Middle School Narrative Essays and Middle School Writing Conferences

Hi friends!

About a year ago, I had just started my first year of teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts. We were working on narrative essays and I did a blog post on how I taught it here.

I have grown SO much since that time. My students definitely learned a lot, but especially because I teach the same kids in 8th grade as I do in 7th, I knew that I had to really up what we are doing this year.

Disclaimer: I don't teach 'personal narratives.' I know. Writing gods and goddesses across the universe are gasping in shock, but it's a decision I made a couple years ago, kind of on a whim, but has since proven successful.

I just feel like kids have written 8-10 personal narratives by the time they get to me, and honestly, sometimes it's REALLY hard for kids to write something meaningful about the first time they were stung by a bee (or whatever small moment I spend hours and days trying to help them come up with).

Anyway, I found that when students have to use narrative elements to become a character from a narrative mentor text, they don't spend days trying to figure out what to write, they truly use narrative craft because they have a complete and well done mentor text to constantly reference, and their writing is just SO FREAKING GOOD.

Last year, we read Freak the Mighty in both 7th and 8th grade, and students had to write from Freak's point of view or from Killer Kane's point of view. They truly did an amazing job.

I have reading units I created for both of these resources too. I mostly use the novels to teach literary elements. We also focus a lot on thinking critically about the texts we read.


I still did the same thing with my 7th graders this year, and we are just about done writing our rough drafts.

For 8th grade, I had the same students, so I decided we would read The Outsiders. Even more so, instead of them just having to write from the point of view of a character, I actually wanted them to have to do some of that hard thinking that they might be missing out on by not doing a personal narrative.

With this in mind, my 8th graders had to continue Ponyboy's narrative. Their narrative still had to have a plot and climax that was completely developed. Essentially, I was asking them to write another chapter of the book. It was REALLY HARD for all of us, especially in the planning stages, but I scaffolded and modeled A LOT. Now we're on rough drafts too, and they're seriously amazing.

I have created a narrative resource that can be used in your seventh and eighth grade ELA classrooms. I teach narratives in a pretty quick fashion because I think that's the most authentic way. I don't think it makes sense for the kids to spend weeks and weeks on writing narratives because they are usually really good at them (narratives tend to be the most engaging and creative for them) so we can produce them pretty quickly.

Here is the progression of the lessons in my unit and the charts we used for the lessons. All these charts, lesson plans, and students examples are included in my middle school narrative resource in my TPT store.

1. Lesson One: Elements of Narrative Writing

2. Lesson Two: Narrative Plot Diagrams, Ways to Start a Narrative, Sensory Details  

3. Lesson Three: Narrative Essay Planning Outlines, Narrative Pacing, and Using Dialogue Effectively 

4. Lesson Four: Narrative Writing Conference and Narrative Transitions 

This is probably the thing that I had the most questions about during my last 6 years as a teacher. How in the heck do teachers (especially middle school ELA teachers who have 100+ students) do conferences?! Check out my blog post specifically on writing conferences here.

5. Lesson Five: Ways to End a Narrative Essay 

6. Lesson Six: Narrative Essays Peer Editing  
I always make sure to really model this. My students are freakishly good at peer editing. I don't know if it's the maturity level or just my group of students but when I taught fifth grade, peer editing just wasn't helpful. In 7th and 8th however, my kids are amazing at helping each other edit and revise.

I do talk A LOT about how writing is really difficult and personal for all of us and that the idea is to help people make their writing better, and not to make them feel bad about their writing. I do have some friendships that can handle tough criticism from each other, but occasionally I do intervene if some of my brutally honest students are getting intense. In general though, by letting them pick their partnerships, I don't have many issues.

Another Tip: Sometimes kids will say things like, "There was nothing wrong with it." Now I do have some REALLY strong writers that sometimes really need a teachers' eye to help them improve, but something that helps individuals and peers kind of be forced to edit and revise essays is to have them assign a color to teach category of editing and revising.
For example:

Purple: Spelling and grammar
Green: Verb tense (my kids REALLY struggle with this on narratives, but sometimes I think even I'm bad about it, so I just do my best to show the kids to really pay attention from switching back and froth between the past and present).
Orange: Narrative Writing Requirements
Yellow: Basics and formatting

You may have more or less colors, but by telling students they can't move on to their finals until they have every color forces them to actually try to edit and revise.

Here is an example from one of my exemplary students. They don't all look like this, but I do make them show me (it's a grade) before they can move on to final drafts. This allows me to tell them to go back to try and edit and revise if they haven't put forth the expected effort:

7. Lesson Seven-Nine: Publishing Final Drafts (2-3 Days)

For narratives I always have the kids write their rough drafts and then type their finals. The rest of the year, we type rough drafts and then edit and revise on the hard copies they print.

All the templates, chart papers, examples, and lesson plans can be found in my Middle School Narrative Resource in my TeachersPayTeachers Store. Just click here or on the picture below:


  1. I'm interested in your idea of narrative from a character's view. Do the students write a narrative based on an event that happened to the character from the story, or do they make up something. I'd love to find out more about this. I teach 4th and 5th, and I have my 5th graders write personal narratives, and I HATE it. It's so difficult to get them to write something worthwhile and meaningful. Every year I say I'm not going to do it again. Do you have lesson plans on tpt for this?

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