This year, our first big writing unit was on personal narratives. I always look forward to this unit and for so many reasons. First, it seems like kids have an easier time writing about themselves or their lives than just about any other topic. You can typically get any student to write about himself or an experience he’s had - even those who claim to hate writing. Second, personal narratives are a great way for me to learn about my students. Narratives reveal everything from affinities, to life experiences, to information about the relationships they have with others. I think it’s a perfect way to start them off as writers!
There are a total of nine lessons in this unit and each has been written to last a day. However, when I completed this unit in my classroom, we spent a month working through the writing process. The point of each of these lessons is to identify big ideas or major steps in the process. But, you decide how the timing schedule will work for you and your group of students. You can easily extend one of these lessons to last several days.
We began by gathering in the meeting area. Today I gave the kids their final pre-writing prompt: “My Very Best Day.” As always, I like to provide an example from my own life to get them started. But to be honest, it was difficult to choose just one day. The obvious choices were my wedding day or one of the days I spent in St. Lucia or Northern Ireland. However, although those were truly some of my best days ever, they weren’t very relatable for the kids. Clearly none have ever found their soul mate and decided to marry, but besides that most of my kids have never been to the zoo let alone out of the country. So I decided to choose a moment that involved no money and no over the top travel. In fact I decided on two: one was a time when I was about their age and my siblings, cousins, and I made a fort out of carpet in our garage. At the time, we thought it was the most amazing thing ever and it made us feel as if we were in our own little world. The other time was when I decided to go away to summer camp all by myself. I was a painfully shy kid and I was incredibly proud of myself for both making the decision and actually following through with it. When I shared these with the kids, it was my hope that they would have plenty to write about. Maybe they had never gone to some amazing place or taken a trip out of state. But all of them have had little moments where they accomplished some small feat and felt great pride (yes, even if that was passing some super high level on a video game) or had some part of an otherwise ordinary day turn out to be an adventure they would always remember. This was what I had hoped they would capture.
Before allowing them to return to their desks from the meeting area, I asked for a couple of students to share what came to their minds as I shared my own stories. Not only does this allow you to see if they are on track with their thinking, but it also jumpstarts ideas in the minds of those students who are struggling to come up with ideas of their own. After I had just a few share, I dismissed students to their writing areas to begin writing.
You decide how long they have to write. I initially gave them 15 minutes to write, but then allowed them to continue writing when after that first 15 minutes many students complained that they needed more time!
Because students had so much to write, I allowed all to share with their writing partners. They always get to choose just what they share - their entire piece or the part they most like or are proud of. In this case, most students chose to share their entire pieces.