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WE 131 Writing Personal Narratives

Teacher Tips and Answers


Page 131

Writing Personal Narratives

Learning Log
© Thoughtful Learning 2024

We all tell stories about our lives—the first day of school, making a friend, getting a pet, going fishing, seeing a sunset, playing king of the mountain. . . . Stories help us relive our days and share them with others.

Personal narratives also help us know who we are. I’m the kid who learned piano. I’m the one who kicked the winning goal. I’m the big brother to Lupita. I’m the one who makes people laugh.

This chapter helps you share the stories of your life and discover who you are.

What’s Ahead

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Sample Personal Narrative

This narrative recalls an exciting competition with a surprise result.

Egg-Stra-Ordinary Inventors

The setting, problem, and people are introduced.
As she handed out eggs, Ms. Clarke pointed to supplies in bins along the sidewalk. “Each team will build a contraption to keep your egg from cracking.”

While Jana held our egg safe, I scooped up supplies. First we covered our egg in duct tape, and then added a layer of cotton balls. Jana wove a net of pipe cleaners around it. We taped the whole thing inside a cardboard box and made a garbage-bag parachute.

Description, dialogue, and action build the narrative tension.
Ms. Clarke blew a whistle. “Line up for Round One!”

Teams lined the sidewalk with their egg contraptions.

“Shoulder height! On three! One, two, three!”

Jana dropped our egg box, which floated down on its parachute to settle gently on the cement.

All around, other contraptions landed. Crack! Crack! Crack! Three eggs gushed their guts on the sidewalk.

“Round Two!” Jana and eight others climbed onto chairs. Our egg wafted down. Five more got scrambled.

“Round Three!”

Four eggs dropped from atop step ladders. Three thudded to cement. Ours landed like a dove.

“We won!” I shouted.

But I was too soon. One other egg had survived.

A surprise ending reveals a secret.
Ms. Clarke couldn’t believe it. She took our egg and the other to the school rooftop. She dropped them. The other egg pounded to ground while ours settled nearby.

Neither gushed.

Ms. Clarke came down to open the packages. Both eggs were unbroken. Then Ms. Clarke cracked them and found out why. The other egg had been hard boiled!

“Congrats to our Egg-Stra-Ordinary Inventors!”

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Gathering Story Ideas

You can start gathering ideas for personal narratives by writing in a journal or diary or by making lists of personal experiences. A good way to find ideas is to answer the following types of questions:

1. Who are the important people in your life?

Family members? Friends? Classmates? Neighbors? Think about the times you’ve shared with each one. What do you remember best? What would you just as soon forget? (See page 136 for suggestions for stories about family and friends.)

2. Where have you been?

Every place you visit is an adventure, whether it’s the doctor’s office, the principal’s office, or the county fair. Think of the biggest place you’ve been, and the smallest. Think of comfortable places, and places that cause you to squirm. Think of special meeting places from your past.

3. What do you like to do?

Do you enjoy drawing or cooking or caring for animals? Do you like to play basketball or just hang out? Do you like to talk on the phone or read at night when you’re supposed to be asleep?

4. What do you not like to do?

Study? Clean your room? Shovel snow? Get up early? There are a lot of ways to answer this question, aren’t there? And a lot of strong feelings are involved, too. Isn’t it nice to know that even the worst times you can remember are at least good for story ideas?

“If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.”
                        —Yogi Berra.

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Writing Personal Narratives

When you are ready to write about a story in your life, follow these instructions.

Prewriting Planning Your Story

Choose a Subject 🟪 First, be sure you understand the requirements of your assignment. Then choose a subject for a personal story. You want a memorable experience that happened over a short period of time.

Tip Try completing this sentence starter: “I remember the time . . . ” Continue listing until you find a subject.

Gather Your Thoughts 🟪 If the idea you choose is clear in your mind, begin writing. If you’re missing some details, try clustering or listing for ideas. You should be able to answer the 5 W’s—Who? What? When? Where? and Why?—before you write.

Writing Developing Your First Draft

Start at the Beginning 🟪 Start right at the beginning of the story (“There I stood . . .” or “As she handed out eggs, Ms. Clarke pointed . . .”) and keep adding details as they come to mind.

Revising Improving Your Story

Review Your Work 🟪 Reading your first draft aloud helps you “hear” your writing. Have you left out any important details? Are your details in the best order? Do you sound really interested in your subject? Make any necessary changes.

Editing and Proofreading Polishing Your Story

Check for Careless Errors 🟪 Make sure that your sentences are correct and read smoothly. Also make sure that your words are specific and correct. Then write a neat, final draft and proofread it. (You can use the checklist on page 66 to help with your editing and proofreading.)

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Sample Personal Narrative

Gabriel Costas reflects on a moment that shaped his life. (See other narrative models.)

The Nurse Who Named Me

The scene is set right away.
Ten years ago, on my birthday, the delivery nurse asked Mom, “What will you name your baby?”

Mom gave a sad smile. “If she’d been a girl, she would have been Gabrielle. But he’s a boy, so Caleb.”

The nurse said, “Caleb is a fine, strong name.”

The story develops with dialogue.
“Yes, but Gabrielle was my mother’s name.” She sighed. “I wish she could have been here.”

“I’m sure she is,” the nurse replied.

The doctor bustled in. “Fully dilated. Ready to push?”

Mom gripped the bed rails and started.

“Good . . . good,” the doctor said. “Now breathe.”

“Can’t I just push?” Mom said, exhausted.

The nurse held up a piece of paper. “Is this how your mother spelled her name? G -A -B - R - I - E - L - L - E?”

Mom nodded, a tear in her eye.

The nurse folded down the last two letters. “How about this name: G - A - B - R - I - E - L?”

“Gabriel?” Mom read aloud.

“That’s a fine, strong name,” the nurse said, unfolding the letters. “You see how your mom’s still there?”

The writer reflects on the meaning of the event.
“Okay, push!” the doctor said.

A few moments later, I was born. They wrapped me in a blanket and put me in Mom’s arms. “Gabriel.”

I’ve been Gabriel ever since. I’m sure glad for that nurse. I don’t even know who Caleb would have been.

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Writing Family Stories

Often the best personal narratives tell stories about our families and friends. Here are some starters to get you going. (You can also see other family story ideas.)

Your Name 🟪 Just like Gabriel, you can write about how your name was chosen. If you don’t know, go to the source: Ask a parent or guardian. Every name has a story, and the story of your name may be the first in a whole collection.

Other Names 🟪 Now check into other names of family and friends. Are there favorite first names in your family? How did your best friend get her nickname? What do last names mean? Tell these stories.

Birth Stories 🟪 Find out about the day you or someone else was born. What was the weather like? What time of day did it happen? What important events were going on in the world that day?

Holiday Stories 🟪 Write about how your family and friends celebrate holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Day, Diwali, 4th of July. Are there any special holidays that you celebrate?

Recipe Stories 🟪 Do you have favorite recipes? Write about the times, places, and people who have shared these foods with you. You may want to write up some of the recipes, too.

Heirloom Stories 🟪 Many families and friends have special pieces of furniture, jewelry, or photos that have been handed down from generation to generation. These objects are called heirlooms. What are the stories behind the heirlooms you know about? Where did they come from? Why are they valuable?

Note Here are some topics to get you thinking about more family stories: spooky events, disasters, unusual relatives, rascals, pranks, and special sayings. Sometimes the worst experiences make the best stories!

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Vocabulary List:
  • personal narrative: true-life story about an event that you or someone else experienced

Vocabulary List:
  • heirloom: an object that is important to family or friends

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