Learn What Works

Writing narrative text is a clear application of Writing Standard 3, which calls for students to “Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. ” In the lower grades, this may be simply writing a short sequence of events using temporal words to signal order, while in the upper grades students will be orienting the reader to the problem, characters and setting, creating a smooth progression of events, establishing one or more points of view, employing a variety of narrative techniques, and resolving the narrative with a solution to the problem or reflection on the experience.

The purpose of the narrative might be to entertain, inform, instruct or persuade. We often think of narratives as stories, but anecdotes, biographies, descriptions and explanations can also take a narrative form, using time and sequence as the primary structure. Narratives might be used as a part of either argument or informative/explanatory writing. For instance, an anecdote might be used as evidence in an argument or to illustrate a point in an informative piece. A narrative describing a research process might be a key part of an informative piece in science.

Teachers will want to carefully instruct students in the use of significant details, description, dialogue, monologue and pacing of events, in order to develop characters, tone, tension and suspense. Making use of mentor texts for narrative instruction means teachers must “read like writers”–always considering the author’s craft, always on the look-out for good mentor texts. Mentor texts can come from a variety of sources–picture books, novels, plays, newspapers, blogs, and Internet sites. Being familiar with grade-level Writing Standards can help teachers to focus on those mentor texts particular to the needs of their classrooms. In addition to the use of mentor texts, teachers can also model writing by composing narrative texts and “thinking out loud” about the creative process. As always, teachers will want to use the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework to support students in their learning. After explicit instruction and modeling, students benefit from shared writing experiences, guided writing experiences, and collaborative practice with frequent descriptive feedback around lesson learning targets. Peer and teacher conferencing about writing can help students to fine tune their writing and stretch their thinking.

See How it Works

Common Core ELA
Sequence Chart
Story Map
Character Chart
Sensory Chart

Above are some examples from the Common Core Appendix C. These examples show the expectations for student narrative writing. You can also find student writing samples at Achieve the Core.

One of the foremost authorities in narrative writing, Lucy Calkins, has produced a series of videos for the Reading and Writing Project website. In these two videos, see how teachers work with students on their narrative endings in K-2 and in 6th grade. Notice the explicit instruction and use of mentor texts.


You can also study the other videos in this series on narrative writing.

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers can support students as they learn to organize events, develop characters, or add details and description in their narrative writing. Here are a few samples:

Do What Works

Reading Talk-aloud template
Writing Talk-aloud template
Composing Think-aloud template

There are many websites that offer support for narrative writing. Check out the resources from the following sites:


Common Core Appendix A. (2010). http://www.corestandards.org

Hale, E. (2008). Crafting Writers K-6. Portland, ME, Stenhouse Publishers.

Indrisano, R, & Paratore, J. (Eds.) (2005). Learning to Write and Writing to Learn Theory and Research in Practice. Newark, DE, The International Reading Association.

Iowa Core English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects. (2011). Des Moines, IA, Iowa Department of Education.

The Reading & Writing Project website