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Six-Word Memoirs

Unlock Your Students' Writing Creativity!

The simple ready made lesson plan designed to:   • Increase your students’ writing confidence.  • Craft your students' personal narrative.  • Amplify social emotional learning.  • Prompt critical thinking in just six words.   • Recommended for grades 2 through 12.

According to education researcher, Camille Farrington (2013), a strong correlation exists between success in school and students having these four academic mindsets: 1) I belong in this academic community; 2) I can succeed at this; 3) My ability and competence grow with my effort; and 4) This work has value for me. This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standards: CCSS ELA standard W.2.5 and W 2.8

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memoir writing for students

"The day I used Six In Schools was the day my students came alive." Candra McKenzie

When devising writing strategies for students, teachers often find themselves at a loss for how to accommodate their class. How can you make writing engaging while also helping your students improve?

In this piece, we’re going to go over various writing strategies for students, including writing strategy examples and writing strategies for teachers. This is more than just a writing strategies list or a writing strategies for students pdf—we’re going to show numerous writing strategies to help you engage your students and teach effective writing.

Strategies for Teaching Writing

Though your specific strategies in teaching writing and teaching writing activities will depend on your kids’ grade level, there’s a few things that can be adapted to any grade level. Here are 5 writing strategies that fit that criteria!

Use Mentor Texts There’s a reason they say you need to read to write. When students are young and can absorb information, the best way they can learn to write is to read. In addition to encouraging students to read, mentor texts allow you to facilitate learning. Read these books as a class, talk about them as a class (pay special attention to structure and tone), then list what makes this book different. This could relate to how a novel is structured or how educational books feature a lot of diagrams.

Use a Rubric No matter how thorough your teaching, it always helps to let students see what they’re striving towards. This helps them get practice using the right techniques instead of guessing at what they don’t know. Moreover, it helps them internalize the criteria and memorize it better.

Write Collaboratively Writing has famously been described as an art for introverts, but that doesn’t need to be true! As the teacher, act as a scribe while your students collaborate on the piece. Alternatively, you can break the students into small groups and have each group write a story. Start with a prompt or a character, then have your students discuss what should happen next.

This will help students practice writing while also learning new genres, help you create a high-quality model for independent writing, and help connect writing to oral language.

Writing Strategies: Elementary

When formulating writing strategies for elementary students, you’ll need to keep in mind the best practices for teaching writing in elementary school. It’s important you provide daily time for students to write, teach students to use writing for a variety of purposes, and teach basic grammar and handwriting.

With that in mind, let’s look at some strategies to improve writing skills in elementary school.

Use a Paragraph Hamburger A classic graphic organizer, this cute visual aid helps students build paragraphs with a basic structure. The buns represent the topic and concluding sentences, and the fillings represent examples and supporting details.

Use Sentence Starts For young kids, not knowing where to start can be a huge roadblock. Using sentence starters can alleviate this stress. Simply give them a list of ways to start a sentence to convey certain information. For example, you might have categories like “To Share an Opinion” or “To Make a Comparison.”

Writing Strategies: Middle School

When creating writing strategies for middle school students, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First of all, middle schoolers will have the capacity for entertaining complex thoughts and ideas. They may not, however, have a refined ability for expressing those ideas.

Kill Clichés Middle schoolers are familiar with clichés, and often use them in their writing. This isn’t due to a lack of creativity, but a mistaken belief that clichés improve their writing. Create a “Cliché Graveyard” or similar board to encourage hunting clichés. Encourage students to avoid clichés and come up with their own descriptors. You might be surprised with the creative descriptions they come up with.

Kill Assumptions Another common mistake middle schoolers make is leaving off because they assume the reader will understand where they’re going with it. That, or they haven’t thought deeper about what they’re saying. Make sure you emphasize that they cannot assume their reader knows what they mean. Have them explain all their thoughts. Don’t worry too much about them overexplaining; it’s always easier to cut unneeded writing than add more.

Writing Strategies: High School

When your students reach high school, they should be ready to begin writing highly-researched papers with more nuance. Keep that in mind when developing writing strategies for high school students. To get you started, here are some examples to get you started.

Teach Credible Sources The internet is a wonderful resource, but it's rife with misinformation and pseudoscience. To make sure your students are citing credible information for their researched essays, you should teach them how to identify credible, relevant, and objective sources. Teach them what makes a source reputable, and how to identify bias in a source. 

Teach Strategies for Coping with Writer’s Block Due to the expectation for increased independence and more complex subject matter, it’s important to teach your students methods of coping with writer’s block. For example, you could teach the following exercises:

• Try a structured method. Believe it or not, a structured writing method with certain guardrails like the Six In Schools literary activity can help break through students’ writer’s block. • Freewriting. Freewriting helps unclog the creative juices by helping the process of writing get started. Students free themselves from the need for correct spelling, good punctuation, or even quality. They just write every thought that passes through their brain. • Start in the Middle. A lot of times we experience writer’s block because we don’t know how to start. Starting in the middle allows us to bypass this struggle. • Talk it Out. Sometimes the problem with writer’s block is that students struggle to put their words on paper. Interestingly, this problem doesn’t always extend to speaking. Encourage your students to talk things out.

Writing Strategies: Students with Learning Disabilities

There’s many learning disabilities that can affect a student’s writing ability. You’re probably familiar with dyslexia, but you might not have realized that neurodivergent students can struggle with writing, too. Let’s take a look at writing strategies for students with learning disabilities.

Writing Strategies for Students with Dyslexia

Dyslexia is an extremely common disability; experts estimate 5-10% of the population has it. Students with dyslexia will likely have a hard time reading speed, reading comprehension, spelling, and writing. Many of the strategies you employ for your other students won’t be as effective with your dyslexic students. Here are some writing strategies to help! 

• Use Visual Aids The most common and one of the most effective writing strategies is using visual aids. For example, you can use mind maps to help them visualize their ideas and essay structures. For creative writing, you can create infographics for common story structures, having them fill in their own plot lines before writing.

• Use Participation Grades For First Drafts Encourage your students to focus on content for their first draft, as opposed to spelling and grammar. Tell them the first draft is just for getting their ideas down, and editing is for making it “good” and grammatically correct. This will remove some of the stress of writing.

Writing Strategies for Students with ADHD

While ADHD doesn’t directly impair writing ability, it can make it difficult to focus on or engage with writing. Here are some writing strategies to help students with ADHD.

• Use Short & Specific Writing Prompts While you might enjoy giving your students room for creative interpretation, this can be hard on students with ADHD. That being said, you don’t want to create long, rambling prompts for them either. Instead of asking them to write about pets, for example, say “Do you prefer dogs, cats, or another type of pet? Explain your reasoning.” Instead of giving them a long paragraph and asking them to finish the story, come up with a short prompt like “Write about a child who makes a mess while their parents are napping. Consider how they made the mess, what they do (if anything) to clean it up, and how their parents react.”

• Create Small, Diverse Milestones Students with ADHD tend to have a hard time focusing on long tasks, and they have a tendency to procrastinate. By breaking the writing process down into short, diverse pieces, you can mitigate the issues that come from a short attention span and habit of procrastination. Create assignments for outlining, research, writing a thesis, writing an introduction paragraph, writing a closing paragraph, and et cetera. In the end, all your student needs to do is put it all together.

Writing Strategies for Students with Autism

Like ADHD, autism doesn’t inherently impair writing ability. If your autistic students are having trouble engaging with writing assignments, here are some strategies to help.

• Allow Students to Choose their Subject Matter Autistic students are known to take extreme interest in specific topics (the autistic community refers to these as “special interests” and “hyperfixations”). Allowing students to choose topics related to their hyperfixations can increase engagement and focus.

• Help them Organize their Thoughts Another common issue for autistic students is difficulty putting their ideas down on paper. While they may be able to talk your ear off about their essay topic or draw a character for a short story, they may have a harder time writing it out.

Ask them questions about their topics and write down their responses. You can either do this out loud or have them fill out a worksheet. You can use visuals—like mind maps or color coordination—to further help. 

Strategies for teaching writing are often daunting, but they’re not impossible. With this writing strategies list, you can empower your students to learn writing.

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Tiny Memoir Contest for Students: Write a 100-Word Personal Narrative

We invite teenagers to tell a true story about a meaningful life experience in just 100 words. Contest dates: Sept. 14 to Oct. 12.

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Illustrations for Modern Love’s Tiny Love Stories series

By The Learning Network

Update, Dec. 7: We have announced the winning entries.

As we have since 2019 , we’re inviting students to write a short, powerful story about a meaningful experience from their lives, but this year there’s a twist: They must do it in 100 words or fewer.

If that sounds hard, the Style section’s Tiny Love Stories series can show you how. Though our version of this challenge allows students to write about any life experience, not just relationships, we’ll be looking for stories of the same quality as you can find in that collection.

We’re not asking you to write to a particular theme or to use a specific structure or style, but we are looking for short, powerful stories about a particular moment or event in your life. We want to hear your story, told in your unique voice, and we hope you’ll experiment with style and form to tell a tale that matters to you, in a way you enjoy telling it.

To help, we have a step-by-step guide full of advice that is grounded in 25 excellent 100-word mentor texts. Written to students, they can follow it alone or as a class. We also have a forum where they can practice ahead of submission in which we ask, “ What Story From Your Life Can You Tell in 100 Words? ” We hope students will use the space to experiment and encourage each other.

Take a look at the full guidelines and related resources below. Please post any questions you have in the comments and we’ll answer you there, or write to us at [email protected]. And, consider hanging this PDF one-page announcement on your class bulletin board.

Here’s what you need to know:

Resources for teachers and students, frequently asked questions, how to submit.

Please read these rules carefully before submitting an entry. You can find more details in the Frequently Asked Questions section below.

Your tiny memoir should be a short, powerful, true story about a meaningful experience from your own life.

It must be 100 words or fewer, not including the title.

You must be a student ages 13 to 19 in middle school or high school to participate, and all students must have parent or guardian permission to enter. Please see the F.A.Q. section for additional eligibility details.

Your essay must be your own work and original for this contest. That means it should not have been published anywhere else at the time of submission, such as in a school newspaper.

Keep your audience in mind. You’re writing for a family newspaper, so, for example, no curse words, please.

Submit only one entry per student.

While many of our contests allow students to work in teams, for this one you must work alone.

All entries must be submitted by Oct. 12, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time using the contest form below.

Use these resources to help you write your mini memoir:

A step-by-step guide for writing a 100-word narrative : This guide walks you through six steps, from reading examples of tiny memoirs, to brainstorming your own meaningful life moments, to writing and editing your final piece.

Writing prompts: Our step-by-step guide has a related PDF full of prompts to help students brainstorm “meaningful moments” from their lives. If those aren’t enough, you can find many more questions to inspire you in our new list of 445 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing .

A “rehearsal space” for teenagers to experiment: We have posted a student forum asking, “ What Story From Your Life Can You Tell in 100 Words? ” In it, we lead students through a few questions, and provide a few examples, to show them how. We hope that as they search for topics and try out techniques, they’ll post their drafts here for others to read and comment on.

Two lesson plans inspired by Times columns that tell tiny stories: Our main inspiration for this contest is Tiny Love Stories , a series from the Modern Love column that invites readers to submit 100-word stories about relationships. Here is a lesson plan that can help you teach and learn with this column. You can also find short memoirs in the Metropolitan Diary column , where readers submit tales about New York City. Here is a lesson plan and a writing prompt you can use to teach and learn with that feature.

A personal narrative writing unit : This unit includes mentor texts, writing prompts, lesson plans, videos and on-demand webinars that teach the skills essential for any kind of narrative writing. (Yes, they were developed for our original narrative contest, but the tips for making your writing shine apply to this format too.)

Our contest rubric : These are the criteria we will use to judge this contest. Keep them handy to make sure your piece meets all of the qualifications before entering.

Below are answers to your questions about writing, judging, the rules and teaching with this contest. Please read these thoroughly and, if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, post your query in the comments or write to us at [email protected].


What is a personal narrative?

For this contest, we’re defining a personal narrative as a short, powerful, true story about a specific experience, event or incident from your real life.

Because you’re telling a story about a particular moment rather than, say, summarizing your whole life or reflecting on your feelings about a topic, there should be a clear narrative arc — a beginning, middle and end — that is driven by a conflict of some kind that is eventually resolved or spurs an attempt at an ongoing life change. Yes, this can be done even in 100 words, and our step-by-step guide can show you how.

Keep in mind, however, that any story can work. It doesn’t have to be the most dramatic thing that ever happened to you; it can, instead, be about baking brownies with your brother, or a conversation you had on Tuesday’s bus ride to school. It’s all in how you tell it.

And a good personal narrative not only tells a story but supplies a reason for telling it , so that readers come away with a sense of some larger meaning or universal message they can relate to. The best essays often do this subtly and leave room for the reader’s own interpretation.

How can I make my 100-word narrative stand out?

In addition to following the basic elements of good storytelling explained above, we suggest writing your story in your real voice — with the words and phrases you use in your everyday life and your unique sense of humor and emotion — to make your personality come across on the page.

You might also experiment with technique, such as dropping your reader into a scene , using details to show instead of tell , playing with dialogue or maybe even approaching your story as you would a poem to make sure every word (and punctuation mark) counts.

You can find examples of all of these writing moves and more in our step-by-step guide for writing a 100-word narrative, as well as in our personal narrative writing unit .

I don’t know what to write about. Where should I start?

Everyone has a story to tell. Start with our writing prompt “ What Story From Your Life Can You Tell in 100 Words? ” and this PDF of prompts taken from our step-by-step guide.

For more inspiration, scroll through our list of 445 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing that includes questions about childhood memories, friendship, travel, social media, food, sports, school and more. Try responding to a few questions or categories that interest you. You might choose one that you enjoyed writing about to turn into your piece.

Can I have someone else check my work?

You are welcome to get suggestions for revising and editing your narrative, of course, but the work you submit should be fundamentally your own.

Where can I find examples of personal narratives in The Times?

Start with our main inspiration for this contest: Tiny Love Stories , a series from the Modern Love column that invites readers to submit 100-word stories about relationships.

But you can write about any meaningful life experience, not just relationships. For ideas, you can take a look at the winning essays from our Student Personal Narrative Contest from 2019 , 2020 and 2021 . Or check out these columns that have run in The Times over the years, all of which feature personal narratives:

Lives : Powerful stories about meaningful life experiences in 800 words.

Metropolitan Diary : Short reader tales from New York City.

Rites of Passage : Essays that explore notable life transitions and events, big, small and absurd.

On Campus : Dispatches from college students, professors and administrators on higher education and university life.

Disability : Essays, art and opinion exploring the lives of people living with disabilities.

Menagerie : Essays that explore the strange and diverse ways the human and animal worlds intersect.


How will my 100-word narrative be judged?

Your work will be read by New York Times journalists as well as by Learning Network staff members and educators from around the United States. We will use this rubric to judge entries.

What’s the prize?

Having your work published on The Learning Network and being eligible to be chosen to have your work published in the print editions of The New York Times.

When will the winners be announced?

About two months after the contest has closed.

My essay wasn’t selected as a winner. Can you tell me why?

We typically receive thousands of entries for our contests, so unfortunately, our team does not have the capacity to provide individual feedback on each student’s essay.


Who is eligible to participate in this contest?

This contest is open to students ages 13 to 19 who are in middle school or high school around the world. College students cannot submit an entry. However, high school students (including high school postgraduate students) who are taking one or more college classes can participate. Students attending their first year of a two-year CEGEP in Quebec Province can also participate. In addition, students age 19 or under who have completed high school but are taking a gap year or are otherwise not enrolled in college can participate.

The children and stepchildren of New York Times employees are not eligible to enter this contest. Nor are students who live in the same household as those employees.

My piece was published in my school newspaper. Can I submit it to this contest?

No. We ask that your 100-word narrative be original for this contest. Please don’t submit anything you have already had published at the time of submission, whether in a school newspaper, for another contest or anywhere else.

Whom can I contact if I have questions about this contest or am having issues submitting my entry?

Leave a comment on this post or write to us at [email protected].


I’m a teacher. What resources do you have to help me teach with this contest?

Start with our step-by-step guide for entering this contest .

We also have a full unit plan for personal narrative writing . It includes writing prompts, mentor texts, lesson plans and on-demand webinars that teach the narrative writing skills essential for this contest.

Do my students need a New York Times subscription to access these resources?

Students can get free access to Times pieces through The Learning Network . All the activities for students on our site, including mentor texts and writing prompts, plus the Times articles they link to, are free. Students can search for articles using the search tool on our home page.

However, if you are interested in learning more about school subscriptions, visit this page .

Update, Oct. 13: This contest is closed. We received over 12,000 submissions. We will announce winning entries in about two months.

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Guidelines for Students to Write a Memoir

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Writing a memoir at the primary and secondary levels gives students practice in focused writing, developing appropriate tone and organizing ideas. This writing style also gives students practice in using literary elements in their own writing and learning to integrate writing conventions into a narrative. To develop a memoir, students should first learn the characteristics of a memoir. Then, they should create a focus and outline, integrate imagery, sensory details and emotions and finally, create a draft.

Characteristics of a Memoir

Characteristics may be learned by reading other memoirs or by direct instruction of the components of this writing style. Students must understand that a memoir is a type of autobiography. While the autobiography tells the story of the author's entire life in chronological order, the memoir focuses on the memory of just one person, event or thing that was particularly important to the author. The memoir is written in the first person and the writing is illustrated with specific memories of the important person during the author's life. Because the memoir lacks chronology, it is not as clearly structured as an autobiography.

Focusing the Memoir

Once students understand the basics of memoir, brainstorming ideas for a memoir is the first step to drafting. Students might be asked to respond to a photo, music or think of a childhood memory. Then, students list memories associated with the person or events listed. Questions to ask include whether the subject is important, does the writer have strong feelings about the subject, are there stories to tell about the writer's relationship with the subject and will the writing be enjoyable. Once students choose a specific memory and articulate how it affected their life, additional brainstorming of details is required to develop the story. One way to begin to brainstorm details is to list individual events and create notes about each one, including details and reflections.

Imagery, figurative language and sensory description add to the richness of the memoir. Imagery is description that creates a vivid image of setting or an object in the reader's mind. Students should practice describing the setting of their memoir during the brainstorming phase. Figurative language, including similes, metaphors and personification, add detail to the memoir. Students should also be encouraged during brainstorming to find comparisons to objects for use in similes and metaphors as a means of creating an image. Additionally, using personification of inanimate objects allows students to develop description. Adding elements of sensory description allows students to utilize all five senses in creating the setting of their memoir.

Writing a draft begins onnce students have determined a topic and details to include in the memoir. The drafting process should include a reminder to students to focus all anecdotes on the significance of the relationship between the author and the subject of the memoir. The draft should also narrowly focus on a particular time period or phase in the author's life. Drafts should be written in the first person and focus on creating an emotional impact on the reader.

  • Memoir: A Write it Activity

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

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Why Students Should Write Memoirs

There’s a myth that young people write terribly about themselves. Consider the way Washington Post reviewer Jonathan Yardley dismissed Will Boast’s book, “Epilogue: A Memoir,” as “yet another memoir by a person too young to have undergone any genuinely interesting and instructive experiences — or, having had such experiences, too young to know what to make of them.” That’s not a critique of a single book; it’s a condemnation of a genre and a generation.

But it’s a misguided line of thinking — and it’s one that journalism educators in particular should avoid. Rather than always insisting that our students adopt the detached voice of objectivity, we should be encouraging smart exploration of the first person.

Today’s Voice is Relatable

For one, the marketplace demands it. Today’s journalism increasingly blends the personal with reported analysis of culture and politics. Look at Vox , Slate , the Serial podcast and the success of writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates was fired from three journalism jobs  early in his career. But he has become one of America’s most respected writers and cultural critics, winning a coveted MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant last year. He didn’t get there by trying to follow the rules of the legacy media outlets that canned him. He succeeded by channeling his own voice, deftly weaving personal experience with history and traditional reporting.

Even at conservative news outlets, reporters often maintain a social media presence that demands a little personality along with the story headlines. This push to create a personal brand can be stressful for even seasoned journalists , so we need to help students navigate how, when and what to reveal when they’re writing about themselves.

Yet journalism educators are often so consumed with teaching the latest tech skills — video editing, data visualization, smartphone photography, Storify, etc. — that they fail to revisit the ways they teach writing. We need to acknowledge that multimedia isn’t just about learning coding basics and web analytics; it includes a changing news voice that’s transparent and relatable. It’s no longer sufficient to teach Twitter headlines and video editing if we’re just packaging those items with inverted pyramid breaking news stories and newspaper-style features.

Memoir may be an old form, but there’s nothing the Internet loves more than the personal essay . And first-person essays are the perfect vehicle for teaching students how to deftly deploy the “I.” Opportunities to write short memoirs in the forgiving atmosphere of the classroom prepare future journalists for jobs that demand style and personality alongside accuracy and speed.

Immediate Gains

Here’s the best part: Students actually like writing memoirs. Nothing makes students want to write well quite like asking them to write about themselves. They’ll care about a memoir assignment — perhaps more than any other they’ve been tasked with in college. I’ve received drafts that exceed the suggested word count by three- and four-fold. For students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, writing about a meaningful episode in their lives is also an opportunity to build confidence in the value of their experiences and insights.

Photo by Helga Weber and used here with a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Helga Weber and used here with a Creative Commons license.

Furthermore, all those things — the clichéd writing, the insipid observations, the empty lives — that critics like Yardley fear about young people’s writing are mostly untrue. Sure, there’s the potential for self-centered essays better left in the therapist’s office. But those are the exceptions. If you teach at a diverse university with low-income and first-generation college students, you’ll find that your young writers have plenty of life experiences worth documenting. Mine have written about body image issues, grief, bullying and depression .

How to Avoid the Dreaded Confessional

The key to success, of course, is clear guidance. Students need examples of good, concise writing, like the wonderful New York Times Lives essays and Modern Love columns . There are countless worthy book-length memoirs and first-person magazine pieces, of course. But brief pieces like these from the Times help students identify a precise incident, rather than leaving them attempting to summarize their entire lives.

Instructors also need to be explicit about what might seem obvious to us, such as the fact that good first-person writing is ultimately about the reader, even if the subject is putatively oneself. You’ll need to discuss pacing, structure, control, the difference between memoir and biography, and how ruthlessly trimming verbal excesses can be even more important than lush detail.

It’s also imperative that students read each other’s work. There are time-honored advantages to critiquing drafts, such as learning from classmates’ successes and mistakes, and letting students reinforce their own knowledge and that of their peers by participating in the role of teacher. But social pressure is the most important aspect of sharing drafts. Students simply write better for each other than for their professor; the peer audience is a powerful motivator. And when they’re writing about themselves, the pressure to perform is especially high.

So don’t fear the memoir. Make it a standard assignment instead. If we do our jobs, students will write personal essays that do what the best memoirs do: focus on the self as a means to identify with what’s universal in the human experience. In my classes ( syllabus ), memoirs built camaraderie and trust, breaking down social and cultural barriers between very different students. Rather than functioning as an egocentric exercise, writing personal stories allowed students to empathize with others. And that’s a crucial trait for any good journalist.

Vanessa Gregory is an assistant professor of journalism in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi and a recipient of a Literary Arts Fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The American Prospect and The New York Times.

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Guidelines for Students to Write a Memoir

Kori morgan, 26 sep 2017.

Family stories can be a good source of material for memoirs.

Writing about your memories can have a profound effect on readers. This is the goal of a memoir, a detailed account of a significant memory or period in the author's life. The memoir essay is your chance to capture your experience in vivid detail and relate a specific truth you've learned. Focusing on a single idea, crafting a unique voice and developing an overarching theme are just a few guidelines for writing a successful student memoir.

Explore this article

  • There are Places I Remember...
  • Say It Loud, Say It Proud
  • Structural Blueprints
  • The Main Thing

1 There are Places I Remember...

Choosing a meaningful topic will help you effectively communicate the emotion behind your memory. Many people assume memoirs must be about a personal tragedy or struggle in order to reach readers. In fact, you can write about anything important to you that can be portrayed through language. For example, your essay might discuss important relationships with teachers, parents and friends, important places like your church or the house you grew up in, or a treasured possession like a piece of jewelry or childhood toy.

2 Say It Loud, Say It Proud

One thing that sets memoirs apart from other nonfiction genres is the uniqueness of the author's voice. Writer's Digest says voice is your writing's "fingerprint" -- it instills emotion in the reader, adds texture and bold brush strokes to your story and communicates a sense of your personality. Memoirs also give you the freedom to be more informal in word choice and grammar. For example, the phrase "the school to which I went" might be grammatically correct, but it sounds stilted and out of place in personal writing. It would be more natural to say, "The school I went to."

3 Zooming In

You may recall your memory like it was yesterday, but you still need to use language that makes it just as clear on paper. Don't rush through telling the story; instead, slow down and describe the sensory and visual details readers need to picture what happened. If you're writing about the auditorium at your middle school where you did theater, for example, giving a detailed description of the varnished, hardwood stage and red, plush seats can make it easy for readers to visualize. Your writing should make it possible to clearly see the setting, characters and their interactions.

4 Structural Blueprints

Unlike personal narratives, memoirs don't always focus on the plot of a personal experience. They can also piece together different related events or present a clear picture of a single memory. For example, if you're writing about your relationship with your baseball coach, you might describe incidents where he served as a strong role model. Your essay about theater might incorporate details from multiple shows you were in. The key is making sure your essay isn't organized haphazardly. If you cover more than one idea, each should flow logically and seamlessly into the next.

5 The Main Thing

In literature, a theme is the central idea of a piece created through its voice, character development, setting and detail. When you reach the essay's conclusion, step back and consider what meaning it might send to readers. For example, the theme of your memoir about acting in your middle school auditorium might be the magic of theater arts, while a piece about your childhood baseball coach might showcase the importance of having a mentor. As you write your conclusion, think how you can create an ending that impresses this theme on your audience.

  • 1 Writer's Digest: Finding Your Memoir's Voice
  • 2 S.A. Moran: Characteristics of an Effective Memoir

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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memoir writing for students

Just Add Students

Tools to Help You Teach Middle School ELA

How to Teach Memoir Writing

Ready to teach your students how to write a memoir essay?

Here are steps to help you teach effectively and your students to produce a meaningful piece of writing.

Let’s dive in!

Looking for ideas for teaching memoir writing?  Here is a step-by-step guide to getting your students writing meaningful memoirs!

I want you to know that this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small fee from any qualifying purchases you make. You can read more here.

What is a memoir essay?

A memoir is a personal essay that explores an event that a person has experienced. It’s different from a personal narrative in that the writer of a memoir usually reflects on the event and what it means .

So rather than your students simply telling a story of about something that happened to them (personal narrative), they tell the story and reflect on its meaning (memoir).

What if your students aren’t sure they have a story?

I love this quote from Madeleine Albright:

“EVERYONE WHO CAN should write a memoir, whether for publication or just to deposit in a drawer or beam to the cloud. There is drama in every life. Fame is irrelevant to one’s worth and can sometimes be an obstacle to an appropriate appreciation of others. Further, the effort to reflect on our opportunities and choices is, for all of us, a challenge worth attempting.”

―  Madeleine K. Albright,  Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir

Before asking students to write or even think about writing, build their confidence. They have a story to share!

1. Provide mentor texts

Before your students even start writing, be sure they understand what a memoir is. Provide examples to your students . A good way to start class is to simply read a few pages from a memoir.

Don’t forget to look into picture books as a source for mentor texts. These can provide a wonderful overview to the genre.

You can even use memoirs as the text for literature circles or book clubs. This is extremely helpful when you start asking students to add dialogue or description to their writing. They can refer to the mentor text to see examples they can mirror.

How to create and use mini lessons

2. Create an anchor chart

As you share mentor texts with your students, create a custom anchor chart with your class — and add to it as you are exploring the elements of a good memoir.

But don’t stop there…

Make sure your students have anchor charts that work for them. When your students make their own “personal” anchor charts (in a resource book , for example), they will understand the genre much better than they would with a ready-made chart hanging on the classroom wall.

3. Provide time for generating ideas

We often rush students into picking a topic. And students will often pick the first idea that pops into their mind, which may not be the best.

As you’re planning your lessons, allow for a few class periods (at least) for students to journal and brainstorm. This is where reading a memoir or a portion of a memoir comes in handy. Students can respond to the reading and use it as a jumping off point to their own memoir.

Additionally, you can provide writing prompts such as:

4. What makes this a memoir?

As you begin teaching your students how to write a memoir, they’re going to have many ideas.

When students begin to choose their topic, take time to have them reflect on how this topic will be a memoir. What about it makes it a worthy memory?

If a students is going to write about the first day of preschool, be sure to provide a writing prompt that asks, “Why is this something you want to remember and share?”

This is the question that will help students see the difference between a personal narrative and a memoir.

5. Narrow the focus

As your students get ready to write the first draft of their memoir, don’t forget to have them check to make sure they have narrowed their topic. This can (and often is) a huge stumbling block for student writers.

How can they check?

1. Have students create a quick outline of events they want to include in the memoir.

2. Write a six-word summary of their memoir. (Similar to the Six Word Memoir , which you still may want to do, and there are fabulous examples on the website!) Having students summarize their memoir in just six words will help them focus on the heart of the event.

3. Write a haiku memoir summary. Provide students with a recipe for their haiku (three lines, 5 syllables in line one, 7 syllables in line two, 5 syllables in line three). This is another opportunity for students to focus on the heart of their memoir.

4. Use hashtags . Can they write a hashtag for their memoir? What would it say?

5. Create a graphic novel page that will illustrate what happened.

Memoir mini lessons

6. Share often along the way

Build in time for students to share their ideas. You can even use a quick “turn and talk” activity to give students a chance to not only share what they want to write about, but also to hear what another student is planning.

Wow — step 7 is drafting?? Finally!

I like to tell students that their draft is going to write itself because they have done so much prewriting that they know exactly what they want to write and how it will look.

(Need a bit more help? I’ve got 20 mini lessons for you in my shop .)

8. Peer review

Once your students have finished a draft, be sure to have them participate in peer reviews . These can be as simple as reading their memoir to another student.

As students work on peer reviews, they can look at description, dialogue, or the epiphany the writer has had through the event. Peer reviews are most successful when students have a specific task.

9. Publish & share

The best part of the writing process is the publication (ahhh!) and the sharing (yay!). Especially with a memoir, students will want to share their stories. You can have an author’s chair for reading memoirs to the class, or students can share in small groups.

Enjoy this wonderful genre with your students!

autobiography memoir book clubs

With gratitude,

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