As you are preparing your students to begin with narratives, teach them the elements of the genre. Before they even put pen to paper, you can use videos to teach narrative writing. Why?
We are surrounded by stories. Commercials, TV shows, movies, video games, print ads, and billboards — they all tell (or attempt to) a story.
When you teach writing a narrative, hook your students into the activity by first analyzing short videos, commercials, or cartoons.
Start by sharing the elements of a narrative with your students.
Make sure they understand them — they can create a narrative dictionary or list of terms and definitions.
- Point of view
Pixar shorts are great for these! I especially love “La Luna” and “Lifted.” Since there is no discernible dialogue in either of these, students use inference skills to determine the elements of the story.
In “La Luna,” students love discussing the symbolism of the little boy’s hat as well as his motivation.
Additionally, students can really dig into character traits. What makes these characters different from each other? What qualities do they have?
The story-telling capacity of commercials amazes me!
We think of commercials as just trying to sell us something, but watch a few commercials and look for the story — and you will find it!
I love the first commercial in the first commercial in this YouTube collection of classic commercials. While the quality of the commercial is so-so, the story is fantastic (and hysterical).
For a more modern commercial, I LOVE this Gatorade commercial. It is easy to lose the actual product in the great story here. The twist at the end is a great way for students to think about the purpose of a conclusion.
Look at insurance commercials!
Insurance = boring, right?
But take a look at the stories Progressive, Geico, Farmers, Nationwide, State Farm, and Allstate insurance companies have created.
They are all narratives — and they have something to do with insurance…but we watch them because they tell a story. (Who doesn’t love the “Jake from State Farm” dialogue?)
The beautiful thing about teaching with commercials?
They are short! Students can watch and analyze several 30 second commercials in a class period. Great way to practice comparing and contrasting, use of persuasive language, and tone.
Most students are familiar with commercials, but when they analyze them, students see them in a completely new way.
Okay…I’ll admit it. I love SpongeBob. My favorite episode, “The Hash Slinging Slasher” has all the elements of a good narrative.
Rather than using an entire episode, you can find short clips on YouTube like this one from Bob’s Burgers.
The opening scenes from The Office and Malcolm in the Middle provide funny, short narratives!
How to Use Videos to Teach Narratives
- First, have the students watch the video first for fun.
- Prior to the second viewing, have students jot down or share what narrative elements they noticed in the video. Most of the time, they will be able to identify nearly all the of the items on the list. However, tell them that they need to watch the video a second time to determine what they can add to their notes.
- View the video a second time. Allow time after viewing for students to jot down notes on what they saw or noticed.
Digging Deeper into the Narrative
Students will be able to tell you the basics of the video narrative, but help them go deeper. Ask them to provide more detail to their observations:
- If the setting is in the country, what do you notice?
- What time of year is it? How do you know?
- What kind of character is the protagonist? How do you know?
- What sort of conflict is occurring? How does the conflict get resolved?
- What do you notice about the pacing? How fast or slow does the narrative move?
- Is there symbolism?
- Who is telling the story? (point of view)
Students sometimes struggle with theme and often think it is the same as moral — or lesson that is clearly stated.
Remind them that theme is the overarching message. It is usually abstract. For example, it is important to be honest, don’t believe everything you hear, or be prepared.
Move to Writing a Narrative
As your students feel confident looking at the elements of a narrative video, they are ready to begin incorporating them into their own writing.
Direct students to notice that the narrative of any of the short videos they’ve watched is limited, narrowed, and focused. This is often a place where students struggle.
Looking for more help with narrative writing? Here is a complete set of mini lessons that will take your students from start to finish.
Here to fun and successful narrative writing!
This post contains affiliate links. To learn more, you can read my disclaimer here.