Reflection: Intrinsic Motivation Personal Statement Boot Camp - Section 1: Creating Categories of Self


My students specifically requested this lesson after I showed them a college freshman syllabus.  The discussion of the syllabus generated a discussion about life after high school and the steps they needed to be thinking about in November. 

As a class the specifically selected a date on the calendar that I would teach this lesson, and then reminded me the day before that they were planning on writing their personal statements the next day in class. This level of intrinsic motivation has been rare all year, indeed, even when I taught them sophomore year.  Of course I would lead them through the steps of writing a personal statement, and I had a lesson that seemed custom written for these particular students. 

A truly good personal statement acts as a letter of introduction to admissions officers and scholarship review committees.  I emphasize with my college seniors the importance of a first impression and that the personal statement is that first impression; indeed may be the only impression they get to make.  Risa Nye's lesson grounds students in that first impression, focusing them not on structures, outlines and high diction, but what really matters, themselves.  She acknowledges that every student has the potential to tell unique, personal stories that move away from cliche, toward strengths, goals and aspirations.  What's great about her lesson is that students aren't overwhelmed trying to decide which of those stories are the best, they have the chance to explore and develop many of them, which is crucial if they are writing more than one personal statement. 

Using boxes on paper, the students are challenged to fill the boxes with the various labels they've been given and taken on in their adolescence. For the most reluctant writer a page of bullet points of self, become negotiable spaces to explore.  It's easy to write daughter, sister, or volleyball player in  a neat 2" square, and then start filling that square with references to the very events they then define themselves by; much easier than  Tell me a time you played volleyball really well or What does it mean to be an older sister.  Without context, the boxes become the students' personal spaces to mark out and define on their own. 

Finally the boxes overlap in such a way that students end up with infinite combinations of possible stories and subjects to write about.  Combine sister and volleyball player and there is the story about overcoming their older sister's shadow or mentoring a younger sister her freshman year.  Seemingly innocuous events that students might have forgotten find a place within those boxes, taking on new importance and offering potential for an original personal statement.

It is a rare student, who after following the steps in this lesson looks at me and says, "I have nothing to write about." Instead the obstacle becomes which stories do I tell, and that is a matter of returning to the prompt or instructions.  

  Writing for College & Career
  Intrinsic Motivation: Writing for College & Career
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Personal Statement Boot Camp

Unit 1: Metaphysical Poets
Lesson 6 of 7

Objective: SWBAT write a personal statement for scholarships or college admissions

Big Idea: How can the college personal statement be deconstructed into a manageable activity for seniors?

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36 teachers like this lesson
English / Language Arts, College Prep, poetry (Analysis), poetry (European Lit), Writing, Writing Purposes, Personal Statement, College & Career Readiness
  55 minutes
personal essay
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