So start off the unit by getting students to tell their stories.In journal quick-writes, think-pair-shares, or by playing a game like Concentric Circles, prompt them to tell some of their own brief stories: A time they were embarrassed. A time they didn’t get to do something they really wanted to do.
In the “real” world of writers, though, the main thing that separates memoir from fiction is labeling: A writer might base a novel heavily on personal experiences, but write it all in third person and change the names of characters to protect the identities of people in real life.
Another writer might create a short story in first person that reads like a personal narrative, but is entirely fictional.
With that in mind, the process for teaching narrative writing can be exactly the same for writing personal narratives or short stories; it’s the same skill set.
So if you think your students can handle the freedom, you might decide to let them choose personal narrative or fiction for a narrative writing assignment, or simply tell them that whether the story is true doesn’t matter, as long as they are telling a good one.
In my own classroom, I tended to avoid having my students write short stories because personal narratives were more accessible.
I could usually get students to write about something that really happened, while it was more challenging to get them to make something up from scratch.
Without even thinking about it, they begin sentences with “This one time…” and launch into stories about their earlier childhood experiences.
Students are natural storytellers; learning how to do it well on paper is simply a matter of studying good models, then imitating what those writers do.
And by listening to the stories of their classmates, they will be adding onto that list and remembering more of their own stories. Besides being a good way to bond with students, sharing stories will help them see more possibilities for the ones they can tell.
Now that students have a good library of their own personal stories pulled into short-term memory, shift your focus to a more formal study of what a story looks like.