Mining Memories


Writing Trait/Strategy:
Where authors get ideas; ideas trait

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
Memory String by Eve Bunting
The Memory Box by Mary Bahr
Pictures from Our Vacation by Lynne Rae Perkins
Letters to the Lake by Susan Swanson
Night Tree by Eve Bunting
When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis

Some of the best topics come from our own memories. While it is important for writers to learn to generate their own topics, it is sometimes helpful to give them topics to jog their memories. These topics often become “seed” ideas for future poems, memoirs, or personal narratives. Below is a list of questions that can be used as writer’s notebook topics or just added to students’ personal writing territories or topics lists:

  • What are your first memories of home?
  • Have you ever moved? What was that like?
  • What was your favorite activity as a preschooler? First grader?
  • How did you make your first friend?
  • How did you feel when your best friend moved away?
  • Write about pets you’ve had over the years.
  • What has been the most significant event in your life? Why?
  • What are the small everyday moments that you treasure for some reason?
  • Write about a trip you’ve taken that has had a lasting impact on you. It could be a cross-country vacation or a trip to the mall.
  • Write about a special tradition your family celebrates.
  • Interview family and friends about your past.
  • Get out your old photos and free-write about them.

Reading aloud the picture books listed above is a great way to help students spark more memory topics. See below for some example lessons.

Read aloud Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. This book is about a young boy who tries to help his elderly friend regain her memory. After reading the book, have students bring in a shoebox or paper bag filled with 5 objects representing memories (something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh, something as precious as gold). For 5 days have students share one object each day with a partner and then write about the memory.

Read aloud When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis. In their writer’s notebooks, have students make a list beginning with “When I was little…”. I like to get them started by sharing a few of my own:

  • When I was little, I colored all over the lampshade with a yellow crayon (my favorite color).
  • When I was little, my brother and I hung socks over the bed slats underneath my bed.
  • When I was little, I was afraid of people and wouldn’t talk to them.

Set a timer and have students write as many as they can think of. Then have them share their lists with their writing partners. Give them a couple of minutes to add to their lists ideas that may have been sparked by the sharing. Next have them circle one idea on the list, turn to a clean page in their writer’s notebooks, and write a full entry on this one topic.

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