If I want students to write meaningful personal narratives, I have to give them strategies to brainstorm important stories. This lesson teaches students that sometimes the first and last times we experience things are very meaningful experiences in our lives. They may even change us on the inside.
I start by asking them to all come down to the carpet and sit facing me. I remind them that in this writing unit, we are strengthening our abilty to write important stories for a reading audience. That means that our stories need to be important and we need to tell them in important ways. The best ways to do this is to think of an important event in our lives and write about those moments.
I then model for students how I use my memories of the first and last time I’ve done something to help me brainstorm important stories. I write those ideas on the board. Almost anything can work but I try to focus on things that students can relate to. Of course, getting married and having a baby is very important but students wouldn’t really understand why without the life experience. So, I choose things like, the last time I saw my best friend before she moved away or the first time I saw my new puppy, or the last time I saw my grandma before she died, or the last time I ate dragon fruit (I ate too many and I don’t like it anymore).
Right before I transition them to writing on their own, I write a list of questions that might inspire moments in their life that they can write about. I ask them if they any questions about my expectations? If there are none, I send them off to their seats to write independently.
As students are working independently, I walk around the room checking to make sure students have started. If they haven’t , I kneel down next to them and ask them some of the leading questions. It usually helps some students to tell their story out loud before they can write them down. But once I get them started, they can continue with confidence.
At some point, some students have barely written 2 or 3 moments down and others have an entire page. For students who are ready to go on, I suggest they go back through and circle ones that they are actually interested in and pick 1 or 2 to write an entry, a short summary of what the story would be about.
After writing their ideas down, I give students a chance to share with the class. For some, it’s a way of building confidence and gaining motivation to continue developing their writing skills. For others, it’s another way of getting ideas about what or how they can write. It can also be a community building moment because students get to see that they are all working on developing their writing skills. Finally, it can be a formative assessment for me because I get to see the work that students have done.