Organize Your Ideas in a 'Timely' Way For a Narrative - (Lesson 1 of 3)

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SWBAT organize information to recount a narrative that describes a person's life and create an introductory paragraph for the rough draft.

Big Idea

Use a timeline to organize the main idea and details about a famous person's life!



I chose this text and topic because M.L. King Jr. is an important historical figure in American history. You could use any historical figure for this lesson, as long as you have an informational text that has details about the person's life. My class had done a previous lesson about this figure, so they brought a lot of ideas to the lesson. Here's the lesson - M. L. King, Jr., His Story was in the Past - that I taught prior to this to add to the students' knowledge about Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is part 1 of a 3 part lesson to write a narrative biography about the events in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life. Students will use an organizer to write a sequence of main ideas and details about Martin Luther King, Jr. and construct an introduction.  

Second graders need time to work through the steps of the writing process (brainstorm, organize, rough draft, edit, final draft). The district expectation for my students is to create a 5 paragraph essay, aligning with the Common Core Standards of composing a variety of types of essays, including narratives that recount a sequence of events. (W.2.3). In the next lesson, Draft and Edit a Star Narrative, students will create a rough draft, edit and add temporal words and a conclusion. Guiding students through each step of the writing process and giving them practice will ultimately help them become independent writers.

To give you more background about how to help students write a 5 paragraph essay, I encourage you to look at an earlier unit  - Writing with Main Idea and Details - that I taught about writing expository essays.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words)


Common starting point

  • Show some of the books about Martin Luther King, Jr. to gain student interest. 
  • "Take a look at these informational textsWhat do we know about this man?  Why is he famous?  What happened during his life?  Can you tell me some of the events of his life? Could you create a timeline to tell the events in order?"


The goal of this discussion is to bring students to a starting point of learning. Before we can begin this lesson, I need to see what the students remember about this character and if they have sufficient knowledge to write about his life. My students REALLY enjoyed this part and shared a lot of ideas, although I had to limit their comments so we could get on with the writing. I encouraged them to write about their thoughts. This participation in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts helps students learn about the rules of discussion, take turns and build on others' comments. (SL.2.1)

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Give the purpose and background of the lesson

  • "Today we'll be organizing ideas for a narrative essay.  That's a story about something - it has a beginning, middle and end."
  • "Since we're writing about a person and the 'times' in his life, let's use a timeline to create a biography."  Refer to the timeline on the board.
  • "We've shared lots of ideas about M.L King, Jr. We'll use this blank timeline to help me organize the 3 important events - the main ideas - in his life that we'll put into 3 paragraphs."
  • Go over the events in his life and gather student comments.** Fill out the main ideas with student input, but make sure to guide them to ideas that spread out the events in his life.
  • Teacher tip: Make sure to have 3 clear 'parts' of the person's life sketched out. I had divided the events beforehand so I could help the kids narrow down the main ideas. I used only phrases, not ideas because the students need to do the writing.
    • can't go with his white friends
    • he talked to people
    • all people came together
    • Here's the details on the board.


Introduce strategy 

  • "Now I'll add details to the organizer about this first main idea. Each main idea will be written into a paragraph so we needs 3 details."   This is how I explained the task.
  • "Now I'll write about Martin's childhood and how he grew up. On my organizer, I'll write Martin lived in a time of 'segregation'.  I'll put that under the first arrow."


Teacher works with students

  • "What other events happened in Martin's childhood?"  Take ideas.
  • My students suggested and we added...."He also couldn't 'play with other kids'. That goes under the second arrow."
  • "Other ideas?"......The students and I decided to add, "He could not drink from water fountains so I'll add that."
  • This is the completed whiteboard.


I chose to guide the students toward the main ideas and the then got more input on adding the details. Second graders typically have a hard time figuring out main ideas in general, let alone generating them in the context of narrative writing. Since we are focusing on writing, I chose to start the organization with more guidance. As we continue to practice the skill of finding main idea and details, I would like to give the students more leeway in the future about identifying their own main ideas. However, for this lesson, I am guiding them.

Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Assign Task

  • "Now it's your turn to add details to the other main ideas. Fill out your organizer with ideas and make sure to add details."
  • Give students time to add ideas. 
  • I did give them some words on the board, prompting for spelling.


Formative Assessment

  • As students work, walk around and help. Encourage their efforts and make sure their details are clear and support the main idea. 
  • Remind students to keep the ideas 'in order' so it is a true narrative.
  • Here's a completed student worksheet.

Add an Introduction

15 minutes

Add the final touches**

  • "Your organizers look GREAT!"
  • "Let's work on the introduction together for our narrative. We'll use our 'topic sentence starter' chart to get ideas. We use our topic - M.L. King Jr. - with a word from the chart to create a topic sentence. Since it's a paragraph, we'll need 2-3 sentences."  Here's what it looked like when we worked together to compose the introduction.
  • Here's the introduction that we created.
  • I explained Part 2 of our writing lessons - Here's the lead into next lesson.


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be easily scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

Students with academic challenges will probably have to work in a small group with the teacher for this lesson. Writing tends to be difficult for students with lower language. They may need help with sentence construction, but should certainly be able to give verbal ideas about details they remember from the book to create an organizer.  This is an example of how to prompt a student with special needs.

Students with more academic ability should be encouraged to use higher level vocabulary and longer detailed sentences. As you walk around, ask them for more details, deeper level thinking instead of just surface level ideas (he went to a different school vs he was not allowed to attend school with children with white skin).