While some folks might gloss over preparation for the PARCC Narrative Writing Task (thinking perhaps, Students know the elements of short stories and they know how to write a story; this should be relatively easy for them), this task is trickier than it might appear. It’s not just about writing a story. It’s about analyzing a story or novel excerpt FIRST, then writing a story based on that.
As Willy Loman might say, Attention must be paid.
Given what we can infer from the PARCC Online Practice Tests, the task typically requires students to analyze the characters and conflict before writing. Here are a few examples:
|6th NARRATIVE WRITING TASK:Today you will read a passage from a story titled Magic Elizabeth. As you read, pay close attention to the characters as you answer the questions to prepare to write a narrative story of your own….
THEN: In the passage from Magic Elizabeth, the author creates a vivid setting and two distinct characters, Mrs. Chipley and Sally. Think about the details the author uses to establish the setting and the characters. Write an original story about what happens when Sally arrives at Aunt Sarah’s house. In your story, be sure to use what you have learned about the setting and the characters as you tell what happens next.
|7th NARRATIVE WRITING TASK:Today, you will read a passage from a novel. As you read, you will gather information to prepare for writing an original story….
THEN: At the end of the passage, Howie tells Kevin that he is not making a good case. Write an original story that describes what Kevin does next to try to change Howie’s mind about paying for Cromwell’s training. In writing your story:
• Consider what actions Kevin might take or what Kevin might say that would strengthen his case.
• Be sure to use what you have learned about the setting, characters, and plot of the passage.
|8th NARRATIVE WRITING TASK:Today you will read and answer questions on a story about a man seeking to complete an important mission. When you have finished reading and answering questions, you will write a narrative story using details from your reading….
THEN: Write a continuation of the story of Bahauddin Shah using details from the passage. Describe what you think might happen after Bahauddin Shah climbs out of the Salt Caverns. What obstacles might he face, and what actions might he take to overcome them?
Now, how can we best prepare students?
- Make sure students can identify the key elements of a story (e.g., characters, plot, setting, conflict, and point of view). One way for them to apply this understanding is to pull elements from a given story and insert them into the “Narrative Writing Pre-writing Organizer” on the TLC “Narrative Writing” page. Note: The “Somebody Wanted But So” approach at the bottom of the organizer shows how the conflict drives the plot.
- Train students to infer character traits and analyze characters. The “DDAT Organizer” and “Character Analysis Organizer” (and model) on the TLC “Analyzing Literature” page are handy for these purposes.
- Explain to students that in order to complete the PARCC Narrative Writing Task (which, PS, is one of many genres of writing we will do this year; we are not doing test prep 24/7, only making sure you’re ready for this task then moving on), they will need to analyze the given narrative, then carry it forward as the directions require. They should not write a completely random story.
- If the directions call for a story that follows from the original (as most do), then we need to read and annotate with the following questions in mind:
- What do we know about the character? What are his/her dominant traits? What do we know about the character’s strengths and weaknesses?
- What is the conflict, and how does it get resolved—or not? What lesson does the character learn? How will he/she see the world through different eyes?
- Next, as we prepare to write, we need to answer this question: What are the potential sources of conflict for a sequel? Here are some options:
- The original conflict gets revisited by a “mirror” character, and the main character has to help the new character learn the original lesson. So, if The Grinch met someone who hated Christmas, he could help the new guy learn how and why to appreciate it.
- The main character has to figure out how to apply the newly-learned lesson. Now that I have this different perspective, how am I going to behave differently? For example, now that The Grinch’s heart has expanded, how will he live his life differently?
- If the conflict is not resolved, how might it continue? Note: This is the most common question to address because the text excerpts are often short and leave the conflict unresolved.
- Once we’ve chosen a source of conflict to pursue, we can pre-write using the TLC “Narrative Pre-writing Organizer.” Note: This organizer calls for two characters. You may have to modify your approach, depending on the excerpt you’re given.
- After some quick pre-writing, it’s time to write. Make sure students know about catchy hooks and how to format dialogue. I like to remind them that every new speaker gets his/her own paragraph (You want to talk? Get your OWN paragraph!). Students will also benefit from more nuanced discussions of how to build suspense, use sensory details, and carry the tone/mood forward.
For useful tools in literary analysis and writing, please check out the TLC “Analyzing Literature” and “Narrative Writing” pages. Also, of course, make sure you’ve reviewed the PARCC Online Practice Test(s) for the grade(s) you teach.
PS-Thanks to Nancy Coner at Great Oaks Charter School for helping me to think through these steps!
PPS: See also my later posts: