Narrative 11-Minute Essays

After several long weeks of expository writing, we have switched back to narratives again.  Students always usually enjoy writing narratives more than expository pieces, so this was refreshing to most.

I have tried the 11-minute essay (introduced by Gretchen Bernabei) with my students for expository writing, but not for narrative.  I thought I would give it a try.  Rather than giving them a truism to think about, I gave them a narrative prompt.  Their prompt was: Write about a time you went to your favorite place.  They used the text structure: Where I was–>First Moment–>Next Moment–>Last Moment–>What I Thought.

Wow!  They impressed me once again!  Simply speaking–they wrote an entire narrative in 12 minutes.  Yep, I gave an extra minute for their introduction (2 mins. for intro., 3 mins. for each body paragraph, and then 1 min. for concl.).  The craziest part about it was that some of my students wrote more in 12 minutes than they have in an entire week of Writer’s Workshop.  I guess the time crunch works!  I’ll definitely be doing this again…probably as our rough draft for just about every piece of writing from here on out.

Canyon Lake by Gasseli

Basketball Court by Ciarra

Closet by Avery

My Room by Joe

Pantry by Avery

The River by Annaleah

The Car by Daniel

They loved it SO much, that we did it two days in a row. After sharing out on day 1, we noticed that some students were spending too much time on their way to their special place.  On day 2, some students chose to use their same place and make it better, while others chose to write about somewhere totally new.

I made copies of each student’s writing (it was in their notebooks) and gave it back to them.  Since they did not skip lines, we had to come up with a way to add to our stories without trying to squeeze everything between lines or in the margins.  The students have cut out their writing pieces and glued them down onto large pieces of construction paper.  They will be adding icons, ba…da…bing sentences, snapshots, thoughtshots, etc. on the construction paper with arrows pointing to where the information will go.  I’ll be sure to post some pictures of their work.

I will also have them publish this piece of writing, so all can see what they look like after some individual conferences with students.  Remember: They wrote these in 12 minutes!

I have posted a sampling of some of their papers (above).  Some of them are already really well written, while others need some serious interventions.  I like to post more than just awesome papers so that we can look at them and use them as a teaching tool for students.  I do this in my classroom–use real student writing to show how we can make it better: adding icons, changing verbs, punctuation marks, checking for spelling rules, schesis onomaton (renaming), etc.  Hopefully you can find a use for them in your classroom, too!


Narrative vs. Expository

Texas requires all 4th graders to write a narrative AND an expository piece for their state assessment.  Now, if your school is anything like mine, students very rarely (if ever) write any sort of expository piece before stepping into a 4th grade classroom.  Nope, I’m not blaming the other grade levels because I know that they have their own battles to fight and win, I’m just stating reality.

So how do we tackle this?  How do we get students to understand the difference (and similarity) of narrative vs. expository writing?  What do we tell these kids?  My answer is simple.  Make it concrete.  Make it relevant and meaningful.  Allow students a visual that shows them, rather than just telling them.  I use grandma.

Grandma, you say? Yep.  I use an activity that I created (mostly on my own) that helps kids to compare narrative and expository writing.  It takes several glances at it to understand it completely, but my kiddos love to take “grandma” out and look at her and talk about writing.


Here goes: I searched for kid-friendly grandma and balloons clipart.  I just googled it and found some that I liked.  I saved them, and then put the grandma pic in the center of a Word document.  I inserted a dashed line down the middle of the page.  I put the pics of the balloons on separate pages, so the students actually started with a page with only grandma and then a separate page with balloons.  I like to talk them through the process and leaving the balloons for later helps with our discussion.

I give the students about 10 minutes to color their grandma (helps with the management since they just HAVE to color her), and then we get down to business.  We then add Narrative and Expository labels at the top of each side of the page.  We talk about how grandma represents our topic.  I choose grandma because all students have some experience with a grandma, whether their own or someone else’s.  You see, the topic can be the same for both types of writing–it’s how the piece is written that makes the difference.  We notice how she appears on both sides of the page because of this.  We then label her as, “topic.”

Then we fold our page down the dashed line and talk about one side at a time (hence the lighting in the picture).  We start with narrative which is most familiar to them.  Narrative writing is when we tell stories from our hearts about a time we did something.  We use our Writer’s Tools to tell a story in the order that it happens.  In narrative, order matters!  I refer to the story of the 3 little pigs.  It just wouldn’t make sense or be the same story if the wolf visited the third pig’s house first.  It would change the whole outcome of the story, thus proving that order matters!  We discuss other stories and even refer to their own stories and think about how the stories only make sense in order.

Next we cut out and glue the cluster of balloons in her hands and label them one through five.  This represents the paragraphs that happen–yep–in order.  We put our own ribbons on the balloons and attach them to her hands.

Last, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for narrative writing.

When we have finished with the narrative side, we flip our paper over and begin our discussion about expository writing.  This type of writing is not a story.  Instead, we are required to explain our beliefs on something and give reasons why we believe it.  In expository writing, order doesn’t matter.  We discuss various topics and give reasons why we believe what we believe, flip the reasons around, and then talk about how the reasons don’t have a specific order–unless you have a spectacular reason (like why you just can’t do your homework) that you want to save for the “grand finale,” as one of my students mentioned.  But overall, the order of your reasons really doesn’t matter.

We then cut out and glue the one balloon onto the paper and label it with “central topic” and “WHY?”  This represents the main idea of our paper and the purpose for writing.  We draw only one ribbon from the balloon to grandma’s hand and put flags on it with our Writer’s Tools.  Those tools help us to explain our beliefs and make our papers longer and coherent.

When finished, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for expository writing.

It is very detailed and takes lots of time, but the students really respond to it, especially when you tell them that they will be required to add to a final discussion about the similarities and differences of these two types of writing!

Hopefully this makes sense to you.  It makes sense to us.  Please feel free to ask questions if you have them!

What do you do to help your students with this?  Leave a comment with your ideas!!  :)


Mission Organization: Recycled Writing

As I was browsing through the dollar store, I came across this really cute trash can.  I know, it’s a trash can for crying out loud!  But hey, I’m an elementary teacher with vision!!


I decided that this would be a great place for students to put their ideas that they want to write about in the future, but just don’t have time for at the moment the idea hits them.  Instead of just telling students, “I’m sorry, but you just can’t write about that right now,” I will now have a better solution.  My students will be able to write down their ideas and place them in the “Recycled Writing Ideas” can to save for the future.

There are many different ways that this can be used, and I’m not sure exactly how I will implement it, but right now it is just another step to getting myself and my students organized.  I’m thinking that this will be a great way to find out what kids really want to write about, and hopefully I can incorporate their ideas into my classroom discussions and individual writing pieces.  As the year goes on, I’m sure I’ll find many more ways to use it.

I would LOVE to hear your ideas if you have some.  I’m always open to new ways of thinking!!