Write Well. Right Now.
How To Strengthen Personal Narratives
*Adapted by Lisa C. Landis for middle school students from Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study
Writing A Personal
Narrative

Your life is not what happens to you,
but your responses to what happens.

For this reason, each one of us is
ultimately the author of our own
lives. We do not always control what
happens to us, but we control our
responses to what happens.
Telling Your Story
Objectives:



Provide strategies for writing a personal
narrative
Provide specific tools for deconstructing the
prompt
Strategies for internal story to further your
personal narrative and make it come alive.
Internal Story
Connection:

Focusing your stories--keep your eyes on
what is important.

Focus, focus, focus in order to show me,
instead of just tell me.
Attack the Prompt




Narrow the prompt and make it
manageable.
Put a box around the words (verbs/action
words) that tell you to DO something
(explain, describe, tell, etc…)
Circle any numbers that follow the actions.
Underline the key words
Attack the Prompt--Make it
Small!

Here is an example:
A person’s life is filled with many good
memories and experiences.
Describe a time in your life in which
you were happy, and explain why you
were happy at this particular time.

"Amusing things happen to everyone.
Sometimes we do things that are
funny or something funny happens to
us. Many times we see a comical
thing happen to someone else.
Describe an incident that happened to
you or to someone else that you
found very humorous."
Attack the Question

"You have been given the opportunity to go
back in time to change one thing. What
would it be and why?”

"Do you ever daydream about a place you
have visited that you would like to see
again? Try to imagine the details of the
place clearly in your mind and then write a
paper in which you describe that perfect
place to your reader."
Tell Your Story!
Ready to write your story!



First, think of a time with a person, a
place, or an idea that could relate to this
prompt.
List moments about this person, place,
idea.
Think of just one moment--one story that
illustrates your point--not a big story.
Tell Your Story
Weekend at Disneyland

Think of specific moments

If you tell the story of the whole weekend,
you will be telling a “watermelon" story.

Tell me a small seed story instead-- tell me
one moment, not the whole weekend.
Tell Your Story

Disneyland






Canoe ride with the family
Sister got lost, but we found her
Indiana Jones with my son
Swimming at the Disney hotel
Exploring on Tom Sawyer’s Island
Sister got stuck in rock on Tom Sawyer’s Island
Choose one of these “moments” to write about
as a reason why the time you spent in
Disneyland was fun. Make this a small seed
story--just describe the moment.
How to Tell Your Story

Choose your moment

sketch what happened first,
second, next, and last in your
moment.
Strategy for Narrative
A person’s life is filled with many good
memories and experiences.
Describe a time in your life that was
exciting, and explain why this particular
experience was more exciting than any
other.
Moments:
Going to Oklahoma football game--our seats
Parasailing in St. John
Riding the plunge at Silver Dollar City
Traveling to Orient Beach on St. Martin
Getting lost on the metro in Paris
Skin diving in St. John, U.S.V.I.
Parasailing on St. John
Small Seed Story--Quick Rough draft telling what happened
first, second, and last.
Body Paragraph One:
We boarded the small ship anticipating the parasailing
adventure. The guides gave us instructions on how they
would hook us up in the equipment, and because the
machine was automated, there were some very precise
instructions. I just hoped I could remember everything I
was suppose to do so that I did not get injured like the guide
mentioned. We were the second couple to ride tandem, and
so we eagerly watched every move that the other couple
made. Finally, it was our turn to fly.
Jump into the narrative…
Notice that the narrative started right
in the action!
We boarded the small ship anticipating the
parasailing adventure. The guides gave us
instructions on how they would hook us up in the
equipment, and because the machine was
automated, there were some very precise
instructions. I just hoped I could remember
everything I was suppose to do so that I did not
get injured like the guide mentioned. We were
the second couple to ride tandem, and so we
eagerly watched every move that the other couple
made. Finally, it was our turn to fly.
Body Paragraph 2

Paragraph Two
Body Paragraph Two:
We helped each other get hooked in the harness, sat down
on the back of the boat, and suddenly we were lifting into
the air. Being in the air, soaring through the sky, was
incredibly fun. As I looked down, I saw giant sea turtles
swimming through the crisp, bright blue water with a pod of
dolphins playing nearby. It was almost soundless except the
fluttering noise of the wind blowing past my ears and the
parachute above. I wondered, Is this how birds feel as they
fly through the air? Flying like a bird, feeling more than
human, was a truly incredible moment.
Your finished essay will eventually have four parts:
Para. 1
Lead--your
introduction
using setting,
action, dialogue.
Para. 2
Body Paragraph
#1--Part of your
small seed story.
Para. 3
Body Paragraph
#2--Part of your
small seed story.
Para. 4
Ending--your
conclusion using
setting, action,
dialogue.
Add Setting, Action,
Dialogue
Write the lead (intro) and ending
(conclusion) for your essay.
 A lead and ending should have:
setting, action, and dialogue.
 Having setting, action, and dialogue
will hook your reader.

You Try…
A person’s life is filled with many good memories
and experiences. Describe a time in your life that
was exciting, and explain why this particular
experience was more exciting than any other.

Deconstruct--take apart--the prompt and use the
strategies for writing the narrative. List moments
that could be considered exciting, choose one to
write about, sketch what happened first, second,
and last. Follow the sketches to write two body
paragraphs that follow the movie in your mind.
Next Step
Once you have written what happened
first, second, and last, and made a movie
in your mind of the action in the narrative,
it is time to construct the lead
(introduction) and ending (conclusion).
Add your lead and ending to the small seed
story that you have written. Then revise it
all to create a the perfect personal
narrative. Easy, right?
The Lead
How do you begin the lead of a
personal narrative?
 Authors often begin by adding
setting, action, and dialogue. You
can do this in any order, but try and
include all of these things in the lead
to make it exciting and capture your
reader’s attention. Let’s try…

The Lead
What if I deleted this part?

I have had many experiences that I can
describe as exciting and fun. On a warm
summer day, on the Virgin Island of St.
John, when I yelled “Sure let’s go
parasailing!” who would have known I was
going to experience the most excitement of
my life.
In this lead (introduction), I address the
question, provide setting, action, and brief
dialogue.
The Conclusion
Again, like the lead, include setting, action,
dialogue and wrap up my narrative about
an exciting time of my life.
Ending:
As I flew through the air, I stated to my
husband “Is this just one of the best times
in your life?” He agreed happily, as we
slowly descended towards the ship, back to
reality, with a new appreciation for
adventure and excitement.
Put It All Together
On a warm summer day, on the Virgin Island of St. John, when I yelled
“Sure let’s go parasailing!” who would have known I was going to experience
the most excitement of my life.
We boarded the small ship anticipating the parasailing adventure. The
guides gave us instructions on how they would hook us up in the equipment,
and because the machine was automated, there were some very precise
instructions. I just hoped I could remember everything I was suppose to do so
that I did not get injured like the guide mentioned. We were the second couple
to ride tandem, and so we eagerly watched every move that the other couple
made. Finally, it was our turn to fly.
We helped each other get hooked in the harness, sat down on the back of
the boat, and suddenly we were lifting into the air. Being in the air, soaring
through the sky, was incredibly fun. As I looked down, I saw giant sea turtles
swimming through the crisp, bright blue water with a pod of dolphins playing
nearby. It was almost soundless except the fluttering noise of the wind blowing
past my ears and the parachute above. I wondered, Is this how birds feel as
they fly through the air? Flying like a bird, feeling more than human, was a
truly incredible moment.
As I flew through the air, I stated to my husband “Is this just one of the
best times in your life?” He agreed happily, as we slowly descended towards
the ship, back to reality, with a new appreciation for adventure and excitement
Let’s Practice





Deconstruct the prompt.
Think of moments from your life that
illustrate what is being asked--make a list
of these moments.
Choose one moment and sketch what
happened first, second, last.
Then write your story of what happened
first, second, and last by making a movie
in your mind.
Write your lead (introduction) and ending
(conclusion) by including setting, action,
and dialogue.
Internal Story
You have learned:
How to deconstruct the prompt
 How to write the small seed
 How to write the lead and ending
using setting, action, dialogue

Internal Story
The next strategy is to learn how to write
the internal story
Internal story:
 develops voice
 shows instead of just tells the story
 depicts your feelings and develops ideas
It is the commentary in your narrative
writing!
Internal Story
Internal story happens when you say:
I wonder… this reminds me…I thought about…
It happens when you include narrative aspects
in your writing. In the past, a teacher might
have told you to get to the point when you tell
your story. Now, we want you to use these
ideas and thoughts to develop and tell your
story.
You can add internal story to your rough
draft as a way of revising it.
Internal Story

In a story, I can run, spin, climb, yell, dig,
clamor, but I can also yearn, fantasize,
remember, regret, worry, and imagine

When I pause in the middle of a draft to
re-read my writing, I sometimes say to
myself, “Let me re-read and pay attention
to whether I’ve told the internal as well as
the external story.” The internal story is
how I feel.
Internal Story
I have had many experiences that I can describe as exciting and fun. On
a warm summer day, on the Virgin Island of St. John, when I yelled “Sure
let’s go parasailing!” who would have known I was going to experience the
most excitement of my life.
We boarded the small ship anticipating the parasailing adventure. The
guides gave us instructions on how they would hook us up in the
equipment, and because the machine was automated, there were some
very precise instructions. I just hoped I could remember everything I was
suppose to do so that I did not get injured like the guide mentioned. We
were the second couple to ride tandem, and so we eagerly watched every
move that the other couple made. Finally, it was our turn to fly.
We helped each other get hooked in the harness, sat down on the back
of the boat, and suddenly we were lifting into the air. Being in the air,
soaring through the sky, was incredibly fun. As I looked down, I saw giant
sea turtles swimming through the crisp, bright blue water with a pod of
dolphins playing nearby. It was almost soundless except the fluttering noise
of the wind blowing past my ears and the parachute above. I wondered, Is
this how birds feel as they fly through the air? Flying like a bird, feeling
more than human, was a truly incredible moment.
As I flew through the air, I stated to my husband “Is this just one of the
best times in your life?” He agreed happily, as we slowly descended
towards the ship, back to reality, with a new appreciation for adventure and
excitement.
Our Lives Are Not Just What Happens To
Us…
A great writer named Theodore
Roethke said to me (actually, he
wrote this but I pretend he said it to
me), “Lisa”, he said, “It is an illusion
that writers live more significant lives
than non-writers. Writers are just
more in the habit of finding the
significance that is there in their
lives.”
Internal Story

These are hugely important words to
me because it means that I can write
about any moment in my life--a climb
to the top of The Eiffel Tower, the day
my little sister got into an elevator
and it took off without us, or a time
when our dog, Itsy, was really bad-and I can make that moment carry
the biggest truths of my life. You can
do the same!
Bringing Forth The
Internal Story
Specifically, I want to teach you
that if I’m going to write not only
what happens but my response to
what happens, then much of story will
be the internal story, and not just the
external one.
Internal Story


At the start of the lesson, I suggested that
our lives are made up of not only what
happens to us but also our responses to
what happens to us.
As writers, this means that we pause in our
actions and ask “What was I thinking?” We
offer our readers clues to reveal our
thoughts and feelings. This is especially
true in the heart of our stories.
Follow-up

Tonight for homework, your job is to reread your draft and find the heart of your
story, Re-read each part of the narrative
and ask “What was I thinking/feeling?”
Check that you give clues that reveal your
thoughts and feelings. If you haven’t
included clues that reveal your thoughts
and feelings, you will need to add some
tonight.
Qualities of Good Personal
Narratives





Write a little seed story; don’t write all
about a giant watermelon story.
Zoom in so you tell the most important
parts of the story.
Include true, exact details from the movie
you have in your mind.
Stay inside your own point of view. This
will help you write with true and exact
details.
Make sure stories tell not just what
happens, but also the response to
what happens.
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How To Strengthen Personal Narratives