- Oct 25, 2022
Personal Narrative Writing in Middle School: Digging Deeper
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
For years, I didn't do personal narrative writing in middle school. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about why I didn't do it . Main reason...it's been done before in many years prior to when those students came to you, especially if teachers prior use writing workshop.
However, I've grown to embrace it again. The biggest reason why is because I think it helps build a classroom community. I decided to go with personal narrative instead of my usual fiction writing in response to reading during the pandemic. I felt, since the kids were remote, this was a good way to get to know each other a little better.
I did peruse Lucy Calkins' Personal Narrative unit for the digital notebook, however, as I went through the unit, I changed a lot.
I like to have the students do a quick narrative based on a person in their lives . The idea of writing about a special moment with a person has been done a lot up until this point so I feel it's an easy way to get a sense of where they are. I have them start with listing moments with an important person. They pick one of those moments to write about.
I don't necessarily need an entire story; I just want them to show me what they can do.
If you don't know already, a personal narrative focuses on a small moment , not an entire day, trip, game, etc. In the earlier grades, teachers spend a lot of time on this (think less watermelon, more seed). At this point, I feel that students just need a refresher.
I like to do this through mentor texts . I provide students with actual written student narratives from my past students. (Here are two you can use. These are by actual students, so definitely not perfect examples. Student Narrative #1 and Student Narrative #2 ).
Students go in to highlight specifically the small moment components of the stories. We discuss how these stories are small moments (or not) and they also start analyzing what the stories did well (or not).
I think it is super valuable to see other students' stories to give students perspective of what's expected or what can be improved.
Students begin to brainstorm by thinking of a place that is important to them. I tell them to be as specific as possible.
Their idea may be big, but then they make a map of the place. The map is more focused on the moments that happened in the place. They then pick one of those moments in the place and write long about it.
Next, I have students write about moments that mattered. For this, I like to do Show and Tell . I tell students a few days before to bring in an item that is important to them. This should symbolize something or someone that is important in their lives. This goes so well! It goes beyond just what the objects are, but also what they can represent.
They use that object to brainstorm ideas within the topics of "first times", "last times", and "moments I learned something" . For example, I showed a picture of my husband and me at my brother's wedding. This was important to me because it was the first time I had left my son with another babysitter. I was dealing with post-partum anxiety. This stemmed lots of ideas: first time I left my son with a babysitter, first time I had an anxiety attack, the LAST time I had an anxiety attack, the first time I changed a diaper, the moment I learned it's important to enjoy small things, etc.
I start with students focusing on story structure . I have them look at short stories to do this. I really like "Eleven" and "Fish Cheeks". They are short and sweet and are great models for personal narrative.
They fill out the chart for those stories. We discuss, then they plan their own stories on a story structure chart.
The next day we focus on internal and external . This is something we cover in our unit prior. I do a Deep Study of Character before this and we often get into internal and external characteristics of characters. For writing, they focus on what they could be thinking (internal) in each part of their chart and what they could be doing (external) in each part.
Like everything else, we look at short stories first to see how these mentor authors do the same.
Before getting into the actual writing, I spend a day on Show Don't Tell . There are so many things you can do with this, but here's how I do it .
I usually break down each part of the story structure chart by day. So, I will do exposition one day, rising action another, etc. I will start each day with them looking at mentor expositions, etc. Each year, I've done different things. I also share MY PERSONAL NARRATIVE. This is so important; you HAVE to write what the students are expected to write .
A few things I've done:
I would share a Doc with a page or two out of a shared read aloud. I'd give them specific questions that focus on that part of the story map; for example, "how did Jason Reynolds introduce the characters in this chapter?".
I'd have them go back into whatever books they are reading and answer similar questions ("how did the author introduce setting/problem/solution?" "how did the author show feelings/thoughts/actions?").
I always share with them MY exposition, rising action, etc. Sometimes I just read it to them, other times I have them work with partners to look for similar things mentioned in the bullets before this.
It's important to look at mentors. I don't just have them go and write the whole story in a day. It's so important to break it up.
There are so many different lessons you can do. I always have to remind myself that you don't have to teach them EVERY thing. I try to keep revision pretty straightforward.
Of course, there is editing; focusing on grammar, punctuation, spelling. I like to tie in anything I do with mentor sentences or vocabulary . It's a good idea to connect it to anything you do for grammar or word study.
Four major areas of revision as per the Lucy Calkins' unit:
Looking at mentor sentences and trying it out with their own writing.
Finding the heart of the story.
Stretching out scenes (finding a moment that can use more detail and stretching it).
Slowing down the problem scene.
I don't always commit to these exactly. I do like to spend time on dialogue and elaboration . I really get into how important it is to punctuate it properly and how to tag it so it shows more description.
I also revisit their showing and not telling slides and have them apply it to their writing.
One of the very last things I do in the revision stage is have them do critique groups . This is a bit different than just them swapping Docs with each other and commenting. It's more of a dialogue.
Lastly, they finalize their draft and put it on a Padlet . This is used for lots of things. Guardians are able to see their writing. They can see each other's writing. And I have a spot with ALL of their stories.
While personal narrative has been done, there is always room to grow. I really feel it depends on the group you have. It's a nice way to start the year to get to know each other. I usually spend about a month on the entire unit.
Click below to get my digital notebook for the unit!
Want a custom bundle from me click below.
Teachers Pay Teachers Store
Online Research, Note-Taking, & Argument Essay: Student Choice Driven
Multi-Genre Writing Unit: Companion Websites Based on a Book
All the Ways to Use Google Forms in Middle School Language Arts
personal narrative middle school
Resource types, all resource types, personal narrative middle school.
- Rating Count
- Price (Ascending)
- Price (Descending)
- Most Recent
Middle School Personal Narrative Essay Writing Unit / Narrative Essay Assignment
My Story Personal Narrative ESL/ELD Google Slides Lesson Middle and High School
- Google Slides™
Personal Narrative Still Life Drawing: Easy Middle /High School Art Project
Personal Narrative Writing Unit | Middle School | Printable Resources | W.7.3
Newcomer Personal Narrative ESL/ELD Google Slides Lesson Middle and High School
Middle School Writing Prompts | Personal Narrative Writing | Google Classroom
- Internet Activities
30 Personal Narrative Writing Prompts for ELA Middle School and High School
- Easel Activity
Personal narrative , high school or middle school Autobiographical Incident
Argumentative and Personal Narrative Writing Units Bundle for Middle School
My Personal Hero Narrative Essay 10 Day Lesson Unit Middle School
Personal Narrative Writing Prompts for ELA Middle School and High School
Personal Narrative Rubric for Middle School
Personal Narrative Writing Graphic Organizer - Common Core - Middle School
Personal Narrative Writing Rubric | Middle School | Common Core Aligned
Personal Narrative Writing Lessons - Bulletin Board for Middle School
Elf Factory - Elf's Diary ( Personal Narrative Assignment for Middle School )
Personal Narrative Writing Lesson, Activities, & Assessment Unit Middle School
Personal Narrative Writing Workshop Middle School
- Word Document File
Middle School Personal Narrative Rubric
Personal Narrative Essay, Autobiographical Incident Writing, Step-By-Step, CCSS
Narrative Writing PowerPoint Notes Personal , Fictional, Biographical
Dead Words Activity - CCSS Fun for Middle and High School !
Autobiography Personal Narrative Writing Activity | All About Me Song Playlist
- Google Drive™ folder
Narrative Writing for Middle & High School : Graphic Organizers, Writing Prompts
- We're hiring
- Help & FAQ
- Student privacy
- Terms of service
ENGLISH TEACHER RESOURCES
Sent straight to your inbox
CLICK HERE TO ACCESS
Sign up to receive 10 ready-to-use ELA resources your students will love!
10 FREE ELA RESOURCES
Teaching Students How to Annotate Poetry
8 Ways Teachers Can Celebrate Student Success
Bulletin Board Ideas for Middle & High School English
ON THE BLOG
an ELA facebook community
join us in the
Engage your students as soon as they walk into your classroom with my best-selling, full-year bell-ringer set. Each day includes a unique and creative task. Topics include grammar, vocabulary, writing, and figurative language.
Full Year of English Bell-Ringers (Vol 3)
Top categories, i'm bonnie from presto plans.
I’m a curriculum writer, literacy educator, and all around book lover with a passion for helping English teachers engage their students with creative, high-quality resources. My mission? To make teaching English a whole lot easier for you, teacher friend!
10 Tips for Teaching Personal Narrative Writing in Middle School ELA
One of my favorite middle school ELA writing activities for the beginning of the school year is a personal narrative essay . I find this assignment is a great way for us to learn a lot about who our students are – as writers, and as people! It’s a great way to build foundational relationships with new students and set everyone up for a positive year!
Here’s how I like to set up personal narrative essay writing in the classroom:
1. Teach about the Genre
To begin, I like to explore the idea of personal narrative writing . While many of our middle school ELA students have written other types of essays before, this is often the first time they encounter this the personal narrative writing genre. First, I like to ask students if they have ever heard of personal essays and guide a brief class discussion.
Personal narratives create a valuable opportunity for students to share relevant stories from their own lives. Usually, this type of writing is designed to provoke an emotional reaction. Often, they find that personal narratives can be one of the most enjoyable writing assignments in ELA class!
2. Help them Choose a Topic
I find that one of our students’ biggest roadblocks to writing a personal narrative essay is the fact they think they don’t have anything worthwhile to say!
When this inevitably happens, I like to remind them that personal narratives can encompass a broad range of topics. As they plan their writing, they can choose to write about a single event, or an overall experience. For example, they might like to highlight on a moment in time. Alternatively, they could focus on a single thing that spanned a number of years (developing a skill at swimming lessons or dance class, for example). Even the simplest story can make an excellent topic for a personal narrative essay, as long as it is presented in a powerful way.
I also like to emphasize that the most important part of a personal narrative is that the writing has a purpose. For example:
- A funny story might enlighten readers on a lesson learned the hard way.
- A scary story might serve as a warning or wake up call.
- A touching story might inspire others to be a better person or view the world from a different perspective.
Sometimes I even like to share one of my favorite quotes. The saying (which is often attributed to the Dalai Lama) goes, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito!” This usually reassures our middle school ELA students that we all have the ability to make a powerful impact!
If they are stuck…
If the class still seems stuck on choosing a topic, I like to set stations up around the room and break students into small groups. Next, I provide them with task card prompts at each station to get them thinking about their various life experiences that might make a good topic for a personal narrative essay.
When they arrive at each station, they read the card. Each member of the group briefly shares a story that relates to the prompt, and students take a few minutes to jot down a few possible ideas on their brainstorming sheet. As they move through the stations and repeat the process, they should generate a number of different ideas to consider.
When their sheet is full, I invite them to narrow down their choices by considering their answers to the following questions:
- What are you most inspired by or excited to write about?
- What might be the most interesting for others to read?
- Which topic can be told with a clear series of events and interesting details or enticing descriptions?
- Which story has a thought-provoking message or point?
3. Share Two Important Questions
As the class works through the brainstorming process, they need to also consider the fact that personal narrative essays are meant to be shared with others. I will read their work when I grade it, of course, and I also like to share and display students’ writing around my classroom.
With this in mind, I like to invite students to consider two questions before they get too deep into their initial draft:
- Am I comfortable sharing this story with others?
- Will people be able to relate to my experiences and what I learned?
When thinking about these questions, if the student cannot respond with an enthusiastic “yes” to both, it is time to go back to the brainstorming sheet and choose a different topic. But if their topic passes this important self-check, they can keep going!
4. Start With the End in Mind
Now, it’s time for students to step back and consider the purpose of their writing. In this section of the lesson , I encourage the middle school ELA class to think about the “heart” of the story. In other words, what do they want the audience to notice and consider as they read?
This is also an opportunity for students to consider their own purpose for writing. Some questions I like to ask are:
- Why do you want to share this story?
- What do you want people to feel as they read your personal narrative essay?
- What should the lasting impression of this story be on your reader?
5. Consider Your Audience
As part of the pre-planning process, I also like to remind middle schoolers of who their audience for this task will be. After all, personal stories should be shared with others!
I find that sometimes students approach an assignment from a different perspective depending on who will be reading their written work. This is why I like to make it very clear about the audience for their finished writing upfront.
There are many options for sharing students’ written work. Sometimes, after the essays are written, I have students sit and read them aloud to small groups of their peers. I also usually invite them to include their personal narratives in their portfolio of work from the year, which can be accessed by parents and guardians through an online portal. I may also keep a copy of their personal narratives to share with families during student-led conferences.
In some cases, a conversation with students about how they would like their words and ideas to be shared can be useful. They may surprise you with their own ideas. For example, they might like to post excerpts from their personal narratives to a blog, or even make them into a podcast!
6. Plan Out Your Story Elements
Once you have addressed the issues of topic and audience, it’s time to consider the elements of a personal narrative.
I like to emphasize that while the writer is the main character, a personal narrative essay usually involves other characters as well. When preparing to write, I invite students to consider:
- Who else is involved in the story or event?
- What are their character traits, and how will you show them through your writing?
- What is your relationship like with this person (or people?)
Once the characters are established, a next step for students is to consider the setting. For example, if location is important to the story, I might ask the class how they will convey a sense of place.
Here, I find it helps to brainstorm sensory details to include. I like to ask the class about the weather, time of day, sounds (for example, birds chirping, crowds, rain on the roof) and other details. These can help add color to the overall scene.
During the lesson , I like to explain that most personal narratives include one of the four types of conflict. This is sometimes new information for my middle school ELA students! I find it helps to ask the following questions:
- Is there conflict between you and another person in the story? (person vs. person)
- Are you struggling with some type of inner turmoil or struggling to make a decision? (person vs. self)
- Are you in conflict with the natural elements? (person vs. environment)
- Are you challenging an element of government or society? (person vs. society)
7. Provide an Organizational Framework
As we discuss the organizational framework of a personal narrative essay, middle school ELA students usually notice similarities to traditional story writing. During this process, a graphic organizer can support them with their planning.
Planning the Beginning of the Essay:
I remind them that the beginning of their essay should provide a captivating hook, establishing the basic details of the story. This can include background information, as well as information about the characters and setting. Most importantly, I like to reinforce that this is where they need to establish themselves as the main character! Depending on the topic, the students might introduce the conflict in this section as well.
Planning the Middle of the Essay :
As they move on to the middle of the personal narrative, I like to tell middle school ELA students to dive even more deeply into the situation, problem, or event they are describing. This helps their reader connect with the story. To do this, I also like to invite them to consider the character’s experiences (how they were feeling and what they were thinking). Just like in traditional fiction, this is also the place to build to some kind of climax.
Planning the Conclusion of their Essay:
Finally, I have students consider how they plan to conclude their personal narrative writing ELA task. In this section, they will want to tie up any loose ends, and identify any key messages they want to leave with the reader. As they organize their ideas, I ask them to think about a few things:
- What could the reader learn from your experience?
- Is there a moral or lesson the reader might consider in their own life?
- Will your story leave the reader laughing, in tears, or ready to take action?
One thing I emphasize is that students who are unfamiliar with personal narrative writing will probably want to stick quite closely to this planning format at first. As they become more comfortable with this type of writing task, they will gain more confidence in their own style, and take more creative risks.
8. Share Writing Strategies
Now it’s time for the fun part – the writing itself! Before my middle school ELA students write their essays in earnest, I offer a few tips to get them started.
First, I remind them to write their narrative essays in first person. After all, they’re telling their own stories! We discuss the idea of being “true to your voice” as a writer, and consider how the students wish to tell their personal stories. A humorous, witty, inspiring or sad story will all require a different tone – and whatever direction the student chooses to go in, the writing should be consistent.
Next, I like to offer a few tips about engaging the reader . Dialogue can add color and vibrancy to a personal narrative. Vivid imagery and sensory details can show, rather than tell, a sense of place or emotional connection. I love sharing the sample sentence, “Her face flushed to a shocking shade of red.” This is much more effective than, “She was embarrassed.”
9. Allow Time For Peer Editing
In my classroom, I like to leave a period or two for peer editing and revisions at the end of the writing process.
The first time, I encourage ELA students to read their personal narrative writing aloud. Or – even better – they can have a peer read their work back to them. This is a great starting point for finding mistakes or weak spots in the writing that need to be changed. The second time through, students can use a checklist to edit the work in sections and offer suggestions for improvement.
By breaking the editing process down into three key areas (grammar, content, and writing structure), I find students can keep their feedback constructive, focused and efficient. Finally, I leave time for the students to go over their writing again, making spelling and grammar corrections to ensure they turn in their best work.
10. Give Options for Sharing
It’s important to remember that each student has their own personal comfort level about sharing their work with a large group. A brief survey (either on paper or via Google Forms) is a great way to check in on students and find out how they would like to share their writing.
Here are some choices I like to offer:
- sharing their personal narrative essay through a pre-recorded podcast or video
- reading their essay in front of the class
- presenting their work to a small group of their peers
- booking a private meeting with me (usually at lunch) to go through their essay together
There you have it! I hope your middle school ELA students love writing personal narrative essays as much as mine do!
If you’re looking for more unique writing ideas for middle and high school, check out 5 Outside the Box Creative Writing Assignments in ELA !
Students stuck in a writing rut? Here are 8 Ways to Engage Reluctant Writers .
share this post
VISIT THE BLOG
Snowball writing: collaborative writing activity, 10 ideas to make your teachers’ lounge a positive space.
Send students on an online date with a book
7 bell-ringer ideas for middle and high school english.
Search the blog for what you are teaching
© PRESTO PLANS |
I’m Bonnie, a curriculum writer, literacy educator, and all around book lover on a mission to make English teachers’ lives a whole lot easier!
resources sent to your inbox!
10 FREE ENGLISH TEACHER
FIND ME ON
sent straight to your inbox!
10 days of ELA TEACHER
Middle school narrative essays and middle school writing conferences.
Five years ago, I had just started my first year of teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts. We were working on writing middle school narrative essays and I did a blog post on how I taught it here .
I have grown SO much since that time. My students definitely learned a lot, but especially because I teach the same kids in 8th grade as I do in 7th, I knew that I had to really up what we are doing this year.
Disclaimer: I don’t teach “personal narratives.” I know. Writing gods across the universe are gasping in shock, but it’s a decision I made a couple years ago, kind of on a whim, but has been the best thing I have ever done.
WHY NOT PERSONAL NARRATIVES?
I just feel like kids have written 8-10 personal narratives by the time they get to me, and we are all over it. Plus, sometimes it’s REALLY hard for kids to write something meaningful about the first time they were stung by a bee… or whatever small moment I spend hours and days trying to help them come up with.
I found that when students have to use narrative elements to become a character from a narrative mentor text, they don’t spend days trying to figure out what to write. They truly use narrative craft because they have a complete and well done mentor text to constantly reference. Plus they’re final essay and their writing are just SO FREAKING GOOD.
My first year, we read Freak the Mighty in both seventh and eighth grade. Students had to write from Freak’s or from Killer Kane’s point of view. They were some of the best essay I’ve ever read.
I used my Realistic Fiction and Literature Terms/Devices unit, along with Freak the Mighty.
I use the novels to teach literary elements and they use that knowledge to write their middle school narrative essays. We also focus a lot on thinking critically about the texts we read.
CHANGING IT UP EACH YEAR
My first year teaching middle school ELA, I taught a lot of the same lessons to both seventh and eight grade. It was honestly perfect as I learned two new grade levels, but that meant I changed things up a lot in the following years.
I still did the same thing with my 7th graders this year, and we are just about done writing our rough drafts.
For 8th grade, I had the same students, so I decided we would read The Outsiders . Even more so, instead of them just having to write from the point of view of a character, I actually wanted them to have to do some of that hard thinking that they might be missing out on by not doing a personal narrative.
With this in mind, my 8th graders had to continue Ponyboy’s narrative. Their middle school narrative essays still had to have a plot and climax that was completely developed. Essentially, I was asking them to write another chapter of the book.
It was REALLY HARD for all of us, especially in the planning stages, but I scaffolded and modeled A LOT. Now we’re on rough drafts too, and they’re seriously amazing.
I have since also added a sixth grade example for everything. We used Jason Reynolds novel, Ghost for their mentor text. Again, we used my realistic fiction unit and their novel study units.
COMPLETE NARRATIVE WRITING UNIT
Each year, I changed how we did our narrative writing unit, and I continued to update my examples and lesson plans each year.
I have since compiled all my middle school narrative writing lesson into one complete unit that you can get here.
Since I do teach middle school narrative essays differently than a lot of teachers, I thought I would give you a better overview of what the complete units looks like, plus show you some freebies you can get to use today!
NARRATIVE WRITING UNIT OVERVIEW
- Session 1: Elements of Narrative Essays Part one
- Session 2: Elements of Narrative Essays Part Two
- Session 3: Narrative Plot Diagrams
- Session 4: Using Sensory Details
- Session 5: Using Dialogue Correctly
- Session 6: Using Dialogue Effectively
- Session 7: Ways to Start a Narrative, Writing Rough Drafts, Writing Conferences
- Session 8: Using Narrative Transitions, Writing Rough Drafts, Writing Conferences
- Session 9: Pacing Narrative Writing, Writing Rough Drafts, Writing Conferences
- Session 10: Ways to End a Narrative, Writing Rough Drafts, Writing Conferences
- Session 11 : Consistent Verb Tenses, Peer Editing, Writing Conferences
- Session 12 : Editing vs. Revising Rough drafts, Writing Conferences
- Session 13-15: Publishing final drafts, Writing Conferences
Each lesson plan has standard alignment, lesson plans for learning period, interactive notebook pages when applicable, teacher prep, writing conference forms and examples, and more!
INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK PAGES
With middle school narrative essays I find that students need some front loading before drafting. Because of that, we do spend the first few days doing some interactive notebook lessons on elements of narrative.
Personal narratives are all about teaching students to use the elements of narrative writing. Since we aren’t doing a personal narrative, I focus heavily on the elements of a narrative to start. We start by defining each of the elements but then look for examples in our mento texts. This is huge because they use their mentor text to write their essays.
DIFFERENTIATED EXAMPLES BY GRADE LEVEL
As someone who taught all three grade levels of middle school at the same time, I always needed different examples. I like to be able to use the same units, but use different content. If there is an interactive notebook lesson, I made sure to differentiate examples by grade level.
The same is done for all of the lesson plans when there are examples based on the mentor texts. I use Ghost for sixth grade, Freak the Mighty seventh grade, and The Outsiders for eighth grades, so I make sure I have different examples for each.
It drove me crazy when students would say things like, “I don’t get what to do.” So I made sure I had examples that were conceptualized for each grade level so there was no excuse.
NARRATIVE ESSAY CHART PAPERS
I know I teach middle school ELA, but I still love using chart papers for students to reference. Most of my interactive notebook lessons were adapted and created based on the chart papers.
You don’t have to do both the chart papers and the interactive notebook lessons, but I did include images of all my chart papers. I honestly just made them as I came up with elements that I knew we need to dig deeper into throughout the unit.
When I was in a pinch some year, I honestly could just print the chart papers on 8×10 paper so students could glue them into their notebooks. I don’t think it is as effective as student taking their own notes, but sometimes you’re short on time.
INDIVIDUAL WRITING CONFERENCES
I strongly believe that my students write really strong narrative essays because of how I do writing conferences with students.
I have a separate blog post all about how I do writing conference in my middle school ELA classroom , because there was a time when I did them like I “thought” I needed to do writing conferences.
I thought I needed to spend time training them, making them be prepared for them, and then trying to come up with discussion points. I’ve since learned that that just isn’t reality when you have 100+ middle school ELA students.
Check out my blog post all about this here.
I also have since made tons of editable middle school narrative essays rubrics and writing conference forms for teachers and students.
FREE NARRATIVE REFERENCE NOTEBOOKS
One of the biggest updates I made while redoing my narrative writing unit was making a narrative reference notebook.
It’s perfect for students to create at the beginning of the units and to reference while creating their narrative essays.
- Read more about: Back to School , Middle School ELA Assessment , Middle School Writing , Organization , Printables for Teachers
You might also like...
Tips for Successful Student Writing Conferences in ELA
How Writing Conferences Reduce Essay Grading Time
4 Easy Substitute Teacher Lesson Plans for ELA
Get your free middle school ela pacing guides with completed scopes and sequences for the school year..
My ELA scope and sequence guides break down every single middle school ELA standard and concept for reading, writing, and language in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. Use the guides and resources exactly as is or as inspiration for you own!
I’m a Middle School ELA teacher committed to helping you improve your teaching & implement systems that help you get everything done during the school day!
© The Hungry Teacher • Website by KristenDoyle.co • Contact Martina
- Grades 6-12
- School Leaders
Enter Our Chromebook Giveaway 💻! 8 Winners, One Each Week
65 Engaging Personal Narrative Ideas for Kids and Teens
Tell a story to engage the reader.
Personal narrative essays are all about telling stories. Engage your reader with lots of descriptive language, and ensure you have a beginning, middle, and end. ( Get more tips about teaching narrative writing here. ) Try these personal narrative ideas to inspire kids and teens to tell meaningful stories from their own lives, no matter what they’ve experienced.
“Describe a Time When You …” Personal Narrative Ideas
Firsts and bests personal narrative ideas, general personal narrative essay ideas, college essay personal narrative ideas.
These personal narrative ideas urge students to dig into their past experiences and share them with their audience. Be sure to share the details, including what took place and how it made you feel, and anything you learned from the experience.
Describe a time when you:
- Were scared
- Overcame a big challenge
- Learned an important life lesson
- Had to make a difficult decision
- Were proud of a friend or family member
- Did something you didn’t want to and ended up liking it
- Met a celebrity or someone you really admire
- Tried something new
- Made a mistake and had to apologize and/or fix the mistake
- Were in danger
- Helped someone in need
- Had a dream come true
- Felt inspired
- Had a really terrible day
- Were a leader
- Made someone else laugh
- Did something you later regretted
- Set a goal and achieved it
These essay topics explore the times you did something for the first time ever, or when you were the best version of yourself.
- Write about meeting your best friend for the first time and how your relationship developed.
- Tell about learning to ride a bike or drive a car.
- Tell about your proudest moment.
- What is your happiest memory?
- What is your earliest memory?
- Explain what it’s like to move to a new town or start a new school.
- What’s the best (or worst!) vacation you’ve ever taken?
- Tell the story of the time you got your first pet.
- Describe your favorite field trip of all time.
- Tell the story of your first day of kindergarten.
- What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
- Describe the best party or celebration you’ve ever attended.
- Tell about the first time someone ever paid you for work (first job, chores for a neighbor, babysitting, etc.) and how it made you feel.
- Describe the first time you spent a night away from home without your family.
- What’s the best gift you’ve ever been given?
Here are more personal narrative topics to inspire young writers.
- Describe a performance or sporting event you took part in.
- Explain the process of cooking and eating your favorite meal.
- Write about a time when you or someone you know displayed courage.
- Share the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you.
- Describe a time when you or someone you know experienced prejudice or oppression.
- Explain a family tradition, how it developed, and its importance today.
- What is your favorite holiday? How does your family celebrate it?
- Describe your morning routine from the time you wake up until the moment the school bell rings to start the day.
- Share what you do on a typical non-school day.
- Tell about a time when you were injured. How did it happen?
- Describe an argument you and a friend had and how you resolved it.
- Tell about what you think your life will be like when you’re 25 years old.
- Explore a time when you felt you were treated unfairly.
- What makes your family different from everyone else’s family?
- If you could relive any day in your life, what would it be? Would you want it to be the same or different?
These personal narrative essay topics all come from real 2022–2023 college applications. ( See more college essay prompts here. )
- Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.
- Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.
- Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you.
- Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
- When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true?
- Reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
- Describe a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond?
- Elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you.
- Describe any meaningful travel experiences you’ve had.
- Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
- What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?
- What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
- Describe a time when you’ve felt empowered or represented by an educator.
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
What are your favorite personal narrative ideas? Come share on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, check out the big list of essay topics for high school (100+ ideas) ., you might also like.
What Is Narrative Writing, and How Do I Teach It in the Classroom?
It's more than just telling stories. Continue Reading
Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved. 5335 Gate Parkway, Jacksonville, FL 32256
- Varsity Tutors
- K-5 Subjects
- Study Skills
- All AP Subjects
- AP Calculus
- AP Chemistry
- AP Computer Science
- AP Human Geography
- AP Macroeconomics
- AP Microeconomics
- AP Statistics
- AP US History
- AP World History
- All Business
- Business Calculus
- Microsoft Excel
- Supply Chain Management
- All Humanities
- Essay Editing
- All Languages
- Mandarin Chinese
- Portuguese Chinese
- Sign Language
- All Learning Differences
- Learning Disabilities
- Special Education
- College Math
- Common Core Math
- Elementary School Math
- High School Math
- Middle School Math
- All Science
- Organic Chemistry
- Physical Chemistry
- All Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Computer Science
- Electrical Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
- Materials Science & Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- College Essays
- High School
- College & Adult
- 1-on-1 Private Tutoring
- Online Tutoring
- Instant Tutoring
- Pricing Info
- All AP Exams
- ACT Tutoring
- ACT Reading
- ACT Science
- ACT Writing
- SAT Tutoring
- SAT Reading
- SAT Writing
- GRE Tutoring
- NCLEX Tutoring
- Real Estate License
- And more...
- Beginners Coding
- Early Childhood
- For Schools Overview
- Talk with Our Team
- Reviews & Testimonials
- Press & Media Coverage
- Tutor/Instructor Jobs
- Corporate Solutions
- About Nerdy
- Become a Tutor
- Book Reports
- Children’s Literature
- Just for Fun
- Literature (Prose)
- Professional Resources
- Study Guides
- Technology Integration
- Young Adult Literature
Middle School Narrative Writing Lesson plans and other teaching resources
| Elementary Narrative Writing | |Middle School Narrative Writing| | High School Narrative Writing |
20 Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World Creative writing prompt: "I walked across the bridge and ..." The photographs of real bridges on this page are astonishingly beautiful. However, the page also carries ads that may not be appropriate for the classroom. Consider copying the photographs into a new file for classroom use.
27 Magical Paths Begging To Be Walked Photographs of beautiful paths all over the world, showing a variety of seasons and geography, just waiting to inspire a poem or serve as the setting for a short story. Note: this page carries ads that may not be appropriate for the classroom. Consider copying the photographs into a new file for classroom use.
500 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing Organized by category.
Constructing Narratives: A Unit Plan for Taking Apart and Reconstructing Stories This lesson is designed as a project-based unit plan that will take students through the narrative process from deconstruction to construction. After initial discussion, students will use an interactive story map to deconstruct a short story. Students will use pictures to put together a PowerPoint-based storyboard that other students will use to construct a story. This unit is designed for grades 6-8.
From Object to Story: Writing a Historical Narrative Featuring an Artifact from One's Family History Students share observations about the history of familial artifacts. They then research the history and cultural significance of selected objects to prepare their own historical narratives. Includes short reading as prewriting activity. Designed for grades 7-12.
Hands, Hands, Hands - Writing a Narrative Essay from the Perspective of a Particular Hand The teacher will show pictures of six hands to students (pictures included with other handouts). After a brainstorming session, students will choose one hand that illustrates a particular story from their life. Then students will write a two page narrative essay about this story. These stories will be posted on a class blog to allow for feedback and discussion from classmates. Designed for grades 7-10.
In Search Of Wisdom: An Interview With An Elder Students develop interview questions, interview someone aged 60 or older, and write a narrative using that person's voice. Designed for grades 6-12.
Incorporating Flashbacks in Narrative Text — The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis Students watch a 2:25 video segment that shows an interview with one of the survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis who recalls the sinking of the ship and his survival. Students then create an original narrative that utilizes flashback to tell the survivor's story. This lesson is designed for grades 6-12 and includes links to the downloadable video and all support materials.
Little Red Riding Hood Little Red Riding Hood is now part of an elite group of fairy tale crime scene investigators. You remember Humpty Dumpty? He didn't fall. He was pushed. Or so it seemed at first. This idea will work on multiple grade levels.
Meet Comic Book Artist Phil Jimenez This video (4:34) presents writer and comic book artist Phil Jimenez, who has worked for DC and Marvel Comics. Jimenez describes his early inspiration, gives tips for good storytelling, and discusses the unique way comics approach sequential narrative. Links at the site include a student assignment handout to review Jimenez's advice, an assignment on making a visual story about an "everyday adventure," and a teacher handout for reflection prompts and discussion questions about visual storytelling that focus on Common Core State Standards for Writing: Text Types and Purposes, for students in grades 6, 7, and 8.
Memory Preservation--One Relative at a Time After organizing and conducting an interview of a grandparent/senior citizen, students create a slideshow presentation using the information and memorabilia collected at the interview. This lesson plan includes rubric and model. It is designed for 8th grade.
Narrative, Argumentative and Informative Writing About Baseball Students compose a one- or two-paragraph scene in which a valuable signed baseball is destroyed. The narrative task is the first of four prompts here. Common Core Standards indicated. Don't miss the extension activity, a video of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" Grades 6-12.
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words Students are given a picture that tells a story. They brainstorm words and ideas, then write a story based on what they see. This lesson is designed for grades 6-8.
Prewriting Exercises for Personal Narratives Ten activities for personal narrative writing, grades 7-12.
Using Personal Photographs to Spark Narrative Writing The lesson plan asks students to bring in a photograph that has special meaning for them and to write about it. This will work on multiple grade levels.
Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.
35 Personal Narrative Assignments
Descriptive personal narrative.
To synthesize what you’ve learned about description, narration, and reflection, you will write a personal narrative. This is generally a nonfiction, prose essay (similar to a memoir), but your instructor might provide additional guidelines in regard to genre, media, approach, or assessment standards.
Your task is to identify an influential place, event, or person from your life experience about which you can tell a story. Then, you will write a narrative essay that relates that story and considers the impact it had on you, your worldview, and/or your life path. Using model texts in this book as exemplars, you will tell a story (narrate) using vivid description and draw out meaning and insight using reflection.
As you’ll evaluate below, descriptive personal narratives have a variety of purposes. One important one is to share a story that stands in for a bigger idea. Do not be worried if you don’t know the “bigger idea” yet, but be advised that your final draft will narrate a focused, specific moment that represents something about who you are, how you got here, what you believe, or what you strive to be.
Think about your experience reading and writing. Did you want to learn, or was it simply expected of you? Did you in any way teach yourself, or did you learn from a schoolteacher or a relative? What book or other text has been significant to you? Is there a particular writing or reading task that you found challenging? Write a literacy narrative, reflecting on a significant moment in your writing and/or reading experience. This experience can be from childhood or from the more recent past. As you write, keep in mind the following key features of a literacy narrative: vivid detail, well-told story, some indication of the narrative’s significance.
Be sure to apply the concepts you learn in class to your writing.
Before you begin, consider your rhetorical situation:
Writing a Personal Narrative
By E. Anderson
This presentation walks students through the process of writing a personal narrative. It introduces and defines the essential characteristics of personal narratives.
Personal Narrative Basic Rubric
You are going to be doing a fast write to brainstorm/pre-write for your personal narrative. Recall that a personal narrative is a personal story that you share with your audience in order to make a point or to convey a message. The strongest and most poignant personal narratives often result from writing about something ordinary. You may write about the common, but make it uncommon.When thinking about writing a personal narrative remember that it is not just what happens but what you, the author, makes of what happens.
Here are some questions to review before you begin your personal narrative free-write.
- Tell what you know or have heard about any of your ancestors other than your parents and grandparents. Include significant details when possible.
- When were you born? What were you told about your birth and infancy, and who told you?
- What kinds of “make-believe” do you remember playing? What did you find amazing as a child?
- Recall your earliest memories of school. What do you remember feeling about your first few years in school. What do you remember learning? What do you remember liking about school? What was difficult or frightening?
- Who were your childhood friends and what did you most like to do together? Who was your best friend and how did the friendship begin?
- What did you do when you came home from school? Who would be there?
- Imagine your family during a typical mealtime. What do you see going on around you? What would you be eating? What was regular Saturday like? Sunday?
- What kinds of music did you hear as a child? Write a memory that involves music.
- What were the reading material in your home? Who read to you?
- Were there television shows and movies that made an impression on you as a child?
- What did “being good” mean in your family? What work was expected of you as a child? What else seemed expected of you as a child, either stated or unstated?
- What were the historical events taking place in your childhood and how were you aware of them?
- Tell of time when you gained confidence in yourself.
- What were some of your fears? Tell about a time where you felt extremely frightened?
- When were the times that adults let you down?
- What questions did you have that did not seem to have answers?
- What were some of the things you wanted to do as a child but could not? Which of them were forbidden to do? Which were unavailable or unaffordable? Which were beyond your abilities as a child?
- What do you know about your grandparents’ lives? What do you remember feeling about your grandparents?
- What have you heard about your mother’s childhood? What did you hear about your father’s childhood?
- What sense about marriage did you get from your parents?
- Picture yourself as a child. Now imagine that this child is standing in front of you this moment. What would you like to say to this child?
Allow students to use an online timer for their freewrite. HERE is a link to one of many online timers.
This type of peer editing was originally meant to be used in a discussion thread format in an online course. However, these are the questions that peer editors were specifically asked to address in detail. (This was in addition to grammatical and mechanical errors.)
- What was the NARRATIVE EFFECT? (Recall that the narrative effect is the main point of the story–the moral, the message, or the insight that the writer offers.)
- Find an element of STYLE that the writer used well. (show, not tell, sensory language, diction, figurative language, point of view, expressive words, etc.)
- Name one thing that the writer could do to improve this personal narrative.
Students were asked to (1) read their personal narrative out loud and (2) use paperrater.com . This is a free web tool that proofreads, checks grammar and offers writing suggestions.
Write What Matters Copyright © 2020 by Liza Long; Amy Minervini; and Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.