Tackling the Literacy Narrative or Simply Getting Started

Depending upon whether or not you teach this genre, a lot of times it can serve as an introduction genre for Comp 1 students, perhaps some of this will be useful to you.

I find the Literacy Narrative to be challenging to students in the sense that they have to think and give careful focus to what the genre requires of them, while at the same time helping them take baby steps into the conventions and expectations of college writing.


Now, I work out of the Norton’s Field Guide to Writing 3rd Edition when I teach this genre. Literacy Narratives, from my point of view, provide an excellent, no pressure way to have new students dip their toes into the waters of college writing. Not quite academic writing, yet, but I do ask students to begin working with MLA formatting, but again, I want students to get comfortable with writing, writing as a process, writing on deadlines, and performing peer reviews and receiving instructor feedback (what will happen for the rest of their papers).

Literacy Narratives, I find, often challenge students as much as they might appear to be “easy” assignments by instructors some times. Students often are forced to embark on mission(s) of exploration and excavation of their past experiences with reading and/or writing. To help students get started on this process I have taken what I used to treat as a first day icebreaker, “your feelings about writing,” into a informal first writing assignment: “Tell me how you feel about writing.”

I do this to see if I can, perhaps, help the students jog their memory and start thinking about “their current feelings” about the subject and this might lead them to something they can expand for Essay 1: The Literacy Narrative.

Models and Examples

The process I lead students through, to start off, by looking at, reading over, and discussing at least ONE example from the book of the Literacy Narrative. The Norton’s Field Guide usually provides several great examples, usually the first one is annotated, for the students to model off of and base their decisions for writing their own narratives.

Key Features

The key features, a common element of most genre writing, for Literacy Narratives calls for 1) a well-told story, 2) vivid detail, and 3) a indication of the narratives significance.

Guided Process

This usually leads us; next, into the process of writing and to the Guide to Writing… section that follows the examples (good for modeling). When I lead students into this wonderful section, I start by walking them through the ENTIRE process and as we do so, I note the THREE divisions of the process I want them to note, and as we proceed, note where we are: Pre-Writing/Pre-Drafting, Drafting, and Revision/Post-Drafting Stage.

I primarily focus this on the first essay, the Literacy Narrative, to help set up a standard for approach I want students to use ALL of their essays.

Pre-Drafting/Pre-Writing Stage:

 The Literacy Narrative begins this part by offering up suggestions to help students “Choosing a Topic.”

This is where I point out my reasoning for having students do that informal writing assignment: “Tell me how you feel about writing.” I want to, hopefully, jog a student a little and help them get into the process of self-discovery.

 “Considering the Rhetorical Situation”

This, like most other assignments, is something I select from and cover (discuss) in ALL assignment sheets with the students. I put them to primarily thinking about and focusing on THREE: Purpose, Audience, and Stance.

For this assignment, Purpose is already to a degree explained to them by me. I want to help expose them to college level writing, have them write about something from their own life.

Audience, with all other assignments in my class is set at the level of college-aged (approximately), mature, well-educated audience.

Stance, for this assignment, is entirely left to the student to depict their experience as it happened and how they feel now about it, looking back, it being reading and/or writing.

“Generating Ideas and Text”

To help students get started with this, particularly with coming up with their “hook” I offered them the visual example found in Alexis Bechdel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.

I am a big fan of Bechdel’s humor, intelligence, and honesty. I usually present students the example of her opening of Fun Home as a way of showing them a good opening aimed at hooking the reader and one that is at least focused on someone’s own (though constructed) memoir or personal narrative. The images I use are the first page and half of the opening of the graphic novel.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 11.39.49 AM

This opening page does a fantastic job of presenting the story’s beginning as one of innocence, of almost benign normalcy. That of course, helps make the remaining set up even more dramatic. There is of course a sense, spelled out by the author, of a slightly (appearing to be) distant relationship between father and daughter. However, the focus comes in on a typical parent to child game of playing “airplane.” At the bottom of the page, the author sets up this simple scenario by adding to it the title of “Icarian Games” to what father and daughter are engaged in in acrobatic terms.

Icarian is of course a reference to the myth of Icarus. This becomes more clear on the next page where the reader is assumed to be at least passingly familiar with the tale of Icarus and his father’s Daedalus’ escape via wings made by Daedalus had made.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 11.40.01 AM

So, why does Bechdel share this myth? In the story of Daedalus and Icarus, Icarus disregards his father’s warning and flies too high to the sun, the wax melts, and he plummets to his death in the sea. For Bechdel the story is one she sets up in order to juxtapose it with that of her father. Rather than being Daedalus, her father is the Icarus of the story. The “mythic relationship” is reversed and this is Bechdel’s “hook” to draw the audience in to “find out” what happened.