Our Changing Climate: A Personal Narrative Prompt
In her acknowledgements, Amy Cherrix, author of IN THE EYE OF THE STORM, shares what motivated her to write her book about hurricanes. As she notes: “I undertook this journey to understand hurricanes because I am no stranger to these storms.” In her author bio she writes that she and her family have lived through “six hurricanes, two floods, a desert sandstorm, and more blizzards than she cares to count.” Reflecting on Amy’s comments, and reading through this month’s book list made me realize that all of us have a story to tell when it comes to the impacts of our changing climate.
Like Amy, my family has been affected by climate change. Southern California, where I live, is facing intense wildfires and extreme drought. In the past few years, we’ve seen one of our Scouts’ favorite backpacking trails destroyed, the nature center at a favorite hiking spot burned down, and we were forced to stay inside many days because of wildfire smoke and poor air quality. Not to mention, we have been asked to conserve water because of our ongoing drought.
From floods to blizzards, and increasingly hot summers, climate change is affecting all of us. This shared experience could be a powerful prompt for a personal narrative assignment. Let’s dive in.
The Personal Narrative Process
There are so many wonderful resources and free lesson plans for crafting personal narratives, and I’ve included links to many of these below. Here are some key steps in the process.
- Read and study personal narratives. All good writing starts with mentor texts. The New York Times offers a free personal narrative writing unit for students, which includes links to personal narratives written by Times columnists. Study them to discover the elements of good narrative writing, like the role of setting or using dialog. Or better yet, read some of the personal accounts captures in our books this month, like IN THE EYE OF THE STORM.
- Brainstorm your topics. How have you experienced climate change? Read some of the books on this month’s book list to learn about climate change and its various impacts. You might look closely at a book like HOW TO CHANGE EVERYTHING, which includes first-hand interviews with many young activists, who talk about how changing climate is affecting their communities. In the classroom, you can brainstorm impacts of climate change in small groups or with the whole class. Once you have a list, pick a topic that’s affected you personally.
- Write down everything you can recall about your specific experience. What happened on that day it was too hot to play soccer outside or that day you had to evacuate for a hurricane? Remember, for a personal narrative, you are your own best source. For your chosen event, think about where you were (setting). Who were you with (characters)? What happened (conflict)? How did it feel? Think about details that speak to all five senses, not just what you saw, but what you heard, felt, smelled, tasted.
- Shape your narrative arc, making sure to include:
- Exposition – the setup where your setting and characters are introduced
- Rising action – where the action starts happening and events escalate
- Climax – the final showdown, the moment of greatest conflict
- Falling action – the events after the climax where tension is falling and the plot events are being wrapped up.
- Resolution (or dénouement) – that final, satisfying moment, like “they all lived happily ever after.”
- After you’ve finished your first draft, revise. After you’ve revised on your own, share with a writing partner (or two) for feedback. I often like to ask my writing partners specific questions, especially about areas I might be struggling with. For example, I might ask “What did you think of the opening? Did it grab your attention?” or “Was the ending satisfying?”
I found some wonderful resources for narrative writing and personal narratives (including mini lesson plans), which I’ll include below. Happy drafting!
- Erie Public Schools Personal Narrative Lesson Plans
- Cult of Pedagogy’s Narrative Writing post
- MacDonald Middle School Narrative Writing Unit
- Using Videos to Teach Narrative Writing (from Just Add Students)
Kirsten W. Larson
Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), an NSTA Best STEM BOOK, A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), which earned two starred reviews, and the forthcoming, THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), and the middle grade graphic novel, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Roaring Brook, 2023), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Find her at kirsten-w-larson.com or on Twitter and Instagram @KirstenWLarson.