Reminiscence Writing Assignment Overview

The following is from the NC English II Standard Course of Study.

Produce reminiscences (about a person, event, object, place, animal) that engage the audience by:

  • using specific and sensory details with purpose.
  • explaining the significance of the reminiscence from an objective perspective.
  • moving effectively between past and present.
  • recreating the mood felt by the author during the reminiscence.

I am going to state the basic overview of the Reminiscence writing assignment that I have come up with (with the help of a few choice resources) and then my subsequent posts will give more detailed explanations of the steps.  In order for this to be successful, the teacher must model the steps for the students using a document camera or an overhead projector.  The emphasis is on CONTENT, not FORM!

  1. Students will bring in an object from their childhood and do a focused free-write about the memories that the object invokes.
  2. Students will then share their ideas in a small group, discuss, and share with the large group.
  3. Students will take what they have written and write a draft of the moment they chose–the moment that the object invokes.
  4. Students will get back in the groups from step 2 and read their own draft aloud.  They will have to choose a small section of their narrative to rewrite a draft on a more specific level.  Conference with students if possible either in front of the group or personally to better understand on which part of their draft they would like to zoom in.
  5. Students will rewrite their draft and then share it with their small group, discuss it, add notes, and share with the whole group.  Conference again with students briefly to make further notes on improvement.  The teacher will make note of the most frequently encountered problems with structure, grammar, and conventions, and address these with students on an individual basis.
  6. Students will then need to revise their draft making significant changes based on the notes from the small group, whole group, and student-teacher conference.  These notes should be documented and compared in this step so students understand the importance of revision.  This draft should be typed.
  7. Students will be required to share their narrative aloud in front of the class after presenting the object that they chose at the beginning of the assignment.  Students will be assessed using a rubric for the writing assignment.  Since this is the first presentation, the teacher will make note of what students need to work on concerning presentation skills and address those problems for the next presentation (baby steps).  Students will also be given completion credit for each step of the assignment that they complete on time.


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English II Reminiscences

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a reminiscence is defined as the following.

1: apprehension of a Platonic idea as if it had been known in a previous existence (Platonic idea referring to the ideal realm wherein exists perfect examples of all things [ideas] which then filter into reality wherein exists imperfect examples of all things attempting to reach the ideal)

2a: recall to mind of a long-forgotten experience or fact
2b: the process or practice of thinking or telling about past experiences

3a: a remembered experience
3b: an account of a memorable experience–often used in plural

4: something so like another as to be regarded as an unconscious repetition, imitation, or survival

Whew, talk about a complex, philosophical idea!  Get it…idea?  Definition 1 is too complex for the average 10th grader to understand (they’ll have to wait until graduate school for that one), and definition 3 is too simplistic for my purposes in creating a writing assignment.  That leaves me with definitions 2 and 4.  Def. 4’s focus is too much on the unconscious which makes me think of the Jungian archetype and could be broken down in reference to similar archetypes in world literature (since English II’s literary focus is on world lit.), but I don’t see as much of a connection to student’s and their own memories–it’s way too abstract.  I favor definition 2 and especially like the  “long-forgotten” aspect; that allows students to mine their brain for memory-gold.  This is a good starting point for me to begin examining some possibilities for my English II students’ first big writing assignment.

P.S. I hope you got the connection between my post and Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory.”  I especially like this blogger’s thoughts on the painting.  😉

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in defining, english ii, writing


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English II and Teaching Writing

Well, I just found out that I am going to be teaching English I and English II this coming school year.  All of the readings I have been doing about teaching writing will be a lot more beneficial since English II’s focus is on writing.  English II is responsible for the 10th grade writing test and English II teachers are expected to teach students the five paragraph essay format.  The problem here is that everything I have read and, probably will read in the future, denounces the five paragraph essay as being formulaic writing that fosters no real emotions or quality, heartfelt content from students.  The writing test, on the other hand, seemingly could care less about good writing–another dilemma of “teaching to the test.”

I have determined that I am going to try to teach writing with the standard focuses, yet incorporate more process-based conference assessed writing in an attempt to secure a more authentic writing experience.  While reading “Writing as Process: How Writing Finds Its Own Meaning” by Donald M. Murray, I realized that process writing does not have to be formulaic.  Every writer goes through a pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing process, but this process isn’t one step after another for most people.  The so-called writing process is more simultaneous actions that have to be separated for explanation, but they also have to be put back together again.  The problem most teachers encounter is that they separate the processes, but never reintegrate them to create a cohesive, meaningful writing experience.

Murray elucidates on his idea when he breaks down the processes in the following ways.  He renames pre-writing “rehearsing” (15) since pre-writing is simply the stage when the writer practices expressing their ideas. Drafting is then “practicing the writing to find out what it might actually say” (16).  It’s the “physical removal of the idea from the writer” (16).  Revising is the process of looking over the entirety of the text–the gestalt–and asking one’s self, “Is it saying what I want it to say?” (17).  Then, the writer maneuvers the text, reads over it, makes changes, rearranges it, etc. to have the text say as close to what they want it to say as possible.  I have attached the article at the bottom of the page titled “ED191042.”

They key to making this process do-able is how the teacher presents it to the students in little bits.  This is what I need to think about further…

In teaching the process we have to look, not at what students need to know, but what they need to experience.  This separates the teaching of writing from the teaching of a course in which the content is produce by authorities–writers of literature, scientists, historians–and interpreted by textbooks and teachers.  The writing teacher has no such content. (24)

     Murray, Donald M.. “Writing as Process: How Writing Finds Its Own Meaning.” Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition. Ed. Timothy R. Donovan and Ben W. McClelland. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1980. Digital.


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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in english ii, testing, writing


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Defining Personal Narrative/Memoir

I would like to build my next lesson from the Introduction Interviews that I wrote about in my previous post.  Students will have experienced someone writing about them, now they can write about themselves.  I teach English I (freshman English) and English III (junior English); English I requires students to write a personal narrative and English III requires students to write a memoir.  My first question is, what is the difference between a personal narrative and a memoir?  From my experiences, I have come up with the following characteristics.

Personal Narrative
1.  written by emerging writers who are just getting to know themselves through writing
2.  written about a moment in the writer’s life that reveals something important about the writer
3.  focuses on practicing using writing conventions such as description and narrative
4.  experiments with voice and attempts to make a writer’s personal voice clearer

1.  written by students who have some prior writing experience
2.  written about a few moments in a writer’s life that all express the same theme
3.  writing about these moments will, hopefully, help make more clear to the writer their own personal philosophy about life
4.  focuses on polishing and honing writing skills by conveying emotion and real, heartfelt feelings through words

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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in english i, english iii, writing


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Student Introductions Interview

I got this lesson from Community of Writers by Steven Zemelman and Harvey Daniels.  It’s a great book and I recommend it for any high school teacher who plans on teaching writing in some capacity.

I usually introduce myself on the first day of school by explaining that I have a family, that I read a lot, and I describe by education and experience.  I then have students write me a one page letter introducing themselves to me.  I hate to say it, but these letters contain surface content and are a daunting, redundant read.  I try to respond to “I love my boyfriend,” “I hate English,” “I go hunting with my Paw Paw,” etc. in meaningful ways, but sometimes it seems as though students don’t genuinely know enough about themselves to write a deep, meaningful letter.  Or maybe they don’t feel comfortable sharing real things about themselves to a stranger they just met (me).  Or maybe they just don’t care enough about the assignment to think that I do…because I don’t.  They aren’t stupid.  Regardless, when I found this lesson in Community of Writers, I thought it great.  Maybe it will solve some of those introductory jitters and help our class become more of a “community” than a group of individuals forced into being together.  If I have learned anything from the afore mentioned book, it’s that, in order to create a community in the classroom, one must start on day one and must never give up on it.

Students will be expected to interview another student in the class on the subject of identity.  The Merriam-Webster definition for identity is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

Step 1: Students will brainstorm questions individually in their notebook that they would ask someone if they wanted to find out more about who they are and what they think of themselves.  These questions will need to attempt to dig deeper than the surface content that I mentioned earlier.  I will explain this to the students.  In my opinion, one of the best ways to get students to move past meaningless content is to be pen in stating what is expected and what is not wanted.
Step 2:  Share questions on the board that students have written and narrow them down to the questions that will foster the most meaning and eliminate redundancies.
Step 3: Randomly assign students pairs.  Students will need to choose from the list of questions compiled by the class and ask their partner the questions.  Students can also add more questions if need be or if the interviewee’s answers facilitate further questioning.  They need to understand that they are not restricted to the list of questions.  They will also need to document the answers to the questions asked since they will be writing about this person later.
Step 4: Write one paragraph introducing the person to the group.  This paragraph needs to express something unique about the interviewee and the content needs to ensure that we, as a class, are getting closer to that person in some meaningful way.
Step 5: Students will share their paragraphs randomly one at a time with the group.  The will need to make sure that they speak loud enough for the class to hear.
Step 6: After sharing, students will refer back to their questions and answers and write a more in-depth one page typed introduction of the person.
Step 7: Revision and editing from here on out is up to the teacher and the circumstances.  I would have the student and their interviewee exchange papers, mark anything that seems unclear or confusing and have the student make revisions based on the suggestions from their partner.  Since this is an activity presented so early in the semester, don’t expect polished perfection from these introductions.  Content is what matters here.
Step 8: Students will be expected to have a one page typed, double-spaced Times New Roman font paper with a small picture of the student whom the introduction is about.  These papers should be displayed somehow–maybe they could be posted on a bulletin board in the room for all students to see.

Hopefully, everyone will understand more about each other and will also have developed some valuable partner-work skills and will also have practice writing.

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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in classroom management, writing


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Interactive Class Rules Lesson

The first day of school is always a tough day for me.  I introduce myself briefly, read over the syllabus (boring), and impress my class rules and consequences upon the students in my class.  This standard first day tends to put half of the students to sleep and anger and alienate the other half…suffice to say, it doesn’t work.

I have been reading quite a lot about collaborative learning, namely Community of Writers by Steven Zemelman and Harvey Daniels, and the readings have inspired a different approach to the first day.  I have, in the past, been resistant to the idea of my students assisting in the class rules drafting process, the main reason being that I like to print my rules on the syllabus I give them in class.  This is a stupid reason; however, it seems to get me every time.  This year, I’m going to try something different.

I will save introductions for the second day, since class rules must first be established to foster a community learning environment before beginning my personal introductions lesson.

The lesson will be sequenced as follows.  I will present a question to the students in the class, allow them a few minutes (3-5) to respond to the question, and we will go around the room sharing our ideas aloud.  I will document these ideas on the board for further reflection in an attempt to develop a few key classroom rules.

Question 1:  What is my role as your teacher and what is your role as the student?
Question 2: What is the purpose of you being in this class?  In school?
Question 3: What is an understood goal of this class?  Of school?
Question 4: Why do we have rules in a classroom?  What would happen if there were no rules in a classroom?
Question 5: What are some major problems that you have noticed, in your past as a student, in the classroom which distract you?
Question 6: What are some solutions to those problems?

Upon sharing our ideas and solutions to problems encountered in the classroom, we will develop a list of about 5 or 6 rules (no redundancies) that students can fill in on their syllabus.  I will then print the rules and post them for all students to see for the rest of the semester.  Hopefully, when students break a rule, I can refer back to the fact that we all developed these rules together and name some of the reasons those rules were developed.  This is intended to personalize classroom rules in order to keep students engaged and involved in their own behaviors.

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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in classroom management


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