Model Memoir as Argument: Donald Murray's "The Stranger in the Photo is Me"

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SWBAT recognize the strategies a writer uses to develop an argument through personal experiences by closely analyzing Donald Murray's "The Stranger in the Photo is Me."

Big Idea

Writing memoir is more than just telling stories.


Structural Analysis of a Personal Reflection

70 minutes

Students will come into class today having read and annotated Donald Murray’s “The Stranger in the Photo is Me,” where he uses a photograph of himself as a young man in uniform overseas during World War II as a prompt for reflecting on his life and how life changes as we age.  Additionally, through his reflections on this period of his life, the piece has a secondary central idea of the powerful (often negative) influence war can have on our perceptions of life.  This piece will serve not only as another model of how to develop an argument using personal experiences, but also as a writing prompt (students will bring in photos of themselves tomorrow and use them to mine personal experiences regarding gender codes to write about  Memoir Assignment.docx--this assignment is adapted from an assignment by John Brassil, an AP Language and Composition summer institute instructor, who also introduced me to Donald Murray's wonderful work!). 

Given this, we will read the column out loud as a class, and I will pause frequently to specifically address the purpose of each chunk of text so the students can recognize the genre moves--that there is rhetorical purpose behind each section in building central ideas beyond simply showing a series of stories and reflections of his life.  Before starting to read it, I will ask for some general responses to the piece to get a formative assessment of how students responded to their first reading of the essay at home (this helps get a sense of how engaged students will be with the text as we read it).

After this initial discussion, I will read the first paragraph, and then students will jump in for each new paragraph (this process has been successful in the past, where I ask the students to randomly pick up the reading at each new paragraph rather than calling students out or doing a pattern.  However, I probably wouldn’t do it this way if there were struggling readers in the class because of the anxiety it might cause). 

I will stop every few paragraphs to determine as a class the nature of the content—what Murray is accomplishing in each segment of text (an overview of the major parts I looked at is explained in this video:  stranger in the photo organization.mp4) .   By doing this, we will work on recognizing how multiple central ideas develop in a text, analyzing how Murray develops his central ideas through analysis of personal experiences and reflections--how his reflection on his photo not only leads to building a central idea regarding how people's views of life change over time, but also how his experience in the war has influenced those changes.  The confluence of these ideas builds to a statement about the negative effects of war as well, showing how he uses the photo as a springboard for both reflection and argument.  

Next Steps:  Tomorrow students will bring their own photos into class, and we will do an activity to help them mine these photos for writing ideas.