Photograph of the text of a letter written by Julia Shepard to her father.

Narrative Writing: Using a Primary Source Memoir

In this lesson, students will close-read a narrative primary source (a letter from Julia Adelaide Shepard, an eyewitness to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln) and use it as a mentor text for creating their own piece of narrative writing.

They will develop skills to distinguish facts from feelings in narrative writing and will strengthen their understanding of how details can be used to create and support a narrator’s point of view.

This lesson should be taught after students have developed background knowledge on the causes and major milestones of the Civil War, including the Emancipation Proclamation and the Confederate Army’s surrender at Appomattox.

Common Core Reading Standards


Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


Determine a theme of a story, drama or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.


Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.

Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards


Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on Grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Common Core Writing Standards


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details and clear event sequences.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.

Learning ObjectivesStudents will analyze a piece of narrative writing that is a primary source.
Students will distinguish historical facts and events from thoughts and feelings in a narrative primary source.
Students will use textual evidence from the original narrative primary source to make inferences about different historical points of view.
Students will use textual evidence to compose short pieces of original narrative writing from different points of view.
Guiding QuestionsHow and why did Lincoln’s assassination take place?
How did the assassination affect different people in different ways?
Why is it important for us to consider different points of view about a historic event?
How do narrators create a point of view in their writing?
Prepared by Grade Length
Leah Greenglass Fifth Grade Four Days

What You Need

Classroom Activities