Tag Archives: student engagement

Living Memoirs: A Biography Project


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?

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