The Common Core’s addition of narrative writing is likely to challenge many History/Social Science teachers that are unfamiliar with this type of writing. Students are now expected to write narratives that develop real or imagined experiences, and/or events using well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.
Since only six percent of my class or eleven out of my 183 high school students chose to write a historical narrative on our last formative assessment, I created a task that would increase their storytelling abilities about the principles of Judaism. Instead of outlining, I asked them to cluster or bubble map the main ideas from the textbook chapter. We use the 2007 California edition of World History: The Modern World (pp. 28-32) by Pearson Prentice Hall. Most students had one to two pages of events and people that they could use to create their narrative. Prior to beginning their writing, they also had a full day of instruction on period-specific vocabulary. For homework the students also viewed the Crash Course video series segment on Judaism. Lastly, students viewed a short, online video on narrative writing tips and techniques. The video was played once in class and posted online so students could view it again from home.
The prompt and directions were:
You have a 53 minute class period to write a Historical narrative about the Jewish people. Use your cluster map to provide details. This task requires you to tell a story about a historical time period, blending facts with imagined characters and situations.
- Use one person’s point of view (a central character)
- Use chronological organization and transitions
- Describe people who actually lived and events that actually happened. However, you may include fictional people and details.
- Show you have an accurate understanding of historic events and details of actual places
I use word count as a proxy for student effort and as a goal-setting strategy. Thus, I always like to display the number of words each class period writes. I then compare each class mean. I try to generate some competition between the classes. Why do you think period three wrote almost 150 more words than period 1?
The chart above compares the average number of words written by each of my five classes.
Number 6 is the average of all five means. A total of 176 essays were turned in.
The factors I looked for in these narratives were: 1) a creative title; 2) word count; 3) main character point of view. During my readings, I discovered that a small group of students had misunderstood the assignment and had made their historical characters into outlandish fictional people doing things that had no relevance to the historical period. In my debrief with the students, I will remind them that the purpose of the assignment was to show an accurate understanding of historic events and details of actual places.
The majority of my students picked a historical character and remained in that character for their entire writing assignment. One or two students misunderstood the assignment and wrote one or two paragraphs from the perspective of each Moses, Abraham, David, and Solomon. I attributed this to students not listening carefully enough to the directions. The charts below compare student performance on my last two writing tasks.