Memoir writing may seem like a daunting task to a fifth grader, but like all tasks, breaking it down into manageable tasks can make all the difference. Before you even introduce your memoir writing assignment, it’s important to provide your students with real examples of memoirs to help them grasp the organizational patterns. In this post, I’ll share how I used the book, The Memory String as a mentor text for my lesson.
Step #1: Learn What makes it a memoir?
I love sharing new books I find especially when they’re new ones from a favorite author. Lately, I have been on an Eve Bunting kick, so this one had me smiling when I saw it on the shelf. The cover drew me in with the sweet child holding an antique necklace. Reminded me of rummaging through my grandma’s costume jewelry when I was young. You can see what I means with the cover, right? Well, it was a perfect choice for a memoir lesson because I was able to share this memory with the children. As I shared it with my group, I paused and questioned, pointing out the way the author developed the small moment, and how the words were carefully selected to create imagery. Truly, it worked perfectly as a segue into our writing plan.
Step #2: observe traits in Memoir examples
This isn’t Eve Bunting’s most popular book, and in fact, it may even be tough to find. If you aren’t familiar with it, here is the book’s summary from Amazon. It tells a family story which makes it a memoir.
Each button on Laura’s memory string represents a piece of her family history. The buttons Laura cherishes the most belonged to her mother—a button from her prom dress, a white one off her wedding dress, and a single small button from the nightgown she was wearing on the day she died. When the string breaks, Laura’s new stepmother, Jane, is there to comfort Laura and search for a missing button, just as Laura’s mother would have done. But it’s not the same—Jane isn’t Mom. In Eve Bunting’s moving story, beautifully illustrated by Ted Rand, Laura discovers that a memory string is not just for remembering the past: it’s also for recording new memories.from Amazon
Step #3: Study the Information from the author:
If you are introducing more than one Eve Bunting book, this video clip of her may come in handy. Students love to hear where the story ideas originated, and this clip is not too long.
Step #4: Point out Memoir Observations:
I truly enjoyed this story, and the children did too. We stopped during our reading periodically to discuss the book, how the author expressed the memories, word used, story elements, and all students were anxious to get to the end so they could write!
Analyzing memoirs helps students recognize the format that they follow, and students see that they focus on small moments in time rather than a lifetime. They noticed that the memoir has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
If you are needing additional examples of memoirs, you might also check out these titles:
- Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
- When I was Young in the Mountain by Cynthia Rylant
- Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges, and
- Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian
Step #5: Explain how to begin Writing your memoir
Writing a memoir with your students can be a great way to reflect on previous memories and celebrate the great things about each and every child. This freebie I put together might help you get started. My students’ finished pieces were very special. One even made tear up a little. I hope you experience the same.
grab this writing resource to use with your students:
This writing set will guide your students through the memoir writing process. The set includes the following:
- note to the teacher with recommended reading
- assignment sheet for the students
- brainstorming topics
- planning your memoir
- drafting pages
- and final draft pages