By fifth-grade, students have heard many stories, but when asked to write a narrative, somehow the composition often turns into a long string of rambling simple sentences. Fifth-graders need to develop the tools required to tell their stories. Class writing activities can help students overcome this and learn to write engaging narratives.
Help students overcome difficulties with what to write about by creating a cache of narrative writing ideas that are ready to use. Explain that meaningful events make the best narratives. Ask students to spend a few minutes discussing meaningful personal stories with a partner. After sharing, have students make one idea list for personal experiences worthy of writing a narrative, which includes a brief description of the idea. Students then create another idea list for stories about other people familiar to them, such as family members, again with a brief description. Instruct students to maintain the list as a resource of narrative writing ideas.
Vocabulary is a key element in fifth-grade writing curriculum. Read an engaging narrative aloud to students, such as "My Mama Had a Dancing Heart" by Libba Moore Gray. After the first read, ask students to identify what makes the story an engaging narrative. Focus the discussion on the types of words the author used. Explain that authors paint pictures with words using vocabulary that describes emotions, actions and the senses.
Have students create a chart with the headings emotions, actions and senses. Read the story aloud again and have students write down the author’s words that fit each category. Create a class wall chart of the words for student reference. Add to the chart with another narrative at a future date.
Moment in Time
Fifth-grade students often manage to write the story of a weeklong vacation in three sentences when asked to write a narrative. Teach students that writing with meaningful detail can help create a page-long narrative from a five-minute experience. Without reference to writing, take students on a brief walk around the building or outside, asking them to pay attention to feelings, sights, sounds, smells and actions.
Once back inside, ask students to brainstorm all the words and phrases they can come up with to describe the walk experience as you write them on the board. Ask them to examine the words and phrases, noticing how much information was gained. Have students write the narrative of the walk experience using as many of the words and phrases from the list as they can to describe it. Have students note how the detail and length of their narratives have improved.
Zoom In on Detail
Some fifth-graders ramble off in many directions when writing a narrative. Precise writing is a key element in many state standards. Post a large picture of a group of children playing on a playground, or take students outside to observe students there. Ask students what they would write if asked to write a narrative about the scene. Most students describe a list of what each student is doing. Jot down the list of things the students describe. Now, point out two or three playing students. Ask the class to place their hands to their eyes like binoculars and “zoom in" on just those students. Have them watch just the two or three students for a few minutes, focusing on everything they do.
Take students back in the classroom and ask them to describe everything that they noticed the students doing. Jot these down for students in a loose narrative story example. Compare the details students noticed from zooming in, to the rambling list they first gave you. Explain that in a narrative, it is best to zoom in and give detail on just one or two important elements of the story. Ask students to write their narrative of what they saw when zooming in and share it with partners.
Elizabeth Stover, an 18 year veteran teacher and author, has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Maryland with a minor in sociology/writing. Stover earned a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas, Arlington and continues to work on a masters in Educational Leadership from University of North Texas. Stover was published by Creative Teaching Press with the books "Science Tub Topics" and "Math Tub Topics."