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12 Mentor Texts You Need for your Personal Narrative Unit

It’s the beginning of the year and your students sit down to work on writing for the first time. Have you ever heard these words...“I don’t know what to write about!” 


Starting the year with personal narratives is a great way to combat these dreaded words. Not only does this genre allow students to share about their own lives, it also taps into a treasure trove of ideas that they can write about. You can let them know that they already have so many stories to choose from. When students learn to access their memories in order to create detailed small moment stories, they become more confident in their writing ability. 


Below is a list of 12 mentor texts to help with the personal narrative writing process: generating small moments, crafting leads, the heart of the story, “show not tell”, and powerful endings. Also, make sure to grab the FREE anchor chart resource below.


GENERATING SMALL MOMENTS:

The first step of writing personal narratives is for students to come up with ideas from their lives to write about. They don’t need to come up with huge, exciting events that have happened to them, but instead they can find the stories in the small, simple moments. We usually have them generate stories with a special person, special thing, or special place. These books show an example for each.


Special Person:

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge lives next door to a nursing home. When he finds out that his special friend, Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper is losing her memory he sets out to find what a memory is.


Special Thing:

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts 

All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small.

 

Special Place:

Rollercoaster by Marla Frazee

The roller coaster car is going up, up, up to the highest spot. And at least one of the people in the car has never ridden on a roller coaster before . . . ever.Wheeeeeeee! Get ready to experience the thrill of riding a coaster for the very first time in this vibrant new adventure from acclaimed picture book creator Marla Frazee.


CRAFTING LEADS:

We teach students that the beginning, or lead, of a story is so important because it should grab the reader’s attention and make them want to continue reading. The three strategies that we share with them use action, dialogue, or snapshot. These books show an example of each type of lead.


Action:

Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats

Peter has a new baby sister. First his father paints Peter’s old cradle pink, then his crib. Then his parents want to paint Peter’s chair! “Let’s run away, Willie,” he says to his dog. And they do. This is a gentle and reassuring story about sibling rivalry.


Dialogue:

Come on Rain by Karen Hesse

A young girl eagerly awaits a coming rainstorm to bring relief from the oppressive summer heat. "Come on, Rain!" Tess pleads to the sky as listless vines and parched plants droop in the endless heat. Then the clouds roll in and the rain pours. And Tess, her friends, and their mothers join in together in a rain dance to celebrate the shower that renews both body and spirit.


Snapshot:

Thundercake by Patricia Polacco

A loud clap of thunder booms, and rattles the windows of Grandma's old farmhouse. "This is Thunder Cake baking weather," calls Grandma, as she and her granddaughter hurry to gather the ingredients around the farm. A real Thunder Cake must reach the oven before the storm arrives. But the list of ingredients is long and not easy to find . . . and the storm is coming closer all the time!


SHOW, NOT TELL:

One of the strategies that helps a story really come to life is when students focus on painting a picture with their words, instead of just telling what happened. Owl Moon does an amazing job of “showing” the reader what is happening in the story with beautifully descriptive language.


You can use the detailed pictures in the book Blackout to give students an opportunity to practice this strategy. As you read the book, have students provide their own descriptive language to go with the images. 

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer. Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don't need words. You don't need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn't an owl, but sometimes there is.


Blackout by John Rocco

One hot summer night in the city, all the power goes out. What's a family to do? When they go up to the roof to escape the heat, they find the lights--in stars that can be seen for a change--and so many neighbors it's like a block party in the sky! The boy and his family enjoy being not so busy for once. When the electricity is restored, everything can go back to normal . . . but not everyone likes normal. 


HEART OF THE STORY:

The heart of the story is the most important part, or the climax. We stress how this part needs to really be stretched out with lots of great details. In the book, Fireflies, there is a moment when the boy sees the waning lights of the fireflies he caught in a jar and decides to set them free. Julie Brinkloe does a great job of layering this moment with action and emotion. 


Fireflies by Julie Brinkloe

A young boy is proud of having caught a jar full of fireflies, which seems to him like owning a piece of moonlight, but as the light begins to dim he realizes he must set the insects free or they will die.


POWERFUL ENDINGS:

Students tend to think that they can just say “The End” and their story is complete. There is, of course, much more that goes into crafting a powerful ending. There are three different strategies that we discuss with students: a lesson learned, a thought or feeling, or a circular ending. Below are books with examples of each strategy.


Lesson Learned:

Best Story by Eileen Spinelli

The best story is one that comes from the heart. The library is having a contest for the best story, and the quirky narrator of this book just has to win that rollercoaster ride with her favorite author! But what makes a story the best?


Thought/Feeling:

Fireflies by Julie Brinkloe


Circular:

Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester Laminack

A young boy remembers the Saturdays when he was nine or ten and he would ride his bicycle to his Ma'am-maw's house, where they spent the day together mowing the lawn, picking vegetables, eating lunch, and making delicious, sweet teacakes.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

In a rainbow-colored station wagon that smelled like a real car, the relatives came. When they arrived, they hugged and hugged from the kitchen to the front room. All summer they tended the garden and ate up all the strawberries and melons. They plucked banjos and strummed guitars. When they finally had to leave, they were sad, but not for long. They all knew they would be together next summer.


Click here to grab free anchor charts that can be used to teach the elements of a personal narrative that we mentioned above.


These are samples  from our Personal Narrative Unit, where students are taken through the writing process in a step by step way. Check it out below!



Hope this is helpful to you and your students as you begin the year. Happy Writing!

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