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Writing the Narrative Essay: How to Find the Words

In this 2013 file photo, Ivan Silverberg teaches his American Studies class at Niles North High School in Skokie, Illinois. (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

In this 2013 file photo, Ivan Silverberg teaches his American Studies class at Niles North High School in Skokie, Illinois. (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

This is the VOA Learning English Education Report.

A student from overseas did well on a research paper for an American college. She said, “Research takes up space, and the words in the research are correct because the writing is in English.” Now, however, she has to write a narrative essay in her own words.

She is afraid she does not know enough English.

Such a paper can be hard for anyone. Experts at Purdue University in Indiana define a narrative essay as “often anecdotal, experiential and personal.” In other words, this kind of essay usually tells a story from the writer’s experience. It is about something the writer has lived.

A narrative essay usually provides an insight. For example, such essays might be named “How I Won the 100-Meter Dash” or “How I Came to Study in the United States.” It is often written in the first person – the “I” form. And it offers a chance for creative writing, for expressing yourself about yourself in the paper.

The Purdue experts say that if your narrative essay is written as a story, you need to provide an introduction, a plot, a setting, a climax and a conclusion or ending. Often the narrative essay requires characters as well. And this essay usually follows events in the order they happened.

Judith Baumel is a poet and a professor at Adelphi University in New York.

“Sometimes I ask students to remember an early moment with their parents and sort of think about where they were physically. Think about what was in front of them, what was behind them, what was above them, below them. Just describe it out.”

Professor Baumel describes the exercise as remarkable. Says she learned it from another writer, graphic novelist Lynda Barry.

Ms. Baumel also has advice for English students who worry about not using the right words. She says the language has a great vocabulary.

“And that’s a real bonus for students who are just learning English. You really can play around with the vocabulary pretty early (in the process of learning the language).”

She says she introduces language learners to the thesaurus, which she calls “a great resource.” A thesaurus is a kind of dictionary. It can help you replace a word with a synonym, another word having the same or similar meaning. Sometimes it also provides antonyms -- words with opposite or nearly opposite meanings from the word you are replacing.

Judith Baumel notes the example of words that all describe a place to sit, words like chair and sofa and couch and chaise.

“All of this is available online now. Anybody in the world can just go online and get an online thesaurus.”

And that’s the VOA Learning English Education Report for today. I’m Jeri Watson.


Words in This Story

narrative – adj. of or relating to the process of telling a story

insight - n. the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way

plotn. a series of events that form the story in a novel, movie, etc.

climaxn. the most important part of a story, play, or movie that usually occurs at or near the end

visual – adj. relating to seeing or to the eyes

graphic – adj. a picture, drawing, or graph used as a decoration, or to make something, such as a magazine article, easier to understand.

graphic novels – n. drawings that tell a story and are published as a book.

Now, it's your turn to use these Words in this Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

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