Personal Narratives with Strong Leads

“Hook your Readers!”

This is what we tell our student in order to help them understand the importance of a strong lead when composing personal narratives (small moment stories).  We want our students to learn how to capture the readers’ attention, making them want to read the rest of our piece.  Strategies and examples can help your students choose that “just right” bold beginning to hook their readers and make them want to read more.

Anchor charts and mentor texts for composing strong narrative leads

Anchor Chart

Anchor chart for writing personal narrative leads
Anchor chart for writing strong personal narrative leads

To familiarize students with options for bold beginnings, it’s always helpful to start with an anchor chart.  When I taught fourth grade, I wrote out examples for each lead.  However, I found that made the anchor chart too cluttered for my second graders.  Instead, I use a picture to illustrate each strategy.  Pictures are helpful for young students to have access to a visual representation of each strategy.  Students will also see plenty of examples through mentor texts, modeling, and examples of personal narratives from their peers.


Mentor Texts

After introducing students to the different types of leads, you can dive into some favorite mentor texts for examples.  I always read the book to students in its entirety before referring back to it for a specific craft lesson.  (The read aloud does not always take place during writing time.)  Three of my favorite mentor texts for narrative leads are Jabari Jumps, Thundercake, and Shortcut.

Jabari Jumps is an excellent example of a small moment story with a bold beginning.

Dialogue for a Strong Lead

” ‘I’m jumping off the diving board today,’ Jabari told his dad.”

Jabari Jumps is an excellent example of a personal narrative that focuses on a small moment where Jabari overcomes his fear of jumping off the diving board.

Thundercake is an excellent mentor text for small moment personal narratives.

Setting Description for a Strong Lead

“One sultry summer days at my grandma’s farm in Michigan, the air gets damp and heavy.  Storm clouds drift low over the fields.”

Thundercake is a wonderful small moment story about a woman helping her grandchild overcome her fear of thunderstorms my baking thundercake.

Shortcut is a great small moment personal narrative that uses short sentences for a strong lead.

Short Sentences for a Strong Lead

We looked… We listened… We decided to take the shortcut home.

There is definitely a lesson to be learned in Shortcut.  In this small moment story, children learn that taking a shortcut is not always the best decision.  


Let the Students Choose...

In order to provide additional examples, I compose three possible leads for my own personal narrative (used as a model).  To the right are my three lead ideas for my personal narrative about getting my dog, Millie, from the shelter.  I use Pear Deck to have my students vote for which lead they liked best.  However, voting by raising hands works just as well.

***My students chose the first one.

Modeling how to craft a strong lead for personal narratives

Small Group & Conference Reference

A list of lead examples for interactive notebooks or writing binders
A list of lead examples for interactive notebooks or writing binders

As you know, there will be some students who will take these writing strategies and run with with them.  There will also be those who will need further guidance.  Whenever I am conferring with students or meeting with a small group to discuss leads, I have mentor texts and my writing handy.  In addition, I have a list of sample leads from other mentor texts.  The isolated examples below are helpful to inspire students who may need a little more guidance.  I often have them choose a lead they like and help them model their own lead after an example that they like.

***Keep reading to find out how you can download this list, plus an engaging Lead Scavenger Hunt.

Students Inspiring Each Other

One final way to inspire bold beginnings is by having students share with each other.  There are a couple of ways to do this.  During writing workshop, I sometimes call attention to a student who has composed a particularly strong lead.  Alternatively,  students could share at the end of writing workshop, either through a whole group share or by sharing with a writing partner.  Students are often inspired by their peers, so this usually works out well.

***If you would like to read more about writing personal narratives, check out this post which shares three wonderful mentor texts and how to use them for several different lessons.  You can also find ways to help your students find small moments here.

I designed a freebie to make lead strategies more accessible and more engaging.  By filling out the form below, you can have a lead scavenger hunt and interactive notebook resources sent straight to your inbox.  I hope your students have as much fun finding all the different leads as mine do!  Let me know how it goes with your class.

Free resources and activity for composing strong narrative leads

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Teaching blogger for elementary teachers

Mary Wingert, licensed educator (K-12 Special Ed. & 1-8 General Ed)

I started teaching in 1993.   I have taught special education, fifth grade, and fourth grade.  I moved to second grade in 2015, and I am still there today.  

I believe in teaching strategies that are effective, differentiated, and engaging. I am looking forward to building a community of teachers who feels the same!  Read more here.