Lesson Twelve

narrative paragraphs


Narrative paragraphs are the building blocks you need to tell a story in English. This type of paragraph explains something that happened. Think about a time that a friend or family member came to you and said, “guess what!”. They probably then told you a story about something that happened to them. This is what a narrative paragraph is, but in written form. 


The lesson here breaks down all of the pieces that go into building a strong narrative paragraph. When you have mastered this lesson, you will be able to describe things that happened to you, or your memories, in writing in English. 


Narrative paragraphs are a great way to grow your vocabulary. You can use this type of writing to talk about new things or places, and as you do so, you will find yourself needing new words. For extra practice after completing this lesson, write a favorite memory: about a delicious meal, a new city you visited, or how you met a friend. At the end of this lesson, you can even find instructions on how to get feedback on your paragraph!


Because narrative paragraphs resemble fiction (an untrue story), you have a little more freedom to write the story in the style you prefer. This is known as artistic freedom or artistic license. You can use the first-person narrative style and include words that clearly refer to you (I, me, my, mine, etc.), or you can try to tell the story from a purely objective point of view that is not personal but gives a straight-forward, factual account of what happened.


If your teacher asks you to write about a personal experience, try to tell it by using the first person. This is the easiest style in which to write something. You might choose something that you remember well or something that changed your life. Teachers who work with a large number of foreign-born students often ask them to write about the time they first arrived in the United States. That’s a good assignment because it allows you to write in the first person and the details in this kind of paragraph are likely to be very vivid. Here’s an example:

 I remember when I first arrived in the United States. Even before the plane landed, the little windows in the airplane revealed snow and ice-covered houses and buildings. As I walked off the plane, cold air crept through the corrugated ramp that led to the airport terminal. Some people inside the airport were wearing big coats and hats, which I had seen on television, but never up close. I felt a little dizzy and needed to sit down, and then my cell phone rang. It was my Aunt Sophia. She was waiting for me outside in the passenger pick-up area, so I walked quickly to the exit, forgetting all about my luggage. When the sliding glass door opened to the outside, there was my aunt–a woman I hadn’t seen in over ten years–wearing a parka and waving her arms frantically in my direction.


The topic sentence in this paragraph is the first sentence, I remember when I first arrived in the United States. The supporting sentences that follow should be about this experience and how it is still remembered. The concluding sentence in this kind of paragraph would lead to the action in the next paragraph–if there is one.


The sequence of activity can be implied or reassembled by the reader as demonstrated in this paragraph:

 Those of us who found out early that our teacher would be Mr. Fine shuddered to think of having to spend an entire year in his classroom, trapped and subjected to months of unending terror. We’d heard stories. We knew. Then a month before school was to begin, a list mysteriously surfaced showing the names of all the sixth-grade students at Fairmont Elementary, their teachers, and their classrooms. Normally such information wasn’t known until the first week of classes, but John Patrick’s mother was a secretary at the school, and somehow this list appeared. It didn’t matter how it was found, or who exactly leaked the information. It was that cold list of names that would cause a couple of dozen eleven-year-olds to panic. But as it turns out, we were all wrong about Mr. Fine.


Or the activity can be clearly sequenced so that there’s no mistake about what happens first, second, third, and so on:

 Theo’s day began with a shock. As soon as he arrived at the office that morning, he learned that his best friend was dead. Wasn’t it just twelve hours ago that they were eating chicken wings and tipping back beer in front of a baseball game at the Cooper’s Bar and Grill? After a long day of crunching numbers at the office, they stopped at a bar for a Thursday afternoon happy hour. They saw a few coworkers there, and before they knew it, it was closing time. Bill got in a car with someone he met just that evening and that was the last time Theo saw him.


When you do the prewriting for a narrative paragraph, list the sequence of activity. When you are ready to write, you can use this information in plotting out the events. It is not necessary to always go directly in order. An event that happens last can appear first in the paragraph. In fact, this is a good way to arouse interest in the reader. As long as the paragraph seems fairly logical, you have a lot of creative freedom in writing this kind of paragraph.


You could also just start writing the paragraph in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way and let the ideas and action flow freely from your mind as you remember them.


In the next lesson, we’ll look at examples of expository paragraphs.

Next: Lesson Thirteen