Standard Lesson

Memories Matter: The Giver and Descriptive Writing Memoirs

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Seven 50-minute sessions
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In this lesson that tightly integrates personal writing, research, and thematic response to literature, students discuss the importance of having a recorded history of humanity. As they explore this topic, they gain a deeper understanding of the horror of Jonas's dystopian society in Lois Lowry's The Giver. This understanding generates a keen interest in and context for the descriptive writing of students' own history. Students gather ideas from several sources, including their own memories, interviews, and photographs, and then write their own descriptive memoirs.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Using literature as a model text for student writing is widely regarded as a sound strategy for engaging students, both as readers and as writers. This practice is especially effective when the connection between model text and student writing is reflexive, as in the case of The Giver, in which storytelling and memories are central to understanding and appreciating the literature. Students should be led to understand, as Jeffery Wilhelm notes in You Gotta BE the Book: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents, that storytelling is "a primary way of knowing and organizing our personal knowledge of ourselves and the world. Storying defines humanity, makes us human, empowers us in being who we are, and makes it possible for us to conceive of being more than we are" (52-53). Reading stories about memories and storytelling while writing such stories themselves, students build literacy skills and gain an appreciation of the importance of narrative and history in their lives.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Copies of The Giver by Lois Lowery




  • Obtain copies of The Giver for student use. This lesson is designed to begin at Chapter 10 of the book and uses Chapters 10 and 11 explicitly. Connections to other parts of the book are at the teacher's discretion. Time for drafting and peer editing may be interspersed into the reading of the book or left as a culminating activity upon completion of The Giver.

  • Prepare copies or transparencies of all necessary handouts.

  • Familiarize yourself with the American Memory Website and directions for the related Memories Matter: A Look at the American Memory Website handout. You may wish to have a look at the "This Day in History" entry for the day you will be visiting the site to be familiar with the specific content as well as site layout and functionality.

  • Obtain access to an Internet connected computer lab for Sessions 2, 5 and 6. Bookmark the American Memory Website and the ReadWriteThink Interactive Timeline and/or Story Map.

  • Preview the ReadWriteThink video and lessons and the NPR podcast referenced in Session Four. Determine the best method for sharing appropriate information from these resources with your students.

  • Test and familiarize yourself with the ReadWriteThink Interactive Timeline and/or Story Map and determine which is best suited to the needs of your students. Ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • think critically about the importance of memory and history in their own lives and in larger historical contexts.

  • analyze prose passages for descriptive techniques.

  • use multiple sources of information to create their own personal descriptive writing.

Session One

  1. Before starting Chapter 10 of The Giver, place a transparency of the Excerpt from Chapter 10 of The Giver on the overhead projector. Ask for two student volunteers to read the parts of The Giver and Jonas, as you read the narrated elements of the excerpt.

  2. Focusing on The Giver's comments about wisdom and shaping the future, facilitate a brief discussion of the importance of memory, history, and storytelling. Encourage students to use examples from their lives, history, and the book to support their points.

  3. Read Chapter 10 together and continue discussion.

  4. Conclude class by distributing the Reflecting on the Importance of Memory handout for students to respond to for the next session.

Session Two

  1. Begin this session by discussing students' responses to the Reflecting on the Importance of Memory handout.

  2. Explain that during this session students will be taking a break from reading The Giver and visiting at a Web site that believes very strongly in the importance of memory as they do some research connected to today's date and their birthday (or another significant date of their choice).

  3. Distribute copies of the Memories Matter: A Look at the American Memory Website handout and discuss the activity. Have students choose a date for their independent research and record it in the appropriate space on the handout.

  4. As a class, go to the American Memory Website and complete the column for "This Day in History" by looking through the information, following links as appropriate. Model for students the process of recording the event, summarizing some key facts, and reflecting on the event's significance.

  5. Give students time to research and respond to their findings for the date of their choice.

  6. End the session by having students share some of their reflections for their individually chosen dates. Discuss why such a website is important, especially in light of the conversation at the beginning of the session. Depending on your group, you may also wish to discuss the problems inherent in a Website that chooses just an event or a few events to feature. Who or what is represented? Who makes those decisions?

Session Three

  1. Review with students their work from the previous session, reminding students of the content and presentation on the American Memory Website.

  2. Distribute the Thinking about Varied Expressions of Memories and History questions and ask students to choose one of the prompts to respond to briefly.

  3. Tell students that in this session, they will discuss responses to Option One, saving responses to Option Two for a future session.

  4. Discuss responses to Option One, which will likely involve comments about the factual, perhaps dry nature of the content and presentation on the Website.

  5. Connecting to students' responses about the personal and descriptive nature of an account they write about their own lives, distribute and discuss the Descriptive Writing Analysis handout. If necessary, quickly elicit examples of sensory details that fall into each of the five categories.

  6. As you read Chapter 11 of The Giver in class, complete handout together, modeling the understanding of how Lowry's descriptive choices function.

  7. At the end of the session, give students time to choose their own experience to render through descriptive language. Remind them that language related to the various senses should be chosen appropriately; they need not refer to all five senses and may rely more heavily on one or two than the others.

  8. Ask students to convert their list into a paragraph for the next session. Their paragraph should not reveal the experience explicitly.

Session Four

  1. To begin this session, have students share some of their completed paragraphs. Classmates should try to determine what experience the author is trying to convey, as Jonas did in The Giver.

  2. Collect the completed paragraphs and provide formative feedback on students' use of description to convey an experience. You may wish to use the Descriptive Memoir Rubric as a guide to potential areas of feedback, but such formal response is not necessary at this point.

  3. Explain to students that this paragraph is an example of the type of writing they will be doing in their upcoming memoir assignment. Distribute and discuss the Memories Matter: A Descriptive Memoir Project handout. Stress the ways that memoir differs from other personal narrative writing such as biography and autobiography. See the Resources section for support in this regard.

  4. Refer back to the Option Two responses from the Thinking about Varied Expressions of Memories and History questions as you go over the assignment. Students will likely have mentioned their friends' and families' memories and photographs as good sources of information about their own personal histories. These two types of sources will be the focus of future activities, but feel free to allow students to use sources such as official documents, their own past writings (formal and informal), family videos, or other valid options to complete the activity.

  5. Share with students that they will be continuing their examination of different kinds of historical records by getting ideas for their memoir from at least three different sources: their own memory, a personal interview, and a photograph (or other appropriate sources, as you see fit). Some students will have little trouble completing this portion of the assignment; others will need more support. Consult these resources for ideas for additional instructional activities:

  6. Give students a date by which they need to have chosen an event (and related photograph and interview subject) to write about. By this date they will have the photograph in their possession and they will have interviewed the friend or family member for their memories of the chosen event.

  7. Note: You may wish to have an intermediate date by which students tell you what they are planning for the memoir. As necessary, guide students as they select topics at this point.

  8. Continue to read and discuss The Giver in the intervening sessions.

Session Five

  1. Ask students to get out their interview notes and photograph as you distribute the Planning Your Descriptive Memoir handout.

  2. Discuss with students how to use their notes and resources to brainstorm as many details, words, phrases for use in their draft.

  3. Distribute and discuss the Descriptive Memoir Rubric to guide students as they begin writing.

  4. Demonstrate for students how to use the ReadWriteThink Interactive Timeline and/or Story Map as they move to the drafting phase of the assignment.

Session Six

  1. Give students time to continue writing their memoir.

  2. Remind students of the information on the Memories Matter: A Descriptive Writing Project handout and Descriptive Memoir Rubric as they begin their work.

  3. Inform students that they need to have a completed draft of their descriptive memoir ready for peer review in the next session.

Session Seven

  1. Have students select a partner for the peer review activity.

  2. Distribute the Descriptive Memoir Peer Review Sheet and discuss the expectations for the review process.

  3. Give students time to complete the review process. As students finish, they should begin planning their revisions.

  4. Announce the date by which revised descriptive memoirs need to be submitted for evaluation.


  • Students write one memoir in this lesson, but memoirs typically appear as a collection of narrated events. Have students choose several topics from the list on the Memories Matter: A Descriptive Memoir Project handout and make a collection. As a final step, they should introduce and dedicate the memoirs to give readers an overview of the collection.

  • Have students present their memoirs through brief speeches. Peers can provide additional feedback for continued revision and refinement.

  • Pair students and help them convert their memoirs into audio interviews like the ones featured in StoryCorps. Collect the audio files and house them on a class Web page.

  • The personal and reflective style of writing in memoirs is similar to what readers find on many blogs. See the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Weekly Writer's Blogs: Building a Community of Support for tips and suggestions to get your students blogging their memoirs.

  • Explore the biological nature of memory in addition to the aspects of memory discussed in these activities with the ReadWriteThink lesson Discovering Memory: Li-Young Lee's Poem "Mnemonic" and the Brain.

Student Assessment / Reflections

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