100 word memoirs

For the past few years, I’ve used Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s idea of a 100 word memoir as one of the early assignments for my classes. It’s miraculous. Over and over, students engage deeply with this task. They dive into their notebooks for ideas; they draft multiple options; they give each other feedback, laughing and talking in small groups as they tell their stories. Best of all, they revise and revise – actual revision! – to get their word count and their craft just right.

Each time I assign this, I write in front of my students. They see how I generate ideas. They help me choose my topic from my list; they almost always choose ones about dating or embarrassing things I’ve done. They watch me struggle with decisions – how should I start? does this ending work? maybe I should fiddle with this sentence – and see my mini-memoir grow and shrink as I aim for 100 words. Sometimes, I actually get to the end.

Today, teaching online, I shared some of my potential ideas and saw the reaction of the two kids whose cameras were on; no point in taking a vote, experience told me that this topic would win. I fiddled and futzed, changed and rejigged. I started 87 words. I changed the opening. Moved the middle. Added some details, took out others. 100 words! But still not quite right. I moved bits, changed sentence structure… They were writing, I was writing. It’s actually pretty fun. In fact, I kept fiddling with it after class until I got something I liked. Tomorrow, I’ll ask my students for feedback, but you can read it here first.

Kissing J Austin
As soon as my lips touch his cheek, I know this is a mistake. I’m already seriously awkward and Pammy has pushed me forward, so I nearly knock him into a shelf full of beakers. Supposedly every girl in the 7th grade is kissing J. Austin for his birthday, but at this moment I realize he isn’t in on the plan. He rights himself and stares at me…horrified? disgusted? Red-faced, mortified, I retreat from the science supply room. Behind me, the popular girls titter and flit around him. How many girls kissed him that day? I never dared ask.

Craft moves: use of present tense, a hook that drops the reader into the moment, 7th grade POV/diction – all the emotions are giant

13 thoughts on “100 word memoirs

    1. They pretty much always like it if I write about being in middle school/high school. Actually, now that I type that, they like reading *anything* vaguely embarrassing about me outside of the classroom. Never fails. Good thing I’ve got lots of embarrassing stories.

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    1. I highly recommend it. If you’d like, I can share my collection of 100 word memoir examples with you. I have a few from my students that are amazing. (Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher have some, too, of course!)

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  1. I love Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher! I’d love that you write with your students and show them the process you go through when composing so they can see that writing is not easy. Your classroom sounds like a wonderful place where writers are able to grow and evolve!

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  2. Writing in front of students is sometimes scary, but always a good idea. I think seeing us struggle empowers them in their own struggles. I love your story! Is there any time of life with more embarrassment than 7th grade?

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