Personal Narrative

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners write personal narratives to document activities, insights, research, impact, and discoveries of their firsthand experience with civic engagement, service, and volunteerism. By explaining involvement in action for the common good, learners raise awareness of a social issue, the need for change, and the impact individuals can have by giving time, talent, or treasure for the common good.


Lesson Rating 
Two to three 50 minute class periods plus additional time for research

The learner will:

  • use the techniques of writing narratives.
  • use their personal experience, research, and/or their journal entries as a basis for their narratives.
  • participate in peer review.
Home Connection 

Encourage learners to share their narratives with their family members.

  • Abbott, H. Porter. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s 2003. (ISBN: 0-312-39767-4)
  • Lunsford, Andrea and Robert Connors. The New St. Martin’s Handbook. Boston:  Bedford/St. Martins, 1999. (ISBN: 0-312-16744-X)
  •  “Personal Narrative Samples.” Library Information Services. 17 Mar.2008.
  • Yetman, Norman R., ed. When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 2002. (ISBN:0-486-42070-1)


  1. Day One:
    Anticipatory Set:
    Provide the learners with an example of a personal narrative piece of writing about service and/or volunteerism from the web sites listed in the Materials section. Allow the learners time to read the example. Then discuss what techniques the author uses to make the narrative accessible to the reader (details, descriptions, conversations).

  2. Tell the students their assignment is to write a personal narrative about their own experience with a service-learning, volunteering, or civic engagement event. Before the learners begin their personal narrative, they write a statement of purpose. The purpose should include sharing their personal experience, expressing opinions and insights about a social issue, and advocating for action.

  3. The most important goal of their narrative is to communicate the impact the service learning had on their own attitudes and actions.

  4. Using the example narratives from the links provided in the Materials section as models, teach the students about the structure and format of their narratives. Discuss tense (past or present), point of view (first person), effective introductions (attention-grabbing and summary of main points), transitions, and conclusions (powerful, building to crescendo).
    Remind learners to:

    • show (using sensory detail and conversation) not just tell about their experiences.
    • use comparisons in metaphors and similes to help the reader identify with the social concern.
    • use genuine voice so that the narratives are personal, real, and appropriate for their purpose and audience.
    • include accurate facts.
    • think about their audience.
    • write with fluency and clarity.
  5. Give students time to start a rough draft about their experience during class. Pair up students to share these initial drafts with one other person for informal feedback. Suggest that they can use their persuasive essay, news story, and journal entries as resources for this writing project.

  6. Days Two and Three:

  7. During the next two class periods, have the learners develop their personal narratives.

  8. As the learners complete their narratives, have them partner with other learners and use Attachment One: Feedback Forums – Personal Narrative to respond to each other’s rough drafts.

  9. Meet with each learner individually to discuss his/her rough draft, making suggestions as how to refine their narratives.

  10. Use editing groups so that other learners can check for organization, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice before they write their final draft.

  11. Ask the class to consider how their personal narratives might be used to inspire others to service. They may compile their narratives in a class book. They may host an after-school or evening “coffee house” reading for their families and/or peers. They may submit the narratives to the school newspaper or a local newspaper.


Learners will be assessed on the content of their personal narratives, including the description of community involvement, the conflicts/tensions involved in the social concern, the impact on the social issue, and the effect the involvement had on them personally. They will also be assessed on their narrative's organization and mechanics (Attachment Two: Personal Narrative - Rubric).
Assess student understanding of the entire writing unit through Attachment Three: Unit Post-Test

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.

Academic Standards

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