“What are the most important stories in my life?” Teaching Fourth Graders to Write Personal Narratives that Matter

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Above all, narrative writers must “show, not tell.”  – Donald Graves

Mid Autumn Festival is over in Hong Kong and it is time to teach the craft of narrative writing to my fourth grade students. This is a great time of year for I see steady growth in the writers’ stamina, independence and ability. The students learn to bounce ideas off each other. The writers learn to take risks with their stories. They learn that their writing matters and that an audience reads their pieces.

The 4th grade student writer is becoming more independent with each day’s writing session. Students will investigate mentor texts and published authors to make their own writing more meaningful. Writers will think about moments where they have felt strong emotions and list them. The writers will think of “turning points” in their own lives and list them. The fourth graders will think about and draw upon all that they have learned about writing in previous sessions.

This unit, I aim to improve my craft by habitually asking the students to write a personal SMART writing goal for each session. I will also have the students write their overall message of their current narrative piece. Writers will post both goal and message each day on a post it note adhered to their writing space. These will become quick and simple data points as I walk around and confer with the student writers.

The students will become aware of a shared jargon from our discussions. I plan to teach that internal thoughts run parallel with external actions. I will teach that writers primarily “show and not tell.”(Graves, 1994)  I will teach students that to ask themselves “What is this piece really about?”

One area of growth that I plan to develop will be conventions and mechanics. I will distribute an editor’s checklist for each student writer and model correct use of the checklist. I will have students discuss proper punctuation and paragraphing. I intend on playing a conventions game every 8 days or so. Overall, I hope to teach the students that grammar is a piece of the writing puzzle that not to overlook, yet keep in perspective.

I will use some of the anchor charts that I found on Pinterest:

Punctuation Anchor Chart Idea
Another Punctuation Chart Idea
Even MORE Anchor Charts

Also, I cannot express the need for talk in the writing classroom. I am a believer that the students need to talk about their own growth and new understandings as they write. This is a highly structured routine of every writing session. The students engage in talk and encourage each other.  For more information on talk, check out this site: Why Talk is Important.

Another teaching point that I hope to get across is that writers practice leads. This means that they write, write and rewrite lead sentences and try them out by reading out loud to their writing partner. I have taught the students to actively listen and to politely steer each other to the best sentences.  This develops community and an understanding that risks are appreciated and that choices matter.

Finally, I will continue our habit of celebrating the ending of the unit and sharing our pieces with poetry and parents.

“My mission today is to create a sense of occasion around the upcoming author celebration, and to be sure that editing takes on a special importance because it is a way of preparing one’s work to go out in the world.” (Calkins & Martinelli, 2006)

The students will assemble in small groups of six or seven and each will have the floor. All will share two personal narratives and will share their overall reflections from the unit. All will create a T-Chart observations and thoughts from their writers’ notebook.  They will then be expected to write their reflections to me for evaluation.

Fourth grade teachers, “How do you inspire writers in your classroom?”




Calkins, L. M., & Martinelli, M. (2006). Units of study for teaching writing, grades 3-5.

Graves, D. (1994). A fresh look at writing. Canada: Irwin Publishing.









3 thoughts on ““What are the most important stories in my life?” Teaching Fourth Graders to Write Personal Narratives that Matter

  1. I like your emphasis on audience and the respect for the craft of writing that you model as well as talk. I’ll bet your final sharing session is full of power, and there are tears and laughter from everyone as students read.

    • The kid writers are pretty amazing here. It is a true workshop approach. We ALL write! How is everything at your end?

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