Tag Archive for Personal Narratives

Weekend Culture: Room for Debate

Yesterday’s post focused on The New York Times’ Room for Debate.  This past Wednesday, the topic of focus included 15 experts, a large number for any NYT debate.  The difference?  They were all high school seniors. Titled How the Future looks from High School, the Times asked these students how they saw their future.

Since this is a topic that directly relates to our students, consider using this “debate” in the same manner as yesterday but with some tweaks.  This is their opportunity to work on personal narratives and opening lines/hooks.

  • Have them read, annotate and create a list of observations from the Times post.
  • Discuss in small groups and/or discuss as a class.
  • Have students take the role of an expert and construct their own short response to the topic.
    • Ask them to come up with an engaging first line.  This is never as easy as it seems.  Try some of the following first:
      • List your top three favorite food memories.
      • Describe a reoccurring dream.
      • What is you most vivid memory from kindergarten?
      • Describe a guilty (and appropriate) pleasure.

The hardest thing will be for them to take this “snippets” and understand that everything/anything they see as important is largely reflective of their personalities and their future plans.

Once responses have been created, add one final step.  Have students “respond” to the “responses.”  You’ll notice that on the actual Room for Debate page it asks, “We hope readers, from high school seniors to senior citizens, will respond in comments: What are the pressures on students at your high school? What are 18-year-olds in your hometown expecting from their careers?”  If you choose to, have students respond to one of the teens who posted their future plan.

If this is too impractical, consider having them post their original response for your class in Schoology or Edmodo.  See our Favorites page for help with these applications.

  • Create a thread for this discussion and have students post their responses.
  • Require students to read and comment on two of the original posts.
  • Ask that they respond, not with simple “thumbs up” language.  Instead they should consider their response as a reflection that demonstrates understanding and thoughtful evaluation without critique.

Writing & Voice: Day Two

Sometimes I forget that students struggle to understand the reasoning behind teaching literature.  Sure, they are very good at understanding plot, but how much of that is a result of sparknotes?  And yes, they are very good at seeing blatant symbols; what else is The Scarlet Letter to most them but a visible discussion about human sin and failing?  Where they struggle is in understanding how texts serve as professional models of writing.  And I struggle to teach them the importance of mimicking good writers in their essays and journals, paragraphs and reflections.

Creating student voice begins by having them blend their own ideas with the style of authors they’ve read.  Finding pieces that are accessible to students is a good place to start.  50 Essays: A Portable Anthology is a wonderful resource if you’re already using it for your classes.  If not, David Sedaris and Amy Tan, both of whom have featured essays in the anthology have works available online.

 

Give students a non-fiction text to read.  Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” and David Sedaris “Us and Them” or “Let it Snow” are perfect for this type of an exercise.  They’re also enjoyable to read for both students and teachers.

These non-fiction pieces are great for classroom discussion since they examine the idea of family.  Have students focus on identifying:

  1. Phrasing and word choice that contribute to author voice
  2. Punctuation that helps to uncover author voice
  3. Details and storylines that create intimate conversations between author and reader.
  4. Engaging elements in the introductory paragraphs and reflection in the concluding paragraphs.

After your class has made a list of unique author characteristics, ask students to write, employing the characteristics of either Sedaris or Tan.  This can be a perfect way to practice learning voice for personal narratives or college application essays.

Beginning Assignment

Mimic David Sedaris’ style as respond to the prompt below. Your response should be one paragraph of 8 or more sentences

Discuss your favorite food related memory from elementary school.

Include:

  • Sensory descriptions
  • Witnesses-Who saw this occur?
  • Exaggeration-but only if it’s funny

 

 

Since creating good voice in student writing means “throwing out” bland sentences, know in advance that this paragraph will probably only manufacture 1 or 2 meaningful sentences.  Use the revision exercise below to work with those sentences.

 

Revision Assignment

  1. Choose the best two sentences from your food memory written in Sedaris’ style.
  2. Reread the Sedaris story (or give them a second story) in order to remember his writing style.
  3. Revise your best two sentences in order to completely create the “Sedaris effect.”

 

You can use this type of exercise multiple times and even ramp up the level of difficulty or change the outcome.  If you prefer argumentative or analytical writing, choose columnists like Maureen Dowd or Charles Krauthammer.  Instead of writing about the personal, have them write about research topics or current events mimicking the style of newspaper columnists.