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How to Start a Narrative Essay for Elementary Kids

by Debbie McCarson

A narrative essay is a written account of life experiences and is required by most elementary school writing curricula. Elementary students enjoy telling stories about their own lives, and teachers can harness this enthusiasm to achieve elementary-level writing objectives. Using inspiring techniques to get students started, teachers will soon have motivated writers in their classroom.

Choose A Topic

Students writing a narrative essay must choose what life experience they will tell about in their essay. To help them decide, prompt them with questions such as, “Surprises can be good or bad. Write about a time you were surprised;” “Think about a very special friend that you have. Tell a story that comes to mind about an experience you had with that friend;” or “Tell about a time you felt embarrassed, scared, excited or disappointed.”

Get Words on Paper

Students are sometimes terrorized by the thought of getting words on paper. In the initial stages of writing, don’t bog students down with form and structure. Allow them to brainstorm to get words on the paper. Set a timer and tell them they have three minutes to write as many words or phrases they can think of that relate to their topic. Tell them to include lots of sensory words and details. Afterwards, provide graphic organizers to help them gather and organized their thoughts. A hierarchical topical graphic organizer uses one large square to represent the main idea of a paragraph, and three small squares underneath for supporting details. A bubble graphic organizer uses a large circle to represent the main idea and smaller circles connected by spokes for supporting details.

Find Your Voice

As students arrange their ideas and details into sentences and paragraphs, help them find their voice. Explain that in order to find their unique style of writing, they should simply write like they talk. Prompt them to imagine they were “telling” someone a story, what would they say? Write the words down exactly like that. Have classmates read some of their lines back to them. Does it sound natural? Does it sound like something they would say?

Overcome Writer's Block

Help students overcome writer’s block by eliminating anxiety. Tell an anecdote about your life and ask students to share something about their lives. Provide useful feedback to student writers by allowing classmates to ask for more details about their story events. Story-telling is contagious, and soon, students will be anxious to put their stories on paper. Play classical music to help them feel at ease while writing. Consider serving hot cocoa or snacks. A relaxed atmosphere brings out creativity.

About the Author

Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.

Photo Credits

  • Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images