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How to Write a Literacy Narrative

"Reading to Children" by Mary Cassatt

"Reading to Children" by Mary Cassatt

Reflect on Your Introduction to Reading and Writing

What is the earliest or most vivid memory you have of learning to read or write? Who taught you—a parent, grandparent, older sibling, or teacher? What books or stories were significant in your early life, and how do they resonate in you today?

How did you respond to being read to as a child? Think about looking at illustrations and hearing rhymes and voices of different characters. In school, were there any writing assignments that you found challenging or illuminating? How did your attitude toward writing and reading develop?

These are some of the questions you should think about when writing a literacy narrative, whether as a school assignment, a journal entry, or an exercise to help you focus your writing experience.

Tell a Story

As you may know, a narrative is a story. A literacy narrative is a personal account of learning how to read or write. It often explores the significance of books or written text in one’s life and how they shaped one’s attitudes toward writing or thinking:

I used to read Calvin and Hobbes out loud to my cousin, who was only a year younger and could read herself. There was something special about reading aloud, sharing the experience together. We would both pore over the strips collected in the books at my grandparents’ house, one of our more peaceful activities (when we weren't playing blind-man's bluff in the basement and causing a general ruckus).

Does this image inspire a story in your mind?

Does this image inspire a story in your mind?

How I Started Writing

I learned to write sitting at a miniature school desk, practicing tracing letters on gray lined paper that easily smudged or tore when it met an eraser. We were encouraged to write our own stories and illustrate them, one of my favorite kindergarten activities. Mrs. Weinberg was my scribe as I narrated the story, writing it into the white booklet made from papers folded and stapled together. She asked me what happens to the bad guys in the story.

"They die in the end," I said, pronouncing their final judgment with grim finality for a six-year-old.

"Let's say they went to jail instead," she suggested.


Listening to our teacher read stories was also a treat. Even the fidgety kids enjoyed it. In the third grade we were introduced to Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Wind in the Willows. Little girls sat one behind the other and braided one another's hair as Mrs. Bartling read about Mole and Toad or explained how stories can jump back and forth in time.

Why a Freewriting Exercise May Be Useful

A writing exercise that many teachers recommend is freewriting. It can help you get ideas flowing freely without worrying about logical flow, errors, or other self-censoring issues. The idea is to write nonstop, whatever comes to mind.

Try not to lift your pen from the paper for more than a second. Go from one thought to the next without pausing. Even if your mind goes blank for a moment, keep writing the same word over and over, keeping the rhythm of the pen moving. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or decent penmanship! Freewrite for five to ten minutes--the more you try it, the longer you can go.

Look at what you've written. It's probably messy, scatterbrained, discursive, and/or amusing. That's fine! Freewriting is supposed to loosen the mind and take away the inhibitions that many writers face when they stare down a blank page. Think of athletes who stretch their muscles before a race. It's the same idea: you're getting yourself used to the act of writing and letting all the little nuggets stored deep in your mind come out into the light. You may even hit on some fascinating thoughts that you want to write about further. Explore your mind--it's like dreaming when you're awake and capturing the word and image flow on paper.

Certain writing exercises can be useful to brainstorm narrative ideas.

Certain writing exercises can be useful to brainstorm narrative ideas.

Brainstorming Tips

  • Think about the questions posed in the first paragraph. To brainstorm, jot down some memories that are meaningful to you and think about why they are important. What emotions do they evoke in you—sadness, joy, pride, regret?
  • Think about detail, sensory details like how things look, smell, sound, taste, and feel.
  • Remember that this narrative is a story; include descriptions of characters and setting.
  • Dialogue can help bring people to life and make the story more dynamic.
  • Your literacy narrative may focus on one key event, or it may cover a period of time; however, make it clear to the reader why the narrative is significant for you now. Discuss how it has changed or affected you. Why does this story matter to you?

I was pretty quiet at school and perfectly content to read by myself. I thought this was normal, but when I was in the seventh grade at a new school, a teacher urged me to put down Little Men and play with the other kids at recess. I know that her concern was not that I was reading but that I make new friends, and I still wonder if part of the reason I love to read is that it allows me to retreat to my own world.

Consider the Audience

As you draft the literacy narrative, think about who your audience is. It may be your teacher, your family or friends, or just yourself. Whoever it is reading your story, you want it to say something about you and your experiences.

What do you want your readers to take away from the story? Is the experience something they can relate to? Will you challenge them to see something in a different way? Also consider your stance as the writer. How do you want the readers to see you—detached, sincere, critical, or humorous? The attitude you project will affect the reader’s perspective.

Even if your literacy narrative is something you keep between you and your journal, writing it will give you a new perspective on reading and writing. Maybe it will inspire you to explore other areas of your life for creative nonfiction pieces. Whatever your purpose, just keep writing.


Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 12, 2016:

Glad it stirred some memories for you!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 12, 2016:

Thanks, Rabadi!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 12, 2016:

I loved that book! Thanks for reading!

Glen Rix from UK on October 18, 2015:

Thanks for the memory prompt! I don't remember when or how I learned to read. I can remember, though, my first day at school, when I took in a tiny child-size book and read it aloud to the teacher, who I believe was somewhat surprised. Did I read or was I recounting what had been read to me? Not sure. I read anything and everything as I grew older - the label on the HP sauce bottle, the cornflakes packet, the newspaper headlines and, of course, the monthly book that arrived from the Children's Book Club. Creative writing came much later and with much greater difficulty. Must get back to freewriting and brainstorming now!

TruthisReal from New York on October 14, 2015:

Thank you for such an informative article. I will follow you for more, please check out my hubs and follow back :)

Nicole Quaste from Philadelphia, PA on July 13, 2015:

This instantly made me think of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. The book is obviously about more than just learning to read and write, but it was such a significant part of the story, as reading and writing helped her to cope with everything she experienced during the war.

Great hub! Voted up.

vmchatt from Houston, Texas on August 26, 2014:

This hub is cool because I'm a published writer.

Pashignibia on March 06, 2013:

My partner and i utilized to get at the top of life nevertheless lately I've truly piled up the resistance.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 10, 2011:

I'm glad to hear it, studentahs 13! Writer's block is a pain--I'm always relieved when the writing starts flowing again. Thanks for reading!

studentahs13 on October 10, 2011:

Hi all! Just wanted to thank Painted Seahorse for getting rid of my writers block! This is a really great Hub! :)

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on September 13, 2011:

Thanks, BusinessTime. I find freewriting very helpful, too. It helps me get the ideas flowing.

Sarah Kolb-Williams from Twin Cities on September 13, 2011:

Great suggestions! I find free writing very helpful -- I'm usually able to rearrange what I've written into something more coherent and then fill in the gaps.

Loved the hub -- keep them coming!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on December 06, 2010:

Thanks, pg!

pg on December 05, 2010:


Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on November 18, 2010:

Thanks for the compliment, Seafarer Mama! I'm glad it helped you as you looked back on your early memories. Congratulations also on your book being published! I look forward to reading your hub.

Karen A Szklany from New England on November 17, 2010:

Thank you for a very lovely hub, Painted Seahorse. You are a dynamo! I think I will venture to write this narrative. I believe it will be useful as I dig deep to find more material for my hubs.

A few of my fondest memories include: my mother reading to me a book titled "Miss Suzy" (about a squirrel), a fourth grade teacher reading "The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas" to my class, and my fifth grade teacher reading a couple of my creative writing essays out loud to the class. She was very encouraging.

I have a hub that I will be publishing soon, as soon as I receive my copy of the book I wrote last year from the publisher. I am linking this hub to that one in the links section.

Helen Lewis from Florida on October 17, 2010:

Excellent hub. I still remember the words of the first book that was read to me "One moonlight night" ~ I knew it verbatim as it was read over and over (we probably only had one book) but it sparked my imagination and my love-affair with words and story-telling began. I love this hub, thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and experiences in this way!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on July 19, 2010:

Glad to hear it, Aarthy. Welcome to Hubpages, and thanks for reading!

Aarthy Yuvaraj from India on July 19, 2010:

Have just started on hub pages. Your article is a real help for a beginner like me.


Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on June 29, 2010:

Welcome to Hubpages, Jay! Good luck with your writing, and thanks for checking out my hub!

Jay Collins on June 28, 2010:

I am really looking forward to getting started with writing. I have always wanted to do something like this but just have not found the time until now. I very much liked the bits of info and reading others' stories of growing up reading - how it spurred the creative and unlocked the many interesting experiences one person really has to share.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on May 31, 2010:

Thanks once again, Trish_M!

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on May 19, 2010:

Well, that really got me thinking ~ and remembering!

Very interesting and thought-provoking.

Lovely. Thanks :)

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on May 11, 2010:

Maria: Thanks for sharing your memories! I tried my hand at poetry when I was in middle and high school, but I don't know that I was really good at it! Fairy tales were definitely part of my growing up. Even hearing oral tales from mom and dad made me appreciate stories as a kid.

Rafini: That's a good class memory! I'm surprised by what I remember from early school days. It's a good thing your teacher helped you appreciate writing. I remember the joys of diagramming sentences--now that's a fun time!

Sally's Trove: Thanks for the kind words! I'll see about linking to your hub as well. It's amazing what we can remember from so long ago. I wish you luck on your literacy narrative. It's something interesting to try just for yourself, even if you don't want to share it with anyone else.

billyaustindillon: Thanks! I always enjoyed the writing classes I took in high school and college. They really helped me open up and explore new things.

billyaustindillon on May 11, 2010:

Excellent reminders here - really enjoyed your hub.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on May 11, 2010:

P.S. I linked to your Hub from mine on demolishing writer's block. I think your examples and tips offer practical advice for anyone temporarily stumped by facing a blank page.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on May 11, 2010:

As I read your words, I found myself drifting back into some of those early reading pleasures, experiences I hadn't thought about in a very long time. Your examples and the brainstorming tips were the triggers for me, provoking to the point where I think I just might sit down to write that literacy narrative.

Using freewriting to "Explore your mind--it's like dreaming when you're awake, and capturing the word and image flow on paper" is so true. There's rich treasure in the mind, hidden by conscious thought, and an exercise like this one, as you say, may allow you to "hit on fascinating thoughts."

Thumbs up for an interesting, useful, and inspiring Hub.

Rafini from Somewhere I can't get away from on May 11, 2010:

I'm going to have to give this a lot of thought...the only memory I can remember vividly is from somewhere around the age of 8-9 and the class was learning the parts of a sentence and sentence structure (adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, etc.) as well as verb tense. I got so frustrated with these words and trying to determine if my sentences were constructed properly at the same time - I finally asked my teacher which was more important, knowing how to write or knowing these words. Thank God she said knowing how to write!

Maria Cecilia from Philippines on May 11, 2010:

My father encouraged me to read by buying fairy tale books, I guess that helped develop my creative writing skills. I realized that I love to write because I easily got fascinated with the words and sentences combined in some topics in our literary class... I started writing poem when I was in grade 6