Many students need to write personal essays in order to pass exit-level exams, enter college or earn scholarships. These essay assignments usually ask them to write about a time their lives changed. Unfortunately, few high school students have enough perspective to write such a personal essay well. Fortunately, the following lesson plan will give teachers the necessary tools to help high school students write effective narrative essays.
Personal Narrative Essay Models
Teachers can find many examples of personal narrative essays written by young adults.
Some may not be of high literary quality, but they do show personal transformation and reflection. Others may contain inappropriate subject matter for some communities. However, they can be very useful in encouraging students to write. By choosing a suitable model, demonstrating annotation and applying the steps of the writing process, teachers can help young adults to compose effective personal narrative essays. Begin by allowing the students to review narrative models. Present the model to the class as a whole. Teachers may want to read it out loud so that the dramatic aspects of the narrative are clear. Guide discussion with questions like these:
- What event caused the narrator’s life to change?
- How does the narrator describe this event?
- What details show what the narrator’s life was like before this event occurred?
- What details show what the narrator’s life was like after this event occurred?
- What sentences, words or phrases show how the narrator felt and thought about this change?
Narrative Essay Structure
Give each student pencils, highlighters or thin markers in three different colors. Remind the students that many narrative essays include a beginning, middle and an end. In many personal narrative essays, the “beginning,” which may not necessarily be revealed in the first few paragraphs of the essay, includes details about the instigating events or rising action. The “middle” may include the climax, or the event that lead to some kind of personal transformation. The “end” may include details about the narrator has changed, or the falling action and resolution.
Tell the students to read through the story again silently and underline any words, phrases or sentences that give details about what the narrator used to be like. Specify the color or style they should use to mark these details. Ask them to write the one or two of the boldest, clearest or most original words in the margin. Allow the students time to annotate all relevant details. Monitor progress or model annotation on aseparate teacher copy.
Follow this same procedure to annotate details about the climactic event, using a different color. Finally, have the students annotate details about what the narrator is like today using the third color.
Students are now ready to map the arc of this story. Many appropriate graphic organizers are available to download, or teachers can create their own. Since the goal of this lesson is to study essays about personal transformation, make sure to remind students that the rising action will relate to details about the way the narrator used to be, the climax will be an event that caused change and the resolution will show what the narrator is like today. If creating one’s own graphic organizer, include these terms next to the appropriate boxes.
Developing High School Narratives
Now that students have read, annotated and mapped an example of a personal narrative about a transformative event, they can use the writing process to create their own personal narrative. Remind students that the event does not need to be monumental or heroic. The teacher may want to give them some examples of “ordinary” transformative events such as giving up playing with toys, losing weight or being kissed for the first time.
Ask the students to brainstorm a list of possible events. When most students have several items on their lists, give them a blank story map like the one used to map the sample essay. Ask them to fill in the details from their own personal transformation.
Next, allow students to write a first draft. This may be assigned in homework or done in class. Once the students have completed a first draft, show them the rubric that will be used to grade these essays. Many appropriate rubrics can be found online.
Teachers may want to have the students engage in peer review. This is very difficult for many students, since some are very embarrassed either to let others read their work or to criticize their peers. Therefore, the teacher may want to present an anonymous sample to the class as a whole. However, in some groups, it may be possible to have students review each other’s work in pairs or small groups.
Exit Level Personal Essays
By the end of this process, students will have learned how to annotate model essays, structure narratives and use the writing process. Many students will have created effective personal narratives. This skill will help them to succeed on exit-level state tests and may also help them gain admission to college or earn scholarships. Teachers will feel rewarded by their success. Therefore, this lesson plan will be valuable for both teachers and their high school students.