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Writing a Memoir

Suggested Level

Suggested Applications

Middle and High School History, Language Arts

Students will:
• Understand characteristics of a memoir.
• Identify characteristics of a memoir.
• Write a personal memoir.
• Explain characteristics of a memoir to their interviewee.
• Write a memoir with the interviewee.

Characteristics Of The Memoir:
• A memoir focuses and reflects on the relationship between the writer and a particular person, place, animal,or object.
• A memoir explains the significance of the relationship.
• A memoir leaves the reader with one impression of the subject of the memoir.
• A memoir is limited to a particular phase, time period, place, or recurring behavior in order to develop the focus fully.
• A memoir makes the subject of the memoir come alive.
• A memoir maintains a first person point of view.

Introductory Activity:
Before teaching this lesson, the teacher will talk to students about a special artifact that is significant now
or in the past. If possible, have the object or a replica in hand during this initial discussion. Explain the
significance of this object. The teacher may share anecdotes about this object, possibly including how
it was obtained and when. Allow students to ask questions, even handle the object.

Engagement Activity:
The teacher will ask students to think about an event, artifact, or person who has given them a memory
that they can recall vividly.

Ask students to identify an object that holds special meaning for them. Encourage students to identify
more than one. Ask them to bring either the object or a replica/picture/drawing to class the next day.

Small/Whole Group Activity:
Students will share the memory/artifact—person—event with a partner. Depending on the class, students
may share with entire class.

Whole Group Activity:
Use memoirs of Medal of Honor recipients, selections by Maya Angelou, and other memoirs to read
to students.

After reading, refer to the memoir to talk about the following questions. As class discussion occurs,
make note of general answers on the overhead or chart paper to keep students focused on the
elements of memoir.

• What is the object/event/person?
• What descriptive words, phrases, or ideas does the writer use to describe the object/event/person? (adjectives)
• What memories does he/she share about himself/herself and the object/event/person?
• How does the writer show you the importance of this object/event/person? Through his/her thoughts? His/her feelings?
  Through the details and description?
• What insights does the writer share? (how he/she feels or thinks about the object/event/person now)
• Now that you have shared an object memoir, model for the students on the overhead or on chart paper the kinds
  of thoughts or emotional connections you have with your object. At this point, you need to share the memory through
  storytelling. Literally, tell the story behind the object emphasizing the significance

Individual Activity:
Students will return to the engagement activity and begin writing about their memories. Include the characteristics
from the class discussion.

Concluding Activity:
Students will share their individual memoirs with each other.

Written memoir narrative

Jacobs, Colonel Jack, and Douglas Century. If Not Now, When? Duty and Sacrifice in America's Time of
. USA: Penguin Group, 2008.

Zinnser, William, ed. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1998.

Extended Activity:
Students will work with the person they are interviewing to develop a memoir for that person.

Quote: "Our freedom, envied the world over, was attained at great personal sacrifice — we cannot allow it to wither away through apathy." - Thomas J. Hudner Jr., Navy-Korean War