Engage Your Students In Writing With Personal Narratives

I love it when I can connect with students or fellow teachers through writing! Whether a student discovers they have stories to tell, or a teacher’s creativity and passion for writing is re-ignited, I teach for these moments, and this is exactly what happened when I gave a presentation called “Helping Students Discover their Voices through Personal Narrative” as part of the Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Series.

An Oklahoma teacher wrote some amazing feedback for the presentation that I’d like to share with you:

I attended the session about personal narratives because I think it is something students really struggle with for various reasons. Some are afraid to share their thoughts and others don’t know how to write their ideas in a compelling way. The most important things I got from the presentation were specific ideas for narrative prompts and ways to turn quickwrites into larger pieces of writing. The specific examples of mentor texts from both yourself and your student really illustrated for me what a simple quickwrite prompt can do to engage students into telling their stories. I also liked that you show/discuss the writing process with your students as you write so they can see the stages in action.

Thanks, as always, for the great learning experience!

Mrs. Michelle Baldwin, M.Ed., Cherokee High School

In my presentation, I guided teachers through a couple of quickwrites designed to help them discover a story they wanted to share and provided a couple of mentor texts to help them imagine how they might expand that story into a longer narrative format. Over the years, I have discovered that some English teachers are not comfortable with their own writing. While this is good in that they can empathize with their students who also lack confidence in their writing or who don’t want anyone to see what they’ve written, English teachers especially need to jump out of their comfortable box and write. We need to model a real-world working writing process for our students.

I followed the writing exercises and mentor texts with the basics of narrative structure. We know the drill–character, setting, plot, conflict theme. It was summer, so a good idea to refresh our memories right before I asked them to characterize the people in their narratives, describe the setting, and explain the conflict and plot. I followed this up with a graphic organizer to help them expand their plot, which can also be called explode the moment, if you story is based on a short period of time.

Of course, this presentation was only one hour long, so teachers didn’t have time during the session to write an entire narrative essay. I hope they took their work home though and finished the piece they started so they can use it as a mentor text during their narrative writing units.

If you’re interested in using this process in your classroom, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the OWP Summer Series is over, so the presentation is no longer available.

But like I said, there is good news.

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to have students start thinking about who they are as readers, writers, and learners. You can use activities like the virtual locker I wrote about here. Even better, the entire OWP presentation was based on my Explode the Moment Narrative Writing Project unit, which is still available here on my website. You can check it out here.

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

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