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A Narrative Writing Lesson Inspired by Music
an on-line lesson shared during the NNWP's teacher workshops

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The Lesson's Author:

Karen McGee worked as a primary teacher for 15 years and as the Reading Coordinator for WCSD for 15 years. Now retired, she volunteers two days a week at Jessie Beck Elementary in her grandson and her granddaughter’s classrooms.

As a member of NNWP for over 20 years, she acted as Co-director for two years and as an instructor for the Open Writing Project for 15 years. She has published her writing twice, as a member of a team teaching group and as the director of the Homeless Literacy Project.


Teacher's Guide:

Here You Are

a personal narrative
about past events that
shaped who you are

This lesson was created by NNWP Teacher Consultant Karen McGee who also hosts our Alphabet Books Across the Curriculum Homepage.

This writing lesson inspired by

"Here I Am" sung by Carly Patterson

Click here to do a Google search for the lyrics.

A note for teachers: These lessons are posted so that you may borrow ideas from them, but our intention in providing this resource is not to give teachers a word-for-word script to follow. Please, use this lesson's big ideas but adapt everything else. And adapt it recklessly; adaptation is how one becomes a truly authentic writing teacher.

Overview of this Lesson:

Inspired by Carly Patterson’s song, “Here I Am,” students will write personal narratives, focusing on one to three experiences in their lives which have shaped them. After filling out a survey about themselves and discussing some of the specific words in the song, the students will mine their memories searching for answers to questions like, “How did you overcome a time when you were terribly afraid?” or “What kinds of things are you hoping for in the near future?” or “Have you ever faced an obstacle that seemed insurmountable?” This on-line prompt encourages students to reflect deeply about their experiences, strengths, and hopes as they reveal themselves as interesting human beings.

6-Trait Overview for this Lesson:

The focus trait for this activity is idea development; writer’s goal is to compose a text which shows who he is. Through his choice of stories about his life and the details he shares in those stories, he will pull his readers into his world, and his readers will “see him.” The support trait is organization; the student writes the ending of his piece first as a kind of “chorus” to his own life. Then he models the parts of Patterson’s song which help him write his own stories.

Teacher Instructions
Inspired by the Mentor Text:

Day One: Play Carly Patterson’s song, “Here I Am.” Before playing the song a second time, tell the students that you would like for them to listen carefully to the lyrics because Carly could be singing about their lives. After the second time listening, tell the students that they will be writing a piece about their own lives entitled, “Here I Am.”

Pass out the 20 question worksheet entitled Here You Are, and discuss each question. Students will complete the worksheet as homework.

Day Two: Pass out lyrics to Patterson’s song. Play the song and invite students to sing along if they wish. Analyze the song line by line, clarifying unfamiliar language or expressions. Pose questions to the class from the worksheet like: 1) Tell us a story about a time when you were really frightened. Were you able to overcome that fear? What helped you? 2) Have you ever had to overcome a big obstacle in your life? How did you do it? 3) What have you felt passionate about? How has that passion affected your life? (I believe that if you as the teacher are willing to share some of your own stories with the students, they will feel more comfortable opening up about their stories.)

Have the students read Patterson’s chorus again, and then explain that most of us find ourselves “sitting on the edge” of something in our lives. I suggested that as 6 th graders, they were sitting on a very scary and exciting edge right now because they will soon begin Middle School. I told them about changing from a single teacher classroom to multiple teacher classrooms---where all of the teachers give assignments and homework---where organizational skills can be as important as knowledge. I explained about lockers which they’ve never used before and changing rooms in a huge building. We talked about changing bodies with new hormones which sometimes cause huge swings in moods.

Next, we discussed other edges---parenthood where adults have to juggle jobs, raise children, pay bills, carve personal time for themselves; old age where people like me worry about health issues and fears of being alone or invisible or dying. Each time when we discussed the “edge,” we discussed the fears of both the known and the unknown as well as the excitement and hopes of the new challenges.

Teacher Instructions
Student Samples:

To help your students understand the writing task at hand, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson in small groups.  The groups should certainly talk about the idea development, since it's the focus of the lesson, but you might prompt your students to talk about each model's organization as well.

Here I Am
by David, sixth grader

Here I am, looking down a slope that seems to be going straight down, dotted with moguls the entire way. I thought to myself, “How am I supposed to get down?” I was skiing with my friend and his dad, and I didn’t want them to think I was a coward, but when the dad said, “Let’s go,” I got really scared. I had already started to worry when I came up to the run and saw how steep it was. I also worried that I couldn’t really see any path down. “Are there any rocks? What about trees?”

When I thought I’d found a decent path, I started down slowly, guarding against any rocks that I still couldn’t see. I thought that my friend and his dad were behind me, but I was so focused looking downward that I couldn’t really tell where they were. When I got down the first section, I stopped and looked back up the mountain. It didn’t look as bad as I had originally thought, and I felt good that I hadn’t fallen or ruined my skis on rocks. At that point, I saw my friend and his dad, and I waited for them. I could tell that my friend was having some difficulty. He definitely was skiing slower, and he took wider turns, and he paused at the ends of the turns. I felt better. I had worried that they would be waiting for me---not the other way around. With renewed confidence, I started skiing again, my friend near me now. I skied faster and freer.

Right at the bottom where the hill flattened out, I made a wide turn and hooked my tips. I turned backwards to the hill, and when I tried to get my skis downhill again, I caught an edge and toppled over. My friend skied up to me and asked if I was okay. I said that I was, got back up, and finished the run.

Here I am now, knowing that I can get down any kind of ski run, that I’m capable of doing anything that I choose.

Here I Am
by Carmen, sixth grader

“Code Red, Code Red!” The tense voice of my principal through the school intercom froze all the activity in my classroom.

I began to breathe heavily, and I could hear the panting of the boy next to me. I dropped to the floor and grabbed onto the leg of the table as I crawled under it. My heartbeat echoed in my ears, and the sweat on my hands made me clench even harder onto the table leg. I squeezed my eyes shut.

After a short while, which seemed like eternity to me, I opened my eyes and I saw a shadow of a man linger by our window. My eyes locked on the shadow, and at that moment, I thought that I was going to die young. Would I ever see my parents again? Every nudge and twitch made by the kids in my class caused our teacher to give us the evil eye.

Finally, the shadow looked like it was swept away by the wind. I looked around and started to stand. No one moved, so I sat back down. I waited a few more minutes again and stood up. Still no one had moved, so down I went. Finally, Mrs. Rowe, our principal, announced over the intercom, “The grounds are clear.” I got to my feet, but still I held onto the table. My teacher announced, “Okay, boys and girls, let’s get back to work.” Her matter-of-fact voice calmed me, and I started drawing again.

Now, here I am, twelve years old, and I’m recalling the incident that happened way back in kindergarten. For me, it was just pure luck that I escaped unhurt. Everyday, I’m waiting for my next brush with death.

Here I Am
by Ryan, sixth grader

Here I am, and welcome to my life and how it feels to be living in my shoes. My name is Ryan, and I am twelve years old. When I was one, my short life took a tragic turn. I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes.

As I grew older, when my friends asked to play some games, I feared that my diabetes would go out of control. I never trusted my abilities. I always felt down about myself. My dad, sensing my problems, signed me up for baseball. That experience made me realize that my diabetes wasn’t so bad. I began to climb on top of the world. My parents have always encouraged me to do more.

Now, here I am at twelve, loving to draw with my friend Sal, building forts, and playing football. You know, there is a saying, “The sky’s the limit, but there are footprints on the moon.” So, I hope that saying works for a cure for diabetes too. Here I am loving life and living it to the fullest.

Here I Am
by Lexi, sixth grader

My name is Lexi, and I’m twelve. I’m the sister, the daughter, and the smart one. I’m an all around good student, but every-one has strengths and weaknesses. My strength is reading, and my weakness is science.

I put others before me, but I’m here for a reason, and I’m not going to get caught up with myself. Everybody has a fear, but apparently mine was caused by losing my original family early; my parents divorced when I was seven years old.

I guess I wouldn’t be the person I am without my Mom and cousin Renee. They have helped me a lot, especially my Mom. I have overcome a lot of things, but the most important one was finding the good in my dad.

When I was ten years old, my dad signed me up for a basketball team. When it was the second to last game of the season, I was unstoppable. There were five seconds left in the game, and I had the ball, about to score the winning goal. Just when I was about to shoot, one of my opponents kicked me. Then, it seemed as if the entire team was kicking and slapping me. When I heard the buzzer, the game ended. I stormed out of the gym, my insides roaring with fire. My dad caught up to me in the hallway and ordered me to go shake the opposing team’s hands. I didn’t move. Suddenly, he grabbed my wrist with one hand and the front of my shirt with the other and he pushed me against the wall. Neither of us said a word. When he let go of me, I ran back to the car and started crying. I told myself that I really hated him.

After a couple of days passed, I realized that, well, he is my father, and he loves me. I also realized that I don’t hate him. I just hate how he does things. After that night, we continued to fight a lot, but then I realized that the best way to handle him was to just ignore it. Otherwise, it seemed that whenever we talked, we ended up in a fight.

My life is not depressing. I have a lot of fun. I play softball; it’s my favorite thing to do outside of school. I’m even on a traveling team. I love playing with my dog, Buster. One time, I started running, and he grabbed my shorts and pulled them down; I laughed so hard I almost cried.

Not many people know this about me, but I’m more emotional than anybody would think. I think that I’ve been through more than the average kid has. My brothers know nothing about how I really feel. Somehow, I’ve managed to keep calm in front of others, but I worry about how long I can keep up this front.

Here I am, now, afraid of tomorrow---the unknown. But I have gone from drowning in water to flying high in the sky, and I believe that things happen for a reason and that my God is preparing me for something special.

Here I Am
by Kira, sixth grader

I stared up at the seemingly never ending rope. “I have to climb that thing?” I thought nervously. I could hear my heart thumping hard and fast in my chest. Although I knew it was impossible, I wondered if other people could hear it. I sure could. I knew that.

“Pssst! Kira, you’re next,” the person next to me whispered.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed inside my head. I swallowed hard, and my hands started to get sweaty. My heart was pounding louder in my ears, and I started to feel sick.

“Kira. You’re up!” my teacher called.

“O-okay…” I stammered. Hesitantly, I stumbled over to the rope. I touched it, and then loosely held it in my hands. I glanced over at my parents. My mom was covering her eyes, which didn’t make me any more confident, but my dad smiled at me. My teacher gave me an encouraging smile too. I took a deep breath, gripped the rope as tightly as I could with my slippery hands, and started to climb up slowly. I kept my eyes locked firmly onto the golden bell two stories above me. “Don’t you dare look down. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t look down…” I repeated to myself in my head over and over. If there were any other sounds in the room, I couldn’t hear them over my own heartbeat. Maybe it was silent; I couldn’t tell.

Nearing the top, I started to climb a little quicker. I knew I was almost there. I reached out with my arm and just barely grabbed the string that hung from the bell, and I swung it back and forth, making the bell ring very loudly. DING! DING! DING! I smiled to myself. Then a thought struck my mind. “Oh, my gosh…This means I’m two stories up.” Instinctively, I looked down, and I immediately wished I hadn’t. I stopped breathing. Everyone, practically, looked like ants. I closed my eyes and turned my head away from the downward view. I reopened my eyes and looked up at the bell again. I locked my gaze onto it, and slowly edged my way down. I slid, inch by inch, staring only at the bell, until I reached the ground.

“Great job, Kira!” my coach praised.

I smiled. I took a step back and looked up at the rope. “It doesn’t seem that high any more…”

Here I am, now, having launched myself over the edge and landed safely down below, slowly making my way forward, ready to jump over the next obstacle.

  • Click here to print/view these five sixth graders' narratives to share with your students.

Teacher Instructions
Rough Draft:

For their writing assignment, students were asked to model Patterson’s “Chorus,” starting with the line, “Here I am now…” I told them that this “chorus” would, in fact, be the ending of their piece of writing. For their homework, they were asked to write the first draft of their Here I Am narrative. The piece must have one to three detailed stories which they believe have shaped their lives. Students could choose to include any of Carly Patterson’s lines as focal points to those stories.

Teacher Instructions

For this piece of writing, I made time to visit each student for one-on-one response where I probed for more specificity, more relevance, more showing, clarity of thinking (all idea development). Then, we focused on organization when we talked about the lead hooking the reader and making the reader want to read on, when we discussed how smoothly the writing flowed, when we decided if the original “chorus” did in fact leave the reader with a feeling of satisfaction.

If this kind of one-on-one response is not possible, use the Post-it resources below:

Two more independent tools for possible response and revision are posted here. Have students self-rank their use of skills in their draft using one of WritingFix's Post-it templates:

Remember, when students rank (instead of rate), they are only allowed to have one of each number on the Post-It.

I like to have the students then work with a partner who also ranks their idea development skills on a fresh Post-It. While the partner is ranking, the writer keeps his/her self-ranking a secret. When the partner is done ranking, I have them talk about the similarities and differences in both Post-it® Note-sized templates. From the conversation, each writer should walk away with some ways they can improve their idea development in a revised draft.

You can learn how to print these revision tools on actual Post-it® Note-sized templates by visiting our Post-It Homepage here at WritingFix.

Share Original Revision Techniques or
Adaptations from Your Toolbox.

Inspired by Barry Lane's Reviser's Toolbox, the WritingFix website encourages its teacher users to adapt our lessons, especially the tools of revision we have posted here. If you create an original revision tool (or adapt one of ours) when you teach this page's lesson, and post it, we might just end up publishing it directly here at WritingFix, and we will post it here, giving you full credit.

  • Original revision ideas from teacher users of WritingFix can be submitted through copy/paste or as an attachment at this link. Look for the "Reply to this Box" beneath the post. To be able to post, you will need to be a member of our free Writing Lesson of the Month Network.

Teacher Instructions

After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Teacher Instructions
Publishing Ideas:

Because of the nature of this writing assignment, invite only those who are willing to share publicly. While each of us wants “to be seen,” some of the students’ stories might contain information which might embarrass or worry either the writer or the audience.

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use this lesson. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually!

We're currently looking for student samples for many grade levels for this lesson!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Visit this lesson's on-line blog to post up to three of your students' samples.

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