Helping Kids Write Reflective Memoir Pieces

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During my recent visit to Adelaide I had some planning conversations with teachers around writing memoir as opposed to autobiography. Those conversations prompted this post...

Here are some thoughts and ideas I hope will support those writers interested in delving into writing memoir pieces.

What is a MEMOIR? 
Memories just may be the most important possession any writer has.  They shape what we write. When we write from our own experience it often provides the writing with greater authority and accuracy. We want more than tedious recounts of trivial events. Memoir involves exploration of memories whether recent or older. it is at the intersection of heart and mind. It should help the writer discover more about themselves.

 You need to connect yourself with your own unique history.  When you explore memories in your writing, pay attention to the feelings connected to it.  Exploring a memory includes looking into not only what happened but also how it affected you then, and how it affects you now.

The difference between an autobiography and a memoir is that an autobiography is a story of a life. Memoir is a story from a life - a slice of time.

Consider creating a timeline of your life or gathering some old photographs to stir your memories.  A little stimulation helps...

•Think of a place where you live or have lived, or a place where you have spent time. Create a list of names you associate with that place, such as street names, geographical features, rivers, parks. 

•Include the names of shops, businesses, public buildings and anything else you can think of that has a name and a possible connection to the place you are focusing on.

•After you have finished listing, start writing memories of living in that place, Allow the names of places on your list to enter the narrative you are creating.

•Pick an age between 4 and the present. Focus on being that age and list the names of  people who were part of life at that time, excluding parents, grandparents, and siblings. Think of friends, peers, teachers, grown ups you know through your parents. 

•Write down their names as you thought of them at that time. 'Ms Enderby' (teacher) 'Judy’s Mum,' 'Uncle Brian,' 'Mrs Pack' (neighbour). Now read your list aloud to someone and get them to pick one.  Your task is to then generate as much detail as you can about that person in the form of notes. Then select from your notes to create a written portrait of that person. 

•Write a short portrait of another person from the list you made earlier. 

•Think of a street you once lived on or the street you currently live on. Describe the street in great detail. Mention particular houses, anyone you know, things you remember happening on that street

•Write” I remember” at the top of a page and then list at least ten memories. Start each memory on a new line beginning with the words ‘I remember.’

•Think of someone you once knew well, but haven’t seen for some time. Write about him or her. Here are some ways you might begin :
'The last time I spoke to…'
'I will always remember…'
'My strongest memory of ________'

•Choose a house you have lived in and know well. Draw a plan, showing doors, windows,  pieces of furniture.  Ask someone else to place an “X” in one room . Write a description of that room paying attention to your senses in your description. 

•Tell the story of one particular vacation, narrating it in the present tense.

•Now rewrite the narrative you have just completed, but this time write it in the past tense. Make changes to the text, where you believe changes are necessary to suit the tense you are writing in.

•Write down the words “If only I had…” and see what story those particular words suggest. Now write that memoir, including how it would have been different if only you had…

•Think of a family story you have told or have heard told many times. Make notes about it and decide what the theme of the story is. Then write the story  leaving nothing out. Do not stray from the theme.

• Emotions matter. As writers we must allow the reader to feel some sense of the experience we had in order to feel similar emotions, so employing the show don't tell craft strategy is important. Write about a time in your life when you felt extremely proud of yourself or someone else

•Write about a time in your life when you felt disappointed by your own actions or those of someone else. What would you do differently if you had that time over?

In a project like this it is imperative for the writer to carry their writer's notebook with them. Ideas come at anytime and anywhere. Unless they are captured in a notebook, the likelihood of them escaping is quite high
Here are some memoir texts suitable for young writers:

Ten Pound Pom, Carol Wilkinson & Liz Anelli
Marshfield Dreams, Ralph Fletcher
Knots In My Yo Yo String, Jerry Spinelli
Land's Edge -A Coastal Memoir, Tim Winton
Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai
The Adventures Of The Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson

Some titles from my library:

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  1. Thank you Allan. Very interesting ideas that I will take on board this term. I was sorry to miss you.

    1. Glad you found this post of value Jamie. It was written in direct response to the conversations with your colleagues. I had a great day with the young authors of Brighton (as usual). I hope this term proves a great one for all at Brighton. Cheers.


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