A New Writing Unit.... Personal Narratives

If you have been following my blog for awhile, you probably recall that I am an ESL teacher.  My entire morning is spent traveling from room to room to co-teach writing.  I visit three third grade classrooms and one fourth grade classroom each morning.

I teach in Nebraska, and our fourth graders "get" to take the NeSA-W (Nebraska State Assessment- Writing) at the end of January.  In this state assessment, the student is given a prompt, and then tasked with writing a personal narrative.  The fourth graders at my school took the NeSA-W about a week and a half ago...and then happily cleaned out their writing folders this week.  They are more than ready to embark upon a different genre of writing!  As you might imagine, the fourth grade teachers are ready to move on, too. :)

Everyone gets to move on...except ME.  While our fourth graders are done with personal narratives for the year, our third graders are just beginning their study of this genre of writing.  {deep sigh!} Here we go again!

That said...the third grade teachers and I spent no small amount of time deciding how to begin our unit on personal narratives this year.  We ultimately determined that we wanted to begin by exposing the students to several strong personal narratives.  Therefore, the teachers have been reading many wonderful published personal narratives to students, like When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant and Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.

We also read aloud strong personal narratives written by some of our fourth graders, so students could hear some narratives from kids just a little older than themselves.  (Our hope here, of course, is that they will also recognize their own potential!)  Throughout these read alouds, we "drilled home" two basic ideas:
1.  A personal narrative is organized and follows a sequence of events.  (We model how we can tell our stories across our fingers.)
2.  A personal narrative includes plenty of feelings and emotions.

I read aloud a strong personal narrative that a fourth grader had written, and then we found examples in the text showing how the author wrote the story in sequence, and evidence of feelings and emotions that were included.
The next day, we introduced to our third graders the concept of watermelon ideas and seed ideas...and how to distinguish between the two.  We explained that watermelon ideas are BIG ideas (too big for personal narratives!) that include many events.  Seed ideas, on the other hand, are perfect for personal narratives, as they focus on ONE "zoomed-in" event.

As an example, we talked about how the topic of "3rd Grade" is a watermelon idea.  However, it is full of great little seed moments that would result in powerful personal narratives!  I showed them the chart below where I drew a watermelon to represent my third grade year (about 30 years ago!).  Then I did a think aloud, recalling three events that would be good "seed ideas" that I could turn in to personal narratives.

1.  I met Mindy, who became my best friend for the next 5 years!
2.  I was elected to be the mayor of my class!
3.  We had handstand contests at recess, and one time my teacher, Mr. Lane, did it with us!
After this, students thought of their own "seed idea" from third grade to add to the class chart.
After doing several group activities, students were partnered up and tasked with distinguishing between watermelon and seed stories together.
This worksheet is available in a Watermelon vs. Seed Stories packet at my TPT store.
Now that students understand what makes for a good personal narrative idea, we are ready to have students begin their "Seed Ideas" list next week!

More on this to come!

1 comment:

  1. What a great analogy for kiddos to remember and relate to! I must remember to share this with my students. The fifth graders would've benefited from it when they wrote their snow globe stories. Thanks for sharing!