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

As a middle school English teacher, I am responsible for nurturing my students’ love of writing and creativity. However, over the years, I have discovered that there are certain personal narrative topics that have become repetitive and unproductive in the classroom. In order to maintain both my sanity and my enthusiasm for teaching, I decided to ban five topics from my middle schoolers’ writing assignments. These are the five personal narrative topics that made it onto my blacklist.

1. “The Time I Broke My Arm (or Any Other Bone)”

Not only is this a far too common experience for many people – especially young students prone to accidents – but it’s often recounted with a nearly identical structure: the narrator does something hasty or ill-advised, resulting in the physical injury, followed by a trip to the hospital, and then learning their lesson.

2. “The Best/Worst Day of My Life”

Although this topic might initially seem like it offers room for diversity of experiences, it all too often results in either melodramatic stories filled with clichés or an overemphasis on minor incidents that are ultimately unremarkable. This promotes superficial thinking and doesn’t encourage students to explore deeper emotions and thoughts.

3. “My Favorite Vacation”

This topic tends to result in little more than travelogues chronicling family vacations. Rather than encouraging meaningful reflection or developing engaging dialogue and characterizations, these narratives often devolve into lists of activities or tourist attractions without much emotional resonance.

4. “My First Day at X (School, Job, Club, etc.)”

Similar to broken bone stories, first day narratives are steeped in predictability and clichés: feeling nervous or excited about a new environment; experiencing awkward or comical situations; eventually settling into new routines or making friends. Beyond familiarity fatigue, these first day narratives usually don’t provide any new insights about the students or unique perspectives on the world.

5. “My Pet (Alive or Deceased)”

While pets may hold special importance in students’ lives, this topic repeatedly spurs shallow, sentimental narratives that lack complexity in emotion or plot. It’s challenging for middle schoolers to find the depth of experience required to pen a compelling pet-related story without resorting to common tropes.

By banning these five personal narrative topics in my middle school English classroom, I’ve seen a marked increase in my students’ enthusiasm and creativity in their writing. By pushing them to explore novel subjects and dig deeper into their own experiences, it not only keeps my sanity intact but also fosters their growth as thoughtful and imaginative young writers.

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