Memoirs … Journals… Diaries… 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 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 Class Book

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

Use a variety of memoir-style novels for lit circles. As students read these books, they can gather topics for their own memoirs while learning about the characteristics of this genre. Memoir Lit Circle Book Suggestions

The more examples our students read, the more they will understand the personal narrative genre.

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:  Ideas to Launch a Memoir Writing Inquiry

This is a heart warming, true story of a soldier in Iraq finding a best friend. Animal lovers will connect to this one! The purpose of this lesson is to co-create criteria and play a game focusing on complex sentences. Writing Trait: Sentence Fluency

Nubs the True Story of a Mutt Marine

Inquiry:  Where do commas go anyway?

Nubs the True Story of a Mutt Marine Comma Game


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  


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 Lesson

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 

This is a touching story of a grate dane that befriends an orphaned deer. Set locally in Merville, SD #71 kids will be able to make lots of connections to the deer that nibble in their gardens. In this lesson, students will co-create criteria to de-mystify the differences between simple, compund, and complex sentences. A variety of sentences are pulled from this lovely book to use as models to build understanding. Writing Trait: Ideas

Kate & Pippin

Vivid descriptions make this a must read memoir. In this lesson, sensory descriptions are discussed so that students have a better understanding of how to make pictures for their reader. Writing Trait: Ideas

All the Places to Love

This is a delightful book filled with funny similes that entertain. In this lesson, students are taught how to write similes and encouraged to add these snippets of poetry to other pieces of writing. Writing Trait:  Word Choice

My Dog Is As Smelly as Dirty Socks 

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

The sights, smells and activities at Uncle John’s Farm are the focus for this memoir. Told in first person, Sally Fitz Gibbon uses poetic sentence structure to carry her message. In this lesson, students mimic her use of “ing” sentence beginnings to write complex sentences themselves. Writing Trait: Sentence Fluency 

On Uncle John’s Farm

On Uncle John’s Farm Graphic

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 In on Your Topic

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  lesson 

Given a classroom 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.