Memoir Writer's Workshop

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Objective

Using lines of inspiration from Bad Boy, SWBAT begin drafting their own one-page memoirs.

Big Idea

Making memories matter through effective narrative techniques.

Vocabulary Debrief ("Sonny's Blues")

10 minutes

Since I was not able to fully review the unfamiliar vocabulary words that my students were to mark as we read the excerpt from James Baldwin's story we begin with that today.  I instruct my students to take out their copies of the story and to share with the whole group any words they may have highlighted.  As they share, we will determine definitions as a whole group and students can use the margins of the story to jot down definitions.  The most commonly requested words from each class will be included in the weekly ten vocabulary words, which will be reviewed more extensively at the end of the week

I have already identified a few words that I expect my students to share, including vindictively, insular, and denigrate.  If my students do not mention these words, I will be sure to bring them up, as their non-mention tells me one of two things:

  1. My students are more savvy with vocabulary than they demonstrate.
  2. My students did not highlight unfamiliar words as we read the story in the previous lesson.

Memoir Writer's Workshop: Part One

30 minutes

From the vocabulary exercise we move on to the homework assignment my students were to perform, which was to identify two lines from Walter Dean Myers' Bad Boy that they found somehow inspirational.  My goal with this assignment is for most of my students to be able to use the line(s) they have chosen from Bad Boy as a springboard into their own memories, in order to ultimately produce a one-page, typed memoir of their own.

The first step I have my students perform is to select the line from Bad Boy from the two they have chosen that speaks more to them, that may connect more personally to something in their own experience, or the line that simply inspires them the most.  I then have them rewrite the line from their homework paper into their classroom spiral notebooks, at the top of a page that becomes the next numbered assignment in their notebooks (#22, in case anyone is keeping track).  I ask my students to spend five to seven minutes writing an explanation underneath the line about why they have chosen it, how it may connect to them, and/or why it inspires them.

When they have finished writing, I ask for volunteers to share their lines and their responses with the whole group.  As they share, I listen for entry points into my students' own memories, asking questions such as "Did your lines remind you of something in your own life?" and/or "Do you have experience with something similar?"

I next explain to my students that the writing they just performed is meant to inspire them towards writing their own memoir.  In order to do that successfully, however, I want my students to remind me/each other what constitutes an effective narrative.  This will be their second formal opportunity to compose a narrative, having already written an essay about the worlds they come from during first trimester.

Thus, as a whole group, my students begin to share aloud the elements of effective narrative writing. As they share, I record their responses on a sheet of paper at the document camera and instruct my students to copy down the list as well, on the same spiral notebook entry, just underneath their earlier responses.  In this way, my students become responsible for acknowledging the standard by which their memoirs will be graded, as the list can serve as a rough rubric for them to consult as they begin drafting. 

Memoir Writer's Workshop: Part Two

30 minutes

So now it's time to start drafting.  I instruct my students to skip a line and write the words "I remember . . ." below the the list of narrative elements we have just generated as a whole class, and to take it from there, into their own memories.  I remind them to keep their focus small, on one specific memory, and to consult the list often in order to develop their drafts effectively.  My students are given three options for selecting the memory upon which to focus:

  1. The best-case scenario, in terms of my lesson planning, would be for them to riff off the line they have selected from Bad Boy and into their own memories that the connection to the book has sparked in them.
  2. Option number two would be to simply begin with "I remember . . ." and to launch into any memory that they choose, if in fact the line they have selected from Bad Boy does not summon up a specific memory for them.
  3. For those who still remain stuck (But I Don't Have Anything To Write About . . .), I have "mystery prompts" as option number three, which are random memory booster prompts I found on the Scholastic website for memoir writing.

As my students begin drafting, I am able to circulate and offer assistance and feedback for the remainder of the period (Sample Student "I Remember. . . ").  Before class ends, I instruct my students to develop their drafts to one page for a partner-sharing activity in an upcoming class session.