Personal Narratives: Choosing Your Topic

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SWBAT choose a topic for their final personal narrative from several short pre-writing pieces.

Big Idea

After completing several short pre-writing activities, students will select the one they like best to use as their final personal narrative writing project.

Unit Introduction

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. 

Setting a Purpose

15 minutes

Today is decision making time. At this point, students should have several ideas and short pieces to choose from. I have them spend several minutes reading through their short narratives and deciding which one they want to end up publishing. I encourage them to choose the topic they are most excited about as they will spend several days drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. You don’t want to choose a topic you will easily tire of. Also, choose a topic you don’t mind sharing. Remember that you are writing for an audience. At minimum, you will have an audience of two: your writing partner and me. You may also choose to share it with a small group or the entire class. However, at some point you will work with a partner to develop ideas and edit your piece so at least one of your peers will read your work. Don’t choose a narrative that is so personal to you that you don’t want anyone to read it at all. I give students at least ten minutes to think and then have them star their choice.

I ask students to think about why they chose that particular piece. Why is it important to you? Why do you want to tell this story more than any other story? What do you want us to learn about you from this story? I ask students to work with their partners for several minutes. I ask them to tell each other their topics and why they were chosen. Try to answer the questions I just asked so that you can process the reasoning behind your choices. I usually list these questions on the board to help guide students’ conversations. 

Partner Work

15 minutes

While students are conferring, I walk the room listening to conversations helping whenever students become stuck. Depending on how the conversations go, either I will continue with the next part of the lesson (narrowing your topic) or will wait so that I can spend more time working through the thought process with the class.


10 minutes

Rather than have students share again, I’ll use this time to do a class check-in. This is especially helpful for times when I am not able to meet with each group before the work time is over. I will share general observations with the class and mainly focus on those that are positive. I give specific examples of conversations I overheard that exemplified the lesson’s objective or those that were significant in some way. Students can use these as models for the next day’s lesson.