Memoir Picture Book Workshop

Introduction to The Writing For Pleasure Centre

Introduction to the session

In this session, you will be taken on a whistle-stop tour of our Memoir Picture Book project. This is a class writing project used by Writing For Pleasure Centre schools. The session will show you how a project is typically planned and delivered and you will get the chance to start writing your own!

After the session, you can download all our Memoir resources so you can do the project with your class.

Why do this project?

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here – Sue Monk Kidd

Simple recounts tell what is remembered but not perhaps why it is remembered. They are preoccupied with ‘information’. This class writing project is different. It shows children that they can share heartfelt moments from their lives – funny, sad, happy, strange, surprising, or maybe scary. The best memoirs are little vignettes of things that occur in everyday life to which we can all relate. These, of course, are often the things that matter. Writing a memoir helps children understand the power of writing as a reflective tool; sharing them makes them into a social resource which creates empathy and brings the whole community together. They show us how others see and experience the world, and help us appreciate all the things we have in common.

Memoir is a kind of storytelling, and children are natural memoirists. They possess a fund of ready material for writing, and of course, like all of us, they love embellishing their stories with details that don’t always tell the whole truth. In memoir as a genre, they can be playful and experimental, and try out many of the things they love about writing.

The importance of having a class publishing house

The importance of book-making

Purpose and audience. It’s essential that children are making books for others to enjoy. Books that they can show, tell and read to others. For children in the EYFS, the audience can be very immediate. For children in KS1 and KS2, you can start to think about audiences beyond the classroom.

The purpose and audience for the Memoir Picture Book you’re going to make today is to teach and entertain your pupils. It might also offer you an opportunity for reflection. I really want you to make a picture book today that you can read and share with your pupils. I also want you to answer their questions about it and for you to tell them how you made it. You can then invite them to make their own that day too…

The importance of studying mentor texts (also known as: examples or WAGOLLs)

The importance of product goals

Let’s take a look at some mentor texts and set our product goals (DOWNLOAD the mentor texts here).

I would like you to look at the mentor texts I’ve provided and make a list of things you think you’ll have to do or include to write a great Memoir. This list will become our product goals.

NOTE: Here’s an example of what a product goals list can look like. These examples are taken from two separate projects in Year Four classroom. One is Fairy Tales and the other is Information. The class always reads a variety of mentor texts before making their product goals list together.

Generate your own ideas: Have an ideas party!

I’ve introduced the project. We know the purpose and audience for these memoirs. We’ve studied a variety of mentor texts and we decided on our product goals. It’s now time to start generate ideas for what we want to write about! I have to say, this is my favourite part of teaching writing with children. Like the children in your class, I would like you to spend a few minutes coming up with a variety of ideas of what your Memoirs could be about.

In addition to having an ideas party, you can also teach idea generation techniques writers use to generate their writing ideas. Here’s one you could use:

Mini-Lesson #1 Idea generation strategy: When I was younger…

The author Willa Cather has said that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired in childhood and she’s right. You can have a wonderful class writing project develop by simply asking children to end this sentence: When I was younger….

Make sure you are all talking together as a whole class, in groups and in pairs for this. You’ll have a whole mountain of writing ideas by the lesson’s end. It’s an amazing mini-lesson too because ideas often spark more ideas. Children begin to relate to one another and each have tales to tell on similar themes that are brought up. It’s worth looking at some of the children’s ideas and asking them to drill down into the essence of it. For example, there is going to be a big difference between memoirs on these two topics:

  • When I was younger, I went to Spain every year.
  • When I was younger, we ate ice cream on the beach at midnight.

I would expect Child A to struggle whereas Child B has a clear ‘diamond moment’ in mind.

With this mini-lesson, it’s really great if you take part too. Share some memories from childhood with your class – they’ll thank you for it and it gives them some good direction. If a particular theme seems to take hold and children want to talk about it, let the conversation go… you’ll be surprised what kind of interesting ideas can come from such discussion.

Take a writing register

Once everyone has an idea, it’s useful to take a Writing Register to make a record of what everyone is writing about. Here are two examples. On the left, is an example from a Year Two class who were making information books. On the right, is an example from a Year Four class who were writing memoirs.

Below are examples of just some things children have chosen to write about in schools we have worked with in economically deprived areas:

– Girls’ skateboarding
– The Chinese dynasty
– The physics involved in the workings of a lift
– How to pass the London taxi drivers’ test
– Going to the dentist 
– The food in hospitals
– Cutting my hair off for charity
– My little sister being born
– Visiting Nigeria
– Poking my eye with a pencil
– How to change a beer keg
– How to make your friend laugh
– Tribute to Chadwick Boseman
– My pregnant rabbit
– The Iranian revolution
– Being old enough to babysit your brother 
– Baking cupcakes
– Tearing my hamstring
– Catching a crab
– Cracking my head open
– Meeting my cousins from Albania 
– How to wash your dog without stress
– Understanding the offside trap in football

This table was taken from an article we wrote called: They won’t have anything to write about: The dangers of believing children are ‘culturally deprived’ It’s a great article to read and discuss at a staff meeting.

Working through the writing processes

I would now like us to start working on our Memoirs. Obviously, with your classes you’d give them many days and even weeks to work their way through these writing processes and you’d teach them lessons everyday to help them write successfully. As adult writers, I’m going to leave you to write on your own. However, I have supplied you with just a few examples of mini-lessons I would typically teach children over the course of this project. With your pupils, you would just teach one thing each day.

In KS1, we typically recommend children make picture books of about 6-8 pages. This can then develop into making ‘chapter books’ when they feel ready. ‘Chapter books’ are portrait A4 pages with a space for a picture at the top. The children learn to write about that picture underneath and to get a new page when they feel they need a new image and some new writing. Children have access to as many pages as they need. At the end, they staple their pages together and it becomes a ‘chapter book’. Please note, a chapter book can be as little as two pages long! It still counts!

I’ve shared this with you today because one of our Writing For Pleasure schools has been trialling extending this process into LKS2. Children in LKS2 no long write in exercise books. Instead, they will continue their apprenticeship of making ‘chapter books’. This makes the transition between KS1 and KS2 seamless. I think they’ve been rather clever and it has a number of benefits:

  • You can control the amount children draft each day. E.g. Today, we are going to draft one page for our ‘chapter books’.
  • The picture acts as a plan for that particular page. This helps keep children focused when drafting that page.
  • Children can revise and change individual pages easily compared to writing in their exercise book. 
  • Drafting across individual pages acts as a cohesive device – similar to paragraphing. 

Early feedback has been that teachers and children prefer writing this way and children are producing higher-quality pieces than they used to in their exercise books.  Maybe something worth you trying out too?

Mini-Lesson #2 Planning river

The ancient Egyptians used symbols to share meaning in around 3,000 BC and it wasn’t a bad system. It’s an idea still used by writers today. Below are some examples. Children are invited to plan their writing using symbols, pictures or other images. Some children put the plan on a line or in a river. Others like to use arrows to show how they go from one point to the next. Planning rivers can be used for any type of writing. 

For this mini-lesson, simply show children how you’ve used a planning map to plan a piece of your own writing. You can then invite them to do the same during that day’s writing time. 

Drafting

  • DOWNLOAD our drafting advice example of practice

Mini-Lesson #3 Story openings

It’s said that people will often read the first ten pages of a book before deciding whether it’s for them or not. Obviously, the children in your class aren’t writing novels for this writing project, but the premise is the same. They must have a great opening. There are different types of narrative openings and these can be shared with children. They include:

I often ask children to try out writing a variety of openings using some of these different types before choosing a favourite. They can also discuss them with their colleagues at their tables too. The best place for this is on their ‘revision and trying things out page’. 

For this mini-lesson, the best place to turn to is the books you are all reading in class. Ask  the children to get them out of their trays and look at what type of opening the author has used. Perhaps they find some that don’t match my list above? That’s great! You can add your own too. I’ve spent quite a lot of time on this mini-lesson and have returned to it many times in an academic year. I’ve always dedicated part of my working wall to making a poster where children provide me with examples they’ve found from their own reading.

Mini-Lesson #4 What you want to say, then How best to say it

Many adult writers first need to put down on paper what it is they want to say before they can think about how best to say it. This is something we can share with children.  

In this mini-lesson, share how you will sometimes write down a sentence – just to see what it is you want to say before you read it back and think about how best to say it. You can then invite your class to give it a try during that day’s writing time. 

Mini-Lesson #5 The poetry that hides in things

No ideas but in things – William Carlos Williams

Within objects, we can find deeper meanings. By painting with words to describe objects, we can share with our readers what is otherwise impossible. Objects can be used as a metaphor for more abstract, psychological or philosophical concepts within our stories. Through direct description of an object, we can reveal the poetry within it.

Children should already know that they can bring their poetry, fiction and non-fiction to life  by ‘painting with words’. Painting with words can include:

  • Comparing something to something else (through simile and metaphor.)
  • Showing what someone or something does instead of simply telling them.
  • Using the different senses to describe things in interesting ways.
  • Giving nature or things human characteristics or emotions through personification or pathetic fallacy.
  • Giving sharp, precise and objective description of objects through imagism.

This is a mini-lesson that can be repeated many times. The best thing to do with it is to  share how you use some of these techniques yourself in your own writing and for the class   to take time looking in the books in the class library at where other authors have done it.  You can then end the mini-lesson by inviting children to try some of the techniques for  themselves.

Mini-Lesson #6 Prove it!

Sometimes when we say it directly, we lose the intrigue and appeal of what it is we want to say. Anton Chekhov famously said: ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’. The easiest way I’ve found to apply this technique to my own writing is to search for where I’ve used the words is, was, are and were, as these lead me to tell. By replacing them, I naturally begin to show. For example: The boy is walking up the hill instead becomes The red-faced boy heaves, complains and puffs his way to the top of the hill. 

Another way to look at it is to read your writing back and shout out ‘prove it!’. The boy was sad… Prove it! 

The best thing to do with this lesson is to show children how you have used this technique yourself in your writer’s notebook. Explain how you went about it and answer any of the children’s questions. You can then invite your young writers to have a go for themselves during writing time. In my experience, this mini-lesson is most effective when the majority of your class are revising their pieces.

Using the revision checklist

Children like to know what they have to do and how to do it. They also get a great deal of satisfaction and confidence in knowing they are doing a good job. That’s what revision checklists are all about. Please feel free to use our example checklist to reflect on how your memoir is coming along.

NOTE: Usually, this checklist would be based on what we discussed when we studied the mentor texts and established our product goals. This was the list of things we said we were going to do or include to write a great Memoir.

Proof-reading: Editing

Writing For Pleasure schools ensure that each class sets themselves up as a publishing house at the beginning of the year and children publish their work onto this publishing house.

Because of this, they take proof-reading (editing) really seriously. Their children are given ample time in which to ensure that their manuscripts are transcriptionally accurate before they go through to publication or performance. They give children very specific things to edit for and give them multiple days in which to complete it. For example, by using the CUPS technique. Each day, children may be asked to proof-read for one of the following:

  • Capitalisation
  • Use of vocabulary (cohesion/repetition/proper noun/pronoun use as opposed to ambitious vocabulary
  • Punctuation
  • Spellings

Children are encouraged to keep count of the number of edits they DO make and children are praised for the number of changes they make prior to publication. Teachers check children’s manuscripts prior to publication and if they are not transcriptionally accurate enough, the teacher will ask the pupil to work on it again.

Publishing or performing

Now their manuscript is revised and proof-read, the children are in a position to write up their final copy and publish or perform it to their waiting audience.

It’s important that at the end of a writing project you celebrate the children’s hard work by having a publishing party. This is what other authors do out in the real-world so children should be entitled to it too.

Resources

  • Other class writing projects in this series – LINK
  • Our BIG book of mini-lessons: lessons that teach powerful craft knowledge to 3-11 year olds – LINK
  • Our writing development scales and assessment toolkit – LINK
  • Our book Real-World Writers: A handbook for teaching writing with 7-11 year olds – LINK
  • Our book Writing For Pleasure: Theory, research and practice LINK

Finally

I hope you enjoyed this session. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact us – LINK

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