Narrative Writing in Upper Elementary

I used to dread narrative writing units.


There.  I said it.  Ha!


It always felt like the genre of writing that was quick to veer off course, leaving me feeling like I was attempting to nail Jell-O to a tree.


I would feel defeated as a teacher and I felt disappointed in myself.


If you’ve ever felt that way, I get it.  I really do.  If you haven’t, I admire you.


I love writing and because of that, I have been (and continue to be) relentless in finding ways that work.


Essentially, hear me when I say I am far from an expert.  I’m passionate and stubborn and constantly asking myself how I could modify my instruction.


For starters, you can read a general overview about writing in upper grades HERE.  That will help with overall scope but to see my pacing guide, you can grab that HERE.


My district has many writing resources available and I’ve been trained in several from my previous district, too.  And again, this is just what works for me.  Maybe it’ll help you, too!


The overarching model that I employ faithfully is that of a writing workshop.


For us, this means we gather as writers each day and spend the first 12-15 minutes engaged in a mini-lesson.  Writers are then sent back to their spots (or, in this year of pandemic teaching, they remain in their seats the whole time) to apply, write, and work.


At the beginning of a narrative unit, I need to decide what I want to cover and explicitly teach.  I literally sit with my planner, a pencil, and a page of notes.  For our first narrative, we spent six weeks, from the first lesson to sharing the final, published piece.


For about four of those weeks, we are doing mini-lessons everyday on writers craft.  I use our state standards and district expectations to map out what my teaching points will be.  Among many other things, I teach:


-setting (time, place)

-zooming into one small moment

-sketching/visualizing each scene

-leads and hooks

-introducing characters and developing them

-story mapping (beginning, conflict, attempts to solve/fix, resolution)

- external dialogue

-details and descriptions

-internal dialogue (show, not tell)

-conclusions (lesson learned, emotion)


Again, I would recommend consulting your grade level writing standards but also, I always look at the prior grade, too.  I like to see where they’re coming from and what we might need to review (either heavily or lightly).


If you’re looking for specific ways to teach specific standards, I sing the praises of THIS book by Jennifer Serravallo.  She has one for reading, which is also amazing.


When we are doing mini-lessons, we use THIS resource heavily.  My students each have spirals that carry us through the whole year.  We set up at the beginning of the year but we also build it as we learn new concepts.


Once our daily mini-lesson is complete, students work on their drafts.  Typically, I give students paper choice but you could also have them use their spirals.  Mine work on loose leaf paper and staple once their draft is done.  To grab all the different paper options, click HERE.


I like to keep paper options in THIS container from Ikea.  I label it with THIS label maker.


Now, as students head off to write, that’s when I lean in and meet with writers.  In a typical year, I pull small groups to the rug or small group table.  This year, I meet primarily one-on-one with kids.  With a shield between us.  And masks on.  But, it won’t be like this forever (that’s some self-talk right there!).

THIS is a similar one; Ikea must've discontinued this white mesh one.


When I meet with writers, we always first check in and do a general temp check.  They show me where they’re at, what they’re working on, or what their goal is that day.


Now, onto maximizing your time with that student.  I honestly think this is an area that I’ve learned the most through practice over the years.  I try to lean in and help.  I either re-teach or I help guide or we make a plan together.  It truly depends on the situation and the writer and I’ve never found a resource that will guide this because it has to be intuitive and linked to the student.


For our first narrative, students selected five pieces of writing paper and we used the structure below:


Page one: setting, introduction/lead, characters

Page two: problem/conflict arises but there is no solution

Page three: another problem or conflict but again, no solution

Page four: another problem (or issue or hardship, ect) occurs but this time there is a solution

Page five: conclusion


Oftentimes, we will look together at a specific page together, which definitely provides structure to the conference.


I record all my notes with THIS.


I spend anywhere from 5-7 minutes with each student.  I typically have 32-36 students so I do my best to maximize my time so that I can meet with the most readers as possible.


The last couple weeks of the unit, we spend time in the revision, editing, and publishing process.  THOSE are also mini-lessons!


My students keep THESE at their desks and they little treasure troves of help and guidance.


Eventually, my conferring moves to assisting with revising and editing.  My students usually have a writing partner they will regularly meet with, especially during this period of time.


To publish, I love to be able to give my students the option to handwrite or type on Google Docs.  We love to have celebrations, allowing those that want to share to do so.


I also love to display them.  We use THIS to help us.


Whew!  That was 100x longer than I intended.  If you made it this far, you are my favorite and I really hope there’s something in here that will help you and your writers!

1 comment

  1. Love this! Do you have something on TPT that has all the mini lessons and pages laid out?