Revising Your Narrative Essay

Revising Personal Narratives

After you've completed a first draft of your personal narrative, take a break before you begin revising. You need to see your work with a fresh perspective because when you revise, you make big improvements to your ideas, organization, and voice.

Revising to Show Instead of Tell

Study the two passages that follow. The “before” passage only explains the action, telling about it. The “after” passage uses action, dialogue, personal feelings, and details to develop the action, showing it. The second passage is much more interesting to read.

BEFORE (only explains the action)

Once when I was little, I got ready to ride on my dad’s motorcycle. Just as I was getting on the seat, I burnt myself on the cycle! It really hurt and I started to cry. My mom checked the burn. I didn’t want to go back on the motorcycle, but my dad took me anyway.

AFTER (develops the action with dialogue and personal feelings)

When I was little, one of my favorite things to do was riding on my dad’s motorcycle. It was always fun for me.

“Come on. Get up,” said my dad cheerfully.

“Okay,” I answered. But just as I was getting onto the seat, I burnt myself on one of the accelerator pipes!

“Ow!” I yelled as I started to cry.

“Are you all right?” asked my mom.

“No,” I answered.

“Come here,” said my mom. “Let’s take a look at that burn. It’s pretty red. I don’t think she should go for a ride on the motorcycle.”

I felt really glad that she had said that.

“Aw, come on. It won’t hurt her any more than she’s already hurtin’,” said my dad. I started to get really angry. I mean, I was only five years old. I hurt! Why should I have to ride a motorcycle?

Revise to show instead of tell.

Take a close look at your own personal narrative. Underline any parts that only tell about events. Then rewrite these parts so that they use action, dialogue, personal feelings, and details to show the event.

Revising for Specific Verbs

Some action verbs are very general. They don’t help readers see, hear, or feel the action. The first sentence below contains general action verbs, which don’t create a very clear picture. The specific action verbs in the second sentence create a clearer picture in the reader’s mind.

  • General verbs: As the tornado went through the town, it damaged houses and trees.
  • Specific verbs: As the tornado raged through the town, it flattened houses and trees.

Replace general verbs with specific verbs.

In the sentences below, substitute one specific verb for the general verb in parentheses. The first one has been done for you. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

  1. The fried potatoes sizzled ( cooked ) in the skillet.

  2. Suddenly a rock   (went) through the picture window.Suddenly a rock crashed through the picture window.

  3. Cecily always   (moves) her toes to the music.Cecily always taps her toes to the music.

  4. A car door   (shut loudly) in front of the house.A car door slammed in front of the house.

  5. My hungry brothers   (ate) their pancakes.My hungry brothers gobbled their pancakes.

  6. Out of control, the car   (came) around the corner.Out of control, the car careened around the corner.

  7. My sister’s music   (played) at full volume in her room.My sister’s music blared at full volume in her room.

  8. Our strongest batter   (hit) another towering home run.Our strongest batter smashed another towering home run.

  9. Baby Ray kept   (hitting) the plate with his spoon.Baby Ray kept banging the plate with his spoon.

  10. The rocket   (took off) into space.The rocket blasted into space.

Check your verbs.

Check the verbs in your own writing. Replace any general verbs with more specific ones.

Revising with a Peer Response

Share your writing.

Have a trusted classmate read your narrative and complete the form. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

Revising in Action

When you revise, you add, delete, rewrite, and rearrange your writing to make it clearer. Here are some revisions to “The Racist Warehouse.”

  • Paragraph Before Revisions

  • General verbs are replaced with more specific ones. Dialogue and thought details are added.

  • Paragraph After Revisions

Revise with a checklist.

Read each line. When you can answer each question with a yes, check it off. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.


  • Does the narrative focus on a specific experience or event?
  • Does the writing contain specific details and dialogue?
  • Do I focus my ideas and include a depth of detail?


  • Does the beginning pull readers into the narrative?
  • Are actions presented in chronological (time) order?
  • Do time-order transitions connect my ideas?


  • Is my feeling about the topic reflected in the writing?

Word Choice

  • Do I use specific nouns and active verbs?
  • Have I cut any wordiness?

Sentence Fluency

  • Do I have a variety of sentence lengths and beginnings?
  • Do my sentences read smoothly?

Focus Question: How can we use the revision and editing steps of the writing process to improve a narrative essay?

Part 1

“You have all done a lot of work to study the elements and devices in your drafts, and you’ve worked in groups to develop your theme. Now you will use the Narrative Essay Revising and Editing Guidelines to review what you have written. In your small groups, give and listen to feedback on the use of the guidelines.” Give each student a copy of the Narrative Essay Revising and Editing Guidelines (LW-7-3-3_Revising and Editing Guidelines.docx). Place students in small groups and explain that they will be giving and receiving feedback on their narrative essays using these guidelines to evaluate the essays. Students should also have their completed graphic organizers for reference. Tell them they will use the feedback they receive from you and from their peers to write a final draft of the essay.

Explain the purpose of the peer editing process: to uncover weaknesses in the essay so that the writer can strengthen the essay before writing a final draft. Students should also point out the strengths of the essay or what they liked most. Explain that feedback is most helpful when it is specific. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t like the ending,” say, “I really don’t understand how the problem was solved,” or “I’m not sure the main character learned the lesson that you hinted at.”

After students have given an overall response to the essay, they should use the highlighters to point out specific parts of the essay that need work. A different colored highlighter can be assigned to each section of the revision guidelines (for example, yellow for organization, pink for focus and content, etc.). Make sure that students take plenty of time with this step. Monitor the groups to ensure that they make good progress.

Part 2

When the groups have completed their editing, students are now ready to write the final draft. If you feel that students have too many edits to make based on so much feedback, divide the process into two rounds of revisions, one that focuses solely on your suggestions from the end of the last lesson, and one that incorporates their peer edits from this lesson. Explain that they should make major revisions first—e.g., content and organization—before fixing errors in grammar and conventions.

“You’re now ready to write your final draft. There are many comments and editing opportunities to consider. Before you begin to make grammar and conventions edits, make the necessary revisions on content organization. Your content’s organization is what will tie the essay together and make it feel complete. If your content organization is strong, making edits to grammar and conventions will make the essay feel polished.”

If appropriate, help students review correct usage of quotations with dialogue.

Give students copies of the PSSA Grades 6–8 Narrative Scoring Guidelines (LW-7-3-3_PSSA Grades 6–8 Narrative Scoring Guidelines.docx). Explain that these rubrics are what you will use to evaluate the essay. They should refer to the guidelines as they write their final drafts to make sure that they have included all aspects of the rubric.


  • Have students publish their narratives online. (ClassChatter is a free Web site that will allow students to read and comment on each other’s stories. Only those with the teacher-created password will be allowed to read and comment on the posts.)
  • Students who need additional opportunities with revising will benefit from seeing an example of a revised/marked-up essay.
  • Students who are stalled during the revising and editing stages may make appointments to conference one-on-one with you.

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