Narrative Or Essay: Where The Writing Qualites Merge

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SWBAT read a text to determine the differences and similarities between narrative and essay writing.

Big Idea

What makes a piece of writing a story and what makes it an essay? Does it matter as long as it's good writing?

Reading Time

10 minutes

Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time.  This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.

Class Reading Of An Opinion Piece

20 minutes

By this point in the unit, students should have a general understanding of what a narrative is. They have been exposed to the qualities of narrative writing and have also learned various craft techniques. Before moving on to this lesson, you want to make sure that they understand what a personal narrative is and how to find the qualities. This lesson challenges students thinking about personal narrative by exploring the definition of the genre by comparing it to opinion writing.

Reading The New York Times, I came across this article titled "Forgetting Grandma." I was immediately moved by the story but also thought it would be a great article to use in the classroom. It not only blurs the lines a bit between narrative and essay but also touches on a serious topic. Since my students will start to write narratives soon, I want them to be comfortable exploring any time and by reading about such topics in class, students will be more inclined to do their best writing. This serves as a transition from some of the lighter pieces we have read.

The bulk of the lesson is rather informal. There are no Powerpoints or multiple handouts. I do this on purpose. When the lesson gets involved, the focus is lost. I want to keep the focus of this lesson on the writing of the article.

I begin the lesson by passing out the article "Forgetting Grandma." As I pass this out to the class, I tell them we will be reading a piece from the New York Times that may have some qualities we have discussed previously. I don't tell them the genre as I don't want them to get any preconceived ideas. However, I do mention that it does have some of the qualities as a way to activate their thinking from the previous lesson on qualities.

I instruct the class to follow along as I read. Since it's not that lengthy, I have no problem reading the piece straight through once so students can get a general understanding of the piece before we begin taking it apart.

Class Discussion: Essay vs. Narrative

13 minutes

The rest of class is devoted to understanding the genre of this piece. It's important for students to really think about what they are reading and I try and challenge their thinking by making them take a stand. In this case, I want them to articulate whether this is narrative, which we have been learning about it, or essay, which they have worked on for years.

After we read through the essay once as a class, I ask them two questions. I write these questions on the board. The questions are:

  • 1. What lessons regarding craft and narrative qualities can we take from this?
  • 2. What makes this writing either a narrative piece or an opinion essay? 

I tell students that they need to reread the piece and make notes throughout the text that helps support their answer. My goal is that students can put into words what makes this a narrative or an essay. During this time, I circulate around the classroom to help students who need assistance creating those notes. If there is blank space on their paper, I conference with them to discuss the piece. We refer back to the writing qualities as a way to think about the text. I start with ideas and then students can continue finding the rest on their own. I also show students my own Forgetting Grandma Notes as a way to help them to see what this could look like. Here you can see my explanation behind the notes: Forgetting Grandma Notes Explanation.

By the end of class, we have a brief discussion on the overall qualities of the piece but then take it further discussing the differences between narrative and essay. Many students feel that this is narrative since it does have many of the narrative qualities. The issue that comes up is that it's listed as an opinion piece. We then have a discussion about the meaning of opinion and how, sometimes, narratives are written to get an opinion across. My goal with this discussion is to get students to begin thinking about purpose when writing their narratives.