Writing a Personal Narrative

Writing a Personal Narrative

This writing project was originally used in conjunction with The Slave Narrative of Frederick Douglass. Note that this is not an entire lesson plan, but a segment that includes a basic rubric.  

Getting Started SlideRocket

This presentation walks students through the process of writing a personal narrative. It introduces and defines the essential characteristics of personal narratives. The following items are reviewed with regard to writing personal narratives:  


focus (and whether to reveal your point explicitly or implicitly)

development and the use of detail


style and using descriptive language


Personal Narrative Basic Rubric

Grading Criteria for Personal Narrative
Max ScoreDescription
--/3(Focus) Personal narrative has a narrative effect. (A narrative effect is the main point of your story—the moral, the message, or the insight you offer.)
--/3(Development) Personal narrative has details and depth. The setting is used to immerse the reader into the narrative. Narrative focuses on one or two key scenes.The rest of the story is filled in using a method of summary.
--/3(Organization) Narrative has a clear exposition, conflict, and resolution.
--/5(Style) Narrative shows, not tells; uses expensive words; uses sensory details; active, not passive; uses figurative language; consistent point of view
--/3(Mechanics) Personal narrative is free of glaring mechanical and grammatical errors (comma splices, sentence fragments, punctuation, capitalization,run-on sentences, etc.)
--/4Personal Narrative exhibits quality work.
--/4(Appearance) Personal narrative is approximately 3 pages, double spaced, titled,12 point font, and written in a Google doc that gives instructor editing rights.

Pre -Writing

You are going to be doing a fast write to brainstorm/pre-write for your personal narrative. Recall that a personal narrative is a personal story that you share with your audience in order to make a point or to convey a message. The strongest and most poignant personal narratives often result from writing about something ordinary. You may write about the common, but make it uncommon.When thinking about writing a personal narrative remember that it is not just what happens but what you, the author, makes of what happens. 

Here are some questions to review before you begin your personal narrative free-write. 

Tell what you know or have heard about any of your ancestors other than your parents and grandparents. Include significant details when possible.

When were you born? What were you told about your birth and infancy, and who told you?

What kinds of "make-believe" do you remember playing? What did you find amazing as a child?

Recall your earliest memories of school. What do you remember feeling about your first few years in school. What do you remember learning? What do you remember liking about school? What was difficult or frightening?

Who were your childhood friends and what did you most like to do together? Who was your best friend and how did the friendship begin?

What did you do when you came home from school? Who would be there?

Imagine your family during a typical mealtime. What do you see going on around you? What would you be eating? What was regular Saturday like? Sunday?

What kinds of music did you hear as a child? Write a memory that involves music.

What were the reading material in your home? Who read to you?

Were there television shows and movies that made an impression on you as a child?

What did "being good" mean in your family? What work was expected of you as a child? What else seemed expected of you as a child, either stated or unstated?

What were the historical events taking place in your childhood and how were you aware of them?

Tell of time when you gained confidence in yourself.

What were some of your fears? Tell about a time where you felt extremely frightened?

When were the times that adults let you down?

What questions did you have that did not seem to have answers?

What were some of the things you wanted to do as a child but could not? Which of them were forbidden to do? Which were unavailable or unaffordable? Which were beyond your abilities as a child?

What do you know about your grandparents' lives? What do you remember feeling about your grandparents?

What have you heard about your mother's childhood? What did you hear about your father's childhood?

What sense about marriage did you get from your parents?

Picture yourself as a child. Now imagine that this child is standing in front of you this moment. What would you like to say to this child?

Allow students to use an online timer for their freewrite.  HERE is a link to one of many online timers.  

Peer Editing

This type of peer editing was originally meant to be used in a discussion thread format in an online course. However, these are the questions that peer editors were specifically asked to address in detail. (This was in addition to grammatical and mechanical errors.)

What was the NARRATIVE EFFECT? (Recall that the narrative effect is the main point of the story--the moral, the message, or the insight that the writer offers.)

Find an element of STYLE that the writer used well. (show, not tell, sensory language, diction, figurative language, point of view, expressive words, etc.) 

Name one thing that the writer could do to improve this personal narrative.

Self Editing

Students were asked to (1) read their personal narrative out loud and (2) use paperrater.com.  This is a free web tool that proofreads, checks grammar and offers writing suggestions.  

Student Samples

HERE is one student sample of a personal narrative. You will notice that it has an additional rubric at the end.

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