How to Teach Fourth-Grade Narrative Writing

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Narrative writing is any kind of writing that tells a story, whether it is about the writer or someone or something else. Teach fourth-graders to expertly relay a personal experience or describe an imaginary event by planning ahead and writing with vivid details and a clear sequence of events.

Have a Purpose

  • Teach fourth-grade students to write an interesting narrative by first having them identify the audience and purpose for their stories. By keeping this in mind, students can better establish a situation, introduce the narrator and organize events in a sequence that unfolds naturally. Teach children to start the story with an attention-grabbing beginning, such as a character's action or a piece of dialogue. Also have students start the story as close to the main event as possible to avoid losing the reader with too many unimportant explanations such as, "After he brushed his teeth, he ate breakfast."

Show Models

  • Children need to see what good writing looks like, so share several examples of short narratives of different styles. Use simple picture books with sequential events, or share narratives written by other children. Have the students identify the parts of a narrative they should incorporate into their own work, such as character development, setting, conflict and resolution.

    If possible, show children several edited versions of a piece of writing and tell them that authors revise and rewrite pieces until they are satisfied with the final draft. Encourage "talk time" in which students can discuss their story ideas with others, as well as offer feedback to other children about their work.

Use a Graphic Organizer

  • Have children use a simple graphic organizer to plan the key events of the narrative. This could be as simple as a paper folded into four or six panels and numbered sequentially, where every square has room for the young writer to put in key words and phrases for each part of the story. Children can also sketch in simple drawings to help them think about the progression of events.

    Another way to encourage a fourth grade student to plan ahead is to have him or her write short answers to basic questions: "What happened?" "When?"" Where? and "Who was there?" Children should also be coached to plan a beginning, middle and ending to the narrative before starting to write.

Incorporate Descriptive Language

  • The Common Core State Standards specify that fourth-grade students should be able to use words, phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely. Tell students to "show not tell," and ask them to insert descriptive details for characters and setting. Have children practice by creating expressive details to describe something simple, like snow, using phrases such as "icy flakes of ice" or "white powdery puffs."

    Teach children to consider the senses of taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight when writing descriptions. Provide them with examples of sensory imagery: "The smoky aroma of bacon drifting out of the kitchen made her stomach rumble with hunger." Students should return to the original models of good narratives studied earlier to locate other examples of descriptive language.

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