Narrative Writing for Middle School ELA – Development of a Theme

During the first nine weeks, we cover narrative writing.  This is a way to teach standards like how to develop a theme.  We use quick narrative writing assignments simply because we have SO much to teach.  Teaching narrative writing makes sense for us to do in the first nine weeks because we read a lot of short stories and can peek at how authors of these stories develop their theme.  during this time.  If you’re interested in seeing what we do for the first nine weeks of school and how we fit everything in, we have a free resource in our TpT store called 7th Grade ELA, a Glimpse into our Yearly Plans, that maps it all out and even gives helpful links that  you can use.  

Now, let’s get started on this quick narrative writing lesson!

What standards will you cover?

One of the standards for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades is for students to analyze the development of theme.  The narrative writing exercise we are going to tell you about today will cover that standard while at the same time provide a creative and fun narrative writing opportunity.  

Here’s what you do! Put your students in small groups – three works best. Give each group a theme statement.  Tell them that their job is to write a quick story that teaches that theme.  Before writing, they need to do some planning.  They will ask themselves questions about the characters, setting, and plot.

In order to create this theme, who should my characters be?  What type of personalities should they have?  What should their flaws be?  Their strengths?

Where should this story take place in order for readers to conclude the theme?

What should be the main conflict?  How should the story begin?   What will be the turning point of the story?  How will we end it?

Once students have done their planning, they should write their quick story.  Make sure students understand that this story is just a writing exercise, so it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Their job is to quickly write a story, developing the theme they were given. 

After writing the story, give students some questions to think through HOW they developed their theme.  Why did you choose the characters you did?  What did you use the most to develop the theme?   Did the setting contribute to the theme or could the story take place somewhere else?

After the stories are written…more look more at how the theme was developed

When time is up, take up each groups’ story.   Give each group a copy of all of the theme statements, each one labeled with a number   Read each story out loud, one by one, and have the class guess which theme belongs to that story by matching the number corresponding to the theme statement to the story.  

Once the students have had time to choose the theme, reveal the true theme statement that the group was assigned.  Then, engage the group who wrote the story in explaining how they developed the theme.

Some things to help you use this activity today…

This is a list of theme statements that you can use. 

We also have a product in our TpT store that includes a PowerPoint to teach theme and development, handouts for the students, and even a poem with a prompt for analyzing the development of theme in it.  There is even a sample essay included.  And, it of course all of the things we talked about!   A meaningful and engaging way to allow your students to understand the ways authors develop theme is now at your fingertips!

Happy teaching!


7. Strong Verb Paragraphs ~ An Effective Narrative Writing Exercise for Middle School ELA

This is the first episode in a series on using short narrative writing exercises in your middle school ELA classroom.  We will be telling you all about strong verb paragraphs – how to write them, why they work, and how you can impliment them immediately.  Check out all of the mentioned freebies in our show notes at

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Strong Verb Paragraphs ~ Effective Narrative Writing Exercise for Middle School ELA

Sometimes, we need short writing assignments, rather than long ones to fit everything into our ELA class time.  Writing strong verb paragraphs is an effective narrative writing exercise for middle school ELA because it is quick and fun.  As ELA teachers, we have so much to cover each nine weeks.  It seems impossible to have students write narratives, poems, arguments, as well as expository and informative pieces, which are all part of the ELA standards.    

Tammy and I have been teaching for a long time, and while we certainly don’t know it all, we have figured out a few things.  One way that we cover the writing standards is by adding short and fun writing exercises, like strong verb paragraphs. 

What are strong verb paragraphs?

Strong verb paragraphs are paragraphs that consist of seven sentences that only allow strong verbs in the middle five sentences.  Students can write these paragraphs independently or with a partner.  Along with an interesting narrative prompt, provide students with the following rules.

  1. Write a paragraph that has seven sentences.
  2. Only your first and last sentences can have helping verbs or a linking verb in them. The other sentences must have strong action verbs.
  3. Choose the most vivid verbs, ones that help your reader picture something. You may use the list of helping verbs to help you avoid them.
  4. Underline the verb in each sentence.
  5. Do not repeat any action verbs in your paragraph. In other words, each sentence needs to have its own original verb.
  6. Read back over your paragraph to make sure you do not have any fragments or run-on sentences.

It is helpful to provide students with a list of helping verbs and linking verbs.  Also, before allowing students to jump in and write their own strong verb paragraph, provide them with a good example. You can even write one together as a class first!

Why have your students write strong verb paragraphs?

This exercise teaches students to choose their words wisely, essentially making them better writers for life! Writing the paragraphs takes one class period, instead of weeks, making this the perfect writing exercise for middle school ELA classes.  What makes these fun are the prompts that you provide and the challenge to complete it correctly.   At first, your students may find it hard to write sentences without linking verbs or helping verbs, but encourage them that as they practice, they will get better.   Another thing that makes this exercise fun is that kids usually love hearing their paragraph read aloud. They will beam with pride as their story is read aloud and usually laugh at all of the funny sentences that their classmates wrote too.   Here are some sample narrative prompts for strong verb paragraphs:

  • Write a paragraph telling about a time an alien visited our school.
  • Write a paragraph telling about a time a food fight broke out in the lunchroom.
  • Write a paragraph telling about a time a group of kids spent the night in a haunted house.

Before Writing the Paragraphs, Begin with Sentences

Before your students write strong verb paragraphs, you may want to begin with sentences.  Present students with sentences that have a verb that isn’t specific and then read another sentence with a strong action verb that can be visualized.  Look at the following examples:

Suddenly, my dog, Meatball, ran through the living room. 

Suddenly, my dog, Meatball, bulldozed through the living room.

 I made my way through the sea of people to take a better look. 

I wormed my way through the sea of people to take a better look.

The next step is to teach students to take sentences that have linking verbs that tell and not show and teach them to transform those sentences into sentences that show instead of tell.  Turning sentences with linking verbs into sentences with action verbs is a little bit harder, but once students see examples and watch you brainstorm and model how to do this, they will feel confident in crafting these sentences themselves.

Take a look at the following examples:

Example sentence with a linking verb that tellsHe was mad.

To guide students in revising this sentence, ask students what actions mad people do.  Make a list of these actions, and then rewrite the sentence replacing the linking verb was with these words.

He slammed his book down on the desk, stomped across the room, and slammed the door on his way out. 

Explain to the class that with this sentence, you don’t have to tell that the boy was mad.  We know it based on his actions.  The sentence with the strong verbs shows instead of tells!

Here’s another example:

The troll was ugly.

The ugly troll’s green teeth jutted out over his long, flaky chin. The warts on his nose multiplied by the hour, and his razor-sharp toenails scraped the ground when he walked.

After these whole class and individual practices with sentences, you’ll be ready for the strong verb paragraphs.  Consider writing one as a whole class together first, then assigning one to a small group or to students working with a partner.

Click here to grab a printable copy of the strong verb paragraph rules.  If you want a complete resource, complete with a presentation for teaching, strong verb mini lessons, printable strong verb prompts, and example paragraphs, check out our Strong Verb Paragraph resource on TpT.

We use strong verb paragraphs during the first nine weeks.  If you would like to see exactly what we teach in the first nine weeks, click here to download our free first nine weeks plans.  If you’d like to see our yearly plans, click here to download a glimpse into our 7th grade ELA yearly plans.

If you’re looking for an effective process-approach method to teach your students to write text dependent analysis essays, we have a complete course, complete with instructional videos for you and EVERYTHING needed to teach the entire process to your middle schoolers.  Click here to enroll in the first section of the course completely free!   If you like the free course, consider asking your administration to purchase the complete course.

5. Three Reasons Why Bell Ringers Make Sense in the Middle School ELA Classroom

Using bell ringers in the middle school ELA classroom can help you keep your sanity when it comes to trying to fit everything in!  This episode will help you learn the advantages of using bell ringers or warm ups at the beginning of class, and we will talk about the ones that we rely on in our own classrooms!  Be sure and check out our show notes at  

We will put a link there to ten FREE bell ringers that we believe work for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade! 

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2. Four Activities for the First Day Back to School in Middle School ELA

Listen to four activities to make your first day back to school in the middle school ELA classroom a success!  We will cover everything that you need, including what to do when students first enter your room, which rules and procedures work for us, two fun and creative icebreakers, and a first day writing activity that your students will love!   Be sure to view our shownotes after listening to print free resources mentioned! 

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Happy Teaching!  Shannon and Tammy

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Organizational Tips for Teachers to Save Your Sanity

We will share two of our favorite tips that help keep us sane throughout the school year!  You can implement these simple and effective ideas into your classroom today!    Read our shownotes at  

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4 Four Tips to Make Grading Easy in the ELA Classroom

Learn four ways that you can make grading easy in your ELA classroom.  There is so much to teach in ELA, and this often means too much to grade.  As ELA teachers, we simply cannot grade everything.  We must work smarter, not harder when it comes to grading! 

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3. Five Ways to Ruin Your Middle School Classroom Climate

Listen and learn what NOT to do when creating a positive and welcoming middle school classroom climate.  We will discuss five ways that your classroom climate can be ruined and discuss strategies and ideas to implement in order to have a safe, happy, and positive climate for your classroom!  

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1. Three Tips for a Successful Back to School Open House

Are you wondering how to make your middle school back-to-school open house run smoothly?  Walk away with three tips to create a successful back to school open house for students and parents.  We’ll share with you fun and unique ways to make you and your classroom unforgettable! 

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