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Teaching Strategies: Narrative Writing for Elementary Kids

Janelle Cox

Teaching the components of narrative writing to elementary students can be a daunting task. With the Common Core State Standards pushing more fact-based writing, teachers can use narrative writing as “Fact-based” when written in first person or for a biography.

Here are some simple teaching strategies along with a few quick tips to get your students writing narratives more effectively.

Teaching Strategies: A Simple Technique

A simple way to teach students the components of narrative writing is to read them the ever-so-popular nursery rhyme “Little Miss Muffet.” This simple rhyme has all of the components that students need to help them identify each element in a story:

  • Little Miss Muffet (Character)
  • Sat on a Tuffet (Setting)
  • Eating her curds and whey (Action)
  • Along came a spider, and set down beside her (Problem)
  • And Frightened Miss Muffet away! (Solution)

Have students keep a copy of this nursery rhyme in their notebooks or have them memorize it so they can use it as a reference to check their own narratives.

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Elements Defined

  • Character - It’s quite easy for students to choose or create a character for their writing piece, the hard part is for students to learn how to develop the character. Try having students create a character web to help with this.
  • Setting – The setting is where the story takes place, and it’s very important for students to learn to accurately set the stage for the story. Try having students brainstorm where their story will take place and tell them make a list of at least five details about their setting.
  • Action – Young writers need a lot of practice explaining the action in their stories. Oftentimes, students jump from one place to another, confusing readers. So it’s very important for students to learn how to think through their actions. This is where a timeline or graphic organizer comes in handy.
  • Problem – Every narrative story must contain some kind of problem or conflict. A good way for students to practice making their stories more exciting is to brainstorm a list of possible problem topics and solutions. Have students fold their paper in half and write a problem on the left side and the solution on the right hand side.
  • Solution – Every narrative needs a clear and distinct ending. A lot of the time, young writers end their stories abruptly. To avoid this, try having students take some time to think about how they want their story to end. They can create a Venn diagram and figure out two ways on how it can end, and then choose the best one out of the two.

Narrative Writing

Use the simple technique above to introduce the concept of narrative writing to your students. Show them how one component leads into the other. Make sure that you read both fiction and nonfiction so students can see how narratives can cut across both genres. Here are a few tips for teaching about narrative writing from the early grades to the upper elementary grades.

Kindergarten – 2nd Grade

During the early primary years, students are just beginning to learn about writing and the writing process. This is the best time to prime students and give them the knowledge about the elements of narrative writing. Reading both fiction and nonfiction narrative stories will help prepare them for when they are a bit older, and when their writing skills are more developed. While reading a narrative, generate a class discussion about the characters, setting, plot, problem and solution. This pre-writing skill will help students build a timeline of the events that occur in the story, and it’s a skill that will develop as they get older.

3rd and 4th Grade

By third grade, students should have sense of what narrative writing is all about. Their writing skills are developed and they are able to write a narrative quite easily. The key to writing a great narrative at this point of their educational career is for students to keep an outline of the events of their writing piece. An outline will help them write the key events that is in their narrative. During this time period, it is also good to really focus on the introduction as well as the supporting evidence in the story. Students can gain a lot of insight when they see their events laid out in order on a timeline or in a graphic organizer. Discuss the importance of a beginning, a middle, and an ending. It’s also a great time to start talking about a story’s climax.

5th Grade and Beyond

Students in the upper elementary grades should have a very firm grasp of how to write a narrative by now. Some tips for students to focus on during these grades are sentence structure and integrating evidence into their narratives. They need to learn how to back up what they are trying to say with facts and/or evidence. Students in the upper grades are now able to write from another point of view. This is a great time to challenge students to write a narrative biography from another perspective. Then, students can discuss what (and if) the differences are between the two.

In order for students to effectively write a narrative, they should learn and memorize every key component of a narrative writing piece. The best way to do this is to memorize the nursery rhyme mentioned above. Once they master that, they will be able to better organize their thoughts onto paper and it will all be smooth sailing from there.

How to do teach narrative writing to your elementary school students? Do you have any tips or tricks that you would like to share? Please comment in the section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.