Finding The Concrete Details In Narrative Writing

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SWBAT locate details in narrative writing in order to determine purpose.

Big Idea

Five senses for five questions. Finding the good stuff.

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 a Personal Narrative

15 minutes

One common issue that my students always face is details. Since teaching is never easy, students run the gamut with it comes to using details: either they use too much or too little. With that in mind, today's lesson focuses on analyzing a narrative for the details that it uses. This will help students to see the details that they need to use in order to tell an effective story. It's not about the amount but about the purpose. The narrative and the lesson itself, serves as a great transition from reading and analyzing narratives as mentor texts into the writing process.

We begin by reading a narrative called Of Time and Rivers Josh Bossie (and here is a link to it as well: Of Time and River Link). I found this narrative from Write Beside Them, also by Penny Kittle. There are many great reasons to use this narrative and I find it highly effective for differentiating instruction as I will bring up in a bit. I usually have students reread mentor texts a few times. It's hard for students to read with a purpose when they are reading to find meaning the first time. This time we are focusing on details and writing qualities we discussed earlier in the unit. As you can see, the narrative is chunked into different sections. Each section is focused on a specific time in the writer's life. For higher level students they can see how each section works together. For lower level students, we may need to focus on section of the narrative to begin with.

As we read the narrative I begin by modeling my own thinking for the beginning of the narrative. I show them how the writer uses the narrative writing qualities and what purpose those could serve. The quality that we really focus in our discussion with this narrative is organization. I choose organization because the structure of this piece really stands out. I would ask students, what purpose does this section serve? What details in this piece are important? The narrative uses specific images and themes to connect each section. These are concrete images and themes the students can identify. This helps makes narrative reading more accessible to them. While I focus today's lesson specifically on details, there are part of the narrative that I do highlight for specific qualities that we have previously discussed. I highlight organization in particular. You can also use this narrative to highlight all the qualities and analyze it as a mentor text.

Toward the middle of our reading students begin to take ownership and do this work on their own. Some may need more questioning as they initially look for these qualities on their own, but the goal is that by the end of the narrative they can find these on their own.

Individual Practice

10 minutes

By this point students should have a general understanding of what the text is about and how it is written. We then move on to the focus of the lesson which is looking at details in narrative writing.

I pass out the Details Chart to the class. I received the chart we will be using from a workshop I attended by Zaner Bloser. I have students fill out this chart for reading a narrative rather than writing one. I find this helps them locate specific details before they work on details in their own writing. Students will work independently to fill out the chart using details from Of Times and Rivers.

As we review the chart I begin with a few boxes to get them going. We fill out the who, which would be Josh, as a class. Then we write the details regarding what we see, hear, smell, etc. about Josh. Once students understand how this chart will be used, they begin the work on their own looking for details for certain aspects of the narrative. This video explains the use of the chart: Details Chart Explanation

As students are working independently on this, I can spend the time with certain students that may need pushing to understand this procedure. I always ask students to refer to specific details from the texts. This gets students to use evidence to back up their thinking. Some students find it too challenging going through the narrative as a whole. For them, I have them look at a certain section or fill out part of the chart with them. For higher-level students, the questions focus on purpose. Since they can locate they details easily, we discuss what effect this has on the writing and the reader.

Group Wrap Up

8 minutes

Students move from individual practice to a group wrap up for the rest of the lesson. This helps students bring their ideas together and I can monitor to see if students were able to take away from the lesson my original goal, which was to determine the purpose of details in narrative writing.

I tell the class to get into groups to review their charts. The goal behind this is for students to see what other students were able to see about the narrative. If there are certain blanks in their chart, they can fill them out as they are discussing the narrative. This helps them to discuss the details in the narrative and why the author choose to include them or why the author left out certain details. They determine what details were left out based on the blanks in their boxes.

This video explains the group wrap up: Detail Wrap Up.

During this time, I am circulating around to the groups to listen in on the conversations and make sure they are focused. I can also work with certain groups if I feel they are lacking evidence from the narrative. I also push certain groups to do more than just fill out empty boxes. For higher level students, I can push them to work towards thinking about purpose and how the use of certain details affect the story. For other students, we can work on figuring out why those details are important. Both of these will help students think about details when they work on drafting their own narratives.