of closure.
Professional Resources You May Like
Whether you’re working on your own essay writing for graduate school work or are developing a series of lesson plans to help your students become better writers, the conclusion is often one of the hardest parts of any composition. If you’ve done your job proving your point throughout the piece in the body paragraphs, you might feel pretty tapped out. What could possibly be left to say?
Your students are probably feeling exhausted by the end of their essays, too. After all, a classic five-paragraph essay feels enormous the first time you do it! It’s no wonder, then, that you’re likely to get a pile of papers that all sound just alike: “In conclusion … “.
You’ve probably even done that yourself, right?
To help your students make their conclusion paragraphs a little more unique, it helps to provide a nuts-and-bolts lesson on transition words for conclusions. You’ve probably already worked on general transition phrases as you broke down how to write a strong body paragraph, but conclusion words are easy to skip over! Try these tips to get your students ready to find another word for “in conclusion,” and you’ll have given them a useful skill for life.
It’s always a good idea to see where your students are at when you start a new topic. Try starting with a brainstorming session to see if your budding writers can come up with other words for “in conclusion.” Get the all down on a piece of chart paper and hang it somewhere everyone will be able to see it when it comes time to write.
If the brainstorming session was harder than you thought it would be, now’s the time to add some thesaurus work to your lesson plan. Have students work independently — or perhaps with a partner — to look up words related to “conclusion” and craft some more interesting transitional phrases based on their findings. You can come back together as a whole group to add to your original brainstorming document or to make more polished classroom posters.
It’s also helpful to hand students a reference sheet of common concluding transition words to make their essay writing easier. After all, you don’t want them to struggle and stress about getting that conclusion started when they should be focusing their energies on the content! You can make your own, or you can grab a quick printable worksheet to photocopy for your students to keep in their writing notebooks.
Conclusion Word Examples
Not sure if you’ve covered all the bases yet? Try adding these concluding phrases and transition words to your repertoire:
- all in all
- all things considered
- in brief
- in conclusion
- in essence
- in short
- in summary
- in the final analysis
- to conclude
- to sum up
- to summarize
Conclusion Words Sentence Examples
It’s also a good idea to share as many well written conclusions as you can with your students. Make this fun by working in ones for fairy tales, fable and other stories everyone knows:
- In summary, Goldilocks was a very messy and very picky little girl.
- Finally, the tortoise crossed the finish line to prove that “slow and steady” really does win the race.
- All things considered, being locked in a castle with talking dishes and furniture may have been the best thing that ever happened to Belle.
- Ultimately, the only person who can decide if his adventure up the bean stalk was worth it is Jack himself.
- In the final analysis, the third little pig was very generous when he allowed his lazy brothers to hide in his house made of bricks.
Once you’ve got a few transitional phrases under your belt, what kind of content do you need to add to your conclusion? This often depends on the type of writing your student — or you! — are working on. A personal opinion essay is often the easiest: Just ask your students to write what they think from the heart. For a more formal expository essay, you’ll need to get them to go one step further. Once they restate the main points of their essay, try focusing on answering one of these questions for an interesting conclusion:
- Why is this information important?
- What can we learn from these facts?
- How is this similar to or different from [another book/event/experiment]?
- What is universal about this content?
- Why should the reader be glad they got all the way to end of your paper?
- How does this information fit in with other things you have learned about this subject?
Note that these questions are pretty abstract, but you can make them much more specific to your students’ assignment when you present them for the first time.
Once you have worked with your students on alternatives to get them started on their conclusion paragraphs, it’s time to get writing! Pick a transition word, gather your thoughts and put pencil to paper. Remember, these lessons will help writers of all ages — and even you! — come up with some new ways to end a paper so you don’t sound like a broken record. Now that you know what to do, all that’s left is to write! (Or to get started on grading that stack of papers you collected from the newly minted essay writers in your classroom!)