Where’s the B.E.E.F.?
Pumping Up Life
into Memoir Writing
Sara Gregory
Crossroads Middle School
[email protected]
LMWP 2011
Students were creating “bed-to-bed” stories. First this happened,
then this, and then it ended. Not focused enough.
They rushed through important events/moments that could be
elaborated upon and stretched with more details.
Students resisted revision. Once it’s on paper, it is done.
Writing was lifeless and boring, and as a result, writing scores
were low.
Break the writing into chunks so they could focus on one
snapshot at a time.
Provide modeling to guide them through the process.
Make revisions and play with writing before committing
ideas into an “official” draft.
Gurus who informed my
Big Ideas:
students need
freedom, and
“When a reader “gets lost” in
the writing, it almost feels
like they’ve ‘slipped into the
skin’ of the writer. This is a
goal of good writing, to
engage the reader so that
they can imagine living the
experience they’re reading “The lessons in this
books are unified in
about.” (Reviving the Essay,their emphasis on
process toward
p. 128)
product.” (Crunchtime,
p. xx)
“If writing is to be a unique
mode of thinking, we
should ask how writing
can foster and track
movement of the mind.”
“As readers, we experience
structure as movement through the
text; we are propelled from
paragraph to paragraph or we
come to a standstill, moving on
only out of a sense of duty. We can
be carried along in an essay that
cannot be clearly diagrammed, and
we can balk at a structured essay
that builds no momentum. Writers
create this momentum not by
withholding or transforming the
mental processes of exploration but
by revealing them and allowing the
reader to participate in them.”
(Critical Thinking and Writing:
Reclaiming the Essay, p. 14)
Barry Lane
“Writing itself is revision, and if we can
teach this concept to children and
give them tools to develop it, they will
experience the joy of discovery that
keeps professional writers at their
desks.” (p.5)
“Writers are like photographers with
giant zoom lenses, observing life in
incredibly fine detail, pulling back to
make sweeping generalizations, then
zooming in again to make those
generalizations come alive with
detail...” (p. 32).
“Snapshots” teach writers to write in
sharp physical detail.
Penny Kittle
“We don’t learn many things
well just by following
directions. We have to ride
together. The apprenticeship
with a master in the field is still
the best model for learning.”
“But the instruction has to
come during the process of
creating the piece, not in
polishing the product, or
nothing changes.”
(Write Beside Them, p.8)
Defining Memoir
(Bomer, 2005)
Slice of life story
make meaning of the past
interprets experience
statement of who they are and who they are becoming
simple stories are made interesting by the author
Process Overview
Memoir Unit: Three Weeks
Examining and Exploring the genre of Memoir
Brainstorming potential memoir topics
Organizing a Memory
Drafting Snapshots
Revising Snapshots with Ba-da-bings
Important Memories
Goal: Generate 5-10 memories
Choose a brainstorm process that suits you. Some possibilities:
create a timeline of important events
create a web of memories
free write about things you remember as they come to you
sketch your memories
make a list of memories from A-Z
answer “Questions for Memoirists”
Kernal Essays
Lesson Learned:
Where I was and what I was doing:
What happened first?
What happened last?
Final thoughts?
Text Dude:
Where’s the B.E.E.F?
(Brain, Ears, Eyes, Feet)
Where’s the B.E.E.F.?
Color Coding
(wondered, thought, emotional reaction, opinion, decision, figured out)
The Mt. Everest of Sand
“Dang!” exclaimed my friends and I as we looked skyward at the towering mass of sand
looming down upon us. Brandon stated, “That’s one big sonofagun hill!”
“I wasn’t fibbing,” our friend Jacob boasted. “Race you!” he yelled back over his shoulder
as the swift boy scampered up the base of the mountain. I was making excellent progress,
but I hadn’t even covered a quarter of the hill yet. Now I came to a place where the hill
bottlenecked into a steep narrow trail enclosed on each side by vines and long sharp grass
that exploded onto a sideways plateau that was two football fields wide with a hundred fifty
plus foot drop off on the lower side. Halfway now and I was panting like a dog. The cool
clean breeze coming off Lake Michigan was like a refreshing jump in a pool, but my mouth
was a desert sandstorm. The sand pulled at my feet like I was walking through waist deep
muck. Being the biggest of the three, I reached the top last and flopped down next to an
old burnt black log. “Dude, you have got to see this!” Brandon called down from the highest
point to me.
A snapshot is a word picture. Imagine you are
reliving each moment that you are writing about.
Keep text dude in mind. Stretch the moment into
triple slow motion.
Aim to include at least six sentences for each
Here it comes I thought. This will be the wave I conquer. My stomach stretched along
the scratchy surfboard and my arms limply fell over the sides. I slowly began my paddle
as the wave moved closer. I craned my neck over my shoulder, checking the wave
again, it was creeping up on me. My arms flapped like a bird as I tried to gain
momentum. I could hear the swirl of water just behind me now. This is it, I have to
catch this wave I said to myself with determination. With as much force as I could
muster, I pulled in my hands and gripped the board, propelling myself upward on the
board. As quickly as I sprung up, I toppled down. The wave swallowed me and tossed
me around like a rock in a tumbler. Ughhh!! Another failed attempt. How long was it
going to take me to figure out this surfing bit? I breathed a sigh of frustration as I
flopped my body back onto the board and headed back out to the open blue water.
Ba-Da-Bing Sentences
Take a moment to look at the student foldable with your partner
and locate his/her ba-da-bings. What do you notice?
Ba-da-bing your snapshot
Locate and underline a sentence in each snapshot that is
lifeless and could use some revision.
On the flip of the flap, create a new sentence using the Bada-bing approach.
Roses and Thorns
Students were excited about their topics and were motivated to convey the meaning of
the memory
Students (particularly struggling students) produced much more detailed writing in the
foldable, rough draft, and final draft than previous writing tasks.
I was much more engaged as a reader and they were invested as writers. These were
the best memoirs I’ve read in my four years of teaching memoir!
Some kids didn’t “beef up” their snapshots until they drafted.
While some had great ba-da-bing sentences, they didn’t transfer into their drafts. (Make
no assumptions, model EVERYTHING!!)
I would build in more conferring during the creation of snapshots to ensure students
were applying the details and stretching them into triple slow motion.
Look through the student foldables at the table and the finished
student products on the LMWP blog. What do you notice about their
work during the process and the final product? ( I realize they don’t
correlate student to student, but what can you infer from stages?)
Were there any new ideas presented that you will take back to your
How might you adapt the ideas presented to work within the context
of your classroom?
What are the benefits and drawbacks to using foldables?
Further questions/comments/suggestions.
Bernabei, Gretchen. Crunchtime. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann,
Bernabei, Gretchen. Reviving The Essay. Shoreham, VT: Discover
Writing Press, 2005.
Bomer, Katherine. Writing a Life: Teaching Memoir. Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann, 2005.
Kittle, Penny. Write Beside Them. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann,
Lane, Barry. After the End. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993.
Newkirk, Thomas. Critical Thinking and Writing: Reclaiming the
Essay. ERIC, 1989.