How to Write a Literacy Narrative
What is the earliest or most vivid memory you have of learning to read or write? Who taught you—a parent, grandparent, older sibling, or teacher? What books or stories were significant in your early life, and how do they resonate in you today?
How did you respond to being read to as a child? Think about looking at illustrations, hearing rhymes and voices for different characters. In school, were there any writing assignments that you found challenging or illuminating? How did your attitudes toward writing and reading develop?
These are some of the questions you should think about when writing a literacy narrative, whether as a school assignment, a journal entry, or an exercise to help you focus your writing experience.
Tell a story
As you may know, a narrative is a story. A literacy narrative is a personal account of learning how to read or write. It often explores the significance of books or written text in one’s life and how they shaped one’s attitudes toward writing or thinking.
I used to read Calvin and Hobbes out loud to my cousin, who was only a year younger and could read herself. There was something special about reading aloud, sharing the experience together. We would both pore over the strips collected in the books at my grandparents’ house, one of our more peaceful activities (when we weren't playing blind-man's bluff in the basement and causing a general ruckus).
I learned to write sitting at a miniature school desk, practicing tracing letters on gray lined paper that easily smudged or tore when it met an eraser. We were encouraged to write our own stories and illustrate them, one of my favorite kindergarten activities. Mrs. Weinberg was my scribe as I narrated the story, writing it into the white booklet made from papers folded and stapled together. She asked me what happens to the bad guys in the story.
"They die in the end," I said, pronouncing their final judgment with grim finality for a six-year-old.
"Let's say they went to jail instead," she suggested.
Listening to our teacher read stories was also a treat. Even the fidgety kids enjoyed it. In the third grade we were introduced to Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Wind in the Willows. Little girls sat one behind the other and braided one another's hair as Mrs. Bartling read about Mole and Toad or explained how stories can jump back and forth in time.
A writing exercise that many teachers recommend is freewriting. It can help you get ideas flowing freely without worrying about logical flow, errors, or other self-censoring issues. The idea is to write nonstop, whatever comes to mind. Try not to lift your pen from the paper for more than a second. Go from one thought to the next without pausing. Even if your mind goes blank for a moment, keep writing the same word over and over, keeping the rhythm of the pen moving. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or decent penmanship! Freewrite for five to ten minutes--the more you try it, the longer you can go.
Look at what you've written. It's probably messy, scatterbrained, discursive, amusing. That's fine! Freewriting is supposed to loosen the mind, take away the inhibitions that many writers face when they stare down a blank page. Think of athletes who stretch their muscles before a race. It's the same idea: you're getting yourself used to the act of writing, and letting all the little nuggets stored deep in your mind come out into the light. You may even hit on some fascinating thoughts that you want to write about further. Explore your mind--it's like dreaming when you're awake, and capturing the word and image flow on paper.
- Think about the questions posed in the first paragraph. To brainstorm, jot down some memories that are meaningful to you and think about why they are important. What emotions do they evoke in you—sadness, joy, pride, regret?
- Think about detail, sensory details like how things look, smell, sound, taste, and feel.
- Remember that this narrative is a story; include descriptions of characters and setting.
- Dialogue can help bring people to life and make the story more dynamic.
- Your literacy narrative may focus on one key event or it may cover a period of time; however, make it clear to the reader why the narrative is significant for you now. Discuss how it has changed or affected you. Why does this story matter to you?
I was pretty quiet at school and perfectly content to read by myself. I thought this was normal, but when I was in the seventh grade at a new school, a teacher urged me to put down Little Men and play with the other kids at recess. I know that her concern was not that I was reading but that I make new friends, and I still wonder if I part of the reason I love to read is because it allows me to retreat to my own world.
Consider the audience
As you draft the literacy narrative, think about who your audience is. It may be your teacher, your family or friends, or just yourself. Whoever it is reading your story, you want it to say something about you and your experiences.
What do you want your readers to take away from the story? Is the experience something they can relate to? Will you challenge them to see something in a different way? Also consider your stance as the writer. How do you want the readers to see you—detached, sincere, critical, or humorous? The attitude you project will affect the reader’s perspective.
Even if your literacy narrative is something you keep between you and your journal, writing it will give you a new perspective on reading and writing. Maybe it will inspire you to explore other areas of your life for creative nonfiction pieces. Whatever your purpose, just keep writing.
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