Writing the Narrative-Style Research Report in Elementary School
Thompson, John Taylor, Childhood Education
Polly, a 3rd-grader, sat down to begin her assignment to write about an animal. She decided to write about a turtle. After a few minutes of writing, however, she raised her hand and asked the teacher, "Mr. Crane, what are turtles' shells made of?" Mr. Crane suggested she look up information about turtles and find the answer for herself. Polly learned the valuable lesson that sometimes writers must do some research in order for the story to be correct.
Mr. Crane also learned something important about the value of a technique that could be called narrative-style research writing. This writing style uses a narrative, story-like framework, and includes elements of both expressive and expository writing.
Expressive writing communicates an author's thoughts, impressions or feelings about a topic. Elementary level writing usually involves no research, but rather draws from children's own experiences, such as a family trip. Expressive writing can take on a narrative framework or it can be organized along more descriptive lines.
Expository writing describes, gives directions, lists facts or in some way informs the audience about a subject on a more objective basis. A teacher's prompt for an expository writing assignment might be, "Describe your school so that a visitor would understand what it looks like and what goes on there." A teacher who wants students to write in a narrative structure might prompt them by saying, "Pretend that an alien has landed in your backyard. Although the alien speaks English, he has never experienced school. Tell what happens as you escort the alien through the school and explain the school environment to the alien so that he understands completely."
A fact-based composition written in a narrative format allows for more student subjectivity than the standard format of introduction, supporting details and conclusion. Before giving the alien a description of the school, for example, children might have to do a little fact-finding. While much of the narrative would be factual, in some sections the student could express opinions or relate a personal experience that happened at school.
Writing theorists disagree somewhat about what kinds of writing students prefer at various stages of growth. They all maintain, however, that students eventually need to practice writing in a variety of formats and genres.
Prater and Padia's (1983) study of 4th- and 6th-graders concluded that students performed better with expressive writing than with expository writing because expressive writing is more "egocentric" and elementary students generally get more practice in expressive writing. Thus, one rationale for teaching research-based narrative writing to elementary students is that it can ease the transition from subjective to objective writing by making the writer part of the story.
According to Moffett (1989), writing that requires students to conduct research can act as a "bridge" between early personal writing and more advanced assignments, such as essay writing. Students progress from self-centered to outward-focused writing. Although Stotsky (1993) might disagree about the value of using a narrative structure with research-based writing, she commends the value of research itself. She believes research encourages students to write on unfamiliar topics.
Calkins (1986) stresses that narrative fiction depends upon character development and finding a topic that is of interest to the child. These two factors should not be ignored in favor of researched facts.
The following titles work well with this type of writing:
1. "Billy and the Wasp Adventure"
2. "The Formula That Made the Grass Stop Growing"
3. "Why the Balloon Went the Wrong Way"
4. "The Carlsons Visit a Civil War Battleground"
5. "My Grandfather's Greatest Adventure"
6. "A Wagon Journey Across Kentucky"
The format of narrative-style research writing can vary. …