Fact may be stranger than fiction, but fiction offers a kind of creative freedom your 5th grade students won’t find anywhere else. Narrative writing gives them the chance to tell their own stories, beginning at the beginning (as Lewis Carroll would say) and following the thread of their plots to their ultimate conclusions.
That freedom, however, brings with it a question that can stump even the savviest students: where to start?
Table of Contents:
- Elements of a Great Story
- Technical Steps for Writing a Narrative Story
- Narrative Writing Prompts for 5th graders
- Finding the Fun in Narrative Writing
- Additional Teaching Tips
We have fun narrative writing prompts for 5th grade and some additional information for you to share with your students to help them become strong narrative writers!
Elements of a Great Story
Your 5th graders have a few years of writing under their belts so they can now start working on more complex plot elements that elevate their writing rather than just sticking with the three-act (beginning, middle and end) model.
Many great writers use Freytag’s pyramid to organize their stories because it helps guide the level of tension and creates conditions that bring an emotional connection to a story.
The exposition is the beginning of the story. It introduces the characters and setting, and presents the basic levels of conflict in the story.
These basic levels of conflict are important to establish because it shows the relationship and dynamic between the characters.
There is usually something that happens at the end of the exposition that propels us into the rising action of the story.
This is not the inciting incident, but more of a push to move the story forward and develop the main conflict of the story.
It is also important to note that the exposition is where the mood and general tone of the story is established.
Example: In the Lion King, Mufasa has a male cub named Simba who will eventually take over their kingdom. This angers Simba’s Uncle Scar and Scar creates a plan to take over the kingdom.
Rising action is almost always the longest part of a story and is introduced after characters and setting are established (exposition).
Rising action begins with an inciting incident that infers conflict for the characters in the story. It sets other parts of the plot in motion and builds tension and suspense.
There can be multiple incidents relating to the rising action of a story. The Lion King has multiple, but they all relate to the developing conflict between Scar and Simba.
Some would argue that rising action is the most important part of the story while others would say that the most important part of the story is the climax.
It is the highest level of emotional intensity in a story and drama.
The climax is when the conflict that was established comes to a head and the existing conflict is somewhat resolved and makes the complete conflict resolution possible.
Example: The fight scene between Scar and Simba
Falling action follows the climax and is where everything gets resolved and questions get answered.
Falling action reduces the tension that was built. It is extremely common to see slight setting changes and the characters relax a little during the falling action of a story.
If you have ever watched a scary movie, you have likely seen characters breathe a sigh of relief and the sun almost always comes out after they escape whatever horrible thing was happening to them during this stage of the plot.
Example: Scar is defeated and the rain puts out the fire giving water to the dying plant life.
The dénouement (pronounced day-noo-moh) is the final element of a story’s plot - it is pretty much a fancy way to say ending. This is where all of the loose ends are tied up, ideally, all questions are answered, and a full resolution is achieved.
The dénouement is where we see the characters sometimes “live happily ever after” and it is essentially when we see the after-effects of the events of the story had on the characters.
Example: Simba and Nala have a cub and present their cub to the kingdom and designate another heir to the throne
Now, not all stories or movies follow this structure, but many - especially those geared towards kids, do and you should discuss a few examples with your class so they can better understand these plot elements.
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Technical Steps for Writing a Narrative Story
- Have your students think about the topic and how it correlates to their life.
- Next, have them plan their writing to include an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and dénouement.
- They should now organize important facts and details within each of the above using this printable graphic organizer.
- Have them think about their emotions relating to the topic and incorporate these into the main parts of the story.
- Make sure your students revise and edit their narrative writing to add or omit information as needed.
For more tips on teaching narrative writing, click here!
Narrative Writing Prompts for 5th Grade
Prompt #1: What if you traded places with your favorite celebrity? What would you do while you’re them? What would they do as you?
This unique two-parter prompt asks your students to consider not just what they would do in someone else’s shoes, but what someone else would do in theirs. Say they switched lives with a Hollywood actor for a day. Would they live it up, pranking their co-stars on set and going to lavish cast parties—or would they use their money and fame for good while they had it? Meanwhile, would the actor try and fit in at school, or skip it and stay home playing video games?
Prompt #2: Imagine you found a pair of used shoes on the sidewalk. What do they look like? Where did they come from?
Instead of stepping into someone else’s shoes, this narrative writing prompt asks your 5th grade students to focus on the shoes themselves. Used shoes have been places and seen things even their owners might have missed or forgotten. This prompt gives your students the chance to imagine settings and events from the unique perspective of a stranger’s footwear. It can also be used to explore the concept of personification and is the perfect companion to a Hans Christian Andersen reading assignment.
Prompt #3: Imagine there are five seasons of the year instead of four. Tell a story about this new time of year.
Seasonal storytelling is a blast, whether you’re spinning spooky Halloween stories or telling winter tales by a warm fireplace. This seasonal writing activity, however, can take place during any time of the year—just like the season your students will be making up! Ideal for combining with a science lesson or simply for digging deeper into descriptive writing, this prompt asks your students to push their imaginations to the limit to imagine what an extra season might look and feel like. Is it warm? Cold? Does the sky change color instead of the leaves? Do certain animals migrate during this season? Are there any unique holidays associated with it? The more detail, the better!
Prompt #4: What does bravery look like to you? Tell a story about a time when you or someone you know was especially courageous as if they are a comic book hero.
One of the best things about comic books and superhero movies is that so many of them encourage positive ideals such as teamwork, selflessness and, most of all, bravery. This writing prompt asks your students to consider heroism on a smaller scale. Bravery, after all, isn’t just about fighting aliens and beating up bad guys—it’s about overcoming fear to accomplish something important. Ask your students to tell a story about what courage looks like in everyday life—but tell it as if they are writing a script for a comic or movie. How would Alan Moore or Stan Lee, for example, tell their story?
Finding the Fun in Narrative Writing
The key to keeping your students engaged in the classroom is finding activities that are as fun as they are educational.
Whether they’re imagining themselves in a celebrity’s shoes or making up a pair of their own, creating a new season or remembering an everyday hero, prompts that focus on topics and ideas that excite them will help your 5th graders find the fun in narrative writing.
They will learn to see it as a form of literary play, rather than merely more classwork. And, if you plan to publish their work, they’ll be more motivated than ever to put their best effort into their work and create something truly inspired.
Additional Teaching Tips
- Keep writing objectives clear and use direct instruction that includes the “I do (modeling), we do (guided practice) and you do (independent work).”
- Break down the main parts of a good narrative using a book or movie that your students are familiar with.
- Use checklists and graphic organizers to keep your 5th graders on track.
- Instruct your students to not just tell you what is happening, but show you what is happening by using descriptive language.
Post updated from: 01/19/2018