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Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 9-10

Writing WHST.9-10.3

See note; not applicable as a separate requirement.

Note: Students’ narrative skills continue to grow in these grades. The Standards require that students be able to incorporate narrative elements effectively into arguments and informative/explanatory texts. In history/social studies, students must be able to incorporate narrative accounts into their analyses of individuals or events of historical import. In science and technical subjects, students must be able to write precise enough descriptions of the step-by-step procedures they use in their investigations or technical work that others can replicate them and (possibly) reach the same results.

Set the Stage

Although there is no specific standard requirement for a narrative, the use of personal anecdotes and storytelling is vital in bringing social studies, science, and technical writing alive. We should encourage students to seek opportunities to use narrative techniques in argumentative and informational writing whenever possible and appropriate. Not only are narratives extremely engaging, they also provided eye-witness accounts that support factual information and can be a powerful appeal to pathos in an argument. Keep reading for some ideas for how you might incorporate narratives into your writing assignments.

Example

Dress Rehearsal

What was it like to be wealthy during the great height of the Roman Empire? Your teacher, Ms. Roth, is asking you to write an informational piece about how the rich lived in Rome during Pax Romana. Additionally, you are asked to contrast this life with that of the poor during the same period. What you discover holds little surprise for you: the rich lived in comfort, the poor just surviving. 

In reading your textbook, you learn that life was very comfortable for those with money. Most families owned two homes, one in the big city and one down on the farm. These homes were outfitted with “running water and baths.” Parties, in the form of extravagant banquets, were all the rage, complete with such delicacies as boiled ostrich. Really, who eats ostrich? These dinner parties were meant to impress, and they did. 

Meanwhile, the poor survived on bread, cheese, and fruit, as well as government-sponsored grains. They lived in wooden, multi-family apartment buildings that were sparsely and uncomfortably furnished. Think your brother’s college dorm room, only worse.

In order for you to enhance your informational essay, you are asked to include a narrative or story. The use of the narrative will supply more specific and personal details of the rich and poor, but you’ll have to conduct more research to find these details.

According to PBS’s website, “The rich…. lived in beautiful houses – often on the hills outside Rome, away from the noise and the smell. They enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle with luxurious furnishings, surrounded by servants and slaves to cater to their every desire. Many would hold exclusive dinner parties and serve their guests the exotic dishes of the day.” Your kind of life, right?

“The poor… could only dream of such a life. Sweating it out in the city, they lived in shabby, squalid houses that could collapse or burn at any moment. If times were hard, they might abandon newborn babies to the streets, hoping that someone else would take them in as a servant or slave. Poor in wealth but strong in numbers, they were the Roman mob, who relaxed in front of the popular entertainment of the time – chariot races between opposing teams, or gladiators fighting for their life, fame and fortune.” Hey, do you think the gladiators were the ancient version of WWE wrestling?

The site further describes the lifestyles, meals, and rituals. To add to your informational essay, you will include personal comments of those living during this time. These comments will shed light on what the individual’s experience truly was. 

If you are unable to provide these from your research, you might write several diary entries, imagining that you are either rich or poor and creating a believable narrative based on the information you have. You will narrate your daily life: where and how you live, what your family is like, how you worship, and how your family makes a living. While your imagination is required, be sure to stick to the facts and only add believable details. And remember, your teacher and classmates will read your diary, so no hanky panky.

That’s a Wrap

Personal narratives add that human touch to science, history, and technical subjects. The ability to use narrative technique is important as students deal with factual and technical information. Readers always appreciate these private musings and specific details, and as a result, tend to better understand and remember the topics being addressed.

Sources:

Miller, Sue et al. World History: The Human Journey. Texas: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 2001.

“The Roman Empire in the First Century.” Devillier Donegan Enterprises. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service, 2007. Web. 29 May 2012. .

Drill

Short Answer
Answer the following questions with approximately 50 words.

1. What is a narrative?
2. What types of writing might be called narrative and would be useful in an academic essay?
3. Why are narratives important in argumentative and informational essays?

Answers/Explanations:

1. A narrative is a written account of connected events. The narrative tells a story of what happened, how the events are related, how these incidents might have impacted the people who were part of the experience, and what effects might have occurred as a result these events.

2. Passages or excerpts from novels, short stories, plays, and personal journals are all appropriate for use in an essay. In addition, the writer himself becomes a narrator in describing historical events or noting a scientific or technical process. Self-generated, fictional narratives, such a diary entries based on real facts, would also be appropriate.

3. Narratives add energy and clarification to factual information. This leads to greater reader involvement and understanding. Narratives put a human face on statistics and distant historical events and can give real-world context to scientific and technical processes and discoveries.

Aligned Resources