Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Slice of Life - The Memoir in May

I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.  I've taken a little hiatus from my blog, but I was itching to write about a few things, so I'm back!

     May.   It is the best of months, it is the worst of months, it is the month of wisdom, it is the month of foolishness.  It is also the month full of schedule interruptions and changes.  This creates havoc in my class.  Therefore, student-directed projects are the best way to go for my gifted ELA classes.  For my fifth graders, this means writing memoirs.  The end of fifth grade seems a perfect time for kids to be able to write their first meaningful memoirs.  Younger children can certainly write memoirs, but the reflection piece of a memoir seems harder to teach until they fully grasp theme and a bigger life picture.  Even gifted writers at this age can struggle with this.  I try to help them distinguish between personal narratives and memoir by reading many picture books that exemplify the genre (even fictional ones that have the "feel" of memoir), and talking a lot about experiences that shape us.  Many of my Slices of Life during the March Challenge of 2014 add up to be one larger memoir, so I share those.  One of my students suggested I put them together into a memoir to use as a mentor text.  A future project...

     My students aren't finished yet, but I love their ideas, many of them inspired by the longer memoirs they read for the unit: Marshfield Dreams, Knucklehead, Looking Back, Sisters, Smile, El Deafo, and Woodsong.  One student even took the format of the novel in verse she read last month, even though it is realistic fiction and not memoir, the brilliant Love That Dog, and structured her memoir similarly.  She explained to me how she was moving the poems forward to make a story "like Love That Dog".  I love how kids "stand on authors' shoulders" (Katie Wood Ray) and try out their craft moves.  I tell my fifth graders they can write their memoirs in any format - verse, graphics, narrative(s), short reflections with photographs, etc.  Each one of those format ideas are represented.  It's so interesting to watch what the kids choose.  In addition, I love to read about the experiences kids deem as important to who they are: life lessons learned from horses (I worked with this girl, and we talked about how Kwame Alexander included Chuck Bell's Basketball Rules throughout the The Crossover and how they're metaphors for life - suggesting that maybe she could try that with her horse experiences), moving, lessons learned from mistakes, pet stories, a fishing trip with an uncle when turning 10, memories with a family friend who is so special he is called "Uncle ____", memories around special keepsakes (I read The Matchbox Diary and Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge which inspired her), and more.  Some decided to go back and expand a Slice of Life from their Kidblog posts. 

     This kind of student writing is my favorite.  When they write about their own experiences, it has so much meaning.  It's the perfect way to end the year, making May the best of months.


  1. "When they write about their own experiences, it has so much meaning." It's the familiar advice to would-be authors, isn't it? Like all learning, the more connected to personal experience, the more powerful the learning is. Shades of John Dewey abound!

  2. Today was my last day with any students at all. Tomorrow is awards day and then we're out. I am so sad. I wish I had more time. It all happened too fast. I need to put this idea away for next year.

  3. I real like your take off on the intro to the Tale of Two Cities.

  4. Enjoyed an evening with Janet Wong this week learning about family stories. I'll write about it for Poetry Friday. I love your mentor texts that you mention and the freedom you give your students to write in any format.