At first glance narrative writing, or story writing, may seem easy. Yet, it is quite easy for students to ramble, write too much dialogue or fail to have any conflict. Here are some tips for teaching narrative writing.
Teach the Structure
Kids often learn about having a beginning, middle and an end. Yet, it is important for them to know that setting and character introduction are important to the beginning of the story. It’s also vital for them to include conflict, rising action, a climax and resolution. It’s necessary to go over the structure on a daily basis. This can be done in reading groups or whole class. One of the first things I do is go over the key terms in a story. Before they can write a story, kids need to know what the protagonist, antagonist, setting and conflict mean. Here is a list of definitions from quia.com. A visual plot diagram may be helpful for students to see too. Often times, I like to print out a short story for students and have them highlight the elements of a story in different colors. For instance, they highlight the setting in yellow, the protagonist in green and so on.
While some children are natural born writers, others may need a little help giving their story direction. To do this, finding a story map that works for your students is essential. Luckily, there are many free printable story maps on the web. Here is a very basic story map from scholastic.com. Here is another free printable story map at thinkport.org. There’s even an interactive story map to use whole class from readwritethink.org. As kids get accustomed to doing these, they should be able to make their own story maps in a journal or blank paper. Many states test on narrative writing and do not allow story maps or other aids, like dictionaries, to be used.
Teaching narrative through example is important. Thus, I frequently read picture books and then go through all the elements of the story. Giving children solid examples of good narratives can help them. One of my favorite stories to use to teach narrative is The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg. It has a strong conflict, interesting characters and surprise ending. In the beginning, try not to pick stories that are too long.
Now, Finally, The Writing
After kids have seen many examples of good narratives, they can begin the writing process. When doing the first few stories, kids should still be given a story map. Then, it’s a good idea to give them some sort of writing prompt. A sample writing prompt may be: You get to school and no one is there. Write a story describing what happens. I always like to do a story map together. As a class, we can choose main characters, possible conflicts, rising action and of course a good ending. The next day, students can write their own story, using the story map from the day before.
Editing and Scoring
The following day, students can work on peer editing and teacher editing. I try to score the majority of the practice writing using a rubric. Here is a sample of a narrative rubric from orangeusd.k12.ca.us.
Each week, it is important to focus on a key element of the narrative. One week, I may focus how to grab the reader’s attention. Other lessons may include writing the setting, good description, dialogue and the ending. Simply teaching students that not all stories start with Once upon a time….is a good place to start.