When it’s time to teach narrative writing, you’re faced with lots of choices, requirements…and grading.

Looking for help with where to start and how to organize this writing task?  Here are some tips for teaching successful narrative writing.

Let’s get started!

Ready to teach narrative writing?  Click through for ideas for organizing your class, generating ideas, and getting the most out of your writing lessons.

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What is narrative writing?

  • Narrative writing tells a story.
  • It may or may not be true.
  • It includes plot, character, setting, and theme.
  • Other elements of a narrative include point of view, conflict, dialogue, and description

Narrative Mentor Texts

The temptation may be to provide students with a prompt and let them just begin writing.  However, you will get a better “buy in” with the assignment if you allow students to discover the elements of a narrative.

Begin by providing students with examples of narratives.  

Pictures books are great for this…and picture books with few or no words provide students with a great challenge.

Why picture books?  They are short and engaging.  Students can analyze them in groups or with partners — plus, they’re enjoyable, clever, and creative.

What you can teach about narrative writing by using pictures books:

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner

  • If you have multiple copies of this amazing book, you can ask students to identify the narrative elements they notice on just one page. 
  • Look for conflict, plot, setting, and character.  

Tuesday by David Wiesner

  • This book is not only hysterical, clever, and delightful, it’s also rich with details that students will love. 
  • Look for elements of a plot and how to craft a conclusion.  

No David by David Shannon

  • While there are words on each page of this book, the illustrations are rich with details. 
  • Teach students to write with detail by having them describe what they see.

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

  • This completely wordless book is great for analyzing plot.
  • Have students look at point of view, setting, and mood.

How to Use Picture Books 

  1. First read the story to your students.  Ask them to tell you what they notice about the story.  Create a list of their comments. Try to get as many responses as possible.

For a story like No David, you’ll get responses like:  David keeps doing things wrong.  He is sad. David gets in trouble at school.  He gets in trouble at home. His face expressions are funny.

2.  Ask students to sort or group the comments.  Students will find that they’ve commented on character, plot, and setting.  You may even have students who picked up on the theme.

What does this mean?  Students already know the elements of a narrative!

How to create and use mini lessons

Create an Anchor Chart

What are the elements you want your students to remember as they write their narratives?  Once your students have analyzed and categorized the elements of a narrative, add the big, important ideas to your anchor chart.  

By having an anchor chart in your classroom, you and your students can “test” their narratives against it.  Does their writing contain the essential items you’ve included on the anchor chart.

What Should They Write About?

You can  assign a writing prompt to you students.  

However, imagine how boring it will be to grade all those papers about the same topic.  Now imagine how boring it will be for your students!

I believe you should allow your students to choose their own topics.  Often students struggle with this, but with ample brainstorming and idea starters, most students can find a topic they want to write about.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.

Robert Frost

I love to discuss this quote from Robert Frost:  “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”  Encourage students to write about what they are excited and passionate about.

Don’t start writing yet!

The temptation here is to provide a prompt or allow students to choose their topic and send them off to write.  However, if students begin their narrative at this point, you are in danger of their writing getting out of control.  Their topic may be too big or underdeveloped.

Provide them with incubation time.  Have them play with various topics and narrow their topic by asking them to brainstorm, frame their narrative, or even sketch out the main plot.  

Use your standards

Plan your lessons by going to your standards.  Plan out what you want to teach and when. You may need a lesson on writing dialogue or point of view or descriptive writing.  

You can use your standards for whole class instruction or mini lessons.  (and if you need help with using mini lessons, this post spells it out!) This will help you walk your students step-by-step through the writing process.

Create a Feedback Loop

Make sure you provide feedback to your students all along the writing process.  This will assure that you can monitor where students need help.  

Exit cards, drafts, reviewing the rubric, and conferences will all help you keep track of where your students are and what they need.

If you use peer reviews, make sure to get feedback on what students are recommending to each other.  Again, you are looking for gaps in understanding and finding out if lessons need to be retaught.  

Working through the writing process with your students will assure that you are teaching the standards and make sure that the first time you read your students’ narratives is not when they turn them in for their final grade!

How to improve student writing conferences

Looking for more?  Here are 21 mini lessons you can use to start teaching narrative writing today!  ⤵

Ready to teach narrative writing? Click through to find 21 mini lessons to use to guide your students through the writing process.

With gratitude,