Unit Title: Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs
Grade Level: 9
Length of Unit: 3 weeks
Unit Overview:
In Fourth Grade, students are supposed to be introduced to Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs. Without reminder, the genres aren’t usually returned to. For this Unit I want to use the overview definitions of the genres and to delve deeper into what makes memoirs effective, and why we like reading them. My essential questions are: Why are we interested in reading about and watching real people’s lives? Why would a person write a Biography/ Autobiography/ Memoir? What can be learned from reading about someone else’s life? I am giving examples of Autobiographies and Biographies; however, students will be only experience writing a memoir. Reading skills students will have to know or learn in this lesson are identify purpose, distinguish between events and experience, question the narrator, relate to literature, and understand and describe the importance of the subject of the memoir to the writer. Writing skills students will have to know or learn in this lesson are narrow topic and focus, storyboard their memoir’s events, use dialogue effectively, use sensory details, develop characters, conclude the memoir, organize the memoir and use transitions, use Standard English Grammar and Punctuation.
I’m intrigued by how Literature and Writing can be used to study human nature, relate to other human beings, and make sense of our own lives. Books about real people are perfect ways to bring this gem of literature alive. Many times these genres leave the reader inspired, connected, and informed about different aspects of life. Readers usually find themselves connecting to the people in a new way: whether they are reading the book because the person had inspired them in their future career or because the person inspired them in a personal struggle they relate to. Either way, it can be a powerful genre. Life can be isolating, especially if we are chasing after our dreams and taking the path less traveled. Reading a book about those similar experiences can really uplift someone who feels lost. The reason I would include all three types in the one unit isn’t because I want the students to read all three of them in only a few weeks, but because I want them to understand the differences between the three. It would be an easy connection for students to read about someone they admire or relate to and could help readers who have a hard time engaging with literature. I also like the idea of using this unit before moving into fiction writing, using the story arc and character development as a bridge into creative fictional writing, it’s a concrete start for students who have a hard time creating from a blank page a group of complex characters.
Students will learn to:
1.) Make connections to texts: text to text, author to text, and text to self.
2.) Understand characters in memoirs: how dialogue, description, and events develop the characters and how to recreate the development process in their own characters.
3.) Narrowing down their topic in creating their memoir.
4.) Use imagery and sensory details to recreate events in a way that supports the reason for why the event is important. And understanding why authors use certain details in describing something.
5.) Distinguish between Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies.

Lesson Plans
Lesson 1: Intro to Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies (80 minute class)
Students will learn to distinguish between Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies.
Students will critically read a biography or memoir and understand the author’s purpose in writing the book and in including each event.
Students will be able to choose a Memoir to read that interests them.

Teaching and Learning Sequence:
This is the first day of the lesson; the classroom set up will be in a circle so that we can have a whole class discussion. My goals are to spark an interest of Memoirs in students. We will start with the pre-assessment of the Unit plan: reading the two short stories and discussing the differences between them. I will then give the definitions of Memoirs, Biographies, and autobiographies on the handout for the Unit as seen below. Students will then categorize the children’s books in categories between Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies. The discussion questions to talk about as a group will include questions about the Essential Questions: Why we read about real people’s lives, and why someone would write one. I will ask for their opinions about the two books, what they liked/ didn’t like. I will have them write these notes in their journals, so that they can go back and see which book they liked and why. (This is to be done every day in the Unit, having a short example read in class and them talking about what they like/ didn’t like.) Next I will introduce the rest of the Unit Plan and explain to them the handout. In the handout is a section with a list of Memoirs students will choose from. I will be closely involved in this process, helping with skill level, difficulty, and with finding a book that will interest the individual student. By the end of class, with the help of books on the online library, my collection, and what’s available in the library, the students will have a memoir to read in hand.
Differentiated Instruction: Using children’s books help students with shorter attention spans. I will pick books that are they will find interesting, and since in this lesson I am reading and everyone is discussing, their own reading difficulties won’t show. For students who prefer to read, I will make copies of the pages I am reading and project them, so that they can follow along. For the books they will pick, I will be able give them a book that fits their reading/comprehension level and interests.
Assessment:Students will be pre-assessed through the discussion of the two short stories. I will continually assess them after this lesson by adding more short stories and clips of longer stories of each genre to have them talk about which genre it is and why. I will vary this in groups and class discussions, according to the time available each class. They are keeping journals of their observations to be used later in the Unit, and those I’ll be checking to make sure they are learning. The real assessment will be in their final large projects in this unit.

Lesson 2: Time Line of their lives
Students will make connections to texts: text to text, author to text, and text to self.
Students will experiment with why people read/write these genres.
Teaching and Learning Sequence:
For this lesson students will get a chance to have fun with the idea of writing about their lives. Students will type timelines of their lives. First students will come up with ideas and free write about them in their journals: who they are now, what is some lesson they have learned and why it presses on their hearts so much. After students free write about these subjects, I will then introduce the timeline assignment. For the rest of class and for homework they will write a timeline of their lives. Students will choose events from their lives that aren’t just interesting, but that serve a purpose or lesson and highlight them within their timeline. The second day I will start class off with a minilessons on story truths. This lesson is about experimenting with what truth is, is it exactly how it happened, with who said exactly what and when. Or can truth sometimes be different from the real events because of what its effects were? I will show students examples of stories in which embellishments are in some ways truer to the real event. Then I will open up discussion of their own examples or questions to see if they understand. After that students will go back to finishing their timelines and perfecting them for sharing and passing them in. These time lines will be used as a prewriting exercise in their Memoirs to get them thinking about possible topics they want to explore.
Differentiated Instruction: Some students have a hard time writing about themselves, but through story truth, students have the possibility to make up their own past to what fits them better. This is more difficult then writing the truth; however, it protects students who wish to be private. The conferencing and extra time helps students who struggle with writing and coming up with ideas. I also will be available in the classroom to keep students on tract. It’s a relatively easy assignment, with not too many struggles for students. Using the computer helps with writing struggles. For Students who find this too easy, then can use metaphorical scenarios and really start to get into what events mean to our lives, and why people would want to write/read about them.
Assessment: One way of assessment is my conferencing with students during their work on the timelines, to make sure they are on task and aren’t having trouble writing about their lives. There is time for discussion after the minilessons on story truths for me to assess if students understand story truths. They will then be assessed in their explanations of the highlighted events in their timeline and how they are important and monumental.

Lesson 3: Start Memoir writing (2 80 minute classes)
Students will narrow down their topics for memoirs
Students will use their lives and mentor texts to create a short memoir
Students will Use imagery and sensory details to recreate vents in a way that supports the reason for why the event is important. And understanding why authors use certain details in describing something.
Teaching and Learning Sequence:
At this point in the Unit, students will have a shown a basic knowledge of what a memoir is. They will also have completed the timeline described in “Other Projects.” Students will use the mentor pieces and their own timeline to begin planning gout their own short Memoir. The class before was a class where they shared their timelines if they chose to and saw others’ ideas. This class is all about refining their topics and then creating a storyboard for their paper. I will start the class off with a representation of a storyboard, one that I made just for this lesson. I will talk them through it and show why it is helpful and how to use it. I will do it up on the board, projection, or smart board, whichever I have available in my classroom. I will also have it available either as a handout of on the website for the students to return to while they make their own. In class, like a writer’s workshop, students will work on their own storyboards and refine their topics to center around an object, person, or animal or place. While they are working I will make stops around the room and try to meet with each student. I will choose students who appear to be struggling most, just in case I don’t get to everyone. Students will continue reading their chosen Memoirs and work on their Storyboards for homework. The second day, students will continue working on their storyboards, and I will get to students I didn’t have a chance to before. Halfway through class students will meet with a peer and share their storyboards and talk about ideas. The storyboard will be due the next day.
Differentiated Instruction: The story board is a way to visually map out student’s ideas. It is one way in which I show students how to organize their thoughts before they begin the writing process. For a memoir it is even more helpful since the times can bounce around and it can be difficult making transitions. For students with difficulty drawing, they don’t really need to fret since it can be written ideas in squared off areas or tiny drawings: just as long as they are separating events into scenes. The extra time and the conferences is meant for students to have as much help, no matter what their difficulty is. I’m aware that all students have difficulty in the pre-writing stages, so I try to help them all. There are also online storyboard programs that are always getting easier to use, easier than paper at times.
The Assessments will start throughout the conferences; I’ll be able to see where each student is and help them get to where they need to be in the prewriting process. The final assessment will be the completed storyboard they pass in the day after Day 2 of the lesson. They will have a square per scene in their memoir and show that they have focused their topic to a certain themed object, person, place or animal.

- Pre-assessment: My Pre-assessment acts as a hook, a look into where my students are, and a chance to teach them the basics of Autobiographies, Biographies, and Memoirs. I have chosen two children’s books, one that is considered a Memoir and one that is considered a Biography. I will read both to the students and ask what they see as differences between the two books. I will ask about what details are included in the book, how far does the timeline reach, is there a message, who wrote the books, why the books were written, what the narrator is like: 3rd person/ 1st person. I will then pause and give them notes on definitions of the Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies. I will give the students a chance to categorize the children’s books. I will continue to do this throughout the Unit timeline, sharing biographical writings and memoir writings and talking each form of writing.
- Formative assessment: Students will be involved in class discussions about their choice book. They will also present their biography to the class in a creative book report. The process of writing their short memoir is also separated into several small parts that require them to organize their events and connect their importance. They will share their writing during the process with me and with their writer’s support group (a group set up to bounce ideas off of and work collaboratively with to complete and better their papers).
- Summative assessment: Students will take the experience and knowledge from reading their choice book and from our lessons to write their own short memoir.
Other Projects and Assignments:
One project the students will do is to read and present a biography, autobiography, or memoir. They will be writing a short memoir, but they are not confined to reading a memoir if they find a biography or autobiography they would rather read. This would also help them talk about the differences between their book and the memoir. They will present their book to the class by sharing how it illustrates the person, what is interesting about their book, sharing a powerful/silly/interesting passage and explain how why they chose it. Most importantly they will have to share with us why it is that each event was added to the biography: what was the purpose for the book as a whole and the individual parts?
Using their book as a mentor or starting point, students will make a timeline of their life of sorts. They will pick events in their past that they find important to who they are and then they will use their creativity to create their future events. With each event they will explain the experience that goes along with each and the importance of each to their own “story.” This will help illustrate what we are exploring about biographies and memoirs, and it will also give them a starting basis for their short memoirs later.

Below: Handout for First Day Unit Intro
Handout for timeline project
Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs
For the next three weeks, we will be talking about Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs. What are the differences?
A biography is an account of a person’s life written by someone else.
An autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person.
A memoir is an autobiography written from someone’s memory of a certain event or people. It focuses on the relationship between the author and another person, place, animal, or object; and it explains the significance of that relationship. It is not an overview of a person’s life, but a closely dissected snapshot artistically written.
In class we will be reading short stories and clips of longer stories that are examples of each of the three genres. You will also be able to pick your own Memoir to read at home. These texts will serve as examples for your own Short Story Memoir. Books I have chosen for you to pick from are listed below. I am open to free option, as long as the book’s content is appropriate for class. These books will be presented to your classmates at the start of Week Three. While reading, focus on the genre and how the writer uses the genre. Think about why you liked parts and why you didn’t like other parts. During this Unit we will also be talking about why people are commonly interested in reading about and watching real people’s lives, why a person would write a biography/autobiography/memoir, and what can be learned by reading about someone’s life.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
American Shaoline: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China by Matthew Polly
After the Wall by Jana Hensel
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Greely
Between A Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez
Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams by Jennifer Sey
Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of An Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Y. Mah
Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager’s Story by Susan Burton and Said H. Akbar
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna by Herman Viola and Joseph Lekuton
Fun Home: A Family Tragicome by Alison Bechdel
Hole In My Life by Jack Gantos
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza
Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam by Sonsyrea Tate
Makes Me Wanna Holler: a Young Black Man in America by Nathan McCall
Manchild in the Promise Land by Claude Brown
My Forbidden Face: Growing up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman’s Story by Latifa
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-Li Jiang
Ryan White: My Own Story by Ann Marie Cunningham and Ryan White
Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox
The Amazing Story of a Teenage Single Mom by Katherine Arnoldi
The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena C. Siegal
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba P. Beals
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted: a Memoir by E.L. Harris
When I was a Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
When I was a Solder by Valeri Zenatti
White on Black by Ruben Gallego

Time Line Your Life
You have been introduced to several different representations of people’s lives. How would you want your life to be portrayed? How would you want to be remembered?
Journal Free-Write: Why would someone want to read about your life? If you don’t think someone would want to read about your life then be creative! Use Story Truth. It’s okay to make things up for this section. You can even decide to be older. What happens when you are 25 that makes your life monumental? You may think it needs to be “flying to the moon” material, but sometimes an everyday event can be interesting to read about if the delivery is intriguing. Have fun or get serious, it’s up to you.
Time Line Activity: Time line your life. When were you born? When did you lose your first tooth? First Kiss? First time eating pickles? First time reading HungerGames? Last time you saw an old friend? Pick what sticks out to you. Just write through the years. If you want to you can stretch this project out to when you are older as well and make up events and times.
After you have a list of events on your timeline, pick ones that seem monumental and could be included in your memoir. Highlight these events and write brief paragraphs describing why they are important. Here is the place to spell it out for me: what does this event stand for in the greater scheme of things. In your memoir you will be able to be more veiled and let the reader try and interpret, but here just be clear. You don’t have to use these events in your memoir, but it’s just to help you start thinking about all your possibilities.
Things to Think about:
Is there something that connects the major events or even the minor events? Is there an emotion, or do you feel like you’re reporting? What feels like it holds more to write about? Is there a lesson to be formed from any of the events? Jot down some notes on these questions to help you when we storyboard your memoir.