Getting kids to write a personal narrative can be tricky. Most kids loooooove to share stories orally, but getting them to write is a different story. You’ll often get complaints that they have nothing to write about, or a bare-bones story with very little detail.
I’ll be honest and say that Writing Workshop was not my favorite part of the day. But, when I learned to use mentor texts to guide my students to become better writers, it really helped so much!
Mentor texts provide concrete examples of great writing and are motivating; kids love to emulate authors they admire.
In this post, I’ll share my 3 favorite mentor texts for teaching the personal narrative genre, then I’ll also share mini-lesson ideas for one of them! This post includes affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage if you purchase through the links, at no cost to you.
My favorite personal narrative mentor texts
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall is so relatable because almost everyone can relate to being afraid of something! I love how Jabari’s dad helps him through his fear without pressuring him before he’s ready. And, of course, the lesson is an important one!
A few years ago, during a PD, our presenter introduced us to Marla Frazee’s Roller Coaster and it is such a great book for personal narrative! The way she stretches out each moment, you can really feel what the character is feeling throughout the story!
Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe is my favorite to use for this genre and it’s such a great mentor text for several reasons!
Most kids can relate to catching bugs. If not fireflies, some kids love to catch ants, butterflies, and other little critters. Julie Brinckloe tells this story with so much detail, it’s easy to imagine oneself in the story and make connections to a related personal time.
Most importantly, Fireflies has terrific examples for so many revision mini-lessons! Keep reading for some ideas.
Writing Workshop mini-lessons to launch the genre
Before you conduct revision mini-lessons, these preliminary lessons are useful to launch the personal narrative writing genre.
- What is a personal narrative? (Sorting books you’ve read to your students is helpful)
- Story ideas (strategies for thinking of ideas and brainstorming a class list, then making individual lists)
- Oral storytelling- choosing one idea and telling the story orally
- Sketching it (not drawing in detail. . . yet [different for beginning kindergarten])
- Writing the words (labeling and sentences)
You’ll also want to have read several books in the genre so kids get a good understanding of it.
After the lessons above, you’re ready to start revision mini-lessons!
Before you use any book as a mentor text, you’ll want to have first read the book in a prior lesson for fun and comprehension. Then, for each mini-lesson focus below, read an excerpt with the example of the strategy and add it to an anchor chart.
- Show, not tell
- Adding 5 senses
- Stretching out a moment
- Descriptive writing
- Word choice
- Using comparisons
Here are examples of some of the above.
WORD CHOICE Mini-Lesson
A mini-lesson on Word Choice might sound like this:
“Do you remember this part of the book? Julie Brinckloe could have said, ‘… putting them into jars. . .’ But instead, she used the word thrusting. That word is much stronger than putting, isn’t it? Show me how you would just put a firefly into a jar (kids act out). Now, thrust it into a jar (act out). It’s a much more vivid word and shows you how they’re feeling! When we write, we can write like Julie Brinckloe and use stronger words to really show how the characters are doing something and how they feel!”
ACT IT OUT!
Engaging your students in movement will help them understand why this makes their writing better and will also keep their attention.
You can also pick a word that kids use often, like went. Make a chart of alternate words, having them act out the words. Call on a student and tell him/her to act out your sentence. Say, “X went to the door.” Ask the student to come back, then say, “X dashed to the door.” Repeat using different words, like moped, dragged his feet, skipped, etc. Ask kids how each action changes how they think the character is feeling.
Said is another word this exercise is great for. Make anchor charts with word substitutions that they can refer to when writing: whispered, shouted, asked…
Remind students that they can also use stronger words in their writing!
SHOW, NOT TELL Mini-Lesson
One of my favorite mini-lessons. I cover the skill of Show, Not Tell many times throughout the year because it’s such a great skill that makes a big difference in any writing. If you’ve never heard the term before, it means when the author shows you how a character is feeling, rather than just tell you. For example, instead of writing I felt sad, Julie Brinckloe wrote I tried to swallow, but something in my throat would not go down. It’ so much stronger and helps us really feel what the character is feeling,
ACT IT OUT!
One activity I love to do to demonstrate this is having kids act out different feelings and the other kids in the class “narrate” the actor’s actions. For example, call a student up and ask him/her to act mad. They might stomp their feet, frown, or cross their arms. Have kids describe these actions while you write them on a chart. “X stomped his feet and slammed the door,” for example.
Show, not Tell is not only a great skill for showing feelings, but it can also be used for showing setting (instead of on a farm, kids can write details describing the farm; instead of writing It snowed, kids can write Huge fluffy snowflakes fell on the ground).
Writing Mini-lesson Freebie
For Show, not Tell, you can complete a graphic organizer together like the one below, then give students the slip pictured to come up with their own ideas for Show, not Tell for each feeling or scenario.
Grab this freebie right here!
After about a week of the revision mini-lessons, your anchor chart might look like this and will make a great reference tool for kids as they write!
I used to think you needed lots of books to use as mentor texts, but in reality, one or two throughout a unit is perfect! Kids really learn to appreciate the author and his/her craft and are more likely to remember the revision lessons from the repeated book visits.
Do you have any favorite mentor texts? What questions do you have about using them? Comment below and I’d love a share if you found these ideas helpful!