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Lesson Plan

Discovering Memory: Li-Young Lee's Poem "Mnemonic" and the Brain

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Discovering Memory: Li-Young Lee's Poem "Mnemonic" and the Brain

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Eight 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Jaime R. Wood

Jaime R. Wood

Portland, Oregon


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



In this cross-curricular poetry and biology unit, Li-Young Lee's poem “Mnemonic” is used to explore how memory works. Students begin by brainstorming a list of their own memories and circling interesting words and phrases that they share with the class and then incorporating these words and phrases into a piece of writing. Students next discuss the brain and how memory is stored, leading students to dissect Li-Young Lee's poem “Mnemonic.” As they apply this scientific information to the poem, students better understand the kinds of memories the speaker has in the poem and where those memories might be located in the brain. Groups of students then plan and complete projects in which they create a product that relates to memory, in one of three categories: informational, creative, or personal.

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Interactive Timeline: Students use this online tool to lay out their schedule for completing a group project.

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In order for students to delve into their own memories, it may be necessary to take a multifaceted approach to teaching them about memory in the brain. This approach can include poetry, reflective writing, research, and art. As stated in Living Voices, "We live in an interdisciplinary world that is constantly pushing us to cross lines. The classroom should be no different" (Wood 68).

"A Guide Through the Labyrinth of Memory" from the Exploratorium Website reveals memory as a complex part of human experience, one that requires varied perspectives to attempt understanding it. The site, a companion to an Exploratorium museum exhibit, touches on all the aspects that comprise memory for humans: "Memory was a new kind of exhibition, an experiment that used science and art from a variety of social and cultural perspectives to help us understand ourselves."

As an attempt to help students comprehend the function of memory, this lesson works in similar ways, giving students various ways to learn more about memory and the brain and to show what they know through the creation of multigenre products.

Further Reading

The Exploratorium. January 18, 1999. "A Guide Through the Labyrinth of Memory." Web. October 2009. http://www.exploratorium.edu/memory/about.html


Wood, Jaime R. 2006. Living Voices: Multicultural Poetry in the Middle School Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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