Teaching Students How to Write a Reflective Narrative Essay

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Teaching students how to write a reflective narrative hero

What Is a Reflective Narrative?

In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin reflects on different formative periods throughout his life. The literary work is divided into four parts: his childhood; his apprenticeship; his career and accomplishments as a printer, writer, and scientist; and a brief section about his civic involvements in Pennsylvania.

Franklin’s Autobiography is a historical example of a reflective narrative. A reflective narrative is a type of personal writing that allows writers to look back at incidents and changes in their lives. Writing a reflective narrative enables writers to not only recount experiences but also analyze how they’ve changed or learned lessons.

Reflective Narrative Essay Example

A reflective narrative essay consists of a beginning, middle, and ending. The beginning, or introduction, provides background and introduces the topic. The middle paragraphs provide details and events leading up to the change. Finally, the ending, or conclusion, sums up the writer’s reflection about the change.

The following is an excerpt from a reflective narrative essay written by a student entitled “Not Taken for Granted” (read the full essay in our “Reflective Narrative Guide”). In the writing piece, the writer reflects on his changing relationship with his little brother:

I guess I was spoiled. At first, I was an only child, cuddled and cooed over by parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Up until I was eight years old, life was sweet. Then along came Grant, and everything changed.
Grant is my little brother. I don’t remember all the details, but he was born a month prematurely, so he needed a lot of extra attention, especially from Mom. My mom and dad didn’t ignore me, but I was no longer the center of their universe, and I resented the change in dynamics. And at first, I also resented Grant.
Fortunately, Grant’s early birth didn’t cause any real problems in his growth, and he crawled, toddled, and talked pretty much on schedule. My parents were still somewhat protective of him, but as he got older, he developed the obnoxious habit of attaching himself to me, following my every move. My parents warned me to be nice to him, but I found him totally annoying. By the time I became a teenager, he was, at five, my shadow, following me around, copying my every move, asking questions, and generally being a pest.

Steps to Writing a Reflective Narrative Essay

How can Grades 3 and up students write a reflective narrative essay consisting of an engaging introduction, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion that sums up the essay? Have your students follow these seven steps:

1. Select a Topic

The first step in prewriting is for students to select a topic. There is plenty for them to choose from, including life-altering events (such as a new experience or failing or succeeding at a new task or activity) or people or moments that made an impact and caused a change in your students’ lives (a teacher or a trip to a new city or country). Another way students can choose their topics is to think of ways they have changed and explore the reasons for those changes.

A Then/Now Chart can help students brainstorm changes in their lives. In this chart, they should list how things used to be and how they are now. Afterward, they’ll write why they changed. After brainstorming various changes, students can mark the one change they wish to write about. See below for an example of this type of chart:

ThenNowReason for Change

2. Gather Relevant Details

After your students choose their topic, they must gather details that’ll help them outline their essay. A T-Chart is a tool that can help collect those details about their lives before and after the change took place.

3. Organize Details

The last step in prewriting consists of your students organizing the details of their essays. A reflective narrative may cover an extended period, so students should choose details that demonstrate their lives before, during, and after the change. A third tool students can use to help plot the narrative is a Time Line, where they focus on the background (before the change), realization (during the change), and finally, reflection (after the change).

4. Write the First Draft

Now, it’s time for your students to write their first drafts. The tools they used to brainstorm will come in handy! However, though their notes should guide them, they should remain open to any new ideas they may have during this writing step. Their essays should consist of a beginning, middle, and ending. The beginning, or introduction paragraph, provides background details and events that help build the narrative and lead to the change.

The middle, or body paragraphs, should include an anecdote that helps demonstrate the change. Your students should remember to show readers what is happening and use dialogue. Finally, the ending, or conclusion paragraph, should reflect on events after the change.

Allow your students to write freely—they shouldn’t worry too much about spelling and grammar. Freewriting consists of 5–10 minutes of writing as much as possible. For more information on freewriting, check out our lesson!

Teaching students how to write a reflective narrative in line 2

5. Revise and Improve Draft

Revising allows students to think about what they wrote and ways they can improve their drafts. When revising, students should check for: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, and sentence fluency. Here’s a list of questions they can ask themselves when reading their drafts:


  • Is the topic interesting?
  • Are there enough details and events to support the topic?


  • Does the beginning provide background and introduce the topic?
  • Do the middle paragraphs show how I changed?
  • Does the ending reflect on how my life was altered by this experience?


  • Do I sound interested in the topic?
  • Does the dialogue sound natural?

Word Choice

  • Have I used specific nouns and vivid verbs?
  • Have I used descriptive modifiers?

Sentence Fluency

  • Do the sentences read smoothly?
  • Have I varied the lengths and beginnings of my sentences?

After identifying the parts of their drafts that need reworking, students should make another draft.

6. Edit as Needed

After revising their drafts, students should edit for conventions (spelling, capitalization, grammar, clarity, and punctuation errors). They could even exchange essays with one another to check each other’s work. Finally, after editing, they’ll have a final copy to proofread for any minor errors they or the other student might’ve missed.

7. Share with an Audience

Writing a reflective narrative essay is a meaningful way for students to reflect on their lives. Additionally, their writing pieces could help others understand more about them. Therefore, consider having your students share their essays. They could publish their writing pieces by making a class eBook or submitting them to relevant writing contests. Or students can read them aloud to their classmates or family members.

More Reflective Narrative Essay Writing Tips

Essay writing can be challenging as it requires proper brainstorming, organization, and creativity. That’s why it’s great for students to have writing guides to aid them in the writing process. This downloadable PDF handout for students provides tips for how to write a reflective narrative essay.


Try Writable to support your ELA curriculum, district benchmarks, and state standards with more than 600 fully customizable writing assignments and rubrics for students in Grades 3–12. Learn more.

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