Share
Memoir: The Stuff of Our Lives
A unit by Barbara Peardon
"In order to write memoir,
we need to see that literature is made out of
the everyday stuff of our lives."


Lucy Calkins
The Art of Teaching Writing

Author Information: Barbara Peardon teachs grade five half-time and is a consultant for the Outlook School Division half-time. Outlook is located in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada

Subjects: Language Arts; Communication; Critical and Creative Thinking

Grade Level: 4 (May be modified for other grades.)

Length: 6-8 weeks

Overview: In this unit, students will explore the genre of memoir. They will see that writers write about the ordinary happenings of their lives and that their own lives are packed with meaningful experiences and memories that can form the basis of their own writing. Students will be encouraged to reflect upon the significance of remembered events and to keep a notebook of their thoughts and feelings.

Topics for the Memoir Include:

Focus #1: What Will I Be?
Focus #2: Sibling Rivalry
Focus #3: Parents
Focus #4: What is Memoir?
Focus #5: A Treasured Object
Focus #6: A Photo
Focus #7: Emblematic Moments
Focus #8: Tales from the Prairie Pioneers

Objectives:

The learner will demonstrate increasing:
  • ability to use oral langauge to generate, clarify and extend their personal understandings of what they observe, feel, hear and read through personal reflection and interaction with others

  • ability to communicate ideas orally and in writing to a variety of peer, adult and group audiences with growing confidence, sensitivity, fluency and clarity

  • ability and confidence to adapt oral and written language to various settings, purposes and the needs of their audiences

  • respect for the ideas, language and communication styles of others and ability to respond sensitively and thoughtfully

  • interest in reading as a means of understanding themselves . . .

  • interest in reading as a means of understanding themselves and their world

  • ability to adjust oral and silent reading rates to the complexity of the material and the purpose for reading

  • ability to integrate the cueing systems and monitor for meaning during oral and silent reading

  • awareness of, and respect for, the similarities and differences found among cultures, human behaviours, experiences, emotions and ideas conveyed through literature

  • maturity of thought in interpreting and responding to various media and print materials

  • ability to convey ideas using various media

Materials:

Picture Books:
  • A Chair for My Mother by Verna B. Williams
  • Belle's Journey by Marilyn Reynolds
  • Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton
  • Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner
  • Grandpa Baxter and the Photographs by Caroline Castle
  • Great Grandma Tells of Threshing Days by Verda Cross
  • Hattie and the Wild Waves by Barbara Cooney
  • How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Freedman
  • My Mom is so Unusual by Iris Loewen
  • My Prairie Christmas by Brett Harvey
  • My Prairie Year.by Brett Harvey
  • The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume
  • This Quiet Lady by Charlotte Zolotow
Poetry Books:
  • Hey World, Here I Am! by Jean Little
  • Secrets of a Small Brother by Richard M. Margolis
Volumes of Memoirs:
  • Little by Little by Jean Little
  • Stars Come Out Within by Jean Little.
Novels for Lessons and Literature Studies:
  • Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
  • Journey. by Patricia MacLachlan (Lesson #6)
  • Lost and Found.by Jean Little
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
  • The War with Grandpa by Robert Kimmel Smith
Resources for Lesson #4 (What is Memoir?):
  • Home Place by Crescent Dragonwagon
  • Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson
  • Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles
  • The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
  • When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
  • All the Places to Loveby Patricia MacLachlan
  • Jessica Moffat's Silver Locket by Allen Morgan
  • My Kokum Called Today by Iris Loewen
  • The Old Barn.by Rose Miller
  • Up North in Winter by Deborah Hartley
  • Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
  • The Big Big Seaby Jennifer Eachus.
  • My Great-Aunt Arizonaby Gloria Houston
  • I Have a Sister; My Sister is Deaf by Jeanne Whitehouse
  • Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Novels for Independent Reading or Reading Aloud:
  • The Remembering Box by Eth Clifford
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinsonby Bette Bao Lord
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
  • Family Secrets by Susan Shreve
  • Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
Ongoing Activities and Procedures for the Duration of the Unit:
  • students share their writing using Author's Chair, book making, wall displays, etc.
  • books used in the lessons are made available for students to read independently
  • students keep a record of their writing and its status: incomplete, rough, published, etc.
  • students keep all of their writing, including rough drafts, in their writing folders
  • teacher keeps anecdotal records
  • various pieces of writing are selected for detailed documentation of the student's progress
  • students peer-edit
  • students edit their own writing using a classroom checklist
  • students are encouraged to find connections to the unit in current events, books, and in their own lives
  • invented spelling is encouraged in rough drafts


LESSON #1: What Will I Be?

Learning Objectives:

  • Sequence significant events in a reading selection.
  • Identify literary elements - characters, setting.
  • Interpret the traits of main characters.
  • Use personal writing to develop self-awareness.
  • Plan and organize a task sequentially.
  • Incorporate own experiences in writing attempts.

Resources:

  • Hattie and the Wild Waves by Barbara Cooney

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Silent sustained writing
  • Reading to students
  • Discussion
  • Story Grammar
  • Point of View stories
  • " Notebook" (journal) writing
  • Pattern writing Assessment
  • Anecdotal records
  • Writing folder
  • Note students willing to share SSW, journal writing, etc.

Engaging Activities:

  • Silent sustained writing - have students write about what they think they would like to be "when they grow up" or the kind of person they would like to be. Sit in a circle and quietly (seriously) share their thoughts, hopes, fears, etc. Those who do not wish to share may pass.
  • Tell students that the author, Barbara Cooney, has written this book about her mother.

Exploring Activities:

  • Examine the cover and note the alliteration in the title. Predict the setting of the story.
  • Students review the parts of a story grammar and take note of these elements as they listen to the story.
  • Read Hattie and the Wild Waves to the students.
  • Discuss Hattie's decision to become an artist and students' response to the book.
  • Complete the story grammar.
  • Discuss why the author uses German expressions.
  • Reread the book to the students.
  • Tell part of the story from Hattie's point of view:

    o Sunday and holidays with the aunts & uncles
    o Mama's treasures
    o Piano lessons
    o learning needlework
    o life at the summer house
    o moving to Long Island
    o the wedding
    o the opera
    o visiting the fortune teller

  • Students may work in pairs to prepare an interview. One student assumes the role of Hattie and the other of interviewer. Students present their interviews to the class.
  • Discuss the book as an example of memoir. Write about a memory that this book triggers for you in your "notebook" (journal writing). Memories might include family traditions, how you differ from your siblings, your home, your talents, etc.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Plot strands of Hattie's life on a time line. One strand could be the places where Hattie lives. Another strand could be how Hattie becomes an artist.
  • Make a time line of your life choosing events that are important to you and that show what kind of person you are. Write these events into a story. Use the book as a pattern for your writing.
  • The time line might be of one particular strand of your life - how you became a hockey player, piano player, lover of books, computer whiz, etc.


LESSON #2: Sibling Rivalry

Learning Objectives:

  • Explore writing models and patterns.
  • Determine an appropriate format for writing.
  • Participate in class and small group discussions.

Resources:

  • Poem: "All My Hats" from Secrets of a Small Brother by Richard J. Margolis
  • The Pain and the Great One. Judy Blume

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Brainstorming
  • Reading to students
  • Reading logs
  • Pattern Writing
  • Writing Workshop
  • Book sharing
  • Discussion Assessment
  • Memoir reading record
  • SSR to be used throughout the unit
  • Writing Record for memoir to be used throughout the unit

Engaging Activities:

In small groups brainstorm advantages and disadvantages of (1) having older brothers or sisters (2) having younger brothers or sisters (3) being the only child (4) being the oldest (5) being the youngest. Each group could have a different topic.

Exploring Activities:

  • Read "All My Hats" to the students.
  • Students write their responses to the poem in their reading log. Students could discuss the poem in small groups.
  • Read The Pain and the Great One to the students.
  • Students could sit in a circle and orally share memories triggered by the book.
  • Writing Workshop - allow students time to write about their families - perhaps write their "secret" feelings. Students may choose to write a poem, story, or "notebook" (journal) entry.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Examine the pattern of "All My Hats" and follow this pattern to write a poem.
  • Book share Judy Blume novels. Students could prepare talks about novels they have read. Make these novels available to the students to read during SSR. Students could keep a reading log of memories triggered by these novels.


LESSON #3: Parents

Learning Objectives:

  • Tell and retell personal experiences.
  • Express ideas and feelings with increasing clarity, fluency and sentence variation.
  • Share personal thoughts, feelings and images evoked by literary selections.

Resources:

  • My Mom is so Unusual. Iris Loewen.
  • "About Loving" from Hey World, Here I Am! by Jean Little.
  • How My Parents Learned to Eat. Ina R. Friedman

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Discussion
  • Read to students
  • Personal writing Assessment
  • Writing Folder
  • Anecdotal records
  • Checklist to show participation
  • Writing Record for memoir

Engaging Activities:

  • Think-pair-share: How can you show someone (best friend, parent, relative, etc.) that you care about them? Students should write their thoughts, then share their ideas with a partner. This may be followed by a whole class discussion.

Exploring Activities:

  • Read My Mom is so Unusual to the students.
  • Discuss and list how the mother and daughter show that they care for each other.
  • Read "About Loving" to the students. Compare to My Mom is so Unusual. Discuss and list how this family shows that they care for each other.
  • Write about a scene from your own life that shows feelings of caring. Perhaps think of a special experience you've had with your parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, friends, etc. Lucy Calkins in The Art of Teaching Writing suggests the following starters: 

                              o I remember ...
                              o Once, when I was young ...
                              o One time, a long time ago ...
                              o In my family, we usually ...
                              o He/she remembers ...

Lesson Extensions:

  • Read chapter one of Little by Little by Jean Little. Then write about a scene from your own life. Read other published memoirs and write about your own memories.
  • Read Little by Little or Stars Come Out Within by Jean Little to the students - use literature to ignite memories. Students could write in response one day and tell stories in response the next. Students could tell stories in a class circle (pass an imaginary microphone), small groups, or pairs.
  • Read How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman and respond in one of the ways described above.
 


LESSON #4: What is Memoir?

" A memoir is not what happens but the person to whom things happen."
                                                         
                                                                               Virginia Woolf

Learning Objectives:

  • Attempt and practice reading behaviors.
  • Recognize a literary genre: memoir.
  • Develop a tentative outline to guide informationg gathering.
  • Share information.

Resources:

  • Use a variety of picture books that are possibly memoir.

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Brainstorming
  • Discussion
  • Display
  • Research
  • Categorizing Assessment
  • Cooperative Group Learning rating scales:
  • Teacher Assessment
  • Group Assessment
  • Student's Reading Record for memoir

Engaging Activities:

  • Brainstorm characteristics of memoir.
  • Discuss and display definitions for memoir.

    o Virginia Woolf: "A memoir is not what happens, but the person to whom things happen."
    o William Zinsser: "Memoir is a window into a life."
    o Jean Little: "Memoir is not the whole head of hair but one or two strands of hair."
    o Lucy Calkins: "Our memoir will come not only from our memories but also from our imaginations."
    o Gage Canadian Dictionary: "mem-oir (mem' war or mem' wor) n. a record of a person's own experiences." Students could rewrite these in "kid language".

Exploring Activities:

  • Small groups read picture books to determine if they would qualify as memoir.
  • Help students plan a guide sheet for their research. Students should also find out the different kinds of memoir.
  • Students share their research findings with another group or the whole class.
  • Brainstorm and chart the kinds of memoir based on students' research and books read in the course of the unit so far.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Make a selection of picture books that are possibly memoir available for SSR. Students could write reading log entries for these books.


LESSON #5: A Treasured Object

Learning Objectives:

  • Relate story events to personal experiences.
  • Create personal narratives.
  • Share or display published works.

Resources:

  • A Chair for my Mother. Vera B. Williams

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Discussion
  • Brainstorming
  • Book making
  • Reading to students
  • Journal writing Assessment
  • Anecdotal records
  • Writing folder

Engaging Activities:

  • Discuss favorite places to read, watch T.V., etc.

Exploring Activities:

  • Read A Chair for my Mother.
  • Discuss how the author starts with an object - the money jar - and writes a story around this. What other object is important to the story? (the chair)
  • Brainstorm a list of objects that are important to you.
  • Choose one object and write about its importance in your life. Students might bring their object and read their story to the class. Students might make their story into a book.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Discuss how coins were saved in the story. How are coins collected in your family? Are you saving for anything special? Write about this in your "notebook" (journal writing).


LESSON #6: A Photo

Learning Objectives:

  • Express ideas and feelings with increasing clarity, fluency and sentence variation (orally and in writing).
  • Identify and describe literary elements - personification.

Resources:

  • Grandpa Baxter and the Photographs. Caroline Castle and Peter Bowman
  • Journey. Patricia MacLachlan

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Storytelling
  • Discussion
  • Brainstorming
  • Reflective Writing (memoir)
  • Assessment
  • Anecdotal records
  • Writing folder

Engaging Activities:

  • Make a display of baby pictures of your class. Have students match names with pictures. (Number each picture and give students a class list - write the number beside the name. See who can identify the most.)
  • Each student could tell the "story" of his photo.
  • Discuss the purpose of taking photographs.

Exploring Activities:

  • Examine the cover and predict the story.
  • Read Grandpa Baxter and the Photographs to the students.
  • Discuss how the bears in the story use the photographs.
  • Brainstorm ways that the bears are like humans (personification).
  • Read a section of Journey pp. 11-13 (See The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins p. 408). Discuss how Journey looks at a photo and remembers his past.
  • Do what Journey did. Take one photograph and write about what you see, wonder, feel, remember.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Have students bring photographs or albums to share orally with a group.
  • Write captions for photos taken of school activities to make a display or album.
  • Read This Quiet Lady by Charlotte Zolotow.


LESSON #7: Emblematic Moments

" In writing memoir, we select moments that reveal our own experiences of our lives."
                
                                                                                         Lucy Calkins The Art of Teaching Writing p. 407

Learning Objectives:

  • Use language to develop and clarify thoughts and feelings.
  • Participate in class and small group discussions and collaborative tasks.
  • Tell and write about personal experiences.

Resources:

  • Coat of Many Colors. Dolly Parton
  • Poem: "Teased" from Secrets of a Small Brother. Richard J. Margolis

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Reading to students
  • Brainstorming
  • Discussion
  • Journal Writing
  • Author's Chair
  • Research Assessment
  • Anecdotal records.
  • Checklist to show participation

Engaging Activities:

  • Read the poem "Teased" to the students and discuss. Brainstorm times when someone made fun of you. Discuss how you handled these incidents.

Exploring Activities:

  • Read Coat of Many Colors to the students. * Note the dedication.
  • Discuss how the story of the coat reveals the kind of person Dolly Parton is. How did she handle a situation where other children made fun of her?
  • Listen to the song "Coat of Many Colors" and sing along.
  • Write about memories triggered by this selection in your "notebook" (journal writing).

Activities #1 & #2 come from The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins p. 407.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Choose a single item in the classroom that best conveys the spirit of our class. Share these objects in small groups, asking the others in the group to help us explore ways our object might be emblematic of our classroom.
  • Record specific observations about a single person in our lives - a parent, grandparent - and then tell about that person by selecting one detail that seems to "say it all". Share using Author's Chair.
  • Read the Bible story of Joseph's coat of many colors.
  • Research Dolly Parton (independent activity).


LESSON #8: Tales from the Prairie Pioneers

Learning Objectives:

  • Collaborate and cooperate with peers to participate in dramatic activities.
  • Recognize and appreciate, through interaction with literature their own cultural identities.
  • Describe, share and discuss resources, events.
  • Organize research plans and determine independent strategies.

Resources:

  • a selection of pioneer stories
  • Dakota Dugout. Ann Turner
  • Belle's Journey. Marilynn Reynolds
  • My Prairie Christmas. Brett Harvey
  • My Prairie Year. Brett Harvey
  • Great-Grandma Tells of Threshing Days. Verda Cross

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Journal writing
  • Letter writing
  • Read orally
  • Story mapping
  • Contextual drama
  • Book making
  • Research Assessment
  • Conferences
  • Anecdotal records
  • Drama checklist
    - willing to assume role
    - stays in role

Engaging Activities:

Choose from the following:

  • Invite a community resource person to show pioneer artifacts. Write a notebook (journal) entry about the presentation.
  • Visit a museum and write a "notebook" (journal) entry about the experience.
  • Invite an "old timer" to tell about his childhood. Write a thank you letter.

Exploring Activities:

  • Students choose a pioneer picture book to read orally with a partner or in a small group.
  • Partners map the story and share their map with another group or the whole class.
  • Partners assume the roles of pioneer and interviewer and prepare an interview based on their book to be presented to the rest of the class and videotaped. (Contextual drama)

Lesson Extensions:

  • Interview family members for pioneer stories and prepare a class book of remembrances.
  • Some students could research their family history by interviewing family members and/or using local history books.


LESSON #9: Literature Study

Learning Objectives:

  • Read with comprehension by relating previous experience and knowledge to what is read.
  • Share personal thoughts, feelings and images evoked by literary selections.
  • Communicate personal interpretations of literature through dramatization, illustrations, written and oral language, etc.

Resources:

  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Judy Blume
  • Dear Mr. Henshaw. Beverly Cleary
  • The War With Grandpa. Robert Kimmel Smith
  • Lost and Found. Jean Little
  • Journey. Patricia MacLachlan

Strategies Used:

  • Instruction
  • Book Share
  • Literature study
  • Reflective discussion Assessment
  • Videotape discussions and presentations
  • Reading logs
  • Checklist for Small Group Discussions
  • Student Self-Assessment for Responding
    to Literature

Engaging Activities:

  • Book share - give a one minute talk on each of the novels to be offered (including level of difficulty). Offer one more novel than you plan to use.
  • Line up the novels on the chalkboard ledge and allow students time to sample each of the novels (silent reading time).
  • Students discuss the novels with friends, partners or in small groups.
  • Students write their first, second and third choice of novel on a slip of paper and are grouped by the teacher.

Exploring Activities:

  • Students read an assigned amount (1-2 chapters) each day and respond in their reading logs.
  • Each day the groups meet to discuss the novel. Students are asked to star (*) important ideas in their reading logs that they wish to discuss with the group.
  • When the group has finished reading the novel they choose an activity to present their novel to the rest of the class. The activity usually will require some rereading and writing. Examples: write a script for a chapter and dramatize it, design a diorama with written or oral explanation, prepare a story map with illustrations and captions, etc. Often the project comes out of the group discussions.

Lesson Extensions:

  • Choose a second novel and repeat the literature study.
  • Author study.


Unit Culminating Activities

  • Display all of the resources used in the unit. Students choose their favorite, tell why they liked it, and how it relates to the topic of memoir.
  • Students examine their writing (in their writing folder) and order their pieces from best to worst.
  • Students choose their most powerful piece of writing (perhaps only part of a piece) and read it to a circle of classmates.
  • Invite parents, another class, principal, librarian or others to hear students read their memoirs.
  • Videotape students telling their favorite "I remember..." story.

Bibliography

Calkins, Lucy McCormick, with Shelley Harwayne. Living Between the Lines. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991.

Calkins, Lucy McCormick. The Art of Teaching Writing (New Edition). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994
NOTE: Chapter 24 "Making Memoir Out of the Pieces of Our Lives" is the inspiration for this unit and is an excellent reference for the topic of memoir.

top arrow
 
 
©2003 Barbara Peardon
 
 
« Back to Lesson Plans
« Back to Lesson Plans by Grade
« Back to Lesson Plans by Subject
 
 
This Web page ©2011 Education Oasis® http://www.educationoasis.com
Visit this site's home page »
 
 

 

Copyright 2011 Education Oasis®, LLC.
Curriculum

Assessment
Graphic Organizers
Lesson Plans
Printables
Language Arts
Math
Music & Movement
Reading
Science
Social Studies
Teacher's Calendar

 

Instruction

Beginning Teachers
Classroom Management

Idea Central

Tips and Techniques
Bulletin Boards

Book Central

Book Central
Children's Book Reviews
Teen Reads
Educator's Bookshelf

Resources

Articles and Columns
Sites for Students
Sites for Teachers