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Grade 6: Enhancing Personal Narratives with New Writing Skills

Sixth graders in Emily Siskind’s class have been working on writing personal narratives, stories about their lives that include descriptive, detailed language along with dialogue. In a lesson on how to correctly punctuate quotations and conversations in written text, they practiced incorporating new writing skills into their work. 
As a group and with partners, students dissected examples to understand how and why dialogue punctuation is important. First, they identified and underlined the section of a phrase that is the spoken word before discussing where to place the quotation marks. Then, they separated the dialogue tag - the part that indicates the speaker and how the words were spoken - and explored options for further punctuation: 

I can’t find my keys anywhere Owen whined
“I can’t find my keys anywhere!” Owen whined.
“I can’t find my keys anywhere,” Owen whined.

Ouch Katie said that hurt
“Ouch!” Katie said. “That hurt.”
“Ouch,” Katie said, “that hurt.”

For the personal narrative unit, students by thinking about special memories they had with important people or places in their lives, memories associated with strong emotions, and memories connected to turning points in their lives. Then they practiced a technique called flash-drafting, in which they write as much detail as they can about the memory, but without worrying about having "the perfect ideas." After several rounds of flash-drafting, sixth-graders selected the idea they wanted to pursue in the narrative. 

For her story, Natasha Mansfeld is recalling her first time flying alone when she visited an uncle in New York. In summarizing her trip as a storyteller, she’s “using descriptive words and vivid detail.” Pierson Wiedenmayer is writing about a special experience he had recently - getting a new puppy. “It was a surprise,” he said with a smile.

“Our focus throughout the unit has been to turn summaries of the moments into engaging stories by incorporating dialogue, internal thinking, and descriptive language,” shared Ms. Siskind. “We have explored the meaning of elaboration and craft through the use of a rubric and through analyzing sample personal narratives with the rubric. Students have worked through several drafts, finding ways to stretch out parts of their stories with small details, develop engaging leads, and construct endings that provide closure and emphasize a deeper meaning or lesson.”

Ms. Emily Siskind is the English teacher on the Grade 6 team. Originally from Rhode Island, Ms. Siskind earned her bachelor’s degree from Denison University and her master’s in education from Brandeis University. Before joining Graland in 2019, she taught Grades 4 and 5 in Massachusetts. 

Graland is a good fit for Ms. Siskind, who was drawn to the school’s warm, welcoming, and innovative environment. She enjoys being part of a community where teachers teach with passion and creativity.

An avid runner, Ms. Siskind also enjoys biking, hiking, and skiing, as well as traveling, reading and spending time with family and friends.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." ~ Nelson Mandela


Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.