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Using Personal Narratives to Connect to Students' Lives

Knowing what a personal narrative is can help students understand that writing about oneself is a topic that is constantly explored in literature. Many songs that students listen to are personal narratives. Knowing the biography of a person and what neighborhood that person comes from can allow us to make inferences about that person. For example, we can make guesses about how poor or wealthy a person is (social class), ethnicity, upbringing, and religion by knowing details about his/her life and something about the neighborhood he/she came from.  
I wanted students to find a connection between the author, place, text, themselves and their place in society, so I decided to create a personal narrative unit based on Miguel Pinero's poem, "A Lower East Side Poem," which is about the poet's life growing up in a New York City neighborhood. In order to begin our study of the poem and scaffold their own narratives, I provided all the sources for making those connections. 

Materials for Studying "A Lower East Side Poem"

Here are some materials that I used to teach a personal narrative poem:

Additionally, I spent some time teaching students how to evaluate a text and how to organize their notes. Furthermore, students needed to have a good working definition of personal narrative before tackling the writing task, so it was important for them to learn the elements of a personal narrative poem before responding to the writing task. As pointed out above, I used Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" as a model of a personal narrative. Below are some of the specifics on how I approached the instruction of personal narratives.

An Exploration of Personal Narrative 

Writing Task: After learning what elements and steps authors take in order to create personal narratives, write a personal narrative poem that defines who you are, includes a topic (like friendship, love, or relationships) and explains a situation or time period in your life that was happy, sad, or challenging. Support your writing with details about your life and at least one literary element.

Background I shared with students:

  • Relationships: Teacher will describe a relationship with a family member or friend in her life.
  • Neighborhoods: Teacher describes the neighborhood s/he grew up in and the activities of the residents to the class. Then provides images of students' neighborhood and Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1970s in order to compare and contrast. Images of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in present time are introduced.
    • Students discuss how their own city has many different neighborhoods and how different students and types of people come from different parts of a single city.
  • Vocabulary: Teacher introduces new vocabulary from “A Lower East Side Poem.”
  • Parts of a personal narrative: Teach what details and parts are incorporated in the text into a personal narrative.
  • Literary elements: Teach literary elements and techniques that writers incorporate in the text.

Scaffolding prior to final writing task: 

Extension activity (optional):

Students will create a visual presentation of their neighborhoods using powerpoint. They will write an 8-10 sentence paragraph about belonging and what their place is in their neighborhoods and how their place has impacted their identities, activities and lives. 

Curriculum Resources for Personal Narrative

Lesson 1: Introducing Personal Narrative
Lesson 2: Personal Narrative Quiz Assessment
Lesson 3: Poet Background
Lesson 4: Teaching a Personal Narrative Poem, "A Lower East Side Poem"
Vocabulary Word Map
Lesson 5: Poem Analysis and Comparative Analysis
Quiz/Assessment about Poem
Lesson 6: Creating a Personal Narrative
Lesson 7: Figurative Language
Lesson 8: Creating Personal Narrative, cont.
Personal Narrative Rubric