Resources for Teaching Personal Narratives

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Personal Narratives


  • Prewriting Ideas

  • Prompt

  • Organizer

  • Sample Leads

  • Student scoring activity

  • Praise-Question-Polish

  • Rubric

Personal Narrative Overview



Pre-writing ideas

This page explains different ways to pull students into narrative writing. There are many great ways to get students interested in writing a narrative.

Field Trip Personal Narrative Prompt

Coming up with a good prompt to spark a personal narrative can be tough. I’ve found that a field trip is a good topic for young writers. Not only are field trips interesting, but students can also talk together to remember important details. (“Do you remember where we had lunch?”) Field trips are also good because they allow students to focus on a short period in time, instead of trying to write about an entire month or a whole year. In fact, it might be good to start working on personal narratives right after an exciting field trip.

Personal Narrative Organizer

There are many organizers for personal narratives out there, and I’ve tried most of them with students! But I’ve found the most success with this format, which I customized to work for my classroom. This helps students to think about the events in their story, and then to develop each of those events with details.

Sample Narrative Leads

How to begin a personal narrative? I show students some sample beginnings with this page. It leads to a lively discussion of the interesting beginnings versus the “I’m going to tell you about” beginning that many students like to use.

Personal Narrative Scoring Activity

Students love to look at sample pieces of writing and score them. Not only does it give them a chance to play teacher, but it also helps them to wrestle with the truly important aspects of a piece of writing. This activity has a scoring sheet with a holistic rubric, followed by four sample narratives of varying quality. You may want to customize this activity by writing some of your own narratives to share with students.

An Introduction to Praise-Question-Polish

My students were having a terrible time with peer response, which led me to creating this activity. I wanted students to understand the importance of feedback and see how they can use it to become better writers.


This is a very effective form of peer review. It focuses students to concentrate on giving very specific feedback. Before having students work with it together, model the process with a student.

Personal Narrative Revising and Editing Checklist

A revising and editing checklist helps students to focus on key areas of the revising and editing process.

Personal Narrative Rubric

This rubric is adapted for both 6 Traits and the Pennsylvania areas of focus. Designed to be student friendly, it helps students to see what makes a star personal narrative.

Pre-Writing Ideas for Personal Narratives
Your goal in teaching the personal narrative is two-fold. Of course you want to prepare students for writing tests. But a well-written personal narrative is one of the most powerful forms of writing there is. Instead of just trying to get students to reach a certain score, challenge them to write something meaningful, something beautiful, something true.
On the official writing tests, of course, students won’t be able to talk with peers or get feedback about their ideas. But teaching writing is more than just getting kids to get a score. Right now, give them rich experiences with the narrative form—help them to develop a positive attitude toward the genre—and allow them to write!
Here are some ways to get strong, interesting personal narratives:

  • Storytelling: When kids share stories with each other (“You’ll never believe what happened at the dance last night…”) they are sharing the beginnings of personal narratives. Build on students’ love for talking by having them tell the stories they intend to write to an audience of 1-4 other students. As each student shares a story, the other students in the group should write down 3-5 questions they have about the story.

  • Sensory walk: Many students have trouble remembering details for their narratives. Remembering sensory details such as scents, sounds, and tastes may help them to retrieve memories and remember emotions. Have students imagine one of the settings in their narratives. Then have them imagine the different sensory details they experience. What do they smell? What sounds can they hear? This activity lends itself to a great modeling experience—for example, you could bring in pine scents and candy canes to show a holiday experience, or share hot chocolate and take students outside for a snowy experience. What’s the point? Narratives need to include details, or elaboration, about each event. A concrete experience with sensory details may help students to remember sufficient details.

  • Comic strip: This may work well for students who have trouble sequencing, or are unsure of how to space out their narratives. Give students a page with boxes, and have them put one event in each box. They can add details by illustrating the box. This may help more visual students to plan their narratives by giving them picture clues.

Field Trip Personal Narrative Prompt
Now, you will create a piece of writing called a personal narrative. A personal narrative is simply a story about yourself. You will write a story about your experiences on a field trip.
What text structure do you think that you will use? Here’s a hint: Your narrative will have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Cause and effect Description Main idea
Chronological order Problem and solution
What are some transitions that you will use?



The Prompt
Other people want to learn about your field trip experiences! Write a personal narrative to inform your schoolmates about a field trip you have experienced.
Before you begin to write, think about how your field trip experience began. Think about how it continued, and then think about how it ended.
Now you are ready to write a personal narrative to inform your schoolmates about our field trip.

Personal Narrative Organizer

Do I have to use an organizer??

Well, yes. An organizer helps you to see how your ideas fit together before you jump into writing your rough draft. Writing an organizer can help you to link events and see “the big picture” of your piece.


Details about what happened (include at least three)

Feelings about what happened (include at least one)













** If more events are needed, continue on a sheet of notebook paper

Conclusion: How the event ended

Sample Narrative Leads

A student was given the assignment to write a personal narrative about an embarrassing moment. Now, the student wants your help to determine which of the leads below would be the best beginning to her piece. Which one do you like best? Which one do you think she should use?
Lead #1

In this story I am going to tell you about an embarrassing moment. It all started on Sunday. I got in the car with my parents and we drove to camp.

Lead #2

“Don’t go, Emmy!” my sister wailed as we got out of the car. Normally I would have been understanding, but this time I callously brushed her aside.

“Don’t be silly,” I mumbled, hoping that no one else saw what a dope I had for a sister. “I’ll only be here for a week.”

If I had known then what was about to happen, I wouldn’t have worried about my sister’s pleas. I was about to face my most embarrassing moment ever—and, surprisingly, Sarah had nothing to do with it.

Lead #3

We call the final road to camp the “roller coaster road.” It has more dizzying dips and bumps than a roller coaster, and makes even my stomach feel queasy as we speed by farmhouses and orchards. I silently checked off the landmarks as they went by: Upper Temple Road, Celebration Hill, Taylor’s Sawmill…then we arrived. I had no idea of the embarrassing moment that lay ahead.

Lead #4

That moment felt as if it lasted forever. As I stood on the mulched path, the neat rows of cabins before me, the stares of other campers and their parents behind me, I could imagine the week. No one would take the time to get to know me or figure out what I was like. Everyone would remember this one moment, this one most embarrassing moment, and would write me off as a hopeless loser.

Personal Narrative Scoring Activity

Directions: Work with the other members of your group to read the personal narratives you have been given. Then, decide on the score each narrative should receive. Write the score and your suggestions on the lines below.


The narrative is well-developed. There are many events, each with elaboration. The writer uses transitions to show how events are connected.


The narrative has some development, but is still vague. There is a sequence of events, but little elaboration. There are some transitions, but the reader is confused about how time passes.


The narrative has little development. There are few events, or events are out of order.

Piece #

Suggested score:
What could the author improve?

Piece #

Suggested score:
What could the author improve?

Piece #

Suggested score:
What could the author improve?

Piece #

Suggested score:
What could the author improve?
Personal Narrative

Example #1

I went on a class trip to Baltimore in first grade. We saw Fort McHenry. In second grade we went to a park. In third grade we went to the Museum of Scientific Discovery. In fourth grade we didn’t go on a field trip. In fifth grade we went to a farm museum.

The End

Personal Narrative

Example #2

When I was in eighth grade, we went on a field trip to Washington, DC. Before we went on the trip, we had to choose which sites we wanted to visit. Then we went.

I went to Mount Vernon first. We took a boat from the city to get there. At Mount Vernon we looked at the house. Then we took the boat back to the city. We got on a bus and went to the zoo. At the zoo we looked at the animals, met up with the other groups, and then went home.

The boat was really cool because it had a snack bar and we were allowed to buy stuff. But the water (the Potomac) was dirty. I wouldn’t like to go swimming in it.

Personal Narrative

Example #3
A whole school day filled with fighting, costumes, and food? It sounds like a dream, but it really happened to me when I was in tenth grade.

Because we were studying medieval literature, we got to visit the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire to learn more about the time period. (The Renaissance took place between 1300 and 1600 CE)

Our day started with a long bus ride. Fortunately, we had coach buses, so they were very comfortable and plush. We were quiet on the bus because it was so early and we were still tired.

Finally, we arrived at the Faire in Mount Hope, PA. I was excited because I’d never been to the Ren Faire before, and I liked learning about history. We were met at the gates by a lady with a funny accent and a long, fancy costume. She told us what we would see at the Faire and gave us a map and a list of rules. Then we set off for an entire day of wandering the grounds.

The place was really neat. Everywhere you went, you were surrounded by people in costumes, putting on little plays right before your eyes. But it was even better than a play, because the people would come up and talk to you. One man asked a friend of mine why she was wearing such ridiculous clothing (a t-shirt and shorts) and that she should be more properly attired, in a long skirt and headdress.

Eventually we found our way over to the mud pits, where we were going to see a performance of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. It was definitely unusual! I’d seen a version of the play before, but never one with only three mud-covered actors. They spent the whole time yelling at each other, throwing mud, and twisting the play around in the funniest way. The mud play was definitely one of the highlights of the day.

After we saw the mud play, we decided it was time for lunch. There were little restaurants and stands all around, and each one sold a different kind of medieval food. The food was very expensive but very good.

In the afternoon, we wandered around. There were shops full of neat gifts, more little plays, a medieval church, and a jousting area. Before we knew it, we had to go home. I reluctantly climbed on the bus, my hands full of the little souvenirs I’d bought, and waved farewell to the Renaissance Faire. That day was definitely one of the best school trips I’d ever had.

Personal Narrative

Example #4

I went on a trip to a museum. I forget its name. We got on the bus and did lots of stuff. It was fun. This was in seventh grade and while we were in the museum one kid went up the down escalator and the security guard came and turned the escalator off. That was really funny.

An introduction to Praise-Question-Polish
Mark frowned as he read over his personal narrative about a trip to a corn maze. He thought about all the steps he had accomplished. He had started out by making a list of events. Then he added details to those events. Next, he started a rough draft. After a few sentences, though, he wanted to know if he had an interesting beginning.

“Want to read the beginning of my story?” Mark asked Joey.

“Sure,” Joey said. He took Mark’s story and read:

Lost in the Corn Maze
A trip to a regular corn maze turned a little scary last year. I started out by going in with the rest of my family. It was a neat place, with tall rows of corn all around us. I thought, “How can a corn maze be fun?” but once I was inside, I couldn’t see anything.

We twisted and turned, trying to decide how to get out. But then my little sister said she had to go to the bathroom. My mom said that she would take her back to the barn, and she’d go back out the way we came. That left my brother and me in the maze. At first it was fun and we goofed around, running back and forth through the rows of corn. But then we noticed that we hadn’t met anyone for awhile. It was getting darker, and the field was awfully quiet. I heard some crickets chirping in the distance.

When Joey was done reading, Mark said, “So? What do you think?”

Joey shrugged. “It’s good.”

Mark looked at him. “Really? Why do you think so?”

Joey shrugged again. “I just do. It’s good.”

What did Mark want to know about his piece of writing?
How do you think he felt about Joey’s answer?
Writers like to hear specific comments about their writing. We want to know what sounds good, which details stand out, and where we can improve. In our class, we will use a method called Praise-Question-Polish to give feedback to our fellow writers.

Here is an example of some Praise and Polish for Mark’s writing. Can you think of a question for Mark’s piece? Something that you are still wondering?

Praise (give a specific example of something that the writer does well)

Question (ask about what you still want to know)

Polish (suggest an area that could be improved)

I like the way you included your thoughts about the corn maze

I think that the first sentence still needs work. Perhaps you could describe the corn maze in greater detail.

Mark decided to ask someone else about his piece. Luckily, Tania knew all about Praise-Question-Polish. “I really like the details that you included about the corn maze,” she told him. “But I wonder what you mean when you say that once you were inside, you couldn’t see anything.”

“Oh!” said Mark. “I meant that I couldn’t see anything except the corn.”

“That sounds better,” Tania said. “Maybe you could describe what that looked like—really put us there.”

Mark thanked Tania and went back to his desk. What do you think he did when he sat down?

  1. Stared out the window and chewed on his pencil

  2. Looked for misspelled words in his piece of writing

  3. Added more details to the beginning of his piece, as Tania had suggested

That’s right—writers like feedback, and then they act on the feedback. Once someone gives you specific questions or suggestions, it’s important to do what you need to do to make the piece of writing better.

Now, do some thinking of your own. How will Praise-Question-Polish help you to improve your writing?


Writer’s name
Responder’s name


Give a specific example of something that the writer does well


Ask about what you still want to know


Suggest an area that could be improved

Personal Narrative Revising and Editing Checklist
Complete the checklists below to help you improve your personal narrative.


Did I…



-Write a story with a beginning, middle, and end?

-Include vivid and interesting details?

-Write an interesting beginning?

-Use time order transitions like first, next, and last to connect events?

-Put my information in the best order?

-Write a conclusion?


Did I…



-Use complete sentences?

-Use a variety of sentence types?

-Use the correct verb tenses? (past and present)

-Capitalize the beginnings of sentences and proper nouns?

-Use commas where needed?

After completing the checklists, use editing marks to change your paragraph.

Final draft guidelines

  • in ink or typed

  • neat

  • 1-inch margins

  • on the front of the paper only

Personal Narrative Rubric

Name Date







(Focus and Content)

-Strong sequence of events that tells a complex story. Events include elaborative details that pull the reader into the experience.

-Clear sequence of events that tells a story. Events include some elaborative details.

-The reader wants to know more! There are a few events. The piece may have

-no elaboration

-problems with staying on topic

-Doesn’t respond to prompt. The piece does not tell a story.


-Strong opening and closing. The reader is easily able to follow the chain of events, as there are many transitions. But this writing does not simply follow a formula.

-Opening and closing attempted. The reader is able to follow the chain of events, but transitions may be repetitive.

-The reader is a little confused. One of the following problems

-no opening

-few transitions

-gaps in the sequence

-out of order

-The reader is VERY confused! Two or more of the following problems

-no opening

-few transitions

-gaps in the sequence

-out of order



-The writer’s voice is clear and distinctive.

-It is easy to tell that a real person was behind this piece of writing.

-The piece may be a little boring. The writing is mostly humdrum, with a few glimmers of personality.

-The piece is so short that the author’s voice is missing.

Sentence Fluency


-Sentences begin in many different ways. The writing has a smooth flow.

-There are a few bumpy spots, but lots of variety.

-Sentences have the same pattern and beginnings. There are many bumpy spots that are tough to read.

-The sentences are tough to understand. The reader is confused by their patterns and errors.

Word Choice


-The writing sparkles with well-chosen, interesting words.

-There are several examples of interesting words.

-The words are ordinary, humdrum.

-There are poorly chosen words that make the meaning confusing.


-The punctuation, spelling, and capitalization add to the meaning and clarity of the piece.

-Spelling is mostly correct. Capitalization and punctuation are used. Only light editing is needed.

-There are attempts at punctuation and capitalization. The piece needs some editing.

-Line by line editing is needed. Errors are extremely distracting.

Writing Process

-There is clear evidence of planning, editing, and revising. The writer used the writing process to create an exceptional piece.

-There is evidence that planning, editing, and revising helped the writer to create a strong piece of writing.

-There is some evidence of planning, editing, and revising.

-There is little editing of the writing process.

Emily Kissner 2008

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