If you are looking for great narrative essay prompt ideas for students, look no further! No matter what age your students are, they’ll love exploring their creativity through the lens of a narrative essay.
This powerful form of creative writing is virtually boundless. To be considered a narrative essay, it must tell a story, sure—but beyond that one simple requirement, the essay may take so many different forms. This flexibility gives a student plenty of room to run with his or her imagination and to craft a piece of writing that truly reflects who the student is as an individual.
Ready to learn more about teaching narrative essay writing to your students this school year?
Let’s dive right in!
What is a Narrative Essay?
So… what exactly is a narrative essay?
At its core, a narrative essay must tell a story. It can draw from a single event or even several related events, but it should ultimately have a plot and a character or characters who are involved in the action.
Additionally, the narrative should revolve around a central theme or motif that illustrates why the author is sharing the narrative in the first place. Or in other words, the theme explains what the author took away from the event—and why that event was so meaningful to him or her.
In form, the narrative essay can be similar to a standard essay or a short story. It has a central point (similar to a thesis statement) just like a regular essay, and it includes characters, dialogue, and plot like a short story.
However, the inclusion of a motif is ultimately what sets the narrative essay apart from the short story.
While many short stories do have important themes, they don’t require it—it’s okay for a short story to simply be based around the action of a plot or an exploration of a character.
A narrative essay, on the other hand, is a story that is told in order to explore an idea. And in that regard, its thematic significance is crucial.
Five Keys to Writing a Strong Narrative Essay
Once your students understand the general premise of a narrative essay and how it differs from other forms, use the following tips to help them begin writing. Each of these steps serves as a key part of crafting a truly thought-provoking narrative essay.
1. Include a Strong Sense of Character
A true narrative essay must tell a story—and as such, that story must include one or more characters who undergo something in the narrative. Students can choose narratives where they are the sole characters, or they may tell stories that include family or friends.
Because the narrative essay is more heavily focused on the plot and theme, it’s important to define characters as succinctly as possible. Help students craft one or two sentences that showcase a character’s personality (or that define the character’s role) without having to spend too much time explaining who each person is. This will help kids stay focused on the narrative at hand.
2. Spice Things Up with Compelling Dialogue
Many short stories include dialogue and a narrative essay is no different.
In a narrative essay, dialogue can serve several key purposes:
- Builds character effectively
- Moves the plot along
- Creates a dynamic pace
Of course, dialogue that is done poorly is sometimes worse than simply not including dialogue at all—so you should encourage your students to practice writing realistic dialogue that sounds similar to how people actually talk. Have students read their dialogue aloud as a test to see how natural it sounds.
3. Add Conflict to Create Tension
Like any good story, a narrative essay must also include conflict and tension. Adding conflict to the narrative creates stakes—for the characters in the story and for the readers who have become invested in what happens.
Generally speaking, there are six accepted types of conflict used in literature. Your students can use any of these to drive tension in their narrative essays:
- Man Vs. Self: an internal conflict between a character and his or her own desires or ideals
- Man Vs. Man: a conflict between two characters
- Man Vs. Society: a conflict between a character and an outside force such as someone rebelling against a government or a teenager fighting against adult expectations
- Man Vs. Nature: a conflict between a character and a natural force like a giant storm, animal, or apocalyptic event
- Man Vs. Technology: a conflict between a character and a problem born of modern science such as a robot or struggle that requires a yet-to-be-invented solution
- Man Vs. Fate: a conflict between a character and an unseen or supernatural force
4. Incorporate A Prevailing Theme
As we mentioned previously, a narrative essay must also include a central theme or motif. This idea should be presented early on in the essay so that the reader may keep it in mind as he or she reads.
Throughout the essay, the narrative should occasionally hearken back to the theme or subtly point toward it in order to keep the reader’s mind engaged with the meaning of the narrative. In the end, the narrative essay should conclude with the author summarizing or alluding to the theme again in some way.
Though it doesn’t have to be as overt as the summary of a typical essay, the ending should nicely wrap up the topic in some way that leaves the reader with something to reflect upon.
5. Tell the Emotional Truth
Narrative essays are generally works of non-fiction, but students do have some license to be creative with the details. In a narrative essay, the writer should be more concerned with telling the “emotional truth” of an event rather than sticking solely to the exact facts of what happened.
What does that mean, practically speaking? Well, for starters, it’s okay if a student doesn’t remember exactly what someone said or the specific sequence of events in a story. This isn’t a report or a news article, so the details don’t have to be completely accurate.
Instead, students should focus on the meaning they wish to impart through their essay—and as such, should choose the most relevant and significant details to include in their work.
12 Narrative Essay Prompts for Students
Use these engaging narrative essay prompts to help students find creative, meaningful moments from their lives to share!
- Write a narrative essay about a memorable “first” in your life (such as your first day at school, your first stuffed animal, your first heartbreak, etc.).
- Write a narrative essay about a time when you faced a difficult decision.
- Write about a day you experienced that was unlike any other.
- Write a narrative essay in which an object takes on a greater symbolic meaning for your life.
- Write about your experience with a hobby you love.
- Write about a memorable summer vacation.
- Write about something funny or scary that happened to you.
- Write about someone who has played a major role in your life. Shape the narrative around a memorable experience you had with him or her.
- Write about your experience growing up with the Internet.
- Write a narrative essay describing how you got something important to you (such as your name, a nickname, a scar, or a beloved possession).
- Write about an important memory you share with your parents.
- Write about a time when you felt really confident in yourself.
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