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College Writing Tips: How to Write a Good Literacy Narrative

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Sarah has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and works as a manager of communications for a multinational risk management company.

What Is a Literacy Narrative?

A literacy narrative is a popular way for writers to talk about their relationship with reading, speaking, and writing. Many literacy narratives have been written and published by famous writers to help their audience get to know them. It is also commonly used as the first assignment for college composition courses. It gives students a chance to 1) introduce themselves to their teachers and their classmates, 2) reflect on their relationship with reading and writing in a positive way, and 3) develop an understanding of the impact of reading and writing on their life. Students often find that the assignment is enjoyable, and teachers often find they enjoy reading literacy narratives. Think of it as a personal story.

What Does It Mean to Be Literate?

The first Merriam-Webster definition of literate is "able to read and write." Some instructors require that the literacy narrative remains true to this definition of literacy. Another definition of "literacy" is more comprehensive. It is "having knowledge or competence." A literacy narrative can cover literacy in either of these ways.

The second definition of "literacy" may include professional literacy, hobby-related literacy, language literacy, or many other types of broadened understanding of a subject brought on by its connection to the language. It is that connection to language that the literacy narrative is concerned with. For example, you may be an athlete. Let's say you play soccer. Well, when did you learn what "off-sides" meant? How did you learn that phrase? What does it mean to "play D"? What is a "football pitch"? A literacy narrative might concern this type of relationship with language. One of the challenges of this type of literacy narrative is making sure that you stay on topic. In the above example, the topic is "soccer literacy," not "soccer." A paper about soccer misses the point. Again, some instructors strictly want a paper about reading and writing, not a paper that is thematically related to another topic. Make sure to clear that with your instructor.

What is a narrative?

The other part of a literacy narrative is the emphasis on narrative. The paper must tell a story. It must have a plot. It must have a theme. It must mean something. It is an opportunity to share a story about your life with others.

This also means that the point of the paper is not to simply list important terminology or explain the meaning of certain words. It is also not to list the books you've read or talk about the poems you wrote. The narrative should talk about what you did and what it means to you in terms of your personal literacy journey.

How does a literacy narrative fit into the real world?

A literacy narrative is an important document detailing individual journeys with being literate. Since we've already established that "literate" and "literacy" have broad definitions, it's easy to see how a literacy narrative is about more than just a story about a person learning the alphabet or learning to read, write, and speak.

Did I Write a Good Literacy Narrative?

Ask yourself the following questions to check on the quality of your literacy narrative. If you included all of these elements, your literacy narrative is probably good. If you are being graded on your literacy narrative, make sure to run this checklist by your teacher and ask if it is accurate:

  1. Does my literacy narrative have a theme?
  2. Does it use the open-form structure?
  3. Does it use plot to tell a story?
  4. Is it cohesive? (Does it stay on topic?)
  5. Is it coherent? (Does it make sense to someone who has not had the same experiences I have had?)
  6. Did I use enough specific examples and details to make the experience personal and not general?
  7. Is it clear? (Did I explain terminology, events, or examples thoroughly?
  8. Is it appropriate for my audience? (Did I use thoughtful diction and appropriate language for an academic audience?)
  9. Did I give it a title?
  10. Did I write clear opening and closing paragraphs?

How Do I Write a Literacy Narrative?

Literacy narratives are theme-based, open-form prose, which means that they do not follow a strict structure and do not have a thesis. Remember this as you write yours. Here are some general steps to follow. They can help you write a good literacy narrative:

  1. Generate a few topics that are meaningful to you. Ask yourself, what do I want to write about for my literacy narrative? Do I want to write about my favorite book? Do I want to write about writing poetry? Do I want to write about overcoming a big hurdle? List those topic ideas.
  2. List, from the ideas you generated in step one, in sentence form, 3-5 topics you might cover in your literacy narrative. The reason you should write them out in sentence form is that your literacy narrative is not going to just be about "a book" or "writing poems." Your literacy narrative is going to be about "realizing I liked reading when my third-grade teacher assigned a Judy Blume book," or "writing a poem to my first crush and discovering the power of communicating through written words." (Note: If you picked a topic in step 1 that does not involve much reading, writing, and speaking, then you should probably choose another topic.)
  3. At this stage, you might already have a good understanding of the theme you will use in your literacy narrative. If you do, write it down. Take some time to develop it. If you do not, that is okay. Skip this step.
  4. Write the first draft of your literacy narrative. Remember to stay focused on the theme. If you do not know yet what your theme is, work toward a theme during this stage of writing.
  5. Read over your draft. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Come up with a list of questions you might have for your teacher or for a peer reviewer. Where do you need help? What do you think is good? Write down those questions.
  6. If you can, have a peer review your literacy narrative. They can use the questions below and the questions you prepare in step 5 as a guide.
  7. Revise your draft based on any feedback you get.
  8. If you have a Writing Center available to you, go visit the tutors there if you still have questions or would like a professional to review your paper. Use the questions below as a guide for revision.
  9. Finalize your literacy narrative and be proud of it!


Vicki Morrison, MSPSE on August 14, 2019:

I love that this is available to use with my ENG 1101 class! I would caution you though, that as an example used in writing (composition) classes, this document could really use a good proofing. Sorry, but I found at least 5 critical errors, which were easily corrected using Grammarly. Not trying to be ugly here, but . . .

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Read More From Owlcation

Owen on October 06, 2018:

I would love to learn more

MiKaylaK on September 05, 2018:

Thank you so much!!!!! You don't understand how much this helped and clarified to me what a literacy narrative is! I really appreciate this.

Rapid on August 28, 2018:

So Literacy Narratives are just thematically focused autobiographies.

moni on July 05, 2018:

Thank you! This really was helpful.

Curtis on February 04, 2018:

Thank you very much! This really did help!

Cindy on January 20, 2018:

Really helpful!

Victoria Cai on December 19, 2017:

Thank you so much! I really needed this for my English class, I had no idea what to do, and this was so helpful!

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