Tag Archive for Why I Write

Twitter: Memoirs & Personal Narratives

Every Fall students accost me in the classroom, on the way to lunch and even exiting the bathroom.  They clutch college application essays that they beg me to read.  I’m usually not the first teacher they approach.  They want as many opinions as possible.  They’re terrified their writing is not any good.  Often, it is not.

It worries me that for some the personal statement is the first meaningful personal writing they’ve been asked to do.  It worries me, as well, that they struggle to understand that the essays we read by Amy Tan, David Sedaris, Joan Didion, George Orwell, Dave Barry, and Garrison Kellior are supposed to be professional “models” for them as to mimic.

In light of the Common Core Standards for Writing, everyone from 6-12 is expected to have varying exposure, practice and expectation when it comes to constructing personal narratives.  Some colleges even ask that students construct an application essay that begins in the middle of their imagined autobiography. Twitter is the perfect avenue for narrative writing and opening line practice because it is only 140 characters.  Often the more “space” the more unwieldy.  Consider working on these skills with any personal essays, narrative non-fiction, or memoir units you already employ.  Here is a short list of texts with which this type of an assignment might be paired.

“Why I Write,” Joan Didion

“Why I Write,” George Orwell

“Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan

Lost in the Kitchen,” Dave Barry

Into Thin Air, John Kraukauer

Hope in the Unseen, Ron Suskind

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

Night, Elie Wiesel

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl

Regardless of the type of memoir or narrative have students complete a style analysis for these authors and/or themselves. Then, task them with writing the opening line(s) to their own story—in 140 characters.  Everything must be grammatically perfect.  No abbreviations or missing punctuation marks.

Tweet Exercise-Revise, Rewrite, Reconsider 

Ask that students take their original tweet and follow the steps below.

Tweet #1: Have students use the 140 characters however they desire.

Tweet #2: Take the content of tweet #1 and revise it creating two engaging sentences.   You must use a punctuation mark (-, :, ; ) of interest.

Introduce students to 6 Word Memoirs.  While you’ll have to pick and choose the “memoirs” you think best, consider having them listen to NPR’s story about the purpose behind the project. Use this as the final step before Tweet #3. 

Tweet #3: Take the content of the tweet #2 and make it three sentences.  The first of those sentences must follow the format of Smith Magazine’s 6 Word Memoir.  The other two must further the engagement you’ve created with your audience as a result of sentence #1.

 

Tomorrow: Twitter as Research Tool

Radiolab: “Words”

As English teachers we deal in words.  Every day I want more words, better words, more meaningful words. I want my students to feel the same way.  I want them to linger over Hemingway’s use of the word “nada” in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” and pour over all the description of the “courtesy bay” between Fitzgerald’s dashes.

It’s not that simple.

While you can teach a series of pieces that talk about the significance of words and writing (William Hazlitt’s “On Familiar Style,” “Why I Write” by Joan Didion, “Politics and the English Language,“ by George Orwell or Stephen King’s On Writing) students still struggle to synthesize the importance and effect of language.

Enter Radiolab and the program entitled “Words.”   It’s a different angle from which to teach language.  All three stories discuss, in essence, worlds either without language or with developing language.  Whereas my desire is to throw as much language at a student as possible, this program begins with the following premise:  Do words change the world?  Literally.  Does having language change our experience, understanding, and ability to think?

The program is composed of three segments.  Each one is detailed below.   You might choose only one or assign one for homework.  They are powerful, and if you decide to use them, you will want to be able to enjoy the discussion that comes after “collectively” listening together.

I’ve offered questions to have students write/discuss.  A Socratic Seminar using these podcasts as the basis would be perfect. The questions provided could be a starting point. Read more