5 Personal Narrative Topics I Banned in Middle School English in Order to Keep My Sanity

Banning certain writing topics might seem extreme. But my students’ writing got stronger as a result.

Banned Personal Narrative Topics

Most writing teachers would agree that reading and grading their students’ work is one of the least favorite parts of their job. Grading is time consuming, to say the least. Beyond that however, personally, I found that reading my students’ stories, personal narratives in particular, was just really…boring. Incredibly boring, in fact.

Why were the stories about my students’ lives so hard to read? There were a couple reasons, actually. First, a young writer doesn’t have a large body of life experiences to draw from. Second, the stories my students found interesting enough to write about were subjects I’d read about a million times already. Reading the same basic story over and over again was a beating. In order to keep my sanity, I eventually had to forbid my students from writing about these five topics.

1. Pets

I get it; pets are great. But here’s the thing. My Facebook feed is full of hilarious and sometimes amazing cat and dog videos. No matter what cool thing your furry friend did, I’ve pretty much seen it. And if you’re one of those kids with a pet turtle, I have news for you. He’s not so much of a pet as he is a prisoner. Besides, I happen to be an owner of a ridiculously cute dog. I will always think my dog is better than your dog.

2. Boo-boos

There were always kids in my classes that wanted to write about the time they broke their arm, fell off their bike, or got a few stitches. The only problem was that I didn’t care. As they stood in front of me explaining their exciting tale of bodily damage, I already knew the ending. They turned out fine. Besides, here’s the thing about injuries. They all hurt. Not only that, but as soon as you tell me about your pain, I’m already thinking about the time when I hurt myself worse. Think Quint and Hooper comparing scars in Jaws.

3. The Big Game

So some kid in your class made the winning basket, goal, or run in an important game. Perhaps the kid made a diving catch in the outfield to preserve the win. Who cares? Turn on SportsCenter any night and see dozens of such feats every single day. It’s not that the story is universally boring, it’s just boring to me, and I’m the target audience. Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of stories about youth sports. I get it. You played a game. You did a cool thing. Your team won. End of story.

4. Video Games

I guess since some kids spend a lot of time playing video games, if makes sense that they would want to write about the time the got to level 17 late one night by using a special hidden feature and a hard to acquire power up bonus. Yeah, no. I’m not reading anything about video games that happened after Donkey Kong.

5. Disney, Six Flags, SeaWorld or any other theme park

This is the writing teacher’s worst nightmare. But theme parks are a big deal to kids. We all get that. Writing a story about fun at a theme park is problematic. For one, when you go to a theme park you end up doing dozens of cool things. Writing a list of events that occurred during your day at Disneyland makes for a bad essay. It’s impossible to write about what you did in ten hours on a page or two of notebook paper. There just isn’t enough room for any interesting detail. Even if you pick that one crazy roller coaster ride and write all about it, the problem is this: We’ve all ridden a roller coaster! It’s not a big deal.

When I first presented this list to my students, they were none too happy, believe me. More than a few students felt that I gave them nothing left to write about. Seriously. Some of my students felt that I took away every interesting topic they could possibly cover.

But an interesting thing started to happen. My students’ personal narratives did get more interesting. Kids wrote about small events they experienced and in greater detail. A few even learned that in order to write an interesting story, they had to write about something that only they had experienced, one that was not commonplace.

However, if a kid ever had a dog that ate his World of Warcraft game while swimming with Shamu at SeaWorld just after attending grandma’s funeral, I want to hear about it.

Posted by Bill Flanigin

Bill Flanigin is a writer, retired teacher, speaker and lover of rock 'n' roll music. He lives in the Austin area with his wife and two rescued boxers. He can usually be found in some taco joint or at home listening to 8-track tapes. He is a regular contributor to Huffington Post.

Leave a reply

Back-to-School Giveaways, Just for Teachers! Enter Now >>
+