Memoirs and Personal Essays

Memoirs and Personal Essays

by Rona Meadbh Fennessy

When your middle school class is reading and writing memoirs, how can you include your English language learners in the lesson? What do you do if you have ELLs at many different levels?

In order to include English language learners in this mainstream lesson, try to select books that have been recorded. Recorded texts offer the learner a chance to listen to the text while grasping critical story elements. Have students organize information on a Story Map. This will allow for guided practice when interpreting more complex relationships. The students can then pinpoint problems the characters experience and interview their parents to see if they too may have once faced a similar problem. Interviews with family members can be recorded by students in their home language and then transcribed into a written memoir. Ask adult speakers in the community or peers with more advanced language abilities, to help translate the oral memoir into the instructional language.

Instructional Sequence:

1. Kick off the memoir study while students are reading a memoir such as Gary Soto’s Baseball in April. ELLs should listen to a recorded version of the book while following the printed text. You may want to use a device to slow down the recording to ensure that they can follow. Students with emerging literacy skills can listen without following the text. Allow students to take the recording home to listen again.

2. Introduce the selection to be covered. Pinpoint critical vocabulary and preview the text with your students. Discuss previous selections and set up story map for the current selection.

3. After listening to and reading the selection, the organizer should be filled out in its entirety during a guided discussion.The teacher should write on a transparency that is projected on the wall. Students may want to act out events of the story as they connect their ideas.

4. Have students generate a quick summary of the memoir to synthesize the key components.

5. Students then discuss problems depicted in the memoir and link them with their own experiences. Brainstorm ideas with the students and guide them into choosing a specific experience to write about.

6. You may wish to point out a specific narrative strategy to be > included in the writing

7. Give each student a blank tape and a recording device.Students will conduct interviews with family members. They should be encouraged to interview parents in their primary language.

Students can then share the story with the class. They can play the recording aloud, participate in a reenactment of the story by writing a script or cartoon, or orally retell the story to the class. Finally, the memoir is written down by the student (with the help of a fluent speaker) to be published in a collection of memoirs. The students are encouraged to include specific dialogue in their stories from the primary language. Photographs and artwork can be scanned to be included in the text presentation.

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About the Author

Rona Meadbh Fennessy is a 6th grade teacher at Charles Fortes, Providence Public Schools in Providence, Rhode Island.