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Writing Through Memoir
Mr. Ellinwood
Office: 2nd floor Mansion

Course Description

Exploring the genre of memoir through a combination of critical analysis and creative nonfiction writing, students in this class will be asked to explore the idea of "who am I?". Emphasis will be on both how to write a successful personal essay, as well as what techniques we can use from creative non-fiction to best create something that speaks of you with depth and sincerity. Many personal essays tend to be stale and filled with lackluster clichés that fail to show the depth of which an individual is capable. As a class, we will seek to identify the strategies used by such authors as David Sedaris, Tobias Wolff, Sonja Livingston, and Dorothy Allen to inject their own complex personalities and experiences into their writing. Allow yourself to dig deep, and to try on the cap of a creative non-fiction writer so as to best learn how to present yourself in writing.


  • To gain skills in expressing ourselves and our stories through short and long creative nonfiction with originality and creativity.
  • Identify and emulate the successful aspects of effective creative writing.
  • Experience writing as a tool through which we are able to explore ourselves and our experiences in life as well as a resource for self-expression and
  • To develop an understanding of basic figurative speech (metaphor, personification, hyperbole, etc.) and analytical methods and apply them in discussions and writing.

Essential Questions

  1. What can we learn about ourselves and those close to us through the process of writing about our experiences?
  2. In what ways are we able to access our memory through the use of senses and how can this strengthen our writing?
  3. What role can writing play in people’s lives—even those who do not wish to seek writing as a profession?



The Year Outline (Subject to Change)


Unit 1: The Writer's Toolbox

Intro Unit Plan
Carmen Agra Deedy Ted Video


For 9/17: Complete comma worksheets. Read "Words of My Youth" and do Double Entry notes to be checked in class
For 9/18: Watch a segment of a television program and write what you observe. I want a full page of description of different aspects of what is going on. I'll check it at the beginning of next class. Jeremy and James: just complete the writing assignment that I gave you at the end of class.
For 9/22: Locate an object that has the most unusual feel to it. Write 1-2 paragraphs about what it feels like in detail.
For 9/23: Choose 2 things on the "smells" worksheet and write 1-2 paragraphs on each. Be sure to use detail and comparisons to strengthen your writing.
For 9/25: Silently observe the sounds in a familiar place. This could be your room, the dorm common area, sports practice (or a game), the cafeteria, etc. Write 2 detailed paragraphs about what you hear. What might you have not noticed before?
For 9/28: Write a story about the character we invented together in class. Have him doing something that would fit the persona we gave him. That is, make sure it's something you would expect someone like him to be doing. Have good tangible details for each of the five senses. 650-750 words, typed, and printed to collect at the beginning of class monday.
For 9/29: (Jake, Jarrett, Jeremy): Edit your papers. Bring in the edited copies AND the originals Jameses: Do peer edits for each other, bring them in. Michael and Antoine: Write your stories and bring them to class.
For 10/1: Complete the edited draft of your character sketch. Submit to me by Wednesday night. This includes the original draft, the final draft, and the peer editing sheet from class (you can bring this into class on Thursday)
For 10/2: Write your own 6 word memoir! Take your time, write some different stuff and try new things. In the end, I just want one. Be prepared to share in class.
For 10/8: Find something in nature or around you (like the cat in "September") and journal about it for 10 minutes. For the ten minutes you're writing, talk about anything that comes into your mind about the thing you notice. This doesn't need to be organized thought, just get what you're thinking onto paper.

Unit 2: How to Write About...

Unit 3: Analyzing Successful Memoir and its Qualities

  • Main Text: This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
  • Watch This Boy's Life film


Unit 3 Cont'd: Analyzing Successful Memoir and its Qualities

Genesis Unit Plan
Committed Unit Plan

Themes for spring term


Opening Sentences
Prank Memoir