Wondering how to teach narrative writing? Whether you’re using writing workshop or whole-class instruction, this post has you covered.

Read on to find step-by-step help in teaching your students what narrative writing is and how to write them.

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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1. What is narrative writing?

You want to make sure that your students understand the genre.

  • 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

You may want students to create a simple anchor chart in their writer’s notebooks to keep as a reference. This comes in handy when you move on to other types of writing. Having a checklist of items will help students begin to see differences and similarities in writing genres.

2. Use 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 and see examples of the elements of a narrative.

Pictures books are great for this…and picture books with few or no words provide students with a great challenge. They are short and engaging, and you can have students analyze several different books in a single class period.

3. How to Teach This

Gather a variety of picture books. Your school or local librarian can help you with this. Have a nice big pile so you can repeat this activity a few times or have texts available for reteaching or small group lessons.

First, read one of 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.

Then, Have students sort or group the comments on the list.  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!

Now, allow students to analyze the books in a small group or with a partner.
They can do the exact same thing you did with the whole class, or you can use a simple graphic organizer that will prompt students on what you’d like them to notice about the text. (You can find several graphic organizers here.)

Finally, share what they discovered.

Be sure to allow time for students to debrief or share what they discovered about how the story was written and what elements of narrative writing the text exhibited.

Rinse & repeat! You can have students trade books or pick a new one to analyze. Perhaps this time, they’ll analyze it independently.

Picture books that can help you teach narrative writing:

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 vivid. 
  • 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 create and use mini lessons

3. 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 own narrative writing against it.  Does their writing contain the essential items you’ve included on the anchor chart?

4. Narrative Writing Prompts

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.

If you need additional ideas for prompts, these story starters are a great resource to get students writing.

5. 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.  

Lots of prewriting will help them understand where they want their story to go and how they want their narrative writing to unfold.

6. 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.

7. 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

Next Steps:

Keep your students writing. Once they’ve finished one narrative, start a second! This will build writing confidence as well as a love for writing.

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,

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