How to Teach Narrative Writing to Elementary School Students
Narrative writing is essentially writing that tells a story. Although the term "story" is often associated with fiction, a narrative can also be fact-based and can be written in the first person as autobiography or in the third person as biography. Common Core standards tend to push for more fact-based writing than for fiction, but teaching narrative writing to elementary school students can allow for young children's creativity while still establishing guidelines for structure and other key elements.
Introducing the Concept of Narrative Writing
Reading narratives to young students helps them to get a feel for plot, character development, conflict and resolution. When you read a narrative to young children, discuss with them how one event leads to the next; how characters behave and what influences their behavior; and how to identify the story's beginning, middle and end. Read both fiction and nonfiction to students so they can see similarities shared by the two genres and how narrative as a writing technique cuts across genres.
Early Primary Grades
In kindergarten and first grade, students' writing skills are just beginning, so reading narrative and discussing its elements prepare children for later years, when their writing skills will be more developed. Use verbal writing prompts to generate a discussion of how a particular narrative might be structured -- this will help children internalize a sense of story. Ask students to create a visual timeline to illustrate an event or series of events; this will help build a narrative as a pre-writing skill.
Third and Fourth Grades
By third grade, students' writing skills have developed to the point that they can plan and write actual narratives. Making a timeline first may be helpful as a way of outlining key events in the narrative. Students in these grades are able to respond to simple writing prompts. Work with them on understanding what an introduction is, how supporting evidence and detail help to flesh out their narrative, and how a narrative can end. Discuss concepts such as a story's arc, its climax and its resolution.
Upper Primary Grades
Students in the upper primary grades should grasp the basic elements of narrative and can begin to focus more closely on such writing skills as sentence structure, paragraph structure and integrating evidence into narrative more seamlessly. Students in these grades are becoming better able to understand others' points of view, so ask them to write a narrative from another person's perspective and discuss how and why that narrative is different from one written from their own point of view.
Betsy Beacom is a writer and editor with experience in education, marketing, Internet content, social media, the performing and visual arts, literature and more. She holds bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in literature, has taught English at Yale University and has more than 20 years' experience writing and editing.