Over the years, I've found that teaching students to write is essentially the same as teaching them how to juggle. They have so much to remember as they write: use dialogue, answer a prompt, use descriptive language, make paragraphs, transition between paragraphs and on and on. Inevitably, a student will be really good with one or two of these components. For example, I have a student who really does well with dialogue. His characters in a short story he wrote were so vivid that I'm pretty sure he was describing my family around the Thanksgiving table. In fact, he does so well with dialogue that he forgets to add any action. Giving him a pattern to his writing would ensure that he is using that juicy dialogue and blending it with the commentary.
The Memory Map is crucial in creating this particular Personal Narrative because it assesses them not only on dialogue, but on the author's reflection of events. By blending these two things throughout the whole piece, it ends up much more sophisticated than when a student writer throws in a paragraph of reflection at the end of a narrative.
This Guiding Question is actually the prompt for their Personal Narrative. Any time my students produce a draft, it takes all of the class period (if not part of a second one) so I had no time to give them a GQ that was unrelated to the task at hand.
The students are asked to "Write about an incident that brought about change in your life."
Here are my preliminary findings: 90% of kids write about getting injured, 8% write about getting either a new baby brother/sister/pet, and the other 2% end up writing about a vacation. But, they're 6th graders and I'm okay with the fact that they haven't lived enough to write another kind of PN.
The prompt is from our SpringBoard work text. We are in our second year of using this text, and I learned from last year that students have a really hard time with the concept of an "incident." Last year, I spend several class periods around developing what an "incident" was--kids were unfamiliar with the term. Plus, after all of that work I realized that the term "incident" kind of has a negative connotation, so I was getting really sad PN's.
Because our Summative Assessment (we call them Transfer Tasks) asks that kids essentially write a Personal Narrative, it didn't seem to matter if they were writing about an "incident" or an "event," so this year I've used the words pretty interchangeably.
So, from experience, this is one of those mini-lessons where I need 100% focus from my students. No phone calls from the office, no interruptions. Kids have a hard time with this, and you will certainly need to work with individuals or small groups during work time.
Here we go! In order to get a well-rounded narrative, it's essential that kids have 1) action 2) commentary and 3) dialogue. In the Memory Map, students use different colors to transition between these three types of sentences.
But, first you have to model it.
I created my Anchor Chart based on the incident that changed me (finding out I was pregnant with twins). Here's where I can address the misconceptions. I tell the kids that this isn't an autobiography (I'm not going to tell the reader all about my twins from pregnancy to age 4), it's an incident that changed me (just an event within that time frame).
First I fold my paper in half, from the top to bottom. And then fold it again, so that I have 4 panels. In each panel, my goal is to have three colors, or three kinds of sentences, represented.
First I write my first action sentence (I chose red to represent the action in my Memory Map). I wrote: "I sat in the doctor's office." To have a quick review about verbs (and to go back to them later and change them to "vivid verbs," I go ahead and underline sat.
Then I write a commentary (my thoughts or feelings about that action) in blue: "Feeling a bit nervous, I held on to Andrew's hand tightly." I wanted to reinforce that commentary is the sentence that describes the thoughts or feelings about the actions I already described, so I underlined "feeling."
Lastly, I put in my dialogue in green: "Well," the doctor said, "do you want the good news or the bad news?"
I continue with this pattern of red/blue/green or action/commentary/dialogue three more times until I get to the end of my anchor chart.
Of course, the pattern might change within each panel (like the dialogue comes before the commentary), but I require that students have all three colors represented in each panel.
While I'm modeling it (and because I'm talking about myself and my kids), the students are really engaged. I intentionally don't have them take notes, or do one alongside me. I want them to see my process more than anything, and I'm really use the opportunity to draw out my thinking process.
So, students take that little start from their Guiding Question and begin writing a Memory Map. I give them blank computer paper and colored pencils. I allow them to choose any three colors as long as they draw a key on their paper.
Students will need a lot of work time. I spend this entire time circulating. There are many times that kids get caught up in changing colors, that they don't even know why they're doing it. One girl this year had, like, every color of the rainbow represented on her paper, so I needed to stop and reteach with her.
When they are finished with their Memory Maps, though, they have a solid first draft.
The Memory Map is modified from our worktext, SpringBoard. If you need to differentiate and give them a graphic organizer before the Memory Map, this one might be useful. I prefer to model and think aloud, but some students may need to organize and chart their thinking before they begin to write.
For the reflection, because I wasn't able to get to a lot of kids during work time, I ask them to note what I can do to support them. So, for this particular reflection, I ask "What can Mrs. Boles do to help you with your Memory Map?" Some used the reflection as a chance to show me what was going well!
Those kids who were confused are then able to discreetly ask for clarification.