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Lesson Plan

Having My Say: A Multigenre Autobiography Project

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Having My Say: A Multigenre Autobiography Project

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

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Session Five

Session Six

Session Seven

Session Eight

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • identify features that are unique to and common between informational and autobiographical nonfiction.

  • choose an event from their life to narrate in essay form, adopting genre-appropriate voice, style, and methods of development.

  • determine the specific historical, cultural, or familial background information that readers of the above essay would need.

  • craft an informational nonfiction essay around that information, adopting genre-appropriate voice, style, and methods of development.

  • successfully integrate informational and autobiographical nonfiction.

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Session One

  1. Prepare students for the reading by discussing its unique structural features.  Have them leaf through the book and take note of its structure while you guide them through the different sections (major sections indicated by roman numerals and titles, unlabeled introductory chapters, alternating chapters labeled with the narrating sister’s name, etc.).

  2. Point out that the third author, a writer for The New York Times, is the objective voice in the chapters at the beginning of the sections.

  3. Offer students the label of “multigenre text” and ask if they have read or are familiar with any multigenre texts (Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, Walter Dean Myers’ Monster).  Ask them what genres seem to be represented in this work.  See the ReadWriteThink lesson Reading and Analyzing Multigenre Texts for more information on this specialized reading and writing, including a booklist with more examples.

  4. Have students produce a list of ways that informational nonfiction (perhaps students can conceive of it as “newspaper” writing) and autobiographical nonfiction are similar and different.  You may wish to use the Venn Diagram tool to facilitate this discussion.

  5. Extend this discussion into a conversation about what makes each of these genres especially effective.  Write students’ observations on an overhead or large sheet of Post-It paper for later use/reference.  You can then use these preparatory materials as a rubric for the final student product or use the Multigenre Autobiograpy Project Rubric included in this lesson.

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Session Two

  1. Have students read the desired section(s) of the book. 

  2. While using the work to teach any of your own specific curricular objectives, be sure to have students attend to moments in the text in which the genre traits are being exemplified (refer to the Understanding the Two Genres handout).  For example, while reading the prefatory chapter for the “Jim Crow Days” section, students will notice:

    • direct presentation of ideas: “A generation after the end of slavery, freedom for black Americans was still elusive” (90)

    • a focus on facts and events:  “1896…the Supreme Court ruling in the Plessy v. Ferguson case” (90)

    • development with third-person examples and explanation:  “The case stemmed from an incident in which a Louisiana citizen named Homer Plessy lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, which sanctioned the establishment of ‘separate but equal’ facilities for blacks and whites” (90 – 91)

    • formal, standard English throughout and objective perspective throughout.
  3. The style here stands in marked contrast to the conversational style of the sisters’ chapters, where the narrative is driven by dialogue, descriptions, stories, and opinions.

  4. Use an overhead of the Multigenre Autobiography Planning Sheet to have students summarize the Delanys’ story in the center circle.  Then review the section opener to list context the third author provides and put the contextual information in the outer circle.  Point out that, diverse as the styles of the two sections may be, they work together to show how the sisters’ lives were part of a larger, more dynamic picture than their individual life experiences alone.

  5. Preview the multigenre autobiography assignment, noting to students that they will write about an event from their life as well as the larger context surrounding it.  Encourage students to make connections between their autobiography and the information they include in the contextual essay like the ones from Having Our Say.

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Session Three

  1. Have students brainstorm a significant event or experience from their lives that they would like to share.  Some students will choose to start with a significant world, community, or family event first (e.g., the September 11 attack, the closing of a plant or factory in their town, the birth of a sibling) and then determine the personal narrative they will write in relation to that event.  Others will have an experience they want to narrate and will determine the focus of the contextual information later.  Either approach can work, but ensure that students choose a personal experience that will need to be contextualized.

  2. Refer to the list of qualities of narrative/autobiographical nonfiction the class produced in Session 1 (or use the Understanding the Two Genres handout ). 

  3. Remind students that they will need to work toward these objectives as they produce a rough draft of their personal essay.

  4. Distribute the Multigenre Autobiography Planning Sheet .

  5. Model for students the functionality of the Multigenre Autobiography Planning Sheet. Using an event from your own life, start jotting down the events, feelings, and reactions you would need to include in an autobiographical essay recounting the event.

  6. As the connections become apparent, or after you’ve modeled the inner circle, write down in the outer circle elements of context you would need to include.

  7. Answer any student questions about the process and give them time to start planning the autobiographical component in the inner circle.

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Session Four

  1. At the beginning of this session, ask students to recall specific instances from the book to exemplify the qualities of autobiographical narrative writing (focus on events and reactions; indirect presentation of main ideas; opinions and reactions are central to the piece; etc.) from the Understanding the Two Genres handout or the list of qualities the class developed to help them focus their efforts.

  2. Give students time to work on composition of a draft of the personal essay.  Use the Timeline tool to help students plan the structure of their essay. 

  3. Ask students to complete a draft of the essay by the next session.  They should be ready for a peer review activity.

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Session Five

  1. Put students in pairs to read each others’ drafts and provide feedback to their partners’ essays.  Use the Autobiographical Component Peer Review Guide or a similar resource reflecting the qualities on which you wish students to focus.

  2. After giving students time to share their comments with each other, tell students that their attention will now be shifting to concerns of audience as they prepare for the second essay in the project. They need to consider the questions  “Who will be reading this piece?” and “What kind(s) of information do those readers need to gain a full understanding of the experience?”

  3. Refer back to sections such as “Harlem Town” or “Jim Crow” to give students a model for this way of thinking.  Remind them that the essay at the beginning of each section provides historical, familial, or cultural context for the individual stories that the sisters narrate in the chapters that follow. 

  4. Ask for a few volunteers to tell what event they are narrating.  As a class, discuss the kind of context they will need (e.g., If a student is writing about moving from a large city to his/her new home in a smaller town, he/she could describe their city/neighborhood as a reporter would; If a student is narrating the divorce of his/her parents, he/she could provide a brief objective chronology of his/her family life up to that point).

  5. Direct peer response pairs to focus on the type and amount of contextualizing their essays will require.  Does the reader need background on the author’s family?  On a historical event?  About a cultural term or concept?  These mini-conferences will produce a plan for the second piece in this assignment.

  6. Have students record their needs on the outer circle of the Multigenre Autobiography Planning Sheet.

  7. For homework, have them further think about/refine their plan for the contextual essay using the Contextual Essay Planning Sheet. There they should make firm decisions about the amount and type of background information they will need to give their readers. 

  8. Ask students to begin the process of researching any information to which they do not have immediate access (family history, historical events).  This research need not be formal, but students should gather information they will need.

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Session Six

  1. Check students’ plans for the contexual essay and review the guidelines for effective informational writing (see the Understanding the Two Genres handout). 

  2. Answer any questions students have about the contextual essay and allow time for the composition of the context opener. 

  3. Ask students to have the context opener drafted for the next session.  They should be ready for a second peer review activity.

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Session Seven

  1. Students meet in the same response pairs and use the Contextual Component Peer Review Guide or a similar resource to provide each other feedback on their partners’ work. 

  2. Have pairs go back to the autobiographical essays as well as their plans from Session 5 to make sure the contextual essay sufficiently prepares the reader for the autobiographical essay.

  3. If time allows, give students time to begin preparations for revision.

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Session Eight

  1. Allow students time to revise and polish their project based on feedback and self-evaluation.

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EXTENSIONS

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • Use the Multigenre Autobiography Project Rubric to evaluate the revised student work.

  • Students should also be asked to reflect on what they learned by putting their story into a larger context.  Although they may not have the dynamic connections that are present in the Delany sisters’ story, encourage them to see how putting their stories in a new perspective can help them understand themselves more critically.  This reflection could come as a preface or introduction to the completed multigenre piece.

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