What Is the Difference Between Narrative and Expository Essay?
When facing a task of writing a narrative or expository essay, the first thing you should do is understand the difference between these types of papers.
Narrative Essays: Tell a Story
In simple terms, a narrative essay is a story meant to entertain the readers. This writing style is extremely versatile, because it has almost no limitations. Every piece of fiction out there is an example of a narrative essay.
However, this doesn’t mean that these stories are purely fictional. If the author tells a story based on personal experience or historical facts, it will still be considered a narrative essay, as long as the work complies with the essential requirements that pertain to this style of writing. They are:
- Switching between points of view of different characters (optional)
- Combination of concrete and abstract language
- No definite chronology of events, flashbacks, etc. (optional)
- Abundance of personal pronouns
- Simple structure common for fiction stories (setting, characters, conflict, plot, resolution)
- When you are writing a narrative essay on some particular subject, the story should be centered on it without deviating to other areas.
Expository Essays: Inform and Explain
There is no room for fiction and descriptive literary tools in expository essays. These papers are fine examples of informative articles and instructions.
The style of expository essays is concise and simple. All in all, an author should aim to make the essay as clear as possible and edit it in order to remove all information that isn’t strictly necessary.
The most common examples of expository essays are:
- Directions, scientific articles and other texts that follow the cause-effect structure.
- Recipes, biographies, history texts that follow some definite chronology.
- Speeches (mostly political) and other types of texts that are based on the pros versus cons structure.
- Some newspaper articles that provide detailed descriptions of events.
- Medical and scientific texts that follow the problem-solution structure.
- Speeches for debates and other events that are based on the position-reason structure.
In general, expository essays can be characterized by lack of descriptive elements and simple structure. They must be based on facts and require extensive research of the subject.
The core difference between narrative and expository essays is their style. While narrative paper allows the author to be creative and tell a story in a way he or she likes, expository essays follow some strict rules that one must abide.
Narrative texts are versatile in structure and style, but they also require some thorough research of the subject.
Texas requires all 4th graders to write a narrative AND an expository piece for their state assessment. Now, if your school is anything like mine, students very rarely (if ever) write any sort of expository piece before stepping into a 4th grade classroom. Nope, I’m not blaming the other grade levels because I know that they have their own battles to fight and win, I’m just stating reality.
So how do we tackle this? How do we get students to understand the difference (and similarity) of narrative vs. expository writing? What do we tell these kids? My answer is simple. Make it concrete. Make it relevant and meaningful. Allow students a visual that shows them, rather than just telling them. I use grandma.
Grandma, you say? Yep. I use an activity that I created (mostly on my own) that helps kids to compare narrative and expository writing. It takes several glances at it to understand it completely, but my kiddos love to take “grandma” out and look at her and talk about writing.
Here goes: I searched for kid-friendly grandma and balloons clipart. I just googled it and found some that I liked. I saved them, and then put the grandma pic in the center of a Word document. I inserted a dashed line down the middle of the page. I put the pics of the balloons on separate pages, so the students actually started with a page with only grandma and then a separate page with balloons. I like to talk them through the process and leaving the balloons for later helps with our discussion.
I give the students about 10 minutes to color their grandma (helps with the management since they just HAVE to color her), and then we get down to business. We then add Narrative and Expository labels at the top of each side of the page. We talk about how grandma represents our topic. I choose grandma because all students have some experience with a grandma, whether their own or someone else’s. You see, the topic can be the same for both types of writing–it’s how the piece is written that makes the difference. We notice how she appears on both sides of the page because of this. We then label her as, “topic.”
Then we fold our page down the dashed line and talk about one side at a time (hence the lighting in the picture). We start with narrative which is most familiar to them. Narrative writing is when we tell stories from our hearts about a time we did something. We use our Writer’s Tools to tell a story in the order that it happens. In narrative, order matters! I refer to the story of the 3 little pigs. It just wouldn’t make sense or be the same story if the wolf visited the third pig’s house first. It would change the whole outcome of the story, thus proving that order matters! We discuss other stories and even refer to their own stories and think about how the stories only make sense in order.
Next we cut out and glue the cluster of balloons in her hands and label them one through five. This represents the paragraphs that happen–yep–in order. We put our own ribbons on the balloons and attach them to her hands.
Last, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for narrative writing.
When we have finished with the narrative side, we flip our paper over and begin our discussion about expository writing. This type of writing is not a story. Instead, we are required to explain our beliefs on something and give reasons why we believe it. In expository writing, order doesn’t matter. We discuss various topics and give reasons why we believe what we believe, flip the reasons around, and then talk about how the reasons don’t have a specific order–unless you have a spectacular reason (like why you just can’t do your homework) that you want to save for the “grand finale,” as one of my students mentioned. But overall, the order of your reasons really doesn’t matter.
We then cut out and glue the one balloon onto the paper and label it with “central topic” and “WHY?” This represents the main idea of our paper and the purpose for writing. We draw only one ribbon from the balloon to grandma’s hand and put flags on it with our Writer’s Tools. Those tools help us to explain our beliefs and make our papers longer and coherent.
When finished, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for expository writing.
It is very detailed and takes lots of time, but the students really respond to it, especially when you tell them that they will be required to add to a final discussion about the similarities and differences of these two types of writing!
Hopefully this makes sense to you. It makes sense to us. Please feel free to ask questions if you have them!
What do you do to help your students with this? Leave a comment with your ideas!!