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Keeping Narrative Alive

By the middle of October, many students in our district are nearing the end of their first writing unit, and in almost all grades, that first writing unit has a narrative focus. Students are gearing up for information writing, and then later in the year, opinion writing. Sometimes, when we leave a genre, we forget about it. All the work, all the teaching, all the learning gets tucked into a back corner of cerebral cortex. I call it cognitive atrophy. 

So how to keep that corner of the brain accessible? I have a few ideas:

  • A great way to develop an informational section is to include anecdotes, and this is a strategy lesson I teach once students have their understanding of informational structure. This example comes within a lesson sequence that supports the concept of ways to elaborate informational writing because one way is to write a short story or an anecdote. For students who struggled with narrative writing and might not have mastered the concept of beginning, middle, and end, encouraging them to use anecdotes within their information writing is a great way to revisit that important narrative skill.

Picture of anecdote

  • Information writing can not only include anecdotes, but it can also include more developed narrative stories.  Just as graphs, maps, bulleted lists, or vocabulary lists can serve as text features, so can stories. For students who love narrative writing or for students who could benefit from another narrative experience, the idea of a quick story that is less than a page long can really motivate them. For examples within common primary topics*, see the chart below:

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 4.46.54 PM

Quick Aside: * I loved what Melissa Stewart pointed out how boring common topics can be in her guest post on this blog, Passionate Nonfiction Writing Starts With a Question . I love the idea of launching a writing project with authentic curiosity, and there would still be opportunities for weaving in a story. 

  • Students can also write letters within their information writing pieces. Letters often take the form of a personal narrative, telling what happened first, next, and finally. Our fifth-graders write informational pieces about explorers, and I love to read the letters they imagine explorers would have written as they sailed around the world. 


  • Strong writers might want to take the challenge of writing a narrative nonfiction book. For example, if a child is writing all about soccer, that child could write the story of getting ready for a soccer game. If a child is writing all about the playground, that child could write a story about a child experiencing the playground for the first time.

Stories are powerful, regardless of genre, and I love finding ways weave narrative strategies into other units throughout the year.

Melanie Meehan View All

I am the Writing and Social Studies Coordinator in Simsbury, CT, and I love what I do. I get to write and inspire others to write! Additionally, I am the mom to four fabulous daughters and the wife of a great husband.

6 thoughts on “Keeping Narrative Alive Leave a comment

  1. Isabelle is transitioning from narrative to informational writing in her class’s writing workshop this week. Anyway, I will have to keep some of these things in mind when we’re talking at home about the connections between the two kinds of writing.


  2. Melanie,
    Thank you for sharing ways to keep narrative writing alive. I appreciate the concrete examples you’ve offered here. We are about to do exactly what you wrote about at the beginning of your post…move on to informative writing. I plan to share your post with teachers at my building.


  3. Great post! Incorporating narrative within a piece of informational writing will help students write a more interesting piece of work. When your students write their letters from the point of view of an explorer, do you require that they only use facts they can document with evidence? So, for example, a student can’t write that Columbus felt sad unless he has proof that Columbus felt sad? As a former history teacher and now a writer of historical nonfiction for kids, I think it’s important to teach students early about the difference between historical fiction and historical nonfiction. But sticking to the facts does not mean students can’t be creative in how they communicate information. The mantra of show don’t tell is as vital in nonfiction writing as it is in fiction, maybe more so.


  4. Melanie, this is such an excellent post! As Drew Dudley from Leadership One said one time, “Story is the basic unit of human understanding.” This post really brought that quote to mind, as teaching through story actually helps readers learn the material. I absolutely love your chart, “Ways to Use Information Writing in Informational Texts.” So simple, yet powerful. I definitely plan to share this with my sixth grade teachers as they transition into informational writing in the coming weeks.


  5. Thank you for your post! A brilliant, timely reminder that narrative stays alive throughout the school year. I just borrowed a book from the library about the revival of the wooly mammoth-it is a true account told in narrative format. My hope is that by broadening my genre base in reading, I will be able to better model how to use narrative in informational writing. Thanks for great photos of your demo notebook, too!


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