From Boring to Brilliant: Adding Strong Emotions in Narrative Writing


Hello darlings!  We've been back to school for about two weeks now and we are digging into our Lucy Calkins Narrative Writing Unit for 3rd grade.  One of the things my third graders struggle with is writing with strong emotions.  They always want to say, "I was scared!" "I was happy."  "It was fun." blah, blah, blah.

I tell them that they learned how to write stories in k-2nd grade and in 3rd grade they are learning how to make those stories come alive for their readers.  No one wants to be TOLD how someone feels, they want to FEEL it themselves.  That's when writing comes to life; when the reader can make a connection with the story.

In reading we call this "walking in the character's shoes" or empathy, but how do we create that as writers?  One way I have my students do that is to think about emotions and then ask themselves the following questions.

When you feel (insert emotion here)....
1. What happens to your face?
2. What happens to your heartbeat?
3. What happens to the rest of your body?

When you see someone who feels (insert emotion here)...
1. What happens to his/her face?
2. What happens to his/her voice?
3. What do you notice the person doing?

I put the following sentence on the board (PowerPoint slide).  "I was so scared!"  I then had students copy this sentence down in their Writer's Notebooks.  I gave them about two minutes to answer the questions from above.  They created a bulleted list of ideas.


Next, I had students walk around to each person's desk and read what others wrote down.  I had them grab a sticky note and pick the one sentence or phrase that stuck out to them that they might want to try in their own writing.  They copied that onto the sticky note. (remind kiddos not to touch the sticky part of the sticky note because the oils in their hands will take the adhesive away)



After each student has a sticky note, I froze the projector and each student came up one at a time and read their new idea and stuck it on the smartboard. This was cool for two reasons.  One, students were able to hear other ideas for a second time and students got to listen to see if someone chose their idea.  


We took the sticky notes off the projector and stuck them in our notebooks for inspiration.  We repeated this entire process for "I was so happy." Now that students knew the process, it was a lot faster and they came up with better ideas because they knew their classmates would be reading their ideas and selecting their favorites.


Once we finished sharing the ideas for "happy", I had students return to their desks and find a place in their writing that they used an emotion.  (With Workshop style writing, students have many different flash drafts with different narrative stories)  They chose a place that they named the emotion and they highlighted it.


Next, they took a sticky note and chose a more descriptive way to write the emotion.


The next day I give them a little assessment using another piece of their writing to see if they understand or need more practice.

You can grab the powerpoints and assessment here!





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