Personal Narrative Essay

Discovering the Power of Home and Family


To create a personal narrative which relates a true story/stories about you that enlightens readers, offers insights you’ve learned, reveals a truth about human nature, or uncovers another idea of thematic importance.
Readers who do not know you personally
An essay of personal tone but formal design
2+ typed pages, MLA format
Between Oct 20 and Oct 27 in your GDrive folder
  • Producing Text
  • Using Language
  • Formal Writing
400 pts.


Some Strategies to Discuss:

  • Characters revealed through physical description, behavior, dialogue, words of others
  • An internal conflict provides meaning
  • Dialogue and punctuation are important
  • Narrative arrangement includes storyline and reflection
Some Sample Student Essays (pdf)
Sample 1Testing middle school friendships
Sample 2Cheerleading stunts challenge
Sample 3Mean Lego-throwing friendships
Sample 4Teenage welder learns more
Sample 5How one bad choice changes everything…
Sample 6For the love of cars
Sample 7The football injury forces a choice

Chisnell’s Essay

Past Essays

I had a hard time finding topics that really worked for me, but I discovered that the ones I did have all revolved around the issue of time. I wonder if that’s relevant at all:

  • Living Life Simply: Conversation with the Maasai in Tanzania
    • Connections to nature
    • Roles of Women
    • Deciding how to live outside of the modern world
  • Writing. My Blog. Why I don’t find time anymore
  • My unused hammock (told from the point of view of the hammock?)
  • Slowing down in Tanzania.

None of these feels quite right, yet. Some are more or less interesting to readers. Some don’t seem to have a “story element.” The one with the most interest to me, the Maasai story, feels too big to take on for a short narrative essay.  Still thinking, and maybe my idea will evolve as I play with it!

Here are the beginnings of a few draft approaches: The Traditional Opening, In Media Res, and the Hybrid version. Not sure which I like best, yet.

Traditional Approach:

Backyard Encounters or

How I Tried to Become a Maasai in Waterford, Michigan

I’ve always liked nature. But, you know, liked it in a short-walk-without-bugs-that-takes- me-near-the-ice-cream-shop sort of way. Pictures of nature are pretty. And YouTube videos of tripping bunnies or pesky trash-pandas amuse me for minutes on end. After that, though, the backyard of my house has been a challenge, a place where mud and mice would try to leak into the cracks in the basement foundation. So when I met a Maasai “warrior” in Tanzania this past summer, I was more than ready to learn about nature in a new way, maybe just to tame the mice. I had no idea that the lessons would actually change me.

When we met not far from the Ngorogoro Crater nature preserve, I was already psyched up to see zebras and lions and stuff. After all, these animals were kept safe from the encroaching humans and poachers by rangers and tourism brochures. But Undu told me that the idea of a “preserve” was exactly the problem. “Why,” he asked, “must we protect nature from humans when humans are a part of nature?”  I thought about my garage where I kept rat poison, deer repellent, and cans of hornet killer. . . . . .

In Medias Res: 

The weasel bounced across my shoe like a spastic Slinky and I swore loudly in surprise. Somehow I was offended that my nice nature walk had been interrupted by animals. And four more smaller weasels bounded a half-moment behind, catapulting their rubbery feet from my Champion tennis shoes in precisely the same pattern as their mother (?) father (?). I sensed the tiny scabbering of claws, hot and needly, on the synthetic rubber. And this combination of shoe and soil, of plastic and paw, seemed to me too close an encounter. Unthreatening as they were as they vanished into the dried leaves, they had invaded my “personal nature bubble,” the imaginary distance I had built between myself and the actual world. It was exactly what Undu of the Maasai had warned me about in his gentle way as we stepped around small piles of giraffe droppings in Tanzania: ”It is foolish to pretend that nature is not always with us.”   

The weasels seemed to vanish, though, faster than they had appeared. What were weasels doing in Waterford, Michigan?  Do weasels live in Michigan? And why didn’t I know the answer to that? I whirled to see if more were coming, a small invasion of smelly rodents who might overwhelm me. Seeing that the coast was clear, I turned back to where they had vanished. A small hole burrowed its way into years of forest leaf-blanket. Did they live in there or was it just a roadway? And what would happen if I flipped the lip of that burrow back to expose what was beneath? . . . . .

Hybrid Approach:

I think the deer have plans for me now. I’m convinced of it. But as they surrounded me that night, half a dozen pairs of moist eyes reflecting in the dark, I had not imagined the scale of their quiet loathing. Sure, I was out behind my house a lot later than I usually walk, merely on an errand to rid the kitchen of some overripe tomatoes and peppers for the compost pile. The leaves snapped beneath my feet–I was not quiet–and I remember being distracted by some phone app as I walked: a story of a political crisis? A new FailBlog video? A trailer for a new game app? I have no recollection, which marks them all as equally worthy of memory.

But something stopped me. And, had I not stopped, I discovered I was a mere three or four feet from the nearest deer, a full-grown doe, directly before me. As my head raised, I saw their bodies first, husking breaths beneath unpretty hides. No Bambi these animals. Each of them, surrounding me in a too-tight semi-circle, a pow-wow to which I was not privy, waited in an expressionless moment.

“Um, hi, guys,” I finally said.

But this was clearly the wrong introduction to our meeting. After a pausing single beat, each turned away and moved off into the dark, not running (for they were not afraid). They had rejected me.

And why shouldn’t they have? Who was I except the strange dude in the man-nest who ventured out only long enough to evict trash and the occasional rodent squatter? Their outside was their home; my inside was mine. I mean, I’m no Bear Grylls (who I hear actually sleeps in super-nice hotels while filming his wilderness survival tactics) or even an Allanon or Aragorn. I live my life with Lysol and window sealants, flyswatters and cat repellent. Isn’t there at least some middle ground between my home killing ground and chewing tree moss? And, whatever that line might be, it wasn’t close enough to what the deer expected of me. This roach-killer didn’t measure up to their standards.

So decided to go small. I thought if I attempted to befriend a smaller piece of nature I might take baby steps towards Undu’s ambition for me. After all, the goal was to “return” to nature as the world intended, not to colonize a new planet. So a squirrel would suffice. The next weekend I put my plan into action . . .


Does my essay require research?  Yes, if the topic calls for it!  (That’s the answer to all assignments, now!)  That could be primary research (interviews, surveys, experiments, etc,) or secondary (Google searches, writings of others).

In this case, I don;t know that I need any. Even so, I may drop in a fact about weasels or bears to add an element of gravity or importance to the reflection. If I do, I’ll cite the sources in MLA format.

Some Workshop Questions to Consider:

*1)  What good points are there to the paper?  What works well?  What do you notice about the paper?  What stands out?  Why?

2)  Where could the narrative use more details?

3)  What is the message or idea behind the story (the reflection)?  Explain your idea to the writer to see if it matches her idea.

4)  Is each paragraph on a single event, topic, or segment of time?  If not, how could the organization be made better?

5)  Does the paper have a clear introduction and conclusion?  What ideas can you offer for one?

6)  Does the paper use Stephen King Detail?  All the senses are used?  Good use of verbs?  Specific and physical details?  Cool metaphors?  

7)  Is there dialogue?  If so, is it punctuated correctly?

8)  For the writer, does the paper sound different when someone else reads it?  Why?  Are there places in the paper you need to work on to make the reader read it the way you want it to sound?

9) What other comments or changes does the group have about the paper?

10)  Is there any proofreading that needs to be done now?