One of the perks of teaching young students is getting to watch them begin their journeys of self-discovery. They’re only just beginning to dive into deeper levels of self-awareness and introspection, and it’s always a treat to watch them take their first steps toward finding out for themselves just who they really are.
Writing is one of the best tools with which you can equip your students as you walk with them down that path. It gives them a safe space in which to explore their own hopes, dreams and identities in a constructive and creative way. The following personal narrative writing prompts will help them build their literacy skills while showing them how to use writing to better understand not just the world around them, but themselves.
Prompt #1: Tell a story that happened in your favorite place.
This prompt asks your students to consider the setting of their personal narrative first, before they choose their story and how to write it. For their response, they need to consider not just what place they’ll write about, but what happened there that they can turn into a full story, complete with a beginning, middle and end. This encourages them to think outside of the box, especially if their favorite place is somewhere relatively quiet or private that does not obviously lend itself to a narrative. It’s a great opportunity to show them that stories are everywhere—even in bedrooms or under the tree in the backyard—once you learn how to recognize them.
Prompt #2: Write about an important lesson you learned this year, and how you learned it.
This prompt serves as both a subtle refresher of what your students have learned throughout the year as well as a more personal method of exploring the concept of story morals. Instead of the usual prompt asking your students to come up with a generic moral, craft a story to match, this assignment requires your students to think more critically about their own learning experiences and what they’ve gained from them. They might even learn something new simply by reconsidering the experience from a different perspective!
Prompt #3: Explain how you got here today.
The fun thing about this personal narrative prompt is how open it is to interpretation. Let your students decide for themselves how to read it—and how to answer it! They may take a more literal approach and tell the story of how they woke up and got to school just before the final bell, or they may choose to get more autobiographical and talk about what life in general has been like up until this point. Or, for the more scientifically-minded, they might describe how it took aeons of evolution to get here. Simply choosing an approach is part of the self-discovery; it teaches them (and you) something about how they approach questions and problems, and how they organize their responses.
Prompt #4: Describe a memorable reading experience.
Different from writing about their favorite books, this prompt asks your students to share an experience that they had while reading. For instance, I still remember reading The Prydain Chronicles with my mother when I was little. We would cuddle up together in my bed (that was back when I still had pink polka-dotted sheets!), and she would hold one side of the book while I would hold the other and turn the pages. When we finished reading the last page of the last book, I cried. I’d loved the story so much, I didn’t want it to be over!
No doubt your students have a reading story of their own to tell, whether it’s about spending time with a parent, the victory of finishing a difficult reading assignment just in the nick of time, or discovering the first book they actually enjoyed reading for fun. This is their chance to share that story in their own words.
Helping Your Students Share Their Stories
Like journaling, personal narratives give your elementary students an opportunity to explore new ways of expressing who they are and where their interests lie. Unlike a private diary entry, however, a personal narrative is meant to be read by others. The wonderful thing about this is that sharing your students’ writing gives other kids in the school (and perhaps even outside of it) something to read with which they can connect on a deeper level—after all, these are stories written by students, for students. It can also motivate and inspire other classrooms to follow your lead and write their own stories to share.
The simplest—and most effective—way to help your students bring their stories to a broader audience is to publish their work in a professionally bound classbook. It can be intimidating at first, knowing that their writing will be out there for the world to read, but there’s nothing quite like seeing their stories in a “real book” to boost their confidence and encourage them to believe in themselves and their own narratives.