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.