Organizational Tools of Memoir Day 1: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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SWBAT recognize the organizational moves of memoir and analyze their rhetorical functions by closely analyzing excerpts from Cheryl Strayed's memoir "Wild."

Big Idea

Memoirs are highly structured, as writers organize their stories to create a desired central idea or series of ideas.


Long-term Assignment: Arguments Through Personal Narrative

10 minutes

For the first two essays I didn't give students the prompt until right before we started the writing unit; this time I want to give it to them sooner, as well as more explicitly integrate instruction for it throughout this unit.  So, I decided to give them the assignment sheet for the personal narrative argument they will write in a few weeks so they can be thinking about their own writing and ideas as they explore other writers.  

I will read and explain the assignment sheet briefly today (Memoir Assignment.docx), mostly encouraging them to consider this as they read other works in the unit, and also to start looking at old pictures of themselves (the assignment is adapted from one I learned about at the AP Institute).

Close Reading Excerpt of Wild

45 minutes

Based on the students’ struggles with new writing genres thus far in the semester, I’m going to more closely integrate the writing with the reading in this unit as we study how narrative can be used as rhetoric and to develop arguments as we build toward students writing their own arguments with personal narratives as evidence.  Additionally, in the last class we had a strong Socratic seminar about Wild, but the students did not specifically address how Strayed constructs central ideas throughout the text, and how she uses narrative elements to do so, as well as how she uses the physical setting metaphorically to construct meaning.  Today, therefore, I want to focus our attention on how Cheryl Strayed constructed her memoir, using the natural elements as representative of her own transcendence.

To help students recognize that memoir is crafted and deliberate, and meant to make arguments, I will first show students a ten-minute video of Strayed talking about her writing process.


It is a good resource for this because she provides some insight into her process, such as how she was using the trail strategically in her writing.   This will squash the inevitable comment by someone that writers don’t really think about all the metaphors and symbolism, since she explicitly explains how she used the trail purposefully in the book.   It will be important to note, though, that this work is done in the editing process, not the first time the thoughts are put to the page.  She also talks about how much processing she did about her trip while writing—a great lesson on the power writing has to enhance understanding of a topic.   Students will take notes on this and we’ll talk about her process as a class before moving on to the next step of looking at a model excerpt of text for analysis.

To have students more closely study how Strayed mixes narrative of her trip with reflection on her life and metaphorical descriptions of setting, we will then read a three page excerpt I chose as a model that spans pages 270-273 of the book.  We will read the section out loud, and I will make frequent pauses to establish the type of information being imparted in the chunks of text—if it is narrative of hiking, reflection on the past, or description of nature for metaphorical purpose.  We will also identify narrative elements such as setting description, conflict, etc., (I will review these parts of a narrative, too, as necessary). Additionally, we will establish tone (essentially we are doing many of the SOAPStone elements).    

As we look at these parts, we will also talk about her voice, and how the metaphorical parts can appeal to logic—even though memoir is emotional by nature, there is logic embedded here, too.  This analysis of appeals will lead to identifying the central idea of the section.

Identifying Excerpts

15 minutes

After a thorough investigation of this section, students will use their reading logs to help them identify excerpts from the story that have these similar elements of narrative, reflection, and metaphorical description.  By having students do this, they will have to closely read a few sections to find one they want to use, providing practice at identifying the organization of the text.  They will also address Informational reading standard 4 concerning how an author refines meaning of a word or metaphor throughout a text.  Additionally, having them use their logs will subtly call out those who did not complete them, and emphasize the importance of completing assignments (a few of them slacked a bit on the logs this time around--though they did seem to all read the book, given the specificity of the Socratic seminar discussion).  At home, they will complete a SOAPStone analysis of their chosen passage in preparation for activities tomorrow.  Additionally, they will read an article titled “All Writing is Autobiographical” by Donald Murray and annotate this (this piece is mostly for content, to help students think about how personal all writing is).