Over the last couple of weeks, my students have started to plan and write a personal narrative. In past years, I've approached it in a way to fit the standards of a state test where we basically followed a five paragraph format. This year, however, I am taking the students on a roller coaster ride and I think it just might pay off!
Don't get me wrong, the five paragraph format is good for structuring a generic response to a prompt. It gives a clear outline for the appropriate beginning, middle and end of just about any written assignment. However, what I noticed was that when students wrote a story using this formula, most stories were bland. They were more of a recount of events that happened to them. As a short undetailed example:
My family and I went on a trip to Disney World. First we got on the plane. It was a long ride. Then we got to the hotel and hung around for a while. Finally we got to go to one of the parks. I loved the rides. Eventually, we had to go home. The plane ride home was long, but finally we got home and unpacked. That was our fun trip to Disney."
Without getting into a full five paragraphs, I think you may get the idea. The stories were boring, even the well written ones. They seemed to lack the focus on a particular event and that exciting moment that can make the reader smile (or gasp, or cry, or laugh, or cringe.)
Hence, the roller coaster. I used this graphic organizer provided by nanowrimo.org. I like this version of the roller coaster plan because it really breaks down the important events of a well crafted story from beginning intro, to the initiating event, rising action, climax, falling action and end.
First, I shared a story I wrote myself using this plan and then I showed the students how each part of my story was planned out on the roller coaster. The important parts I emphasized was that there is an initiating event that leads to the climax and that the rising action helps to build the story up to an exciting climax. I think that will be the key to this group of students producing great stories.
We then brainstormed ideas for personal narratives and the students started to plan. Of course, some students needed assistance with this, but once they realized that a climax didn't have to be something earth shattering, they were fine. One girl planned a story about getting her ears pierced, another about tubing. One boy is planning to tell about how he fell off a tree branch and another about scoring a touchdown in a playoff game. I can already tell that these stories will be more interesting to read as they are really focused on how to get up to the climax of the story.
I am excited to see where the roller coaster plan can take my budding writers!