How to improve Narrative writing skills

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NARRATIVE NARRATIVE WRITING WRITING By Tara McCarthy SCHOLASTIC ROFESSIONAL OOKS P B New York Toronto London Auckland Sydney • • • •Scholastic Inc. grants teachers permission to photocopy the designated reproducible pages of this book for classroom use. No other part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. For information regarding permission, write to Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012. Cover design by Vincent Ceci and Jaime Lucero Interior design by Vincent Ceci and Drew Hires Interior illustrations by Drew Hires ISBN 0-590-20937-X Copyright © 1998 by Tara McCarthy. All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A.TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION TO THE TEACHER ...................................................................................... 5 PART ONE WRITING NARRATIVES ABOUT OUR OWN EXPERIENCES ................................................................................ 7 Getting Started ...................................................................................................... 7 Three Ways of Journaling ..................................................................................... 8 Double-Entry Journal, Problem-Solution Journal, Partner Journal Observation Diaries ............................................................................................. 11 Logs ..................................................................................................................... 13 Autobiographical Incidents ................................................................................ 15 Activities ............................................................................................................. 16 Friendly Letters, Class Reports, Imagination Diaries, Postcard Narratives Culminating Activity PART TWO WRITING NARRATIVES ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE ................ 19 Getting Started .................................................................................................... 19 First-Person Biographies .................................................................................... 20 First-Person Narratives Based on History ......................................................... 21 If Only They Could Speak Unusual Narrators .................................................. 22 Picture-Prompt Narratives .................................................................................. 24 Activities ............................................................................................................. 26 History Letters, History Newspapers, Right-Now Magazine Stories, Narrative Poetry, Culminating Activity PART THREE WRITING NARRATIVES ABOUT LITERATURE ....................... 29 Getting Started .................................................................................................... 29 Story Summaries ................................................................................................. 30 Book Character Conversations ........................................................................... 31Different Voices ................................................................................................... 32 Adding to the Story ............................................................................................. 34 New Episodes, Put Yourself into the Story Narrating Personal Connections ......................................................................... 36 Letters Between Book Characters, Life-Experience Connections Activities ............................................................................................................. 39 Silent Dialogues, Using Illustrations, Literary Recipes, Character Advertisements, Culminating Activity PART FOUR WRITING STORIES .................................................................................. 41 Getting Started .................................................................................................... 41 Investigating Plot: Traditional Stories ............................................................... 42 Investigate Story Characters .............................................................................. 43 Picture the Setting .............................................................................................. 44 Group Writing: Story Perks and Starters ........................................................... 46 Object Prompts, Familiar Sayings, New Endings for Old Stories, Great Beginnings Start Your Story With a BANG .......................................................................... 48 Activities ............................................................................................................. 50 Parallel Sentences, Poetry, Music, Art, Culminating Activity PART FIVE COMPOSITION SKILLS (Reproducibles) ................................ 53 Strong Verbs ........................................................................................................ 54 Precise Nouns ...................................................................................................... 55 Transitional Words .............................................................................................. 56 Combining Sentences .......................................................................................... 57 Comparisons ........................................................................................................ 58 Punctuating Conversation .................................................................................. 59 Ways To Begin Sentences ................................................................................... 60 Proofreading Practice .......................................................................................... 61TO THE TEACHER narrative tells a story. Telling stories aloud is probably the oldest form of human discourse. The oral form comes so naturally to us that we tend to overlook the Aimportant ways in which it is different from a written narrative. As we tell stories aloud in an informal setting, we tend to “hop around”; we may tell events out of order, leave out important steps, or fail to identify characters clearly. In a sense, all that is OK: our gestures, expressions, and tones of voice can carry a lot of infor- mation; and immediate feedback and questions from the listening audience allow us to go back and fill in the blanks. However, the audience expects and needs more from a written narrative. The story can’t simply be “talk written down.” All the essentials must be provided in an organized way. Whether the story is a one-paragraph true-life anecdote or a 600-page novel, it must have a central idea, characters, a plotline, adequate description, and usually a culminating event. This book suggests strategies and activities for helping your students draw on their nat- ural enthusiasm for story-telling in order to write narratives that satisfy both themselves and their reading audience. BOOK EMPHASES EMPHASIS ON PREWRITING AND EXPLORING Because we learn to write by writing, every writer needs as many opportunities as possi- ble to “just write” and to explore a variety of formats. Each of the first four sections of this book suggests several writer-ly approaches for the student to freely experiment with before he or she chooses a particular way to do the final writing assignment. The Culminating Activity in each section presents this assignment and briefly suggests draft- ing, conferencing, editing, and publishing options. 5 Everyone Loves a Good StoryEMPHASIS ON WRITER-DIRECTED FEEDBACK Writers most benefit from testing-out their ideas and drafts with an audience when the writer is in command of that audience. For example, a writer may simply wish to read a draft aloud to a small audience to hear what his or her written work sounds like, without comment from the listeners. Or, the writer may ask the audience to listen/read for, then com- ment on, a specific aspect of the draft such as action or character development. By using strategies like Free Read, Say-Back, Writer’s Right, and Mental Movies, writers get the help they specifically want, while the audience develops skills in directed listening/reading. EMPHASIS ON INTEGRATED COMPOSITION SKILLS The eight Composition Skills lessons/reproducibles are introduced at point-of-contact, that is, where they are most relevant to students’ needs as they draft, revise, and edit. GENERAL TEACHING SUGGESTIONS USE WRITING FOLDERS Ask each student to make a separate writing folder for each of the first four sections. Explain that these folders are not Portfolios, representing “best” work. On the contrary, they are the writer’s stockpile of all of her or his ideas and trial-runs for the section. For easy-reference purposes, supply students with gummed tags to briefly label each item in the folder, for exam- ple, (for Part I), My Observation Diary, Partner Journal and Story Idea, Imagination Diary, Some events I could follow with a Log, People who have influenced me. Also explain that the reason for keeping all ideas is that “You never know...” An idea that seems lame or incom- plete at first may eventually turn out to be the little gem that sparks a great piece of writing. USE THE QUICKWRITES The quickwrite strategy, now used in many writing programs, is proving to be a warm-up that not only engenders ideas but also shows even the most recalcitrant, doubtful student that he or she can actually write. You’ll note that a Quickwrite is—as its name implies—a timed exercise based on a broad subject. For students, you might compare a Quickwrite to the stretching exercises a runner does before a race. Also assure students that no one is going to read the Quickwrite product unless the writer chooses to share it. FEEL FREE TO PRESENT ACTIVITIES IN YOUR OWN WAY If you wish, you can assign activities in different sections to appeal to different students’ abili- ties and interests. Examples: (1) You may decide to move your visually oriented student imme- diately from Observation Diaries in Part 1 to Picture-Prompt Narratives in Part 2, to Making Illustrations in Part 4. (2) Students who are enthusiastically studying a particular historical fig- ure might start with First-Person Biographies Based on History in Part 2, move on to Narrating Personal Connections in Part 3, then use the Partner-Journal approach in Part 1 to share ideas with a classmate. No matter which sequence you decide to use, the activities will help students to practice the fundamentals of writing narratives and then to effectively apply what they learn to create good stories that everyone loves. 6...and then I ran as fast as I could PART ONE WRITING NARRATIVES ABOUT OUR OWN EXPERIENCES GETTING STARTED Almost every day, students narrate aloud many stories based on their personal experi- ences, often beginning with tried-and-true story-openers like these: “Guess what hap- pened to me on the way to school” “That reminds me of the time when...” “I know some- one who...” “I had a dream about...” “What would happen if....?” “Have you heard what happened to (X)? He ...” Because telling about our own experiences orally is such a natural part of our everyday lives, writing about these experiences makes a comfortable introduction to written narra- tion in general. The activities in this section ease students into narrative writing through encouraging them to focus on what they know best: themselves. 7TEACH SKILLS You may want to integrate the following Composition Skills into this section: Strong Verbs (page 54); Precise Nouns (page 55); Transitional Words (page 56). START-UP QUICKWRITE Purpose: Helps each student to see that her or his experiences may be of inter- est to other people. Good strategy to use with “but-I-haven’t-got-anything-to- write-about” students Students work in groups of four or five. Directions: You have three minutes. Make a list of interesting things that other members of your group have done or experienced. Follow-Up: Each student reads her or his list aloud. Group members tell what more they’d like to know about the experiences. THREE WAYS OF JOURNALING The word journal derives from a word meaning day. But in modern times, a journal is thought of not so much as a day-by-day report of one’s activities but rather as one’s per- sonal account of really special events and insights, however often they occur. For writers, journal entries are raw material for longer narratives. Encourage your students to set up and keep journals using one or more of the suggested forms. DOUBLE-ENTRY JOURNAL Purpose: Promotes writing fluency in a non-threatening way; allows students to explore ideas that they may use later in narratives. Show students how to set up double-column pages. On the left side, Fact: the student writes a fact about something that has happened to him or her, or about an event in a book the student is reading (note-taking). In the right-hand column, My Reaction: the student notes his or her feeling or opinion about the event (note-making). FACT MY REACTION My grandfather gave his I was upset. I hoped he’d war medals to me give the medals to a museum. Tom Sawyer tricked his I think Tom was smart. The job friends into whitewashing got done. But I wonder if Tom the fence for him. would like his friends to trick him My mom took me and my I thought I’d be bored, but I brother to an art exhibit. wasn’t. The exhibit was of mobiles about circuses 8➤ Writing Prompt Tell your Fact and your Reaction in a paragraph. Add details. PROBLEM-SOLUTION JOURNAL Purpose: Encourages stating an initial situation clearly and then exploring possible out- comes In the left column, the student states a real-life problem or a problem in a book he or she is reading. In the right column, the student writes one or more ways the problem might be solved. PROBLEM POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS Our class has to read poems Shy kids could participate by in a program for the whole making posters or pictures about school. The problem is that the poems classmates will read. some kids get nervous when Shy kids could practice reading they have to speak to a a poem to just a few of us and large group. then to more and more of us. We’re just looking at the first Maybe Ulysses could just anchor part of the ODYSSEY, where his ship and wait for a captain Ulysses is returning from the of another ship to come along Trojan Wars. The problem is and give him directions. that Ulysses gets lost and He could beg the goddess can’t find his way home Athena to get him home safely. ➤ Writing Prompt Write about what would happen if one of your Possible Solutions was put into action. PARTNER JOURNAL Purpose: Provides a nonjudgmental way for students to compare reactions to real-life events and events in literature Show students how to set up three-column pages. In the first column, the student states a fact about an event in real life or in a book. In the second column, the student writes his or her reactions to or predictions about the event. In the third column, the student’s partner responds to the note in Columns 1 and 2. 9SITUATION MY NOTES MY PARTNER’S IDEAS Our school building I don’t think this I don’t think it’s is so crowded that is fair Now we fair, either Could we had to divide the have no place for we ask the PTA to find gym into classrooms indoor games and a nearby space for kids sports. to use? In MARTHA SPEAKS, a I like this idea I think a better idea dog eats alphabet I’ve always wondered would be for humans to soup, and then she what dogs would say learn dog-talk. The can talk as humans if they could speak humans could eat dog do. like we do. biscuits and then communicate as dogs do. ➤ Writing Prompt Make more columns for your Partner Journal. You can add a column called My Reaction to My Partner’s Ideas. The next column might be More Ideas from My Partner. WRITING PROCESS IDEA: BRAINSTORM WITH YOURSELF Encourage students to review their journals at least once a week to jot down any story ideas they get from reviewing the entries. Explain that story-idea notes can be phrases, informal lists, or sentences, but should always present events in time-sequence. Example (from Partner Journal): 10 A Story Idea 1. I eat a dog biscuit. 2. Now I can discuss things with my dog in dog-talk. 3. In dog-talk, my dog alerts me to a danger to my family. 4. My dog and I save my familyOBSERVATION DIARIES Purpose: Encourages students to observe changes or sequences of events and to narrate them in a bare-bones way In an Observation Diary, the writer chooses an object or nonhuman entity in his or her immediate environment and notes briefly, over a two- or three-day period, what happens to the object or how it changes. (Because the Observation Diary doesn’t focus on the stu- dent’s personal life as a traditional diary does, entries can be shared without raising “invasion of privacy” issues.) Help students get started by explaining what an Observation Diary is and providing a sample entry via chalkboard or overhead. Observing MY PENCIL Monday: Nice and sharp and long and new. This pencil is ready to go It had to get sharpened after lunch, because it had to write spelling words in the morning. So now it’s shorter. Oops Point got broken while drawing a map this afternoon. Tuesday: Pencil got lost in my desk for a while. Found under a pile of old lunch bags. Pencil looks stubby, and there is peanut butter on it. Wednesday: Sharpened pencil. But what happened to the eraser end? Now it’s stubby Pencils require a lot of attention Have the class brainstorm for a chalkboard list of objects or animals they might observe. Then ask each student to choose an item from the list to write about over in an observa- tion diary.  a tree outside your window  a junk car in an empty lot  a household pet  the school corridor  your toothbrush  an ant colony, a spider web  the morning sky  a swing on the playground  a classroom aquarium  the school gym  birds at a birdfeeder  a table in the classroom  your favorite shoes  the sun, stars, moon  sounds in your neighborhood  a particular sidewalk or street 11WRITING PROCESS IDEA: DRAFT, THEN READ ALOUD Ask students to use their diary entries to write a brief paragraph that narrates sequentially what they’ve observed. Then have students form small Free-Read groups. In a FreeRead, the writer reads aloud to the group. Group members listen but don’t comment. While or just after reading, the writer makes notes about what he or she would like to change in or add to the draft. Example: My Paragraph My Notes Add yellow, long, pointy. On Monday, the pencil was brand new. I used it to write spelling notes, so it got Idea: I wonder how a pencil stubby. Then the point broke while I was would feel if it could feel things. drawing a map. I stuck the pencil away in Add “Tuesday,” to show the my desk, where it fell under some old sequence. lunch bags and got smeared with peanut butter. On Wednesday morning, I found Idea: I wonder what words the the pencil, but the eraser was stubby eraser erased If a pencil could think, would it How did that happen? remember? ➤ Writing Prompt Try rewriting your paragraph, using the notes you made during your Free Read. 12 Via Free Reads, students learn more about writing than they do from any other strategy.LOGS Purpose: Helps students focus on exactly what they find out about a subject and then narrate their findings in sequence Keeping an Observation Diary is an open- ended writing activity: The writer doesn’t know beforehand exactly what specific details she or he will be telling about the chosen subject. Keeping a log, on the other hand, is a closure activity: Writers narrate in time-sequence information that applies only to a specific situation or task that has been defined beforehand. Explain what a log is. List people who routinely keep logs and have students determine the major questions each example log-keeper wishes to answer. For example: (Ship cap- tain) What progress does my ship make day-by-day? (School nurse) What students came to my office today, and what were their problems? (Building guard) Who wanted to enter the building tonight, and what was their purpose and my response? On the chalkboard or on an overhead projector, show the following log. Ask students to note the title and to read the entries aloud. Then ask students to tell what sequence the log uses (time sequence). Ask: How would this chart help a writer write a story about the hurricane? LOG: What Happens as the Hurricane Approaches Our Town? 6 A.M.: Weather forecasters say hurricane will hit our area in about five hours. Homeowners and storekeepers hammer up shields for windows and doors. 7 A.M.: Strong winds are kicking up. Big waves hit beaches. Sun hidden as clouds move in fast. 7:30 A.M.: Local radio advises people to move inland to shelters. Police and firefighters go house-to-house to warn residents. 8:30 A.M.: Hurricane approaching faster than predicted People along the shoreline being evacuated fast. Flood conditions all along our coast. High winds topple trees. 9 A.M.: I go with my family to a shelter in a school about 15 miles inland. A lot of people are scared. Some of us think it’s real exciting 1310 A.M.: Electric power out. Battery radio at shelter. We learn that the hurricane is affecting all of the East Coast. 11 A.M.: High winds howling all around this shelter. But radio reports storm is turning north-northeast and will leave our area in four or five hours and blow out to sea. Have the class brainstorm a chalkboard list of subjects that invite regular log entries over a period of a week or two. Ask students to work independently or with a partner or small group to choose a subject, prepare a log notebook, and write entries at regular intervals. Point out that each entry should begin with the time or date on which the event happens. Sample Brainstorm List: • weather conditions over a week’s time • the progress of a class project • the development of a newborn sibling • personal reactions to a novel or chapter book being read over a period of days • the progress of a community project such as planning a street fair or setting up a soup kitchen • steps taken to carry out a long-range homework assignment or independent project • steps taken in getting to know a new classmate • a day-by-day account of moving into a new neighborhood or school WRITING PROCESS IDEA: DRAFT A PARAGRAPH Ask students to use their log entries to write one or more paragraphs about the subject. You may wish to show a model paragraph based on the sample log: What Happened as a Hurricane Approached Our Town It started with a 6 A.M. warning from weather forecasters that the hurri- cane would soon hit our town. Right away, homeowners and storekeep- ers began to hammer up shields for windows and doors. Soon after that, at about 7 A.M., strong winds kicked up, big waves hit the beaches, and storm clouds covered the sun. Then radio announcers, police, and fire- fighters warned people along the shore to move to inland shelters. ➤ Writing Prompt If you haven’t got any ideas yet for your own log narrative, practice with the log entries we’ve studied about the hurricane. Write another paragraph about what happens from 9 A.M. to 11 A.M. 14AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL INCIDENTS Purpose: Helps students examine an expe- rience and discover what they’ve learned from it An autobiographical incident narrates a personal experience that occurred over a brief span of time: within a few minutes, a few hours, or—at most—over a day or two. Like most narratives, the autobio- graphical incident presents events in sequence. To this sequential narration, the writer adds her or his sensory impressions, and shares her or his feelings with the reader. Explain what an autobiographical incident is. Stress that it doesn’t deal with some earth-shaking, newspaper-worthy public event but rather with an event that is important to the writer. To help students understand that brief, simple incidents can affect you strongly, recount such an incident from your own life. Example: Outside the house where we lived when I was a little girl, there was a birch tree that had been bent over by many winter storms. In the summer, the leaves of the bending tree trailed on the ground and formed a little tent. I called it my Reading Tree, because I would sit under the leafy boughs and read my books. It was a green, cool, and private place, and I loved it very much. One summer day, I came home from a picnic with my friends—and my Reading Tree was gone All that as left was a short, sawed-off, sad-looking stump I burst into tears. My dad came running out of the house. “What’s the matter?” he said. “My Reading Tree My Reading Tree” I bawled, point- ing to the stump. “Oh, Sweetie,” my father said, “we had to have it cut down because it was full of a tree-disease that could infect other trees. You under- stand that, don’t you?” “Yes, Dad,” I said. But I really didn’t understand then. And even now—when I do understand—I still miss my Reading Tree. 15Ask each student to jot subjects or titles for three or four autobiographical incidents. Present some examples to show how informally these subjects/titles can be recorded: • new school; I was scared; then met new friend • the day I got my puppy • lost in the shopping mall when I was 4 years old ➤ Writing Prompt For students who need more help in stirring up memories and feelings that they can use to write autobiographical incidents, try the following prompts. After each, provide time for students to respond through pictures or through brief, written phrases. • Close your eyes. See a “still-life” or photo from your past. People and objects are frozen in time. Now tell what your still-life shows. • Close your eyes. See a moving picture from your past as if you’re watching a movie or a TV show. Now tell what your moving picture shows. • Close your eyes. I’ll say four words that name feelings. Flash on incidents in your life when you’ve had these feelings.(sad; puzzled; happy; angry) Now tell about the time when you had one of these feelings. WRITING PROCESS IDEA: REVISE FOR SEQUENCE Ask students to write rough drafts of an autobiographical incident. Have writing partners check one another’s drafts for sequence. Are the events told in the order in which they happened? Are there places where transitional words and phrases would help the reader follow the sequence? (Refer students to page 56.) Activities FRIENDLY LETTERS Suggest that students narrate a recent autobiographical incident as part of a letter to a friend or relative. CLASS REPORTS Suggest that as a follow-up to a field trip or science investigation, students write a sequen- tial narrative about the experience. IMAGINATION DIARIES Ask students to project themselves ten or twenty years into the future. Ask them to write journal or diary entries based on what they predict or imagine themselves doing in this future time. 16POSTCARD MINI-NARRATIVES Use postcards of your community or state, or repros of photos of local sites or of your own class’s trips or projects as materials. Ask students to use scrap paper to rough-draft three or four sentences that narrate in sequence an event related to the picture and then to write the proofread sentences as the postcard message. Encourage students to address and send their postcards. CULMINATING ACTIVITY: WRITING ABOUT OURSELVES Ask students to go through their Writing Folders to select the piece they will carry through to completion via the writing process. A writer may wish to talk with you, a partner, or a small group about why he or she likes a particular piece, but the final choice must be the writer’s. Final products may represent all the forms suggested in this unit: journal entries, imaginative stories, logs, autobio- graphical incidents, etc. In addition some students may wish to accompany their narratives with photos, drawings, maps, or other graphics During the revision and editing steps, partners may wish to pay special atten- tion to the Composition Skills you’ve reviewed with the class. Encourage students to publish their work by tape-recording it, by forming discus- sion groups around common topics repre- sented in their writing, or by performing pantomimes or skits. Remind students to keep all the ideas for Writing About Our Own Experiences. These ideas will often inspire or enrich additional ones. 1718PART TWO WRITING NARRATIVES ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE GETTING STARTED An other-oriented focus is a vital one for young writers. On both an affective and a cogni- tive level, the focus helps students appreciate the views and situations of real people with whom they come in contact in everyday life or in their curricular studies of the past. On an imaginative level, the focus encourages students to trust and use their writerly, “what- if” instincts to try a variety of points-of-view as they develop their own stories. TEACH SKILLS You may want to integrate the following Composition Skills into this section: Transitional Words (page 56); Combining Sentences (page 57). START-UP QUICKWRITE Purpose: Helps students focus on people that interest them. Here’s a useful warm-up for all students. You have five minutes. Imagine that you’re stranded on a desert island with just one other person. It can be a person from history or someone you know personally. Tell who this person is and list at least three reasons why you choose her or him as your desert-island companion. 19FIRST-PERSON BIOGRAPHIES Purpose: Encourages students to focus on interactions: how one character influences another A first-person biography narrates an incident involving the writer and someone she or he knows personally. An exemplary first-person biography shows something important about the focus character and shows how this character has affected the writer’s life or ideas. Help students get started by explaining what a first-person biography is and providing an example via an overhead or hand-outs of the following: Mr. Ames Mr. Ames is known as the Neighborhood Grouch. He never answers when you speak to him. He always has a sort of frown on his face. He lives alone and never seems Describes the to have visitors. main character “Mr.Ames is just so unfriendly,” said my Mom. “He’s a total drag” said my sister. One day, my Frisbee landed accidentally in Mr. Ames’s garden. He was working out there, so I was a lit- tle afraid of retrieving the Frisbee. Narrates the Then Mr. Ames held up the Frisbee. “Here’s your toy, interaction Sonny,” he said. He was smiling slightly. between main “Thanks” I said as I went to get the Frisbee. “I’m character and usually pretty good at aiming these things, but a slight writer breeze can throw them off-course.” “Eh? Eh?” said Mr. Ames, cupping his hand to his ear. Suddenly I realized that Mr. Ames was totally deaf No wonder he didn’t reply to neighbors’ greetings No wonder he seemed unfriendly He couldn’t hear us Tells what the That day I not only got my Frisbee back but also writer has stayed to help Mr. Ames set in tomato plants. We com- learned from municated just fine through gestures and smiles. the interaction So I learned that you can’t always rely on other peo- ple’s opinions. Often you have to check things out for yourself and form your own ideas. My idea of Mr. Ames is that he’s a great guy and a good friend 20

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