Sunday, 11 May 2014

Narrative Writing 101

I don't know what it is about children and narrative writing! Give my students a descriptive piece and they're awesome; they can compare and contrast quite capably; they're not too bad at persuasive writing - but narrative?

What's that? None of your business. Yes it is. No it isn't. You're a this, you're a that....

"Who's speaking?" I wail in despair, as I stare at three pages of endless dialogue with no punctuation. "Where are the setting details? What does this character look like? Who IS this character? Where, oh WHERE, is your punctuation?!!"

Then there's the student's burning need to fill three lines of the page with... RRRRRIIIIIIIIPPPPPP, or YYYYYAAAAAAAYYYYYYY or something similar.

They forget to indent paragraphs - heck, they forget to USE paragraphs completely!
Spelling is a foreign concept.
And cursive handwriting goes out the window.

I believe this is a universal phenomenon!  :)

Recently we spent some time practicing our writing skills and wrote about The Surprise Package that nine-year old Kim received in the post.

I loved the way this lesson turned out. It took some time - and quite a lot of work on my part - but it was SO beneficial and so informative that it was totally worth it!

We started by discussing all the writing goals that we were going to do our very BEST to complete. We're focusing on embedding setting and character details into a plot right now so our Creating Text objectives were to develop setting, character and plot. We concentrated on organizing the writing into 4 indented paragraphs and we planned to use adjectives and adverbs to add detail to sentences and connectives to make them more complex.

We practiced embedding in a short classroom brainstorm session. "Sarah flicked her long, brown hair over her shoulder, smoothed her pink t-shirt over her jeans and sauntered along the long corridor toward the kitchen. The smell of burning toast and the rattle of a frying pan greeted her as she entered the bright, sunlit room..... " etc. etc.

We briefly reviewed the main idea of the story and discussed how to plan (again, reviewing everything we've been talking about all year) using our plot chart.

And then we started. The kids had to make notes about setting (using their own houses for details - I'm trying to enforce the idea of "write what you know") and character so that they could then use that information when they began to write. They were only allowed two characters.

Each paragraph had guiding questions, which, along with their plot chart, would keep them on track.

When they finished the first paragraph they came to me and we discussed it, checking to see that they had met the writing goals, punctuated properly etc. etc. Then, after making necessary changes, they went off to finish their rough draft.

Self-editing was next. Each student color coded their writing to check that they had met the writing goals. All references to setting were highlighted in yellow; character references were pink; adjectives and adverbs were blue... This way each student could see where elements were missing and could go back and add details as necessary.

The colors look a little different here. She
did color code correctly :)

Next up: self-reflection. Have I met the goals? Most students thought they had. A couple decided they hadn't and went back for more editing. A couple decided they hadn't - and didn't want to! Sigh. Teacher enforcement required!

With the highlighted, edited drafts in front of them, students wrote their neat copies

and then, in pairs, assessed a friend's writing. Using the writing goals again they found two things their friend did well and one thing that could be better. We used the Two Stars and a Wish method. :)

We may have to work on how to word comments. The paper below had an accurate assessment but perhaps it wasn't worded as diplomatically as it could be. :)


And then it was my turn. I took all the packs home and marked them on our rubric, giving each piece of writing a level (we level our work on a 1 - 5 system using the Ros Wilson rubrics).

I handed back the marked stories and my students read all the comments - teacher and peer alike - and then reflected on their writing. As part of their reflection they wrote goals for their next piece of writing.

This whole project took nearly two weeks from start to finish but I think it was VERY worthwhile. Not only did it give me a lot of information (which will help me differentiate my teaching) but it forced my students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Our next piece of writing will be a guided assessment - with time allowed for making setting and character notes and plot planning with guiding questions. We'll follow that with a completely independent assessment (with a short period of time allowed for planning). This method worked very well with our descriptive writing last term so I'm hopeful that it will be equally successful with narrative.

We shall see. :)

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