Writing personal narratives

School is still in full swing in the UK. We have one more week, then half-term (a week off) and then another 7 weeks until summer break. We are holding on, barely.
But this week I am in one of those awkward moments: between units of work. There's no point in starting a new text - Shakespeare and The Crucible need reading, but not this week.  A filler is needed. But a meaty one. 
Writing personal narratives are perfect for these pauses.  Here's where we started this week:

There's nothing like a bit of self indulgence.  But writing about yourself is harder than it first seems.
We start with the same ole modes of characterisation that we so often talk about in Literature:
# appearance and habits
# dialogue
# thoughts
# impact on others

Today we tackled appearance

The plan?
  1. Examples
  2. Modelling
  3. Writing

Examples - mentor texts

In my classroom, we work with mentor texts.  Good writing starts with good reading. So we unpick examples and see what is done well (or less well).  Today we read these - written by students in prior years - to explore how we can write appearance well.
Black boots, black skinny jeans and a Nirvana tee - my uniform was complete. Add black hair, long, with red streaks flopping indolently over my left eye and I have the perfect blend of innocent rebel. To adults of a certain age my outfit says: back off. To trendy girls and cool boys my outfit says: back off. My plan works. Every day. 
I'm not the tallest in my crew. I have to standout without being able to standup. Red Airmax trainers help. So does the 'fro - well, it adds a foot. I can't help my FA cups ears, potato nose or geeky glasses. But then my 16 piercings tend to distract.
Modelling - get personal
It would be easier to jump straight from a mentor text into the writing task. But that would miss a step and it's this next step where kids often struggle with writing.
Here's how I model writing:
  1. Set the same task for yourself as for the kids.
  2. Start typing your response on the whiteboard (or old style writing) whilst you are doing that narrate out loud for your class everything that you are thinking as you go. 
  3. Narrate how you self-edit as you go. Narrate how you choose words, craft sentences, shape the style.
  4. Explicitly show the mistakes, corrections and hesitations you have.
  5. When you are done with your model, ask the kids to improve your writing using their own targets.
Here's an example of my model from today, the blue shows my edits and the red the final text:
Here's what we ended up with:
Nearly every girl I know has long hair. Ugh. Such princesses. What do they think will happen? Look like a princess and Charming will suddenly rock up? Fat chance. I am not one of them. I have short hair. I wear it like a badge. Loud and proud. I will not be your princess. I can be my own hero.  Of course, the stumpy legs, nerdy glasses and lisp don't 100% shout hero. But hey, we have to work with what we've got right?

Writing - your turn

I find that once I have made it through my narration and student editing, every kid is ready to go. The examples and my narration have given them plenty of time to think of their own ideas. They don't need to chat with their mates to make sure their ideas are 'ok'. My model has put their fears to bed.
Writing time is a go. And it's fruitful.
Thank you for reading!


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