Personal narratives are one of my favorite writing projects because they allow me to learn great things about my students. I enjoy hearing about those special small moments in their lives. However, I am always running into students who want to share entire vacations, descriptions of their pets or other ideas that don’t fit the small moment narrative framework. This year, we worked hard to make sure students had small moments to write about from the start.
First and foremost, I started off with two great mentor texts for finding small moments. I don’t always use the same ones every year, but these are two of my favorites. Not only are they excellent examples of small moments, but they are meaningful moments. There is definitely a lesson to be learned in both stories.
The first book, Fireflies, is about a child who can wait to get outside and catch fireflies with his friends. However, he soon realizes that life in a jar is no life for a firefly, and he sets them free.
The second book, Shortcut, is about a group of children who decide to save time and take a shortcut to get back to Bigmama’s house. They learn that saving time isn’t as important as staying safe.
A huge part of making sure students understand the process of narrowing their focus is modeling step by step how I do it. First, I share a list of possible topics. The next day, I go through the “Seed Test”. To do this, I use the watermelon analogy. If you have a “watermelon story” the topic is way too big. Examples of watermelon topics include: my family, my pets, etc. A “slice” is a bit more narrow. Examples of a slice include: my dog, the time I went to Myrtle Beach, etc. The “seed story” is when we get to the small moments. Examples of seed stories include: my first roller coaster ride, entering the classroom on the first day of school, etc.
When I model my process, I start with a “brain dump” of ideas. Next, I share with students how some are fine, some need to be more narrow, and some just don’t have a story to go with them. In the later case, I talk about how there are other forms of writing that we can use those ideas for later in the year. You can see the slide I use to guide this conversation below.
In the end, I decided to model my writing with the story of getting my rescue pup, Millie from the shelter. I created the anchor chart below for students to use as a guide when checking their ideas. (Graphics are available for free in my TPT store here.)
I was very excited to listen to students’ ideas for narratives. The watermelon analogy, great mentor texts, and modeling are wonderful guides to get your students to find their just right topics.