Writing Personal Reactions to Narrative Text
Writing is an effective tool for enhancing students’ learning in all subject areas (Graham et al., 2015; Graham & Perin, 2007). Graham and Hebert (2010) found that students’ comprehension of science, social studies, and language arts texts improved when they write about what they read, including writing personal reactions, analyzing and interpreting the text, writing summaries and notes, and answering and creating questions about text in writing.
Students engage in critical thinking as they use writing to communicate ideas and information, especially when that writing is based on sources. When students write about what they are reading, they are thinking on paper. This is also referred to as writing from sources.
Personal Reactions to Narrative Text
The Writing to Read report summarized the findings from a meta-analysis of the research related to how writing supports reading (Graham & Hebert, 2010). One of the key recommendations was to ask students to respond in writing to narrative text, such as writing a personal response to narrative material read or writing about a personal experience related to it. The report suggests that this might take the form of a response journal, for which the teacher asks students to write their feelings, reactions, and questions during or after reading a story or other form of narrative text, such as a biography. Personal responses to narrative text help students clarify and organize what they are reading and become aware of their reactions to the text.
In my book The Writing Rope: A Framework for Explicit Instruction in All Subjects I include a list of guiding questions teachers can provide to guide students as they write reflections to narrative text. These questions are also included in Keys to Literacy’s writing professional development courses. The questions are shown at the end of this post. The list is too overwhelming to consider using all the questions at once; teachers should only ask students one to three of these questions for any given writing reflection. An alternative is to ask students to first select one of the categories they prefer writing about (e.g., setting, characters, etc.), and then select one to three of the questions they prefer to use as a guide.
Writing is a social activity and is best learned and practiced in a community. Collaborating has been found to have a significant effect on improving students writing (Graham & Perin, 2007; Graham & Santangelo, 2014). Collaboration involves instructional arrangements whereby students work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their writing pieces. Personal written reflections lend themselves to collaboration. Discussing responses to the guiding questions about the characters, setting, theme, or overall reaction to the text with a peer prior to writing provides an opportunity for students to orally rehearse before writing. During the discussion, the peer partner can ask follow up questions that help expand what the student will write. The collaboration can continue as students write and revise their responses.
Guiding Questions: Personal Response to Narrative Text
Overall Personal Response
- What did you feel as you were reading?
- Is there something that reminds you of yourself or people you know?
- Is there something that reminds you of something that happened in your life?
- Is there a confusing passage or part of the story?
- What do you agree or disagree with?
- What do you like and dislike most about the story?I
- Is there something you wonder about in the story?
- Is there something you wish had happened differently?
- Is there something that surprised you in the story?
- What is your overall opinion of this story? Would you recommend it to a friend?
- Does this story remind you of another story you have read?
Response to Theme
- What do you think is important in the story?
- What is the theme(s) in the story and what are your thoughts about it?
- Is there a lesson to be learned in the story?
Response to Characters
- What is your opinion of the characters?
- Did the main character change throughout the story?
- What was the main character’s problem, and how did he or she solve that problem?
- Do you agree with the actions of the characters? Would your actions be similar or different?
Response to Setting
- What is your reaction to the setting(s) in the story (including time and place)?
- How does the setting fit into the story, and why is it important?
Response to the Author
- Why do you think the author wrote this story?
- What do you think about the author’s choice for the title?
- Does the author make you feel that you are part of the story? How does the author do this?
- What did you like about the author’s writing?
- Did you learn something you might try in your writing?
- Graham, S., Harris, K.R., & Santangelo, T. (2015).Research-based writing practices and the Common Core: Meta-analysis and meta-synthesis. The Elementary School Journal 115 (4). (pp. 498-522)
- Graham, S. & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
- Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
- Sedita, J. (2023). The writing rope: A framework for explicit writing instruction in all subjects. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.