Value Exploration and Personal Narrative

By Samantha LoCoco

In this lesson on personal narrative, T&W teaching artist Samantha LoCoco helps seventh-graders begin to articulate the values that are most important to them, and to realize how those values shape who they are as individuals. 

Grade: 7

Genre: Personal Narrative 

Download: Value Exploration and Personal Narrative 

Common Core State Standards:  (Refer to the ELA Standards > Writing > Grade 7)

  • ELA-LITERACY.W.7.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Lesson Objectives: 

  • Define the five senses and sensory language.
  • Identify the use of sensory language in sample writing.
  • Define “identity” and describe what identity means to students.
  • Discuss the purposes of personal narrative essays.


Ritual (5 minutes):

One Word Check-in:

  • Start with this low-risk warm-up so that students can learn more about one another and to encourage ownership over their definition of self. Have students stand in a circle if possible, and invite each student one at a time to state one word that describes how they are feeling in that moment.
  • Teaching artist will model the exercise to begin.

Warm-up (15 minutes): 

Name that sense:

  • Begin with a brief discussion about the five senses and sensory language.
  • Hang up an image of each of the five senses (smell, sight, touch, taste, hearing) at different points around the room.
  • Read examples of writing that employs sensory language and ask students to stand by the image they think is the predominant sense used in the writing sample.
  • Ask for volunteers to define why they chose that sense.
  • Repeat until all five senses are established.
  • Ask students: What did you learn about the senses/sensory language? 

Main Activity (30 minutes): 


  • Introduce and discuss what a personal narrative essay is and why it’s important on a personal level and how it can support students when applying to college.
  • What is an identity? Who here feels like they have a strong personal identity? What does it mean to have a strong identity?
  • Could we say that forming an identity is difficult? How could this be true?
  • Read together the sample essay, “The Beard,” and discuss the essay. Ask students: Where does William use sensory language? What is William’s central theme? What happens in William’s story?
  • What are some of life’s important moments? (birthdays, religious events, holidays, etc.) Discuss why each is important to us and why we remember those times.
  • Explain that we are not writing an autobiography, but instead we are going to focus on developing a personal narrative, a story that focuses on a snapshot of our lives. It is not a factual retelling or a timeline of events. Ensure this distinction is clear before moving on.


  • Explain and reinforce that a value is a characteristic that is important to leading a fulfilling life.
  • Brainstorm a list of words students think of in response to values.
  • Have students look at the Values Activity Sheet and define each value in a few words. Then, ask them to put a star next to the five values that are the most important to them.
  • Once students complete the sheet, open up to the group for discussion. What five values did you select and why? 

Review and Closing Ritual (10 minutes):

  • Ask students to share their reflections by answering one or all of the following questions:
    • Head: What is one thing you learned today?
    • Heart: What emotions did you feel after participating in these activities?
    • Feet: What is one thing that you’re walking away with? What will you do with it?
  • Close with the call-and-repeat: “I have a voice / my voice is powerful / my voice can change the world.”



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