When I first started teaching, it was back in the No Child Left Behind days. I was at a middle school and had 8th graders, which meant that they had to take a high stakes writing test in the spring. The state writing test at that point (the Virginia SOL) was partially multiple choice and partially writing. For the writing part, the students got a prompt that they had to respond to, but the prompt could potentially ask students to write a narrative, a persuasive essay, or an expository piece. There might even have been a fourth category, but I can’t remember and I can’t find the answer online. (I also didn’t try that hard because who cares.) The point is that we had to prepare the students to write different types of pieces, which was fun because it made for a varied year. (After this, the SOL switched exclusively to persuasive writing, so my teaching focused exclusively on persuasive writing, and it got boring for everyone very quickly.)
Anyway, this personal narrative unit was one of the first units that I taught during my first full year of teaching. The unit taught students story structure while also allowing them to write about an important topic (themselves!). I relied heavily on the HOLT textbooks that we had at the time, as they were pretty helpful and included some good handouts (some of which I still managed to save-see below.)
Since I taught this unit 15 years ago (oh. my. God.), I don’t remember the exact details about how everything linked, but I thought some of the notes and handouts could still be helpful for anyone teaching a personal narrative unit for the first time. Please see below for some handouts & resources.
Essential Questions: Personal Narrative Unit
Why do we tell stories? Why are stories important?
What do we learn about people after reading their stories?
Essential Understandings: Personal Narrative Unit
Implied Main Idea
The form of a personal narrative
Organization-paragraphing and transition words
Using accurate, appropriate, and relevant details
Unit Assessments (including the 6 Facets)
Short reading comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar quizzes (Application, Explanation & Interpretation)
Unit test (Application)
The student’s own personal narrative (Application )
Read each other’s stories (Perspective)
Class discussion (Interpretation and/or Explanation)
Peer review participation (Application)
Self evaluation (Self-knowledge)
Class participation during workshop time
Sharing w/ classmate (Empathy)
Students will be able to define “personal narrative”
1.Opening: Introduce the unit by orally telling a story of my own. I will enhance the story by using the overhead projector to show connecting visuals (My own pictures and clip art.)
2. Visual analysis/connection:
Directions to students:
Open to page 16 of the “Elements of Language” textbook and take out a sheet of loose leaf paper. (I will scan and display the picture on the overhead so that we can manipulate it with the Interwrite).
Title and date your sheet of looseleaf and then do the following: Study the photograph of memorabilia and identify as many items as possible.
Then, comment on the shapes, textures, and colors of the items in the photo and how they contribute to the meaning of the chapter, “Sharing Your Life.”
3. Discussion: I will now pass around the Interwrite board. Five students will circle or mark one of the items they listed on their sheet of looseleaf . They will only mark one item and then pass it on to the next student. As a class, we will then discuss the objects and what they mean. I will write down their comments on the Interwrite, which will project onto the screen for everyone to see. (The objects are of many textures, including rough, smooth, and fuzzy, and various shapes and colors, which represent the variety of life experiences a person has.)
4. Define Personal Narrative (I will put this definition on the Interwrite so that we can analyze the definition and highlight key words) - a story of AN experience in someone’s life. It focuses on the details- the smells, sights, and sounds associated with the experience. A personal narrative is an example of expressive writing because through the telling of the story, the author expresses his or her thoughts and feelings about the experience.
Homework: Due on Day 6: Bring in 2-3 photo(s) or 2-3 item(s) that are meaningful to you. Choose items that say something about who you are, or that represent significant experiences from your life.
5. Exit slip: What is a personal narrative?
Read Example Personal Narratives
For this day I had students get an Elements of Literature textbook and read the “The Green Gulch” to themselves. I then talked through the story with them with this PowerPoint.
Next I had students read “Mrs. Flowers” by themselves and then work with a partner to answer these Mrs. Flowers questions.
Day 4- “Mrs. Flowers”
Students will apply their vocabulary words to analogies
Students will identify and write down the main idea found in Mrs. Flowers
1)Warm-Up: Students will respond to the following analogies in their three ring binder:
Loose is to tight as slack is to __________. (taut)
Mild is to gentle as kind is to __________. (benign)
Empty is to vacate as fill is to _________. (infuse)
Restless is to patient as accepting is to________. (intolerant)
Sleep is to exhaustion as education is to___________. (illiteracy)
2) Main idea: Have students read page 22 in the Elements of Literature textbook about implied main idea.
3) They should then copy page 185 “Reading skills: Determining the Main Idea: What’s it all about?”
5) On the overhead, I will put up the chart found in the Elements of Literature textbook and explain the process of sifting through details in order to determine the main idea.
6) Each row of students gets a page. Each student has to write down what they think the main idea of the story is on their own, and then they will compare. They will come to a consensus, write it on the large flashcard, and share it with the class.
Students will be able to answer simple reading questions
Students will be able to identify the implied main idea of the story in pairs and fours
Index cards and construction paper
1. Get an Elements of Literature textbook and read “Bear in the Family” by Ben Mikaelsen, starting on page 19. Answer the questions in the yellow boxes in your three ring binder . Write in full sentences.
2. When you are done with the story, answer the questions “First thoughts on your Reading” in your 3-ring binder . Check my notebook if you have questions.
3. Make a bubble chart (like the one we did yesterday) to determine main events
4. Think, pair, share: Get with a partner. Check questions and compare bubbles.
5. Get with another pair and compare bubbles. Put chart on construction paper. You will be graded. Put all four names on the paper
6. Go over as a class
Students have already read “Green Gulch,” “Ms. Flowers”, and “Bear in the Family.”
1) Read two more student samples of personal narratives in the Elements of Literature
2) Think, Pair, Share: Discuss the personal narratives we have read so far. By yourself, jot down what these stories have in common. How do they differ? (“Green Gulch”, “Mrs. Flowers”, “Bear in the Family”, “Conquering Your Fears,” and “A Valuable Lesson”). Get in partners and discuss answers. Share with entire class.
Homework due tomorrow: Bring in 2-3 photo(s) or 2-3 item(s) that are meaningful to you. Choose items that say something about who you are, or that represent significant experiences from your life.
Day 6-Start of Writing Part
Students will start to formulate what they would like to focus their personal narrative on
Students will be able to determine the elements of a personal narrative by comparing three we have already read
1. Introduce the personal narrative assignment sheet & rubric.
1)What is this assignment asking you to do?
2) How many pages are you required to write? In what size font?
3) How many points is this assignment worth?
4) How does the point system work?
5)What are the two overall grading categories (hard questions)
6) Which column introduces exactly what is required?
7) Which column are you aiming to score in?
8) Which column are you going to avoid scoring in?
9) Are there any other things you want to highlight?
2. On overhead, compare the elements of the three personal narratives we have read:
A good personal narrative:
focuses on a single incident (How many events were elaborated on?)
is usually told in chronological order (What was the order in which the story followed?)
includes information that helps readers follow events (How was the order shown, the order set?)
includes sensory details that bring people, places, and events to life (what kind of details were included?)
uses dialogue to reveal character (How was communication brought to life?)
makes clear what the experience means to the writer (meaning? )
3. Get in groups and share out the items you were supposed to collect for homework on Day 1.
Homework: Finalize an idea Write 2-3 sentences on why it is important to them
Revising vs. Editing
Day 13-Last Day
Students will be able to discuss why stories are important
1. Collect personal narratives
2. Discussion: Break into groups of 4: Why do we tell stories? Why are they important? Pick 4 important reasons that you can think of and write them down.
3. Discuss as class