How do you teach the biography genre without it being boring and mundane? You have students choose someone they are passionate about…someone who has made a difference…someone that will keep them engaged for a trimester long project. You also have them become the person, become a journalist, as well as a designer.
The living memoir project was created to cover a variety of writing skills for seventh grade. The following are the components of the project:
Research: Students use noodletools to collect information about their person from websites, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, etc.
Diary Entries: In order to make the memoir seem authentic, students write 3 diary entries from 3 different times in their life.
Friendly Letter & Business Letter: Research is vital to writing these letters. Students need to decide who they are writing to and why while following strict letter writing guidelines.
Newspaper Article: Students learn the parts of the newspaper, how to write a newspaper article, and how to format it properly.
Epitaph: Students use their imaginations to create a “gravestone” along with an epitaph that has a quote that represents their person. Yes, even if they aren’t dead yet, they get an epitaph! Some students write the date of death in the year 3000 because they don’t want to “jinx” them!
Obituary: Students hone in on those journalism skills they learned when they were writing their newspaper article to create an obituary that includes a charity their person would have wanted donations to go to.
Commemorative Stamp: Students have fun designing (and pricing) a commemorative stamp that the US Postal System would be happy to use!
Photos and Captions: Every memoir needs photos along with a description of the event.
My Contributions to the World: This is an essay written in first person, as their biography choice, that describes what contributions they have made to the world. It is a traditional 3-5 paragraph essay.
Dear Reader Letter: This is a reflective piece written by the student to anyone that reads their project. It is their chance to explain why they chose their person, some interesting facts that they learned, as well as the time and effort spent and if they would do anything differently if they were to do it again.
The students are given the components, they are taught the skills necessary to complete the assigned parts, but they are not told how to present their project…it is totally up to them! This year I had a bicycle tire, a powerpoint, a fish tank, a bike, several old trunks, scrapbooks, pamphlets, and even a larger than life Cat in the Hat!
I believe by giving students choice with some guidelines as well as having an open ended design, it allows students the freedom and flexibility they need in order to be engaged. Student engagement is essential to the learning process…it is actually the bottom line…if you don’t have student engagement, how do you have effective teaching and learning?
The theme for 8th grade is simply: identity. Students explore identity through forgiveness and justice, immigration, and making a difference. Each novel, poem, short story, and writing piece is carefully chosen with identity in mind. The assignments were designed to make them question who they are and what they stand for. This year, I had my students create an identity portfolio from all of their writing pieces. Why? Because later in life they will be able to look back and reflect on who they were in 8th grade…because sometimes we forget…
The following pieces were included in their identity portfolios:
Bio Poem: A fun reflection in prose.
Forgiveness Personal Narrative: After reading The Sunflower by Simon Weisenthal, students question their ability to forgive. They reflect on a time when they had to forgive someone or someone had to forgive them in a personal narrative.
I’m From Poem: This poem is based on George Ella Lyon’s piece. Students create their own poems, a collective poem, and a digital story based on it found here.
What’s Your Story?: A creative writing project in which students designed a 3 dimensional object reflecting all of their heritages along with a story of how it came to be.
This I Believe: A personal belief statement essay in 350-500 words. Click here to view the entire project.
Six Words: Students were challenged to create a story in six words using a visual and words.
Make a Difference Project Personal Reflective Paper: A reflection piece about their year long project.
One Thing Photo Essay: In a photo essay, students were asked to be photographed with the one thing they value most.
Bucket List: Students created a list of 50 things they would like to accomplish before their time is up.
Memory Letter: Students wrote a heart felt letter to someone that is important to them with specific memories tied to it.
Graduation Speech: Each student wrote a graduation speech to reflect on their years at Montgomery.
Students had the option of presenting their portfolio any way that they wanted in order to reflect their own personal identity and personalities. I had scrapbooks, boxes, handmade books, binders, suitcases, and even an entire bookshelf of work created and written over the past three years with me. These projects overwhelmed me. When you see all that a student has accomplished within a year, how they have progressed, and what they have discovered about themselves is a humbling experience. Many tears were shed as I flipped through each page. I thought I knew these kids, but I learned something new about each and every student. This was the first year that I did this portfolio project, and I honestly think it is one of the most important things that they have done for me all year. I hope that they will dig into their closets years from now and discover who they were in 2010, what their hopes and dreams for the future were, and are reminded of that amazing time in life when they asked themselves on a daily basis: Who am I?
Each year, my 8th graders write a graduation speech. It is not optional. Everyone does it. Why? Because it gives them a chance to reflect back on their time at school. Some of them have been at Montgomery since they were three, and some of them have spent just one year with us. Each one of them has memories that they have created regardless of the time spent here. It is a time for my students to say what they need to say, thank who they need to thank, and, in some cases, make amends and honor each other. This year, the speeches varied from a symbolic school bus ride, steps to writing a graduation speech, lessons learned, and a heartfelt story about a young man realizing what he had gained and what he was losing. The students are ready to move on. They have chosen their graduation speaker. All that is left is to say goodbye. But, I’ll save that for Friday….
I’ve chosen a quote from each graduate’s speech to create the video above and the slideshow below. Grab your tissues…