Teaching Narrative Writing

I have always enjoyed teaching narrative writing. It is definitely one of my favourite subject areas and one which I see all children succeed and allow their personalities to show through. I have tried many different approaches to teaching narrative writing; in both upper and lower primary and definitely feel I have developed my own personal beliefs abut what works and what doesn’t work. I know I am definitely still on a journey and don’t have all the answers. However to help sort out my own thoughts I wanted to try and articulate these ideas as best as I can.. So here goes…

I have been influenced heavily by Debbie Sukarna and Donald Graves. Both of these educators have helped me to form my own ideas about teaching the craft of writing. I have loved using the Writer’s Workshop approach with students from prep to six and have seen first hand the enjoyment all students have towards this approach. I love it when the students are begging for Writer’s Workshop and are disappointed when it is not on the daily schedule!

I whole heatedly believe that students should determine the content of their writing, I don’t think that we as teachers should dictate what students have to write about or what genre or style they should use. I think it is important that students are exposed to different styles and genres but this can be done through shared reading, explicit mini lessons and modelling from the teacher. Students can be encouraged to try different styles but ultimately the content choices should be left up to the students. In first term I trialled a genre study unit and whilst it was successful and the students did produce quality writing I didn’t feel like they were passionate about the task I had set them. Now that students are controlling the content and genre of their stories they are demanding to take their books home and work on their stories or continue them on google docs. Their writing is lot more creative and from a teachers perspective a whole lot more interesting! I am amazed at the wide variety of story ideas they have chosen to pursue. Much more interesting that reading 27 stories which are the same!! Student attitudes towards writing seem a lot more positive and you would be surprised at how infrequently a child doesn’t know what to write about. I have seen many more meltdowns and refusals when student are forced to write about a specific topic. I think we often underestimate children and their desire to have a voice in this world. I think this process really does work to stimulate creative thought and reflects an authentic writing process.

I do believe that modelling is a very powerful part of the writing process and that students learn a lot from seeing the teacher model writing but also and (maybe more powerfully) they learn more from listening to other student’s share their writing. This brings me to my next writing epiphany… I have always liked the idea of writing conferencing. I have read a lot about Donald Graves ideas about writing conferencing and was really keen to get these happening in my classroom and I have tried and tried but I never felt that were as successful as I had hoped. It would take me a long time to get through each student and I never felt like I was seeing each student enough. So this week with my grade 5/6 class I decided to try small group conferencing. While the rest of the class were working on their stories I selected four students to work with me. I deliberately chose mixed ability students. Each student read our their piece of writing and the other three students provided feedback about the piece;things they liked and the things that were a bit confusing. This was an extremely powerful process. Simply reading the piece aloud help to fix any grammatical errors and omitted words but more important the other students gave absolutely fantastic feedback… In kid friendly language… That made sense to the other student! They were extremely respectful to each other, positive and encouraging but also helpful! It was such a great experience. The conferencing took about fifteen to twenty minutes and in the hour session I was able to do a ten minute mini lesson of explicit teaching aimed at the whole class at the beginning and then two group conferencing sessions with a final reflection at the end!

Well there are some of my thoughts about writing. This is not an exhaustive list or is it any way a complete piece. I understand writing is only one piece of the puzzle and I have only began to scratch the surface here!! Love to know what you think? What are you thoughts about writing?

2 thoughts on “Teaching Narrative Writing

  1. I, too, use the writing workshop philosophy–Donald Graves, yes! And Lucy Caulkins? I miss working with my emerging writers more than anything else of not being in the classroom. Thanks for sharing your process, Kristen

  2. Donald Graves was a big influence on my teaching of writing too! It sounds like you’ve tweaked your program to add some collaboration that makes sense Kristen! You have such good instincts about that…even though we’ve never met I just get that sense. 🙂

    My primary students used to enjoy having a spot in the ‘author’s chair’ where they brought their reading to the whole class. They got to the point where they could even ask for some feedback about a part that was troubling them – maybe they needed a better ending or wondered how their beginning sounded. I love your idea of doing this in small groups…I think it will be even more effective and will make sure that everyone is engaged in the process.


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