Lesson on How to Outline, Plan & Write a Memoir
Creating a memoir outline is different than outlining for an essay or research paper. Teachers should not expect traditional outlines from students, but guide them in creating an outline appropriate for a memoir. Discuss with students how a memoir’s beginning should grab the reader’s attention. The middle of a memoir shares important actions and details about the experience. While the end, comes after the main action and needs to show what was learned.
Writing the Outline
- Create an outline for this period of time in your life. Encourage students to outline the events, details and emotions of their life at the time the memoir takes place.
- Outline the memoir in three major parts: beginning, middle and end. Divide the action into three parts and outline for events, details and emotions in each part.
- Customize a blank outline for students to fill-in. This enables students to know exactly what the teacher requires for an outline. Plus, students have an example for future use.
The goal of planning a memoir is the same as outlining, helping students prepare what to write. Planning a memoir is a less traditional method, but a more creative approach to preparing a memoir. Model these techniques for students with an event from your own life. Here are a few ideas for planning a memoir:
- Divide a page into six boxes. On the left side, students write the beginning, middle and end of their memoir in a few sentences to use as a reference. Students share their memoir with a partner, using as many details and as much information as possible. On the right side, the partner asks at least three questions for each section about what else they want to know. These are things the writer can think about and further develop as they begin to write.
- Create a three box planner. Draw three boxes in the middle of the page. In the middle box, draw the most important event of the story. In the first box, draw what happened immediately before the most important event. In the last box, draw what happened immediately after the most important event. Write a one sentence caption under each box. Draw a box outlining the page. On each side of the box, students write key aspects of the memoir such as the setting, emotions felt, important people or key dialogue. These can be adjusted as needed to focus on a specific topic.
- Prepare a graphic organizer with the characteristics of a memoir. Students can write details and information about each box, determining how they will fit into their memoir.
Characteristics of a Memoir
The characteristics of a memoir come into play as students begin to put pen to paper. These features are commonly found in memoir writing. To help students understand these features, provide examples of well-written memoirs, displaying the characteristics of a memoir. Students won’t successfully include all of these on their first try, but it’s important to discuss the characteristic types. Here are a few tips for discussion:
- Get to know the narrator. The audience must connect with the narrator. Share information about yourself or things you might have in common with the audience.
- Use description that brings the story to life. Teachers commonly use the phrase “show not tell” here. Use descriptive words and phrases, making the reader feel like they were present when the action took place.
- Include dialogue that shows feeling. In this case, less often means more. Include only the most important dialogue that has the most impact.
- Feature a beginning that catches the reader’s attention. Hook your readers immediately. A few ideas include starting in the middle of the action, having the characters talk, beginning with a surprising statement or fact, or giving some important background information.
- Add sensory details. These are words or descriptions that appeal to one of your senses. Sensory details provide a complete look at the story, and make your memoir more interesting.
- Share thoughts and feelings. This allows readers to understand how the experience affected you, and what you were going through. Thoughts and feelings help build a connection to the narrator.
- Reveal why the event was important. Writers share what they learned from this experience, building a connection with the audience. Writers want to evoke an emotional response from the reader.
Pulling it All Together
Many students don’t realize they’ve already done the hard work: thought of an idea, developed the idea and elaborated on details. Model for students how to use their resources, demonstrating memoir writing. Tips for constructing a first draft include:
- Write on every other line on one side of the paper. Keep your writing as neat as possible, but don’t worry if you make a mistake. This makes revising easier.
- Add new ideas that come to mind as you write. Memoir writing is a process of discovery.
- Note any parts you may want to change, or make the changes as you write.
- Remember your purpose and audience. Keeping your focus helps tell a good story.
Having trouble getting your students to come up with good ideas? Try some of these brainstorming techniques.