Calkins says to begin a memoir study by "inhabiting the genre and living under
its influence". She has a great list of books--including picture books--at the
end of the chapter to help you and your students do this. Have students respond
to the books they read and list the memories keyed by the books in their
writer's notebooks. They can develop these further, and find their kernel for a
A Memoir is all about who the writer "is" -- that's what it should
shout above everything else. It can be expressed through a variety
of genres...a list of questions, a poem, a series of narratives,
etc....She prefers for it to be taught at the end of the year so
there will be a variety of genres that the students have experienced
to use or integrate for a memoir.
A Narrative is a true story (built on a small moment?) with elements
of character, plot, setting, rising action -- all of which could be
plotted on a timeline.
Some ideas for idea gathering for writing memoirs:
**gather ideas from photos (talk about memories inspired by photo, then about
the people/places in the photo, etc.) Suggested using Patricia MacLachlan's
**Make a plot line of their life, focusing on the relationship with their
brother, clarinet, hair, etc. For example, a timeline of your hair could include
your first bad haircut, a bad hair day at school, the time you got gum stuck in
it, the Halloween dye that didn't wash out, etc.
**Gather moments around a particular moment, tieing in older memories with new
**Find the themes in published memoirs, then apply one of these themes to your
Barry Lane's Snapshot lesson would work really well with memoir, as would
Fletcher and Portalupi's "Digging Up Buried Stories" lesson. The lesson on
digging up buried stories would work particular well when writing a memoir using
place as a structure. In this lesson, students draw a map of a special place,
such as their backyard, or summer cabin by the lake. After students are done
with the map (and it should be a rough map, take approximately 10 minutes to
draw). Then students make an X marking a place where a story is buried, where
something happened. For instance, the backyard map may have an "X" by the tree
where you fell and broke your arm, or it may have an "X" by the tree because
that is where you buried your pet hamster, or because it was always base in the
game of hide and seek you played. I generally draw a map and share with my kids
to give them an idea of what to do. I also find it helpful to have them share
with a partner or response group, because
then they can piggyback on one another's ideas. After this, students can begin
writing about their map and its "X's in their notebook. These entries can then
be nurtured into memoir. They can keep their maps for later when they need an
idea to write about, too.
Chapter 25 Literary Non-fiction
Calkins says non-fiction writing should spring from our children's "pockets and
backpacks, out of what they see and wonder about and poke into" (432). When we
have children write non-fiction, we should draw upon their passions, curiosity,
and wonder. Have them bring their collections and hobbies into the classroom.
Non-fiction writing will naturally flow from these.
We should marinate our students in good non-fiction literature. Calkins
encourages us to include the subsets of the non-fiction genre, things such as
brochures, menus, biographies, feature articles, essays, editorials, etc.
Encourage children to consider the context of their non-fiction writing, and
focus on the subset that best fits their needs.
Barry Lane's book, 51 Wacky We-search Reports has some great lessons for doing
non-fiction in a different way.
Non-fiction as a genre study (pg. 436-437):
*Live like nonfiction writers. Use your notebook to gather observations,
details, thoughts, and questions about your subject and the nonfiction genre.
*Listen to, collect, share, respond to, sort through, categorize, and study
examples of short nonfiction. What are the unique features of nonficiton (point
of view, subtitles, charts, photos, illustrations, diagrams, etc.)
*Using a seed idea from your notebook, live and research and write around that
*Look through notebook entries, asking yourself "What will I make of this? How
might I shape this? What kind of nonfiction text might I make?"
*Find and share mentor texts. Ask: "How does this affect me? How did the author
accomplish their purpose? What can I take from this to help me in my writing?"
*Draft your piece, referring back to lessons and mentor texts for ideas.
*Publish in a nonfiction format most appropriate for your purpose.
*Look back on reading and writing to assess and articulate what you have learned
about literary nonfiction.
As with all chapters, there is a great list of suggested books to use in a
Chapter 26 Theme Studies
Wonder: How do you inspire that sense of wonder, of questioning and inquiry, in
your classrooms? Do you have anything specifically and intentionally that you to
do inspire these?