For my memoir unit I've been consulting the experts; in addition to the Kirbys and Jack Gantos, I've been using Ralph Fletcher's How to Write About Your Life and Jerry Spinelli's Knots in My Yo-Yo String. What a funny coincidence that they all have something specific in common besides being good resources: it's the Map Activity.
For the past few years I've been doing my best to incorporate more visual-graphic elements into the writing I ask my students to do, so this activity seemed like a good fit. In addition, I felt like it was age-appropriate and clearly it appealed to different learning styles. The premise is that you draw a rough map of your neighborhood, yard, house, or room, and label it with significant places or events. Then you write about them.
I try to do all the assignments I give my students myself in advance if I can, but in this case, time didn't allow it, even though my lesson plan called for me to model a map, so I had to wing it. Using the white board as my scratch pad, I drew a square representing the house where I lived from the ages of 4 to 10.
What happened next was like magic... as I filled in features of my map, anecdote after anecdote spontaneously sprang to mind. I hit the highlights for the class as I sketched: the neighbor's strawberries my brother and I ate, the creek we weren't allowed to play in but did anyway (until we got caught), our clubhouse in the bushes by the house, the way our street curved downhill making it the perfect sledding slope when it snowed, Dr. Messey's house around the corner where I got my chin stitched up, the 10 puppies our dog had. I could have gone on and on, but the bell stopped me in each class.
It was an amazing exercise, and remarkably, the students found my stories pretty interesting. I just hope that they will be half as inspired as I was when they share their maps tomorrow.