Here is my demo from GNOWP 2007.
Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!
Alphabiography: A Stepping Stone to Writing Memoir
“Why do I write? Perhaps in order not to go mad. Or, on the contrary, to touch the bottom of madness. Having survived by chance, I am duty-bound to give meaning to my survival.”
“Memoirs are the genre of our decade.”
“A memoir is not what happens, but the person to whom things happen.”
Children write best when they write what they know. They know themselves the best of all. So, when we ask children to write, we should ask them to write about what is comfortable, themselves and their lives. The alphabiography format gives them a tool to focus their writing in a way that gives them some freedom to explore their lives through “life lessons.” Since the alphabiography is a structured format for writing, the student has choice in what parts of their lives that they want to write about. They can choose to write about what is safe to them in certain areas and explore deeper thought in others. The life lessons at the end of each letter tie the alphabiography together. In this matter, an alphabiography is like a memoir. Instead of being a general biography/autobiography of the child’s life, the child is giving insight into how the decisions, actions, feelings, or thoughts associated with that particular letter made an impact on the child’s life.
Stream of Curriculum:
The concept of alphabiography is taken from author James Howe’s novel Totally Joe, so through read alouds and literature circles the students would read the novel to get an idea of the tone and voice that the alphabiography carries. This would take a period of about three weeks. Exposure to other memoirs would also occur through read alouds or through self-selection. Some choices would include: Elie Wiesel’s Night, Walter Dean Myers’ Bad Boy, Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, Cynthia Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains and When the Relatives Came, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings. After sharing excerpts from some of these memoirs, we would classify the tone and voice of the author, so as to determine who our audience would be. Personal narratives would have been written earlier in the year, so we would distinguish between writing for different audiences. Memoirs are a transition from the personal narrative. Whereas a personal narrative tells about a timeline of a certain event; the memoir tells about the significance and importance of the events to the writer.
Nancie Atwell states that, “Memoir is how writers look for the past and make sense of it. We figure out who we are, who we have become, and what it means to us and to the lives of others: a memoir puts the events of a life in perspective for the writer and for those who read it. It is a way to validate to others the events of our lives- our choices, perspectives, decisions, responses.” – In the Middle (p 372)
Lucy Calkins, in Living Between the Lines, says, “The purpose of (their) personal narratives has been to report the chronological details of an event. But the purpose of memoir is to explore the significance of those events.” (p 166)
In the “NCTE Beliefs About the Teaching of Writing” from November 2004 it was stated that, “In any writing classroom, some of the writing is for others and some of the writing is for the writer. Regardless of the age, ability, or experience of the writer, the use of writing to generate thought is still valuable; therefore, forms of writing such as personal narrative, journals, written reflections, observations, and writing-to-learn strategies are important.”
Organize individual paragraphs with topic sentences, relevant elaboration, and concluding sentences (ELA‑2‑E1)
Identify an audience for a specific writing assignment and select appropriate vocabulary,
details, and information to create a tone or set the mood and to affect or manipulate the intended audience (ELA‑2‑E2)
Develop grade‑appropriate compositions by identifying and applying writing processes, including the following:
- selecting topic and form
- prewriting (e.g., brainstorming, researching, raising questions, generating graphic organizers)
- conferencing with peers and teachers
- revising based on feedback and use of various tools (e.g., LEAP21 Writer’s Checklist, rubrics)
- publishing using available technology (ELA‑2‑E3)
Use a variety of literary devices, including hyperbole and metaphor, in compositions (ELA‑2‑E5)
Write using standard English structure and usage, including:
- using active and passive voices of verbs
- avoiding writing with sentence fragments and run‑on sentences (ELA‑3‑E3)
Objective: Students will create their own alphabiography mimicking the style of James Howe’s Totally Joe. Students will develop and strengthen their tone and voice as writers through this activity. The overall timeline of this activity is a nine week period from introduction to publishing.
Ä Define alphabiography and contrast it to an autobiography.
Ä Read the opening letter and first chapter of James Howe’s Totally Joe to set the mood.
Ä Draft your letter to “your” teacher and brainstorm ideas for each letter of the alphabet to model to the students. Remind them that the alphabiography should be in chronological order, so keep that in mind when brainstorming.
Ä Model your writing process with your students, thinking aloud as needed. For your modeling, write as the age your students are. Share your finished product.
Ä Have students write their first letter(s). Students may write the letters in order or not, but they must keep in mind that the book should be chronological. Once students have a clear focus of where their alphabiography is going, they can go back and write the letter to the teacher for the beginning.
Ä They may choose to share at will. Because these are personal stories, some students may have topics that are too personal to want to share with a large group.
Ä Once the students have completed all 26 chapters, they can complete the publishing of their book. This can occur in whichever fashion the student likes. Some choose to simply staple the papers together; some make a scrapbook (including pictures and items,) some use illustrations. The final product is completely up to them, it is their alphabiography.
Ä Younger students could do a picture alphabiography- drawing a picture for each letter and writing just a few sentences about each item.
Ä Some students have written Katrina remembrance books.
Ä This could be used as a book report and written from the point of view of a character. (readwritethink.org)
Ä After completion of the initial alphabiography, each short letter chapter could be expanded to create a full-blown memoir; leaving out the letters.