The lesson plans will be similar in that I plan for the students to read, discuss and write. These are separate from journal entries when students write first and may read, share and discuss later. These plans are suggested ways to begin student writing on a personal level.
To show students how two people may look at an event and see it and write about it from different perspectives.
Seeing an Event Through Different Eyes
Read passages from The Diary of Anne Frank pages 12-17 and pages 35-38.
Read passages from
Anne Frank Remembered
pages 85-88 and 113-117.
These passages describe the frightening time of going into hiding, and an evening when Miep and her husband Henk stayed overnight in hiding at the Secret Annex. Students will read all of these passages and discuss them. Since younger students may not be familiar with Anne Frank, it maybe necessary to give a brief background. However, the focus should be on the actual writing and the different kinds of writing private journal or diary and a written to be published memoir of both private and public events. It should be stressed that Anne’s diary was never meant to be read. The journal was Anne’s way of dealing with the terrible events in her life and the difficulties of being an adolescent in such confined and dangerous living quarters. Further attention should be paid to the events covered in the passages and the feelings of the people writing them. When and how are they alike? When do they seem different? Does the time lapse of years in Miep’s case seem to make any difference? Does she seem to remember clearly? Anne’s diary was written almost immediately after each event. Does it therefore seem fresher?
Students will be asked to think about some event that involved someone else—a classmate or a friend or relative—and write it as fully and completely as they can, including their own feelings about this event. After a time lapse of a day or so, students will then write this story again, but from the point of view of the other person. How did my mother really feel about this?
Did my friend really think that this was as funny as I did? Will this episode sound like the same one? In some cases there may be students writing about the same incident. If this happens it will be very interesting to compare stories.
To introduce children to autobiography and reasons for writing an autobiography.
Why Write an Autobiography?
Reading: Chapters One and Two of Russell Baker’s
Who writes autobiography? Do you have to be famous? Russell Baker is well-known, but that is not his stated reason for the poignant, expressive and funny story of his childhood. He gives his reasons for writing about his early life in chapter one as he watches his elderly mother mentally floating throughout time, staying mainly in her childhood. He mourns that he knows so little of her childhood and her family, and wonders about the “disconnections” between parents and children. He is writing this for his children who right now are not interested in the good old days, and “when I was young . . . ” When they become interested in his childhood, he may be too old to tell them.
The first two chapters offer much in the way of discussion besides the reasons for writing an autobiography.
Who of us has not heard when I was your age, I had to . . . or I couldn’t sit around . . . Who of us has not muttered that we were tired of hearing about the dark ages of parenthood.
A photograph of Russell Baker’s mother as a young girl sets off a string of questions in his mind. Have we seen such pictures? Is there a collection of photographs at home, an album containing old family pictures that can set off recollections?
How Russell Baker found his calling—why did he become a journalist? Why was his mother determined to make something of him? How was he compared to his sister? How did he seem to feel about this? Does it seem funnier now to us than it probably did to him at the time? Can the students, young as they are, look back to some happening that is funnier now in the retelling than it seemed at the time? Is the humor important in what they have read of this autobiography? Is humor important?
I will ask my students to talk to their parents about their childhood and try to come up with an incident to write about. If they can bring in a photograph of the parent supplying the anecdote, so much the better, and the students can have a real beginning to their own autobiography, by telling about their family. How much can they learn? How far can they go back? How far back can any of us go? (As I have worked and read and thought about this unit, many stories of my parents and grandparents come back to me, and I realize I should write them down before they are lost.) Can a parent tell about his parents, or better yet, can a grand parent tell about his or her childhood? These are valuable sources of stories for children to use if they are available. I think it would be important for the students to collect and write about as many stories of their families that they can. Snapshots and photographs as they can be found can only add to the richness of the family story.
Writing assignments can also be in the forms of poetry. A word portrait of a relative or of an unknown relative or even of a friend can be fun to do and can lead to self portraits. How do I write about myself? How do I write a poem about myself? What can I say about myself? If this is going to be a writing assignment, students can brainstorm for ideas of what to include—the inside me or the outside me—what do I appear to be like/what am I really like—what are words that describe only me? What were words that described only my mother or my grandfather or my favorite cousin?
To give students further experiences with reading chapters from autobiographies and to encourage autobiographical writing.
Who Writes Autobiography?
Reading: The chapter entitled “How I Learned to Speak” from
Story Of My Life
by Helen Keller.
Chapters one and seven from
Cheaper by the Dozen
by Frank B Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.
“How I Learned to Speak” details the first wonderful understanding the seven-year-old blind and deaf Helen Keller had for the meaning and miracle of language. This happened when her teacher, Miss Anne Sullivan, spelling words on her hand, finally helped her to associate w-a-t-e-r, with the cool wetness splashed on her face and hands. This joy Of discovery led her eventually to her determination to learn to speak a difficult task for a deaf person. This is a very impressive and moving chapter. I think the students will find it somewhat awe-inspiring and Helen’s accomplishments very moving. They will realize that handicapped people can succeed and can write about themselves.
By contrast, the Gilbreths’ chapters show twelve children dealing with a rather intimidating yet very funny father. These children did not have important “big” adventures, but rather very funny, yet ordinary down-to-earth situations, unique only in the time frame of the early twentieth century. I think the students will enjoy these two chapters, perhaps want to read more, and will share the feelings, if not the actual events of the children in this autobiography.
Why should students even try to write autobiographically? Autobiography can tell where you came from, can tell how you got there, what you share with others and how you are you—unique and different.
What are some ways in which students can prepare to write autobiography?
Students can create a time-line. This can serve as a preliminary outline to an autobiography. The students have already read enough to understand the different personal experiences that make up individual lives. Students, aided by their journals, can recall significant and not so significant events that influenced and affected their own lives. These can be recorded both positive and negative along either side of a vertical line that would represent their individual life span from birth to the present. Begin with the left, with birth, memories of parents filling in details, and work along the line. This can be an ongoing process. The time-line does not need to be completed as one project, but can be added to as experiences and episodes are remembered and written about.
Sense memory. This exercise could be done while reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, since her sense memory is so acute. Choose one of the sensations listed. Write an short autobiographical paragraph or scene detailing a memory connected with that sensation: damp cold; dry heat; smoothness; fuzziness; rain; a startling noise; bright dazzling light; an unpleasant/pleasant smell; a surprising taste; a warm, cozy taste.
Use the time-line to build scenes of your life. Write them as a play Or as dialogue instead of a story. Write a story as a flashback or as a letter to a friend or a relative.