Memoirs JournalsDiaries… Personal Narratives . . .

At the beginning of your memoir unit, have students write a memoir and assess using a personal narrative or impromptu quick scale (see assessment tab above for student-friendly rubrics).  Use this assessment to inform your instruction.  As you explicitly teach each mini-lessons like those below, assess again, providing students with descriptive feedback regarding their progress. When students see their progress on a highlighted rubric, they are motivated to continue.

Book Title/Cover Memoir Overview Objective Lesson Links & Black Line Masters
This beautiful book features an opportunity to notice the details in our world and local community for which we are thankful. Students brainstorm a specific place in their local community for which they are grateful.  Sensory details make all the difference in adding to a quality piece of thoughtful writing. Writing Trait: Voice & Ideas

Thank You Earth Lesson and Black Line Masters

Thank You Earth lesson ideas

Thank you to the students in Brooke Young and Debra Fullerton’s class for their amazing class book to serve as an example of this writing activity:

Thank You Earth examples

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela thinks her name is too long.  As her Dad tells the stories of how her name came to be,
Alma might just change her mind.
This story creates a perfect fit between the personal identity element of the core competencies and establishing an authentic purpose for doing some research and writing the story behind your name.
Writing Trait: Ideas

Creating Details: Alma and How She Got Her Name

Number 21 recalls an event in author Nancy Hundal’s life in which her Dad brings home a new truck. Readers are lead on a mini mystery as the truck is used in an unconventional way on a hot summer day. Well written memoirs are based on ideas that have a very tight focus. In this lesson, Nancy’s book is used as a mentor text to model the narrow writing focus we want our students to have. Generating memoir topics at the beginning of the unit

Writing Trait: Ideas       

Number 21 Lesson Ideas 

  A funny look at what can happen if we don’t clean up our spaces.  After reading this delightful book, we ask our students to gather examples of wonderful word choices used by the author of this book. Using a class-made chart, students do a quick write about a messy space in their world! Writing Trait: Ideas ~ adding details  and Word Choice 

Frankenstink! gr 3

If You Find a Rock is one of those books that calms the soul and slows life’s pace to one of careful observation. Take kids outside … to the beach, a river bank or into the forest where they will choose a rock that speaks to them. After outdoor exploration and locating a special rock, students will carefully describe its appearance, qualities and specific use. Experiential writing should not be underestimated.  When we provide students with hands-on memories, they are ready to write! Writing Trait: Ideas ~ adding details

If you Find a Rock ~ Play-Based Writing

Graham isn’t too sure about school and reading is often difficult for him.  When he realizes that the 100th day of school falls on the same day as his birthday, he’s sure everyone will forget about his special day. Do they? In this lesson students will infer meaning from pictures by adding their brilliant thinking and co-create writing criteria. When the rules for writing come from them, our students are more likely to apply the criteria. The result ~ happy teachers and happy kids! Writing Trait: Co-create all traits

 Happy 100th Day! 

Be careful with that stick… or is it a stick? This book provides creative inspiration. In this lessons, students think of different things that a stick might become. This is not a stick, it’s a magician’s wand! Writing Trait: Ideas

Not a Stick Lesson

There’s something in the tackle box. Fly-fishing items are pulled out, described and illustrated in this snapshot. At the end, we find out what is being sought. Building memoir writing criteria together as a class is the focus of this lesson. All Writing Traits

A Good Day’s Fishing Primary

To prevent his son from being injured, mother mouse wraps her son in cotton balls. Will this protective coating protect her son from injury. Adding details to a memoir about an “owie” is the objective of this writing lesson. After co-creating criteria about what to include when writing a personal story, the focus of the lesson and self assessment is about details. Writing Trait: Ideas

Cottonball Colin

Cotton Ball Colin BLM for writing ~ (print on 11 x 17 paper)

Grade 3 example thanks to Lori Mansueto and Laura Street ~ Cottonball Colin Gr 3 Example

When Matt goes out to play in his new neighborhood, all he sees is a boring, empty lot. But with a stick, a little imagination and a few new friends, Mattland is born. In this lesson, students use the Show, Don’t Tell writing strategy to add details to their writing. Writing Trait: Ideas    
I LOVE this book! By putting art first, students are motivated to write about a time they felt … happy, confused, furious, shocked, afraid, proud, jealous etc.Buy some vibrant chalk pastels, and raid your artroom for black construction paper and you’re set! In this lesson, you’ll share the book Happy written by Mies Van Hout, then students will create some vibrant pictures with fishy emotions, and write about a time they felt this way. I love reading about the lives of my students and hope you will too! Writing Trait:  Ideas (details)


(leads and endings)


Be sure to have a discussion with your students about the rich message conveyed in this relatively simple picture book. Students will be using their brain as they infer the author’s profound message. I’m always looking for books that allow kids to play.  This one is perfect in that regard!  After reading, have students build a device that would get a bird from one side of the river to another. Afterwards, have them write a memoir about their experience or do a procedural write in which they retell the steps they followed to build their contraption.  

Writing Trait: Ideas  & Organization

Ten Birds


Granpa has magical explanations for ordinary things – a frosty window-pan, dewdrops sparkling on the grass, even his own bald head – and Granpa never lies. In this lesson, students listen for the kinds of details that writers include that other people tend to miss. Teacher and students co-construct criteria about adding details to a their writing. Writing Trait: Ideas

Grandpa Never Lies

When father and daughter go owling, they connect with each other and their environment. Jane Yolen uses vivid description to retell this event. In this lesson, students look at the author’s use of the senses as a means to elaborate … to add details. Writing Trait: Ideas  

Owl Moon

When Amelia has to move, her mother gives her a notebook to record her thoughts and feelings in hopes it will make her feel better. Increase writing engagement by inviting students to doodle and add momentos to their own writing notebook ala Amelia.
A father retells a childhood event to his daughter. This book may be used to generate memoir topics – life’s lessons learned. Pages also contain clear examples of paragraphing. Have students use attached pages to write “When to start a new paragraph rules.” Writing Trait: Ideas

Use this book to brainstorm “life’s lessons learned.” This topic has the potential to fuel many memoirs.

Writing Trait: ConventionsWhen To Start a New Paragraph
Author Lois Lowry recalls the return of her father from the war. They spend a special day together getting to know one another and calling the crows. Don’t miss the picture on the last page. Great writing contains a mixture of short, medium and long sentences. In this lesson, students use Lowry’s text as a model and try some of their own. Writing Trait: Sentence Fluency

Crow Call  Sentence Length Awareness

Writing Trait: Word Choice

Crow Call descriptive words


During hard times, when Grandad moves out, Timmerman moves in. But is he trustworthy? When Timmerman is seen late at night, rumours start to fly. A surprising ending, reveals the answer. The lead sentence in this book creates a little mystery. In this lesson, students will learn a variety of ways to write lead sentences. Can leads become artful endings? Read through the lesson to find out! Writing Trait: Organization

Timmerman Was Here

Fletcher shares all sorts of suggestions to help writers tell their life stories. With quick lines such as, “Write small. I’m talking details here.” he shares humorous insights about his craft. A great read aloud during a memoir writing unit. Share knowledge of the writer’s craft. This book contains lots of ideas to turn into explicit mini-lessons. Collect family stories – page 10
Gather life’s artifacts – page 12

Sketch a map of your neighborhood (pg.13) or your heart (pg. 18)

Find a focus – page 27

Write small – page 46

Inside/outside of a character – page 54

From the first line of text, you just know this book is loaded with voice! Sophie Peterman has a lot to say about baby brothers. Will her opinion change as she gets to know the newest member of the family? In this lesson, students learn about voice by assessing voice in sample pieces of text. Writing Trait: Voice
Sophie Peterman Lesson

Sophie Peterman Voice Rubric

This is a wordless picture book with hilarious photos of food. Use the photos as a means to gather details in a kid-friendly way. Use the Show, Don’t Tell strategy to describe emotions. In this example “mad” is analyzed. Writing Trait: Ideas
Food Play Lesson
This is another wordless picture book. It begins with a close-up view and gradually takes in more of the scene. When the pictures in this book are viewed backwards – from the last page to the first- it becomes a great zoom in on your topic lesson. Writing Trait: Ideas

 Zoom Lesson Idea

Told from the perspective of a baby who loves to write, this book will make you laugh! After hearing this book read aloud, students will write in role pretending they are a baby examining the world around them. Writing Trait: Ideas

Born Yesterday Diary of Young Journalist

Given a classrooom writing assignment, all the other students seem to have things to write about. Author Janet Wong shares ideas to turn everyday events into personal stories worth telling. Use as a read-aloud. Writing Trait: Ideas

Simply create a class chart listing some of Wong’s advice.