Personal narrative writing draws from real-life experiences. Your students have probably read personal narrative writing at some point already - with or without their knowledge - but they may not be quite as familiar with crafting their own personal narrative stories.
Below I have outlined personal narrative writing prompts for elementary students and teaching techniques you can use in the classroom, but before I get to that, let’s talk a little bit about the power of telling stories that are based on our own experiences.
Table of Contents:
- Telling True Stories Through Personal Narrative Writing
- Introducing Personal Narrative Writing and Storytelling
- Structure and Organization
- Personal Narrative Writing Prompts for Elementary Students
Telling True Stories Through Personal Narrative Writing
Storytelling can help a reader or listener see things from a new perspective and connect us to one another by building relationships through mutual understanding.
Stories based on personal experiences can inspire movements, make people laugh when they are feeling down and think about things they may have never given thought to before!
Sharing our experiences by writing stories helps us reflect and grow personally while giving other people the opportunity to learn from our experiences.
Everyone, even your young students, has a story to tell. Every single one of your students is the main character in their own novel and all you have to do is give them the tools they need to effectively put their story down on paper so that they can share it with the world.
Introducing Personal Narrative Writing and Storytelling
When we teach narrative writing, we sometimes forget what it is really all about - the power behind the story.
A lot of us tend to focus on the technicalities and organization of the writing, which are important and I will definitely talk about those, but we as teachers also need to remember to inspire students to dig deeper and write about thoughtful personal experiences.
With a few techniques, you can start molding your students into fantastic personal narrative writers and have them realize that stories are easier to find than they think!
One of the best ways to get your students excited about personal narrative writing is to tell them stories from your own life. Elementary students love to listen to stories from their teachers and hear about their lives.
Tell your students stories from your life. One that is funny and lighthearted and a second that is a bit more serious. If you have a story that ends with a lesson you learned, definitely share that one with the class!
After you tell your story, explain to your students that each story can be written down and easily turned into a personal narrative piece.
Questions and Answers
Your students tell their own stories every day while interacting with their peers and family. To show them that this is true, have them partner up and ask each other a question like:
- What is the craziest thing that happened to you last year?
- What is the scariest thing that has happened to you?
- What is your proudest moment?
Have your students write down their answer to the question on a sheet of paper and read it out loud to their partner. This exercise only takes a few minutes and your students will realize that just by answering questions, they have become a storyteller and created a short piece of personal narrative writing!
Have your students write short journal entries about things like what they did over the weekend, a funny thing that happened at lunch or how their soccer game went.
Journaling is a fantastic, low-pressure way to get your students comfortable with the idea of writing stories based on their own experiences.
After they get a few journal entries under their belts, you can start to introduce more technical things like story structure and organization.
Personal Narrative Writing: Structure and Organization
I did say that we would talk about the more technical aspects of teaching personal narrative writing so, let’s get to it!
- Figure out what you will write about in your personal narrative
- Grab the reader’s attention with an interesting introduction
- Introduce setting and characters
- Characters in personal narratives are people or animals that move the story forward.
- Outline the plot of the story
- Add important and interesting details that support the plot points
- Wrap it up and tell us the conclusion
You can see that the structure of personal narrative writing is pretty straightforward, but your students may need a little help organizing the elements of their story. Here is a free printable graphic organizer for narrative writing that you can have them use to stay on track.
In addition to the techniques above, you can give your students prompts to help build their personal narrative skills.
1. Tell me about the most important moment in your life. How did that moment change you?
Reflecting on a life-changing moment and writing about that moment has inspired tons of great pieces of literature.
A great example you can share with your students is Child of the Civil Rights Movement. It is a fantastic book about Paula Young Shelton, daughter of Civil Rights activist Andrew Young. With an activist father and a community of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. surrounding her, Paula observed struggles and challenges then joined thousands of people in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.
If you can’t get your hands on the book you can use a story about a pivotal time in your life and share that with your students.
After you finish reading the book or modeling your own examples, have your students think about the events that have been pivotal in their lives. They may not have experienced something as significant as Paula Young Shelton, but that is what’s so great about important moments - they are unique and different from person to person.
Maybe your student scored the winning point at a basketball game or went and volunteered at a homeless shelter, whatever their moment was encourage them to figure out what made this moment so profound and have them use this worksheet to organize their story.
On the worksheet, they will be able to set up their characters, setting and write out the problem they were experiencing and the solution that occurred. They can also add information into the solution area of the sheet talking about how they were affected by this moment.
After your students have completed the worksheet, have them use the notes they wrote down to craft their story. Don’t forget to give them a list of transitional words that they can use to help move the story along and complete the writing prompt.
Have your students revise and edit their writing prompts and add an illustration of the events that occurred during this important moment. Then, publish their work into an interesting and inspiring classbook that they can look back at for the rest of their lives!
2. Write about a time when you felt successful. What happened that led to your success?
This is a great writing prompt for all grade levels. No matter if your students are kindergartners just learning how to put together stories or 6th graders who have quite a bit of experience with the written word, they all have had a time when they felt successful.
Looking back on successes can help build confidence. Revisiting a successful moment in life can also help inform future decisions when things get challenging.
Have your students think about a moment that they were successful. Then, have them close their eyes and try to relive the event in their heads.
After the visualization exercise, have them write down what they saw and how they felt before and after they were successful.
To make their writing more detailed they may need to close their eyes a few more times and try to remember details that they can add to enhance their writing.
Once your students have everything they need written down, they can finish the prompt.
Feel free to have students share their success stories with the class as a positive and inspiring activity after the prompts are complete.
3. Describe your favorite place in the entire world. How do you feel when you are there?
A key part of personal narrative writing is to bring a reader into your world and making them feel like they are right there with you using descriptive details. This writing prompt, in particular, will help your students work on both their personal narrative and descriptive writing skills.
Have your students use visualization again to try and remember details about their favorite place. They should tap into their 5 senses to describe their favorite place and write down what they hear, smell, touch, see and taste - taste can be omitted depending on where their favorite place is - on a piece of paper.
Their notes should look something like this, I chose Grandma’s house as my favorite place as an example.
After your students write down the details of their favorite place, they should think about how their favorite place makes them feel. Depending on grade level, you may need to provide them with a list of words that will help them describe their emotions.
They can then add a sentence or two below their notes describing how this place makes them feel. After, have them use their notes to complete the prompt!
4. Think about the best day you have ever had. What happened on that day that made it so great?
Even for elementary students, some days can be tough and remembering a really great day can help them get through the ones that aren’t so easy.
This personal narrative writing prompt will help your students learn how to organize their writing chronologically. You can also use this as an opportunity to discuss the importance of using descriptive verbs and adjectives in writing.
Start by telling your students about your best day ever. You can write details on the board or have them pre-typed out and ready to present. If you have pictures of your best day ever, I suggest showing your students those too!
Discuss how you organized your story based on the sequence of events that occurred and have your students identify the verbs and descriptive adjectives that you used to make the story more interesting.
You can also share this worksheet with your students to help them better understand how to spice up their own writing with verbs and adjectives!
Now have your students think about their own best day ever. Have them revisit the best day ever in their minds and write their notes about what happened in along with a conclusion to their story.
Have your students give their notes to a partner and then retell the story without looking at what they wrote down. After they finish retelling the story, their partner can then give insight into what details they may have missed or details that they may want to omit.
Have them take their partner’s feedback into consideration and start writing the story about their best day ever based on their notes. Remind them to use descriptive language to keep the story intriguing!
After your students complete their prompts, make time for them to share their writing with the class. Try having your students share these positive writing prompts right after a stressful test day and see how the mood shifts in your classroom!