Writing Mini-Lessons: Student Personal Narrative Samples

These personal narrative samples were written by fifth or sixth grade students. These pieces are strong examples of personal narratives, but as with all writing, even the most famous masterpieces, there is room for revision. Each piece does many things well, and any one piece may serve as a model or ignite ideas for your own personal narrative.

Kayak Tip-Over

Cold waves lap at my back.  The wind roars.  The capsized kayak bobs crazily like a runner’s short ponytail.  My arms and legs tingle with the thought of an underwater creature dragging me down into the watery depths.

“This is just like T.V.,” I think as I anticipate a shark jumping out from the water and eating us.  I shiver involuntarily.

“Help!” I cry, small-voiced.

Earlier, that day had started out like any old vacation.  The weather was warm, and there was a pleasant breeze licking at the waves in the lagoon.  My mom’s book club invited my brother, sister, mom, and me, along with two other families, to a beach house.  The house was on a tranquil lagoon with rippling water.  No one else was in the water that day.  The house had kayaks, body boards, and a paddle boat!  Perfect for us kids!  All was going well until the two boys got bored.

The boys were evidently going to go crazy if they didn’t do something soon.  They had been lying in the sun for too long, and they were swiftly accumulating girly tans.  Suddenly, Josh had a marvelous idea!  Why didn’t they let one floaty go drifting downstream and then go chasing it in the paddle boat?!  The idea was perfect.  There was only one catch: the pleasant breeze that had been blowing gently was now a gushing whirlwind of energy, and the floaty was rapidly growing smaller and smaller, with the boys close in tow.

“Tino!  Joshua!”  Madison, Ana, and I screamed and yelled, but it was to no avail.

“JOSHUA BURCH!  COME BACK HERE!”  Madison hollered.  Our mothers came up behind us.

“Looks like they’re going to need a rescue team,” Madison’s mom said.  We looked at her for a second, and then jumped into action.  Ana manned the one-person kayak while Madison and I took the two-seater. We pushed off, soldiers on a mission!

Ana reached Tino and Josh before Madison and I did.  The situation was worse than we had thought.  Tino and Josh were flailing about in the water.  In trying to reach the floaty, they had fallen out of the paddle boat.  Ana had tied the kayak and paddle boat together, hoping to give it a tow because the current was too strong to paddle the boat back.  The boys were still in the water, unable to get in the boat.  Ana, realizing her plan wasn’t working, untied the kayak.  Finally, Josh managed to get in the paddle boat, leaving Tino to fend for himself.

Meanwhile, Madison and I struggled with our kayak.  We had moved away from the others and into the middle of the lagoon.  Seeing Tino swimming towards us, we made room for him on board.  He reached us and heaved himself on.  I threw my weight on the opposite end so we wouldn’t capsize.  Madison and Tino sat with their legs dangling, resting.  I knew they shouldn’t do that, but before I could warn them, we tipped over, and we all went spilling into the lagoon!

The cold water hit me like a wall.  I surfaced, sputtering water.  I prayed to God, thanking Him that we had life jackets.  My first concern was that we had to right the kayak.  Unfortunately, this was easier said than done.  After our fifth try, the kayak reluctantly flipped over with a loud squelching sound.  I felt as if we should get a gold medal for that!  All I wanted to do was get out of there, but the lagoon wasn’t finished with us.  Our paddles had floated away!  Luckily, Ana, the hero of the day, brought the paddles to us.  Thank you, Ana!

During that time, Ophie, Josh and Madison’s mom, arrived to help.  She joined Josh on the paddle boat, relieved Tino from us, and took him to shore.  Madison and I managed to arrive at the shore safely without any more tip-overs.  Hip, hip, hooray!  I watched Ana battle her way home and thought it would have gone much differently if she hadn’t been there.  I looked back at my friends, then at the water, and I knew this wouldn’t keep us out of the water.  No way!

The whole experience helped me learn that you have to be calm in scary situations even if you aren’t calm at heart.  Things look much worse when you’re scared, so sometimes you just need to pause, take a deep breath, and I promise things will look much brighter!  My advice to kids like me would be to listen to your parents when they insist upon wearing life jackets.  Those jackets really do live up to their name.  They can save lives.  They helped save mine!

My Extreme and Deathly Fright

It was a horribly hot day, and the sun was melting me.  I had pounds of butterflies in my stomach.  Every time I drew closer to my absolute doom, I thought more about whether or not I really wanted to do this.  Finally, it was time.

My sister and I climbed onto the ripped-up, red seat and pulled down the hot, sweaty handle that would soon be protecting us in the car that would carry us through the scorching, sickening, insane, storming roller coaster ride called Roar, which you should eternally never ride.

I was like a little innocent bug about to be face-to-face with one giant and one big, black bear.  As soon as the ride started, we had enormous, nervous smiles on our faces and shaking Chihuahua bodies.  The ride started out leisurely, but when we made the first turn, all I could see was a blurred Six Flags, my sister, and my babysitter.  I heard screaming teenagers and clapping hands at animal shows.  I saw all the grand roller coasters, splashing water, and believe it or not, I saw the drop we were about to take and all the twists and turns that would make us feel sick.  I smelled the smelly smell of something smelly that I think was gross corn dogs, ridiculously stinky fish, and perspiring people.  I felt my sister’s sweaty hand and the ripped-up red seat that scratched my legs.  I also tasted my sandwich from earlier in the day and wondered how this could become any worse.

I soon found out how because the roller coaster was going up, up, up the roller coaster hill, so I grabbed hands with my sister and then, “AAAAAHHHHHHHHH! Get me off of here!” we both screamed in unison.

“It’s okay.  Relax,” counseled my babysitter, Alisa.  However, it was far from okay.  It was the end of my life.  I just knew there wasn’t going to be any tomorrow for me.  I was going to be dead.

Then all of a sudden, I heard the most deathly sound anybody could ever hear in her whole, entire life:  the sound of roller coaster tracks.  We went up, down, around, and almost upside down!  At this point, I felt sick.  I had a horrible stomachache, and my head was spinning at what was what, and I felt weak, weak as if I had no bones in my body at all.  I call that bum bones.  Although I didn’t know what to do, there was one alternative left to me since I had a brain—to think.  So I thought while I was breathing heavily, twisting and turning and screaming, and I just decided to put my head down and try to let the rocking created by the giant and the big, black bear soothe me, but that was the impossibility of the century because to think and to try to relax on a roller coaster…let me tell you now, it’s impossible!

As soon as we passed through another couple of twists and turns, it was like the ride would never end, and I would have to be on this torturous roller coaster the rest of my life.  I would have to sleep on the roller coaster, eat on the roller coaster, and even do my business on a roller coaster.  However, what scared me the most was that I would never see my family again, but then I remembered my thought from earlier.  I was going to be dead, as dead as anyone could ever be.

“Please, have only one more rumble, rumble,” I begged silently.  “Please have only one more ‘big, fantastic turn.’  Please have only one more anything,” I thought because nobody wants to be as dead as anybody could ever be.  Luckily, there was only one more rumble, rumble.  Luckily, there was only one more “big, fantastic turn,” but there was not only one more of anything because we did a final roller coaster hill drop and then, “AAAAAHHHHHHHHH! Get me off of here!” we both screamed again.

“It’s okay.  Relax,” said my babysitter, and luckily, this time it was okay.  We were right back where we had started, the place where we first had our big, nervous smiles on our faces.  We were where I learned that I can overcome my fears and I have the guts to do anything.  I learned that anybody can do anything, and that when people tell you that you can do something, they are right.  You can.


Our extensive day at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts is finally over. Everyone in our group is tired. Our legs hurt, and we want to go home. Mom and I head to the bus on which we traveled here. We find seats in the back, dreading the long, bumpy ride home. Seconds before our anticipated departure, a young man, maybe twenty, climbs onto the bus. He’s wearing baggy worn jeans and a ripped shirt.

“Is this the bus to Petaluma?” he asks. When someone nods, he makes his way to the back, sits down in the seat across from mine, and smiles. Returning his toothless grin, I smile back. He takes off his coat and uses it as a pillow against the cold window. For a moment he stares blankly into space; then he seizes his backpack. Grabbing a book, The Hunger Games, he rearranges his pillow.

Somehow this strikes me as peculiar. I’d never expect him to be reading a book, especially this one, and I don’t know what to think. I picture someone like him sitting at home in a trailer, watching television, a high school dropout. So as the bus moves through the night, I create a new life for him. I think of all the possibilities, and when I am done I glance over at him; I’m surprised to find that he is looking at me. We fly over a bump, and everyone lurches forward.

Then I, too, take out my book and start to read. My hands shake from the movement of the bus. I glance over at the man again; this time he is not looking at me. He is concentrating on his book. His eyes don’t move off the pages of the ancient paperback.

I watch him for a long time, and then I realize that he has destroyed a stereotype. He has shown me that you don’t have to be comfortably middle class to be literate. You don’t have to live in a nice house or aspire to college and the white-collar world. Anyone can read. Everyone can be sucked into a story and feel and taste the beautiful words and deep ideas that an author has sent out into the world.

The bus pulls into the elementary school parking lot, where we will be dropped off. Before I climb into our old SUV, I watch the man get into a car with someone; I watch him disappear. Mom and I go home, but I don’t forget the man. When I get back to my large, suburban house, I can still picture him, his clothes wrapped around his small body, his hands wrapped around his book.

I search the shelves, longing to find what I am looking for: Collins’ The Hunger Games. I see it and reach for it, then clutch it to my chest. I curl up in the cozy chair in our living room. I picture him curled up in the bus, his knees pulled to his chin, his battered paperback shaking in his hands. And I know that we are connected by the power of reading.