This lesson is adapted from a lesson by Risa Nye from Don't Forget to Write a collection of lesson plans compiled and published by 826 Valencia, San Francisco, CA.
Students begin by folding a piece of paper so that it has six blank squares.
I ask them to label each square with a different title. "Everyone in the room is a son or daughter, so start there. Perhaps you are a brother or sister or another family title, so that could be another square. Now think about the way people see you; are you a brain, a class clown, a track star. Begin filling up the remaining squares with those labels you have for yourself."
I set a timer for six minutes and let the students talk while they are deciding what to put in these squares.
Next I ask the students to come up with five stories for each square. By the time they are done they should have thirty topics for a personal statement. I ask them to limit the description of the story to seven words or less; make it descriptive so they can remember the story later. Under dirt bikes one student writes on his paper "pullin Cody's dirt bike with mine". The idea her is to generate stories that have the potential for detail and expansion. They don't have to be dramatic or life-changing, indeed they could become metaphorical for the student's own strengths and weaknesses.
This time I set the timer for ten minutes and ask the students to be quiet.
I move around the room monitoring progress. Most students have all their squares labelled. Some have no trouble coming up with stories. Others will take more time, and I give them space, unless I can see that they are stuck, in which case I will offer them suggestions or ask questions to jog their memories.
As students finish coming up with stories I ask them to share one of their boxes on the board. This keeps the students who are finished early busy for a little while longer, and helps the struggling students get some ideas from their classmates.
Once students have finished filling in their boxes we look at the composite of six students on the board and treat it as one student.
I then talk to students about the similarities and differences between different boxes and ask for suggestions to combine like stories.
Students are beginning to understand how these six boxes could become a resource for many stories, which could turn into personal statements. Stories they did not think were all that relevant or important take on the potential of significance. The story about dirt bikes? A story about perseverance. The one about helping a stranded motorist: an example of personal character. The point here is that students are skimming through their rolodex of memories and pulling stories they think represent then as they are. And they aren't stopping to ponder, they are merely writing down short events or episodes as they think of them.
We then look at the handout which offers suggestions for writing personal statements. We discuss the do's and don'ts and then I ask the students to partner up and share their boxes with each other. Then I ask them make suggestions as to which stories to write about or to combine into other stories.
Once students have discussed their stories and ideas the creative juices are flowing and they are ready to write.
I set the timer for fifteen minutes and a hush falls over the room as students
After their fifteen minutes is up, I ask the students what they think of the exercise. Many of them liked it and commented that they feel ready to write a personal statement now.
I let the students know who in the school can help them with their personal statement (counselors, English teachers, social studies teacher). I make specific arrangements with some of the students to review their personal statements or give them more help.