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Using Cynthia Rylant's book "The Relatives Came", students will identify elements of a personal narrative and apply it to their writing
- Book The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
- Butcher paper or overhead
- To identify and analyze key elements of a personal narrative
- To understand the importance of chronological order in personal narratives
- To plan and write a personal narrative
- Before reading the story, introduce the term personal narrative. Help students understand that a personal narrative is a true story about something that happened to the person telling the story. With that in mind, anyone can write a personal narrative based on even the most routine events in life. (Some students will be empowered by that idea!)
- As you read the book, discuss the components of a personal narrative.
- Some personal narratives are told in the first person (I) but can be told in the third person (Tommy).
- Events are told in the order that they happened. (A common student error is to jump around on the timeline when they relay an event. This confuses the reader. Asking students to map out the order of events—perhaps using a few key words or pictures—prior to writing the story may prove helpful.)
- Writers of personal narrative try to use specific nouns. For example, Rylant uses the precise label “station wagon” instead of the generic term “car”.
- Personal narrative writers often include key details (including sight, sound, taste, and feel) to help the reader connect with the story. Rylant talks about sleeping on the floor and hearing all the extra “breathing” in the room.
- Personal narratives often connect on a personal and emotional level with the reader. The story might be as ordinary as relatives visiting; however, it is because readers have experienced a similar situation that they readily identify with the author. While reading Rylant’s story, ask students if they have ever had to share a bed, pack an ice chest, leave early in the morning to travel, and so on. Many will nod, remembering visits with their relatives…which, in turn, makes the story more endearing to them.
3. If you want to include other Language Arts skills, identify possessive nouns in the story. You might also ask students how the reader knows the relatives are excited or happy, or how the reader knows the relatives enjoyed their visit but are anxious to return. The author doesn’t tell us, but shows us in such a way that we readers can draw our own conclusions. (It’s like playing detective, especially if your students can pinpoint the clues!)
4. At the conclusion of the story, discuss what an ordinary…yet simply delightful…story this was. Model for your students how to pick out events from their lives that might lend themselves well to a personal narrative. (For example, I modeled how I might write about my daughter’s first swim meet. I first described the pool—smells, sounds, etc.—and my daughter’s fear. When I asked how many of them had ever felt nervous before a sporting event, most raised their hand. Right there, I noted, I already had an emotional connection with my reading audience. Then, as I talked through the event, I made small pictures to keep track the timeline accurate. I described how watching one struggling swimmer who was cheered on by the entire crowd changed my daughter’s anxiety into confidence. Then I wrote it out in several short sentences, using specific nouns and adding details.)
5. When finished modeling how to select an idea and write it as a personal narrative, pair students up to talk about ideas they might want to write about. (Note: they may want to brainstorm a list of ideas to keep on hand.)
6. After 5 minutes of discussion, ask students to map out a timeline and write their own personal narratives.
7. Students may gather together at the end to share their stories or a favorite sentence from their story. If you do pared sharing instead, ask students to give one compliment and ask one question. Writers can add to their stories by answering any questions asked.
8. For younger children, you may want to split this lesson over 2-3 days. You can also pull in more examples of well written personal narratives, such as Tomie DePaola’s Art Lesson or Cynthia Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains.
- For art, students can use colored pencils or watercolors to copy the illustration style used in the story. They can illustrate their story.
- Students can explore more personal narratives. This link provides a list of personal narrative picture books. http://library.springbranchisd.com/sbisd_library/personal_narratives.htm [library.springbranchisd.com].
- Students may want to complete a polished copy of their story. These can be shared with reading buddies or displayed at a classroom Author Day.
- Re-read the story and have students act it out. Then have them pair up and retell the story in the correct order.
_____1. My story is told in the correct chronological order.
_____2. My story provides specific details.
_____3. My story is a true event that happened to me.
_____4. I used capital letters to start my sentences.
_____5. I used the correct punctuation to end my sentences.
You can give points (0, 1, or 2) or check marks and pluses to indicate degree of success. The assessment rubric might also be used as a checklist to determine when the piece might be ready for classroom “publication”.