As a 1st grade teacher, it’s your privilege—and unique challenge—to introduce kids to the art of creating and sharing their own stories. Teaching narrative writing to 1st grade students is a bit of a balancing act, as it’s up to you to explain something as potentially complex as a story in simple, beginner-friendly terms. These tips will help you maintain that balance and keep your students engaged as you and your class begin your journey into the world of narrative writing.
Tip #1: Read, Read, and Read Some More
Explaining how a story works, and what elements make up a story, is difficult to do without an example or two to point to. Reading narratives aloud together helps your 1st grade students develop an “ear” for sentence structure and the flow of a narrative while honing their reading and pronunciation skills. Discussion is an equally important part of the process—after reading, be sure to take time to talk about what you’ve read as a class. Who was the story about? Where did it take place? This helps your students see the individual elements of a story—and how they work together—more clearly. This, in turn, makes it easier for them to incorporate those elements into their own narratives so that they can write more effectively.
Tip #2: Support Their Storytelling with Clear Guidelines
1st graders are so much fun to teach—but they can also be easily distracted, especially when it comes to a writing exercise. Graphic organizers like this “Cook Up a Story” worksheet help your students identify and categorize all their story ideas into separate elements during the brainstorming stage. Once they’re ready to write, providing your students with straightforward, easy-to-follow writing strategies like framed sentences and paragraph hamburgers helps your students figure out how to connect and structure those elements to create a fully formed narrative.
Tip #3: Start Simple
Your students are only just learning writing basics, so it’s best to keep topics and prompts simple and focused. Try to keep writing assignments confined to single events and relatable topics. Asking your students to write about something familiar makes for a much more engaging and effective writing session than asking them to discuss a complicated or unknown subject matter.
One activity I’ve found to be extremely useful for my students in the past is to have them start by writing a very simple sentence containing just one noun and one verb, such as, “The dog barked.” Then, ask them to add a word that describes the noun, as in, “The big dog barked.” Finally, ask them to add a word that describes the verb, so that the sentence reads something like, “The big dog barked loudly.” Once your students are comfortable with this level of writing, you can expand on this idea by asking them to think about what caused this event to happen, and what happened next. For instance, the final version of the story about the dog might go something like this:
“There was once a big dog. He lived next door. One day, a raccoon tried to steal his food. The dog barked loudly. The raccoon got so scared he ran away! The dog finished eating his dinner and lived happily ever after.”
Tip #4: Share their Stories
For any education level—but especially in the early years—encouragement is an essential ingredient in any lesson plan. Learning something new, particularly a creative skill like storytelling, can be challenging at times, especially for students as young as yours. Nip frustration in the bud and bolster their confidence by focusing your feedback on their strengths and sharing their stories outside of the classroom. Post their poetry on the cafeteria bulletin board. Invite your students to read their stories aloud—not just to each other, but to parents or even other classes.
Better yet, publish your students’ writing in a professionally bound classbook. Not only will your book become a precious keepsake for you and your students (and especially their parents), it will inspire your students to try harder and practice their writing with more enthusiasm. It’s a simple (and free!) way to make writing more fun and engaging. It’s also a great way to show your students how valuable their words and ideas are, and how rewarding it can be to create something unique and share it with the world.
Writing and Publishing Narratives in 1st Grade
I don’t remember much from my 1st grade year anymore, but I remember storytime. Of all the fundamental lessons learned, it turns out that the most memorable things of all are the stories—the ones you read and write together, and the memories you make.
By reading together, using visual guides and taking things one step at a time, you can help your students build their literacy skills and become more effective (and more eager!) storytellers while making some great memories of your own along the way. And, if you choose to publish their work, you and your students will have a beautiful keepsake to remind you of all those wonderful 1st grade stories you created together.