Narrative Essay Writing
If you’ve ever told your students to write a narrative essay and left them to their own devices, you probably received lots of stories that started with “once upon a time," ended with “happily ever after," and had very little happen in between.
Most students don’t intend to write boring stories, they just hear the word “story," think, “Easy!" and proceed from there. However, there is a way to fix this and it’s pretty simple. Like anything else you want your students to learn in the classroom, you must teach your students how to write a narrative essay.
Explain the Purpose of a Narrative Essay
Don’t just say the purpose is to tell a story. The purpose of a narrative essay is to move an event through time.
Choose One Event
If a student chooses to write about their family vacation to Disney World, tell them to pick their one favorite moment during the trip. Many times students will want to describe an entire day, starting with what they ate for breakfast and ending with dinner that evening. When teaching them how to write a narrative essay, make sure they know their story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
As with any other writing assignment, students should have a plan for how to write their narrative essay. Since they are moving an event through time, they need to figure out what happens when and they should complete a pre-write to do this successfully.
Beginning, Middle, and End
Stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Students should determine how the story begins, what happens in the middle (where the bulk of the action will take place) and how the story ends.
How to Move an Event Through Time
One way to move an event through time is by choosing words that reflect this movement. Some words that show movement through time are meanwhile, before, after, during, and suddenly. There are many more. Students should choose the ones that make the most sense for their story.
Rising Action & Big Moment
The story should have a big moment, or climax, and it should have events leading up to that big moment. Students frequently make the mistake of rushing through this integral part of the story. They should do just the opposite. This part needs to be slowed down as much as possible in order to build suspense.
Students slow down their big moments by using sensory detail to describe what is happening. If they have a hard time slowing down their big moment, you can tell them their story must contain at least “X" number of sentences in their rising action and big moment. You would only do this if students continually use only one or two sentences in their big moments and you would stop this requirement as soon as students became successful with the concept.
Stories need endings. Students should resolve their endings and wrap up any loose ends. There is no need to leave their readers wondering what happens next.
Students should feel free to use dialogue in their stories. Done correctly; dialogue can really bump their stories up to the next level.
No Need to Be 100% Accurate
Many times students base narrative essays on real life events. If they do so, there is no reason they have to tell the story exactly like it happened. This is a time when they not only can, but should, embellish the facts in order to make their stories more interesting.
As always, the more you model what you expect from your students, the more successful they will be. Keep this in mind as you are teaching them how to write a narrative essay and you will be wonderfully surprised at the entertaining stories your students create.