When it comes down to it, narrative writing is basically the art of telling a story. And if there’s one thing that little kids are fond of doing, it’s telling stories … especially the “big fish” kind! But if you’re teaching narrative writing to your class, you know there’s a lot more to it than just being able to spin a wild tale.
Helping your students to develop their narrative writing strategies will take them from story spinners with a lot to say out loud to storytellers who can craft a beautifully written story on the page.
But how do you actually do that? Let’s dig in!
How Do You Teach Narrative Writing?
Narrative writing is one of the four major types of writing we expect from our students — along with argumentative (or opinion) writing, expository, and informative writing.
Perhaps the most important aspect of teaching narrative writing is nurturing a love of storytelling, along with helping your students to understand narrative writing structure and organization, and how to develop the story by adding details.
Naturally, teaching narrative writing differs by grade level with the kindergarten through second-grade learning largely through read-alouds and exposure to narrative writing examples, while older elementary schoolers will spend more time putting pencil to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) writing their stories. We’ll break down a few ways to teach each age and stage!
But before we do that, a quick reminder:
What Are the Five Rules of Narrative Writing?
Eventually, your students will get to a stage where the rules of writing will be a little less important, but we have to start somewhere! So call these the rules of narrative writing or the five elements of narrative writing. Either way — every story should have a:
Activities for Teaching Narrative Writing
Sowing the seeds for successful narrative story writing starts as early as pre-k or kindergarten.
Read Mentor Texts
Sure, your students may not be ready to write out their full thoughts, but the read-alouds you do in the classroom are an important part of introducing narrative story writing examples they can build off in their future education.
Here are some of our favorite children’s books to introduce the concept:
Use Story Prompt Handwriting Worksheets
Help your kindergarten and first-grade students develop their handwriting skills by recounting a story based on prompts they can trace and then add to! Bonus: This resource is free!
A worksheet for younger students for narrative and recount writing.
A worksheet for younger students for narrative and recount writing.
Teach the 5Ws (and 1H)
Help your students build out the structure of their storytelling with the basics — the 5ws (and that pesky 1 H):
- What happened?
- Who is it about?
- Where did it take place?
- When did it take place?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it happen?
Scaffold with Storybooks
After teaching your students the vocabulary of narrative writing, use storybooks as narrative writing examples they can use to identify the different elements of the story.
To make it easier, provide a template like this cute story spine porcupine so they can identify the process that the author used to build out a story, sequencing the events one by one.
You can also use the template as a scaffold when students write their own story — with 8 steps accompanied by easy-to-follow sentence starters, your students will have planned their writing in full before they know it!
Try Guided Writing Activities
Guided writing is a brilliant narrative writing activity. Working in a small group with teacher guidance helps students to build confidence and to be active participants in discussions about writing.
Guided writing is very similar to guided reading in the classroom. Students work in small differentiated groups and work towards a similar writing goal. Guided writing sessions are usually 20-25 minutes long and are generally broken down into the following framework:
- Direct instruction, where the teacher reminds the students of their writing goals and provides them with some form of writing stimulus (approximately 5 minutes).
- Shared experience, where the students and teacher have a rich conversation about the writing topic and/or writing stimulus, key vocabulary, and the possible text types that could be written (approximately 5 minutes).
- Independent writing and sharing, where students write as much as they can in the allocated time. The teacher provides timely feedback and scaffolds key writing skills. Students then share what they have written with the small group or the rest of the class (approximately 10 minutes).
Research shows that students need direct instruction that includes the I do (teacher modeling), we do ( guided practice), and you do (independent practice). Teaching narrative writing is no exception to this rule, and it’s critical to include a balance of modeled, guided, and independent writing.
A big part of direct teaching instruction is making the lesson objectives clear. Narrative writing is a complex task and so it is important to focus on one thing at a time and to make the success criteria clear. For example, if your lesson focus is narrative structure, don’t stress about the spelling.
Set Up a Writing Station
Take the fear out of writing, and set up a free writing station. Provide students with paper, blank comic strips, blank postcards, greeting cards, pictures cut out of magazines, pens, pencils, sticky notes, or whatever else inspires your students to put pencil to paper.
To make the writing station effective as a skill-building activity:
- Acknowledge and praise all writing as a masterpiece
- Avoid correcting the spelling, punctuation, and grammar used in free writing tasks
- Make time for your students to use the writing station
- Avoid making it a fast finisher activity, as the students who need it most are likely to miss out
Use a Writer’s Notebook
Encourage your students to keep a Writer’s Notebook to jot down new ideas for narrative writing.
How to Set Up a Writer’s Notebook Daily Routine
- Each student needs their own notebook.
- Allow students to create a cover for their notebook, or you can provide them with this Writer’s Notebook Cover Page which they can decorate.
- Introduce the concept to your class, ensuring they understand the notebook will not be graded, but will instead be used daily as a place for them to play with ideas and words. This Writer’s Notebook Poem by Ralph Fletcher is great to stick in the front of their notebooks as a reminder of the book’s purpose.
- Provide students with Writer’s Notebook Writing Prompt Cards (these are optional)
- Dedicate at least 5 minutes every day to your students’ Writer’s Notebooks, providing specific activities or allowing free writing time.
Create a Writer’s Prop Table
Picture a small table in your classroom, scattered with a collection of objects such as a key, a padlock, a candle, a map, or a train ticket, and your imagination will be popping with ideas for a narrative. Before you know it, your students will be looking for objects to add to the collection and planting seeds for their next narrative.
Slow Down and Break It Up!
For incredible writing outcomes, break down the main parts of a narrative text type. Spend a significant amount of time on each structural element. Think of it as laying one brick at a time. Ask your students to write a complete narrative only when they have secure knowledge, understanding, and experience of writing an orientation, complication, resolution, and ending.
A great activity to teach the structure of narrative writing is to deconstruct a text by cutting it up and sticking it back together! Given that it’s not ideal to cut up books, we have created a sorting task to reinforce the structural features of a narrative text. Your students can play surgeon, dissecting the text and putting it all back together again!
Do your students fall into the trap of writing orientations that begin with One day…, On Monday, Once upon a time…?
If your mission is to change this, believe me when I say that students need to see it to believe it.
Read amazing story openings, the more the better. I love the sizzling start to How to Bee by Bren MacDibble…
Today! It’s here! Bright and real and waiting. The knowing of it bursts into my head so big and sudden, like a crack of morning sun bursting through the gap at the top of the door…
Once you’ve given your students the opportunity to read, watch and experience the impact of amazing sizzling starts, show your students a Narrative Plot Structure Diagram to demonstrate how a great narrative often starts with action!
Sentence Starter Roll Call
Select a Narrative Sentence Starter Card, and display or write it on the whiteboard. Ask your students to think of an imaginative way to finish the sentence, (the sillier the better).
Provide your students with a little thinking time. Ask each student to share their response when you call their name. This is sure to get a few giggles!
TEACHER: Jonah, I found a strange package at the door…
JONAH: …it turned into a robot who helped me to fly to the moon
Round Robin Storytelling
Have you ever tried a round-robin story with your class? It’s great fun and a perfect warm-up at the beginning of a writing lesson and is a brilliant way to develop speaking and listening skills.
- Arrange your students in a circle. The teacher joins the circle.
- Start the round-robin by reading aloud one of the Narrative Sentence Starter Cards.
- Moving in a clockwise direction, ask the next person to continue the story.
- The teacher finishes off the story when it returns to the starting point.
Be mindful of less confident learners and the support that they need during this activity.
Shared writing is a crucial part of teaching narrative writing. This effective teaching strategy (whereby the teacher models writing while being given ideas and direction from the students), is ideal to use with the whole class or in a small group.
Try our Picture Writing Prompts Widget as a stimulus for shared writing. Each image comes with writing prompts ideas, Five Ws and One H questions and suggested activities.
Tips for leading shared writing sessions
- Focus your shared writing session on one or two elements of narrative writing. For example, focus on text structure, ideas, characters. and setting or vocabulary.
- Keep it short. This will depend on the year level of your class. 10 -15 minutes is an awesome effort. As a general rule, as soon as you notice that your students are disengaged, call it a day, until tomorrow!
- Model how to write a narrative using a plan. In fact, model how to write a plan! Show your students the art of referring to the plan on a regular basis.
- Use Think, Pair, Share and Elbow Partners, to encourage ideas and discussion.
- Inspire your students and stimulate ideas through the use of visual prompts, props, and feely bags.
- Make it fun and do it often.
For more useful ideas on how to use writing prompts in the classroom, don’t miss our blog 5 Ways to Spark Imagination in the Classroom Using Writing Prompts.