Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 5 Lessons for Wonderful Stories

Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 7 Lessons for Primary Students Cathy Collier

Writing with small moments is a powerful lesson about narratives. One powerful approach to enhance narrative writing skills is by teaching students to focus on “the seed, not the watermelon.”

This concept involves taking a big topic and narrowing it down to a specific, detailed moment. In this blog post, I’ll explore how to engage K-2 students in the art of writing small moments using anchor charts, analogies with watermelons and seeds, exciting whole group and independent activities, and the inspiring mentor text, “Jabari Jumps.” I wrote about Narratives at the beginner level in the post: Let’s Go to the Zoo: Narrative Writing with Emergent Writers.

Writing small moments with jabari jumps

Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 7 Lessons for Primary Students Cathy Collier

Incorporate the mentor text “Jabari Jumps” by Gaia Cornwall into your writing lessons.

This beautifully illustrated picture book follows the story of Jabari as he faces his fear of jumping off the diving board.

Use this text to highlight the importance of focusing on using specific places in time for writing small moments in a narrative.

Discuss with students how the author captures Jabari’s emotions, actions, and surroundings during this small but significant moment in the story.

Jabari’s “watermelon” is about a summer day. His “slice” is all about the pool (the water, the lifeguard, the people, chairs, the sunscreen, etc.) However, his “seed” is all about jumping off the high dive. The whole book is based on this one small moment.

I remember going to a neighborhood pool when I was a child. One of the pools had a small dividing board and we’d dive all day. The other pool had a high dive. I remember talking myself into going up the high dive. The nerves were busy. I would jump off and go straight into pool like a pencil, and tried to act like I wasn’t nervous.

You can believe I’d share my story with my students. “Jabari Jumps” is the perfect companion to Writing Small Moments.

writing small moments anchor charts

Let’s talk about Jabari’s watermelon, slice and seed story starters.

Begin your journey into writing small moments by creating engaging anchor charts.

These visual aids serve as constant reminders for students as they embark on their writing adventures. As usual, make sure to involve your students.

Their writing and their participation creates a bond. Once it’s built the students have personal buy-in and will choose to use the chart when needed.

Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 7 Lessons for Primary Students Cathy Collier

The Anchor Chart for kindergarten students is simple. Divide the anchor chart into two sections: “Big Topics” and “Small Moments.” Introduce the analogy of watermelons and seeds to help young learners grasp the concept of small moments.

Explain that big topics are like watermelons – large and overwhelming. However, by focusing on a specific seed, students can explore a small moment in detail.

Use visuals of watermelons and seeds to reinforce the idea that there is richness and depth in even the tiniest of moments. We echo, “not the watermelon, just the seed.” Students don’t want to write a book about everything they could possibly do on a snow day.

It would be extensive and take a long time. They want to focus on a “seed” or one part of the day, like making a snowman or tubing downhill.

The Anchor Chart for first and second graders involves more detail. They don’t want the BIG story (watermelon) or the little stories (slice), they want the one detail focus (seeds).

This anchor chart can involve all three pictures and examples. Beside the watermelon add the title BIG IDEA and the written example, “Snow Day.”

Beside the slice, add the title TOPIC OVERVIEW and the written example, “We played outside all day.”

Finally, beside the seed, add the title SMALL MOMENT and the written example, “I went tubing.” Whole group lessons can help students see the differences.

writing small moments whole group activities

Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 7 Lessons for Primary Students Cathy Collier

Watermelon Brainstorm: Begin with a whole group brainstorming session. Select a broad topic (e.g., “Our Beach Vacation”) and collectively generate a list of big moments related to it.

Then, guide students to choose one moment and break it down into a small, specific event (e.g., “Building Sandcastles on the Beach”).

Using pictures printed or displayed on the Interactive Board, kindergartners could do a 2-step paring down and first- and second-grade students can do the 3-steps.

Using the picture examples, students see the watermelon and the title, “Our Beach Vacation.”

You can ask them to tell you everything they can about spending a vacation at the beach. This could include the trip to the beach, where they stay, days at the beach, playing putt-putt, a rainy day on the beach, driving home.

BIG EVENTS. You can use the interactive board to write their ideas all over the watermelon.

Slice Brainstorm: This slide is taking one part of our vacation and putting it on paper.

BUT even “playing in the sand” could be too big. We would have to include everything we did on the beach: playing, digging, building, running, walking, hunting for shells, hunting for ghost crabs at night, etc.

You could write down 7 ideas (one beside each seed) and tell them, “If we write about everything we did in the sand it would be a long story.”

Seed Brainstorm: The final slide is 3 seeds with 3 ideas: digging the sand, building a sandcastle, and burying my dad in the sand.

They can see how we have started big and pared down our ideas by focusing on a small moment.

writing small moments sorts

Students can use pictures or phrases to sort for watermelon, slice, and seed ideas for writing.

Again, kindergarten students might only sort for watermelon and seeds, but first and second grade students can sort for all three.

Another fun activity for students is choosing a card and creating a focus for the class.

Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 7 Lessons for Primary Students Cathy Collier

Using the cards in the example, students would say, “Not just the pizza, but the crust.

The class could give other ideas for the pizza, such as the crust, cheese, or pepperoni. Students can also add to the list. They might add peppers, mushrooms, or pineapple. It’s fun to hear their ideas.

writing small moments independent activities

Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 7 Lessons for Primary Students Cathy Collier

Illustrated Small Moments: Incorporate art into the writing process by having students illustrate their small moments inspired by the cards in the whole group play. 

This visual representation enhances their storytelling skills and provides an additional layer of expression. They illustrate the “watermelon” topic and the “seed” focus.

Small Moment Seed Journals: Provide students with small journals to explore their own small moments independently.

I posted about this exercise in my blog post: Small Moments Lessons: Not the Puzzle, Just the Piece.

Encourage them to write about a small moment, either in the lives or as shown in the example.

writing small moments set

I created this set originally for a school district I was working with this summer. I have since expanded the set and tried to include everything a K-2 teacher could need.

The set includes anchor charts and pieces, directions, and examples, whole group and small group lessons, and independent practice to involve writing.

Check out the set with the link. If you’d like a small sample, fill out the form below.

You will get the sample in your inbox. This will set you up in my email newsletter, but you can unsubscribe at any time.

Writing Small Moments in Personal Narratives: 7 Lessons for Primary Students Cathy Collier

Teaching K-2 students to write small moments is a rewarding endeavor that lays the foundation for strong narrative writing skills.

By using anchor charts, analogies with watermelons and seeds, engaging whole group and independent activities, and the inspiring mentor text “Jabari Jumps,” educators can empower young writers to discover the beauty and significance within the smallest moments of their lives.

As these budding authors cultivate their writing skills, they embark on a journey of self-expression and storytelling that will serve them well throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Cathy Collier

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