The memoir writing workshops are among the key student-centered learning experiences of the first semester in the Princeton Day School Lower School. Memoir writing is introduced in First Grade at PDS by focusing on personal "small moment" stories. The memoir writing experience deepens each subsequent year, encouraging further self-exploration and growth in writing skills.
Third Grade teachers Marjorie Gibson, Christina Lee and Tracy Young view the memoir workshop as a personal highlight each year for both the students and faculty. "Third grade is such a special year for young learners as they embrace a greater depth of understanding and skills acquisition, and you can really see this on display through the memoir workshops," Mrs. Gibson shared.
Ms. Young added, "the kids love exploring memoir because they really get to see themselves as writers after building on their previous experiences."
"What I love about the unit is seeing third graders stretching themselves as they learn to take on a storyteller's voice. They learn so many skills about detail and 'painting a picture' for a reader," Ms. Lee explained.
Memoir has proven to be effective in enhancing writing skills because it draws from what is most familiar. "We recognize as writing teachers that a strong motivation for writing, and the simplest writing, is to write about something you know the best. The students know their own lives the best, and, in conjunction with the great mentor texts that we incorporate to teach the craft of memoir, it facilitates investment and excitement in bringing their own stories to life," Mrs. Gibson said.
Common topics among third graders include lost teeth, injuries or broken bones and other "firsts." But, many times, students take a big step out from the norm to explore more personal experiences. For example, one student reflected on the experience of moving to Princeton, while another explored the fear experienced when a babysitter forgot to pick them up. Ms. Young noted, "You really get this full gamut of what the kids have a strong personal connection with."
The memoir workshop also fosters community building because students get to know each other more deeply by listening to each other's memoirs and recognizing shared experiences. "By the end of the unit, it is evident that the experiences that students write about in their memoirs become more meaningful to them, and sharing that with one another builds strong bonds with classmates," Ms. Lee remarked.
As a cross-curricular component of the unit, students worked with LS Technology Coordinator Carol Olson to create multimedia trailers for their memoirs. This experience helped them apply technology skills to their written storytelling and created more excitement for the kids about the upcoming sessions to share their work with each other. Enjoy a selection of third graders' memoir trailers in the brief video below.
"A major contributor to the success of this unit is that there is no element of one-upmanship where students try to top each other's stories. Everybody shares their personal moments to the level that they are comfortable and those moments are celebrated together within the class. It's truly a community endeavor." Mrs. Gibson concluded.