Writing a "This I Believe..." Personal Narrative

Female writing in a journal
writing-923882_1280.jpgFemale writing in a journal

Female writing in a journal

Writing a "This I Believe..." Personal Narrative

Introduction to Personal Narrative Models

  • Read aloud 2-3 pages of a personal narrative that will intrigue your students. Possible excerpts may include the opening prologue to Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, A Long Gone by Ishmael Beah, or The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
  • Provide models of personal narratives (either hard copy or linked) "Fry Bread" or "Love on Four Feet" for each student. 
  • Ask students to read the narrative, noting what kinds of information the author provided.
  • Split students into pairs or small groups that include readers of both narratives. Ask them to compare the two narratives and the types of information included. Possible answers might include reliving scenes from the past, dialogue, setting or character description, internal monologue, or reflection. (Optional: Have groups create a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the approaches of the two authors.)

Rubric for Personal Narrative

Use the expository rubric below, make a copy and modify, or use your own rubric tailored to personal narrative writing.


Pre -Writing

Explain to students that they will be doing some brainstorming/pre-writing 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 provide students to prompt their thinking. Depending on your students, you can provide all these prompts at once and have students choose which ones to brainstorm, or you might present them orally or via a slidedeck and provide a teacher-led brainstorming/free writing session.

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?


Before students start drafting, show the narratives "Fry Bread" and "Love on Four Feet"via an overhead projector or online delivery system such as Nearpod or PearDeck. Discuss the organizations of each narrative and encourage students to use these models as a guide for their own writing.

Then provide students time to draft their personal narratives. Give in-process feedback to students via Google Docs or quick one-on-one check-ins as students are writing. 


- If students need ideas for starting an introduction or structuring their essays, refer them to thisibelieve.org to view more sample narratives.

- For students who need more scaffolding, provide them a graphic organizer and help them organize their ideas from their freewriting/brainstorming.

- For an exit ticket, ask students to write on a post-it note what they accomplished, where they want to go next, and what (if anything) they want you to review or help them with. 

Peer Editing

This can be done digitally by sharing a Google doc with fellow classmates or having students move to a classmates' computer. (You can also print hard copies and have students write feedback in the margins, on post-it notes, or using a peer editing form you've created.)

General writing prompts for students to respond to:

- What are the strengths in this writing? What did you enjoy?

- What would you like to see more of in this writing?

- What would you suggest changing or removing in this writing?

Self Revisions and Editing

Students will make any revisions they want based on peer suggestions. Also, students will use Grammarly or another proofreading service before submitting their final draft. 

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