Reach for the Sky (or at least an Exemplary Personal Narrative)

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SWBAT: identify the characteristics of an effective Personal Narrative, and score using their rubric.

Big Idea

Sometimes students need a mentor text to guide them if they're stuck. By showing my students what a "Exemplary," "Proficient," and "Emerging" text looks like, they can better align their own writing.

Guiding Question

5 minutes

My Guiding Question is "What are the characteristics of an effective Personal Narrative?" At this point, other than each other's drafts, they really haven't seen any exemplars. By getting students to think about what makes a good personal narrative, and the characteristics of it (see student work), they can begin to look at their own drafts from a different angle. Sometimes I find that students have difficulty connecting exemplars to their own drafts because the theme or subject is different. I think they think, for example, "Well, that personal narrative is about Disney World, and I've never been to Disney, so it doesn't apply to me."

By getting students to think about general characteristics that we all agree are good to have in a personal narrative, we can begin to apply them to individual drafts.


20 minutes

These exemplars are from our SpringBoard text, but it might be just as effective to save a narrative of your own students from previous years (one in each category), just to make it more authentic.

So, I put each exemplar under the document camera while each student has the scoring guide (rubric) open at their desk. I read each one out loud, stopping to notice dialogue, dialogue tags, cause/effect, and anything else we are working on with our writing. 

When each one is finished being read, I tell each table to come to a consensus about what score it received and why. This is really difficult work: they are having to apply a narrative to a scoring guide and give evidence for their reasoning.

After each table shares out, I give the score and rationale. I have to say, the kids are usually right!

I've included the whole Embedded Assessment, with the scoring guide toward the end.

Work Time

20 minutes

For this lesson's work time, I gave students a choice to either work on the Personal Narratives, since they'd now seen the exemplars. Or, I gave them the choice to read independently. For our first unit, the independent reading, we've been hitting writing really hard, and my kids were begging me for time to read (I know, I know...I've created monsters). I also am very intentional about them feeling like they have choice in my classroom, so I'll give them choices like this more often as we earn each other's trust.

It's really interesting to see which students choose reading and which students choose writing. Some are in an exciting part of a book, and cannot be bothered to stop to write, while others are "Type A" personalities who want to get a jump start on their writing. I love these early observations of kids!

During this time, if I check in with a student who has chose to read independently (and if they happen to be reading narrative writing), I'll stop to ask them what might make the writing so good. What is the writer doing that they can steal in their own writing?

For the students who choose to write, I have them use Embedded Assessment from SpringBoard to refer to as they write.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

For their Wrap Up, I had them score their own narratives. Then I had them write down a plan for moving it into the next category. For example, if they scored themselves as a "proficient," what specific things are they going to have to work on to become "exemplary?" This is a difficult reflection, but it gives them a game plan for revision.

This reflection is the first of many that they will do. When their piece is finally scored at the end of the unit, I have them reflect using this Writing Reflection Organizer. I bring this up now because the questions and concepts that they are being asked to reflect on for this lesson mirror the questions they'll be answering at the end of the unit. Here is a student reflection of a student that I'll need to target with specific organization instruction before her next writing piece.