The Magic of a Memoir: a stations approach

Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition. It may look like a casual and even random calling up of bygone events. It’s not; it’s a deliberate construction.

~William Zinsser

These activities were designed for Ms. Pederson’s Writing 12 class, and we decided to arrange the activities as 5 stations. Her class came to the Learning Commons for a week to complete all of the activities, our goal was to better prepare them for an upcoming assignment where they would be asked to write their own short memoir. Classroom discussions around the difference between autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs, took place before we started these activities.

First, we started by explaining the first three activities, and then the students had the first two classes to work through the stations in any order.

The first three activities were:

Station 1: Writing Territories: learning more about me

Station 2: Pg 1 The Smell and Sound of Words – article written by Alexandra Fuller, and Pg 2 deconstruct and writing activity

Station 3: My World in Black and White: a photo memoir

Debrief stations 1-3:

After everyone had a chance to finish, we discussed what new things we learned about ourselves, and what things were the hardest to write about. A few students read out their writing activity from station 2, and some of the students shared their photo memoirs (those who were comfortable sharing).

Next, we introduced activities four and five. Again, the students could work through these two stations in any order.

Station 4: Mystery Memoirs

Station 5: The way I see it… 

Debrief stations 4-5:

After everyone had a chance to finish, we debriefed the results of the mystery memoir activity. We revealed the books hidden in the brown bags, I book talked a few of the titles and read a short senopsous of other titles. Some of the students also shared their photo memoirs (those students who were comfortable sharing). Some of the memoirs we used for our activities are on this list, but there are many great memoirs to choose from. The only activity that we would revamp next-time would be the Smell and Sound of Words; it was far too easy for the students so we would find a more sophisticated passage. Overall, the students had fun with the activities, and some discovered memoirs they wanted to read. How do you teach students to embrace the Memoir? I would love to hear your ideas!

 “Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained.”

~Thomas M. Cirignano


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