Focus Lesson Topic Starting with Strong Feelings – Grades 3-5

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Focus Lesson Planning Sheet

Focus Lesson Topic

Starting with Strong Feelings – Grades 3-5
(Adapted from Calkins & Kesler, 2006)


Strategies for Generating Personal Narrative Writing anchor chart from previous lessons, chart paper, markers, paper or notebooks for student writing, clipboards (optional)
Teacher Preparation:

  • Chart listing a strong emotion and several times you experienced that emotion

  • Second strong feeling/examples ready to share

  • Small moment story based on a strong feeling ready to “compose” for students


Yesterday we learned that thinking about turning points in our lives can help us to think of ideas for personal narratives.

Explicit Instruction

Today I will teach you another strategy that writers use to generate personal narratives. This strategy is called starting with strong feelings and it is especially good for thinking of ideas that can be turned into very powerful, true stories. Most of us can remember times when we have wanted something very badly or felt strongly about something. As writers, it can be helpful to think of a strong feeling – happiness, worry, or surprise, for example. Once you name a feeling you can ask yourself, “Can I remember one particular time when I felt that way?” Then you can write the story of that strong feeling time.

Let me show you how I use this strategy. This morning I started thinking about using this strategy for my own writing. So, I wrote down a feeling, [name feeling] and listed some times when I have felt that way. [Show prepared anchor chart. Chart should list a strong feeling and several specific examples of times the teacher has experienced that feeling. Briefly discuss chart with students.]
Now watch me while I use this strategy again. I will think of a strong feeling, write it down, and think of small moments when I felt that way. I think I’ll try this with “surprised” [or other strong feeling]. [Model brainstorming and recording times related to the selected strong feeling.]
After I have gathered a few ideas, I look at my list and decide which idea is the most important to me and which one could be used to write a story. [Model selecting a story idea from the strong feeling lists.] Now, I ask myself, “How did this start? Where was I? What did someone say or do that would make a good lead for this story?”
[Model beginning the draft of a strong feeling story. The teacher does not need to write the entire story, but should model enough to demonstrate how writers recall strong memories to build a personal narrative.]

Guided Practice

It’s your turn to try this strategy. Let’s start with [name a strong feeling – “surprised” seems to work well with students]. Now, think of times in your life when you felt [name strong feeling.] Maybe you…… or you might have…. [As students are brainstorming, give a few general examples of times that they may have felt the selected feeling to support their thinking.]

[After about 3 minutes, share a few student lists that illustrate specific small moments related to the strong feeling.]

Send Off [for Independent Practice]

I want you to always remember that writers can think of ideas for powerful personal narratives by thinking of a strong feeling and then remembering small moments in their lives when they felt that emotion. I know that many of you are anxious to get to independent writing and start drafting a strong feeling story. If you are not quite ready to start writing, please spend some time brainstorming more ideas and then start your draft.
[Note: Some students may want to think of another strong feeling and spend some independent writing time brainstorming ideas for this new feeling before beginning a draft.]

Group Share

Today you have been working hard to write important stories that really matter to you. As you were working, I remembered another strategy that I sometimes use to think of ideas for personal narratives. I have noticed that in my family, and probably in your family too, there are stories that we retell over and over again. For example, [briefly tell a family story]. How many of you have stories from your family? Turn and talk to a partner to share your family stories. [Allow a few minutes for partners to share stories orally.]
The stories you have just told, and other family stories that you tell and retell can be written as personal narratives. Let’s add this strategy to our anchor chart.
Note: Teachers may wish to use the group share time for students to share a portion of their strong feelings stories and devote a subsequent focus lesson to personal narrative writing based on family stories.

Sample Anchor Chart (Grade 5 – modify for other grade levels)

Strategies for Generating Personal Narrative Writing

  • Think of a person, place, or thing that matters to you. Think of small moments related to these people, places, or things. Choose one small moment and write the story.

  • Think of first times, last times, or times when you learned or realized something important. Write about one of these moments.

  • Think of a strong feeling and list small moments when you have felt that way. Write about one of these strong feeling moments.

  • Think of the stories that your family tells and retells. Write one of these stories.

Focus Lesson Note: This lesson about starting with strong feelings can be used as an opportunity for students write about any experience that brought about strong feelings (i.e., getting hurt, getting lost, etc.).

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