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Lesson Plan

Family Memoir: Getting Acquainted With Generations Before Us

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Family Memoir: Getting Acquainted With Generations Before Us

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Nine 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Ellen Greenblatt

San Francisco, California


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



After reading a short memoir and reviewing the genre, students choose how to create a memoir of a family member who is at least a generation older. Students first select a family member to interview, and then craft a set of interview. Students create written memoirs, focusing on one or two unifying themes, and can be presented as a photographic collage, a series of panels telling a story, a painting, a video, a musical composition, a sculpture, or another creative way. Students accompany their work with an artist's journal, explaining why they have chosen the particular method of presentation and analyzing their own successes and shortcomings.

This lesson was developed as a companion for The Mystery of Love, a PBS documentary featured in the lesson. For additional information on the documentary and those who made it possible see The Mystery of Love Website.

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ReadWriteThink Notetaker: Using this online tool, students can organize, revise, and plan their writing, as well as take notes as they read and research.

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Speaking of using memoir in the classroom, Katie Van Sluys states: "Through exploring personal histories and rendering these histories public through writing, memoir further connects the lived experiences of writers with their readers. In a classroom context, readers are often members of the writer's class; hence these shared experiences speak to who the writer is and possibly wants to be in the classroom community." (179) In The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative, Vivian Gornick, a gifted writer of personal narrative, discusses how important it is for a writer to create a persona. "The creation of such a persona," she notes, "is vital in an essay or memoir. It is the instrument of illumination. Without it there is neither subject nor story. To achieve it, the writer of memoir or essay undergoes an apprenticeship as soul-searching as any undergone by novelist or poet; the twin struggle to know not only why one is speaking but who is speaking." In this lesson students participate in such a journey as they identifying the unifying themes in their family interviews and compose their own memoirs.

Further Reading

Gornick, Vivian. 2002. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative. NY, NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.


Van Sluys, Katie. "Writing and Identity Construction: A Young Author's Life in Transition." Language Arts 80.3 (January 2003): 176-184.

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