Writing personal narratives isn’t as easy for kids as it might seem. So many kids can rattle off a hysterical story to their friends on the playground. But, when it comes to writing personal narratives, they freeze. They honestly have no idea what to write. In this post, I’m going to give you a super simple outline for you to use when guiding your students to write personal narratives.
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Most importantly, when students are writing personal narratives, it all comes down to them focusing on and writing about ONE moment. It’s often that silly, surprising, shocking, startling or even stinky moment that they will remember forever! Those moments might include the time they lost a tooth, broke something, got hurt, forgot an important item, or slipped into mud. At the same time, students can write about menial moments, a time that they tripped, spilled milk, ran into a friend or spotted something funny. In addition, personal narratives can be about an everyday moment that made them angry, cry or laugh. The key is pin-pointing a specific moment.
No joke, this past Tuesday, my kids and I experienced FOUR specific moments in the matter of FIVE hours. It was 10’oclock in the morning. Workers were replacing our downstairs floor and back steps. They ran out of LVP flooring and needed more. We agreed that they would start on the back steps while the kids and I ran to Home Depot to get more flooring. Separately, the kids and I decided to take our huge 6 month puppy with us to Home Depot. (I recently learned that you can do this.)
To get ready to go, my oldest son opened the van doors for us to load up and immediately started gagging and running from the van. To our dismay, we learned that we had forgotten about the frozen fish sticks my father-in-law gave us the Saturday before. Those fish sticks had been sitting in the hot van for 3 full days. Our van smelled like the bottom of a landfill and we had to get in it!
Not to mention, that we had to leave for my son’s doctor’s appointment at 11am. He had a painful ear infection that needed attention and this day, Tuesday, was the soonest the doctor could see him. We had exactly 60 minutes to get into the van, buy the LVP at Home Depot, bring it back to the house and leave for his appointment. So, not only did we have to get in the van, but we had to get in it fast! It’s important to mention that this was the first time my children ages 9, 8, 5 and 3 had ever smelled rotten fish sticks. They were not fast and I was laughing too hard to do anything else.
Puppy Personal Narratives
After MUCH ado, we got into the van, raced to Home Depot, got out of the van and grabbed a flat metal cart. For the first time, we had our 6 month old huge puppy with us. My kids thought I should tie his leash to the metal cart so HE could pull them rather than me. Making fun summer memories with my kids, I agreed. I tied our dog, Nash, to the metal cart and helped him pull my kids through Home Depot. Half way to the LVP flooring, he decided to hop on the cart with the kids!
He knocked my daughter into the lap of my son and completely covered her. Of course, the kids started sqealing and laughing! Plus, it took us a few moments to make room for Nash so my daughter could sit back up. We finally got moving again and found the LVP flooring. After making the purchase, the kids and I got back in the van. I pulled the stinky van up and warned the Home Depot associate of the smell. He kindly loaded the flooring into the van for us.
Startling Personal Narratives
Continuing on, we returned to the house, dropped off the flooring and headed to the doctor’s office. My son completed his hearing test and appointment. Then, on the way out of the doctor’s office on the 3rd floor, we stopped to get a drink at the drinking fountain. JUST as my second son pushed the button to the fountain, the screeching loud fire alarm went off! My three year old started crying in utter fear. I scooped her up. Then, the kids and I raced down the cement stairs and out of the buildling. By the time we got to the bottom of the stairs the alarm had stopped. What a moment!
One More Surprise
We got back into the stinky van one more time to head home. It was sunny for miles all around. Suddenly, looking ahead, I noticed one rain cloud. The cars coming from the opposite direction had their lights on and were wet. It was sunny for miles. Then, right over the road, was one small rain cloud, about the size of a football field. As we drove through it, we had to close our windows, breathing in the rotten fish sticks stench. As soon as the rain stopped, we opened the windows wide and finished our journey home.
Those four stories must have happened for no other reason than to give me much to say in this post. In all seriousness, though, your child’s life is full of moments! And writing them down, helps us all to never forget them.
Now, I’m going to give you the simple outline that you can use to help your child or students write their own personal narratives.
Guided Writing Lessons for Grades K-5
Any time I teach a child how to write, I divide the story or essay into 5 sections. The general expectation that I have for students is that Kindergarteners and 1st Graders write one sentence per section. Second graders write 2 sentences per section, 3rd Graders, 3 sentences per section and so on.
This way their stories are organized and complete. They are not too long, nor too short. While younger students will simply name a detail. Older students are encouraged and guided to elaborate on each detail. You can learn more on the importance of these 5 sections in my post titled: Guided Writing Lessons for Grades K-5.
A Simple Outline for Writing Personal Narratives
First, I’m going to show you the 5 sections that I use for writing personal narratives about a specific moment. Remember, the moment can be serious, simple, silly, scary or surprising. Next, I’m going to write a sample story that a K-1st Grader might write, as well as a story a 5th Grader might write. This will help demonstrate the general expectation for each grade. The sample stories will cover the moment our dog Nash jumped onto the orange metal cart at Home Depot.
Here are the 5 sections
- Normal Activity
- All of a sudden,
First, students should tell when the story happened. Next, they tell who was there and where they were. A sample sentence for a K-1st Grade could be: Yesterday, I was at Home Depot with my family and dog.
However, a 5th Grader can elaborate: It was Tuesday morning, around 10am. My mom, brother, two sisters and I were at Home Depot. Our huge puppy, Nash, was with us, too. The store was crowded. We were there to buy LVP for our kitchen floor.
Second, students write about the normal things that they were doing before the surprising moment. Continuing the Home Depot story, a K-1st Grader might write: We got a metal cart and sat on it.
Adding more details, a 5th Grader might write: I got an orange metal cart for my mom. We all sat down on the cart. “Hey Mom! Can you tie Nash’s leash to the cart so he can pull us?” I asked. My mom agreed and tied his leash to the cart. Nash started pulling our cart through the store.
All of a sudden, …
Third, students write about the moment. In the Home Depot story, the surprising moment is when the dog hopped onto the metal cart. To describe that moment, a Kindergartner might write: All of a sudden, my dog jumped onto the cart!
Meanwhile, the 5th Grader could write: All of a sudden, he stopped and turned around to sniff us. Then, he jumped onto the cart! I was sitting at the front of the cart. My sisters were in the middle and my brother was at the back. Nash jumped right onto my sister knocking her into my brother.
The Kindergartner and 1st Grader describe everyone’s reactions and actions by writing one sentence: We started screaming and laughing!
The 5th Grader lists and describes reactions and actions with greater detail: My sister started to scream and laugh! We couldn’t even see her because Nash completely covered her. I tried to push Nash off the cart, but his leash was too short and he was moving around too much. My mom stopped the cart to position Nash so that my sister could sit back up. She let us all ride on the cart until we got to the LVP.
Finally, students finish their personal narratives by writing about how the problem gets solved or the story ends. Again, K-1st Graders try to write one sentence, 2nd Graders-2 sentences, 3rd Graders-3 sentences, 4th Graders-4 sentences and 5th Graders-5 sentences per section. So, the K-1st Grader might write: Then, my mom took Nash off the cart and pulled him by the leash.
The 5th Grader might end their story like this: My mom pulled the cart until we got to the shelf with the LVP. At that point, we all had to get off the cart so we could put the boxes of LVP on it. My brother and I pushed the cart to the front of the store, while my mom pulled Nash on the leash. We bought the LVP and went home. I think Nash had a good time at Home Depot today!
Using the Simple Outline
Common Core State Standards
It’s important to note that using the above outline to write personal narratives can address the following Common Core State Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.K.3, W.1.3, W.2.3, W.3.3, W.3.3.B, W.3.3.C, W.3.3.D, W.4.3, W4.3.A, W.4.3.B, W.4.3.C, W.4.3.D, W.4.3.E, W.5.3, W.5.3.A, W.5.3.B, W.5.3.C, W.5.3.D and W.5.3.E.
Telling Personal Narratives
When teaching students how to write personal narratives, it’s so important to give them a lot of time to think, talk and tell their stories! If you’re homeschooling, try spending a summer retelling memories using this outline.
First, snuggle up on the couch or around the table with some favorite snacks and give everyone time to remember and retell their favorite memories. Help them narrow their stories down to one moment. Next, show them the 5 sections for writing about one of those moments. Last, give them time to practice saying 1-5 sentences for each section of the outline.
NOW TO WRITE!
On another day, have them write out their story. All of your children or students can write a personal narrative at the same time by following the outline and general expecation (1-5 sentences per section).
When it’s time to write, you can guide the students through the following steps so that their personal narratives are organized and complete. They are free to write these ideas in their own words.
- First, begin by writing when the story took place. Next, write who was there and where you were.
- Second, describe the normal activities that you and other people were doing.
- Next, start the third section by using a transitional or temporal word such as All of a sudden, or Suddenly,
- Then, describe the silly, shocking or startling moment in detail.
- Fifth, write each person’s reactions and actions. Older students can write out what people say by using dialogue. Additionally, they can show the emotions of each person by writing out their actions.
- Sixth, write how the problem gets fixed or how the story ends. Include any thoughts or feelings for the future.
Making Memorable Moments
The more familiar that students become with writing personal narratives, the more they will recognize and appreciate small moments in their lives. I find this exercise to be so healthy for students, classrooms and families. Talking about and writing personal narratives has definitely helped my family laugh through unexpected (and stinky) moments. I hope it will cause the same for you!