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Teacher Tips and Answers

Prewriting for Personal Narratives

Prewriting is your first step in writing a personal narrative. These prewriting activities will help you select a topic to write about, gather important details about the topic, and organize your thoughts before you begin a first draft.

Prewriting to Focus Your Ideas

Choose your topic.

Your goal is to write a personal narrative about an unforgettable experience. Complete the following sentence starters to help you discover a writing idea. Then circle the topic you wish to write about. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

  • I’ll never forget the time when . . .

    (Answers will vary.)

  • I learned an important lesson when . . .

    (Answers will vary.)

  • I was proud of myself when . . .

    (Answers will vary.)

Gather the basic parts.

Fill in a 5 W’s memory chart to gather all of the basic details about the experience. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.


(Answers will vary.) Manny, Manny’s dad


(Answers will vary.) Manny invited me to the Mexico Independence Day celebration. It was a whole new experience. I ate strange food and danced.


(Answers will vary.) Kansas City


(Answers will vary.) September of last year


(Answers will vary.) Because Manny and I are best friends, and he wanted to show me his family’s culture.

Prewriting to Organize Details

All narratives need actions. Actions are the things that happen in the story. Usually, the actions are organized in time order, or when they happened.

Place actions in time order.

List the things that happened in your experience, from start to finish. Use a time line to organize them in time order. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.


Arrive at a pale building with Manny and his family.


Walk into a colorful fiesta.


Eat a strange green chili.


Manny surprises me with costumes.


We join the dance circle.

Teaching Tip

Let your students know that their time lines can have more or fewer than five actions.

Add dialogue and thought details.

Make your experience come alive for readers by adding dialogue and thought details. Dialogue is what the people said during your experience. Thought details are how you felt or what you were thinking while the experience was happening. Study each sample and write an example from your own experience. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

  • Dialogue: “Goodness. Look at the size of that fish,” Grandpa said.

    I thought that was a weird question. Now I really felt dizzy.

  • Thought detail: I couldn’t believe I forgot my line. I felt embarrassed.

    “Are you going to eat that or what?” asked Manny.

Teaching Tip

Help students understand that they don’t need to remember exactly what was said. Their goal is to make dialogue sound natural—something the person could have said.

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