A resource for people passionate about helping students write well, compiled by Karen Haag


The best writers create a mood and weave a theme, or inner story, into their writing. By studying other authors including their classmates’ writing, they develop a personal style.

Narrative writing is basic

Narrative writing is a critical building block for all writing. Younger students learn to tell stories that move through time logically so that readers can visualize what's happening. The best writers create a mood and weave a theme, or inner story, into their story. During these early years, students take first steps toward creating their personal styles. The students accomplish this by analyzing published works and classmates' selections and then trying on different personalities until finally finding their own.

As writers mature, they use stories as examples to support their persuasive points and arguments. Even research writing is often told through story. Authors open with anecdotes that capture readers' hearts and minds. Short, narrative bits transition the reader into the transactional writing in a way that is natural and entertaining.

Choose your topic

Thankfully, in North Carolina students no longer have to address a writing prompt in a specific period of time. Rather, students study genres, generally one a month, and select their best example for their portfolio. 

  The best way I know of to launch them into this kind of writing is to help students find their expert topics. From writing on topics with which they're familiar, young authors build writing fluency, confidence, and vocabulary. When asked to write to prompts, students might lack the background knowledge they need to write easily. They're forced to focus on content and writing fluency at the same time, which is a difficult task for any of us.

  Students will allow teachers to give them topics and may even hang around claiming they don't know what to write about. Teachers would not let students say, "I don't know how to do this math. Do it for me." We cannot make students dependent on us for unnecessary help in writing either. Finding a topic is the most basic skill of any writer. Our job is to teach them how to find topics. The lessons on this page and the topics pages teach students to do just that.

  Finding narrative topics is easy. Luckily, we don't have to live amazing lives to write intriguing stories. That's one of the first myths teachers will work to dispel. A small event in a child's life can be an interesting story. When you find an example, ask the child if you can save a copy to use with other students. Two come to mind that I use again and again. One child simply wrote about not finding his shoe when he was supposed to go to a Panthers game: two pages that got funnier and funnier as the story unfolded. Another wrote about feeding broccoli to his pet bird. Losing your shoe and feeding a pet don't sound like brilliant topics. And yet, these stories are the favorite of my writing classes for students and teachers.

  Be patient and within 2 weeks, students will have many strategies for finding story ideas. My research shows that students will even think about what they're going to write about outside of school IF they know they're going to write consistently in school. They will be ready when they have time to write.

Writing Homework

I assign 10 minutes a night of writing homework on any thing all through the year. I don't have to increase the minutes because the students do that naturally. This practice is successful because:

  1. The first thing students do in Writing Workshop is share what they wrote the night before with a partner or two for about 3-5 minutes. That gives me time to look over their shoulders to find whether the students had done the writing and find samples to share from which we can all learn.
  2. We spend time discussing and making lists in our notebooks of just how we decide what to write. Did they look around the room, see something, and start to write? Did they choose to write poems, songs, mysteries, or part of their novel every night? Did they hear something someone else did and try it? We made lists of how students determined what to write. I make copies and the students glue the handouts in their daybooks.
  3. I turn the writing homework over to the students. It is theirs. They can continue something in class or try something completely new. It is one way I make writing in their daybooks personal and valuable.

Download Introducing a Writer's Life (from right side of this page) for a 3-day lesson plan for launching writing homework.         

Writing units available for you to download

To help you get started on creating narrative writing units, I share some of my favorite lessons. Download packets (right sidebar) on several topics including: 

  • Introducing the daybook,
  • Writing leads,
  • Acting to find lapses in writing,
  • Adding the right kind of details to a story, and
  • Endings.

Next: Ways to discover narrative topics


Free lessons and handouts to download

The lesson plans available here to download will help your students explore such key writing steps as organizing, adding details, crafting strong leads and endings.

Click on the titles to download free lesson plans and handouts on narrative writing.

Introducing a Writer's Life

A collection of lessons and homework assignments to help students begin to realize that each of them is truly a writer. Topics include:

• Introducing a very important tool for writers, the Daybook.

• Using partners to improve.

• Ways to find topics.

House-plan lesson

Students explore how writers are both alike and different. The focus is on what makes writing easier. In addition, students discover many topics for narrative stories.

Telling Stories

Children are natural story-tellers. These lessons engage students and their families and friends in finding great stories for their writing. Topics include:

• Telling stories to your family and friends.

• Becoming an effective responder.

• Revising stories based on feedback.

Story plans, action lessons

These lessons help students to:

• Discover the importance of having a story plan, and how to make one.

• Explore the power of descriptive words.

• Find places in their stories to S-T-R-E-T-C-H their details.

Endings lesson

In this lesson, students name different kinds of endings authors use. They also discuss, not the last paragraph, but the last line: the "clincher."

Story lead lessons

Story leads are crucial to good writing. These lessons help students see why. In these lessons, students:

• Compare clincher endings to leads.

• Cast their vote for the best leads, and discuss the winners.

• Study the teacher's own writing and revisions.

Narrative conference form

This form provides students and teacher with a clear check list for reviewing each piece of personal or imaginative narrative writing. The form also can serve as a guide as students write.

Narrative unit

3-5th grade, integrated narrative unit lasting a month. Editing, revision, publishing, and reflection goals/lessons included. 37 pages.


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Copyright 2018 by Karen Haag

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