Helping Others Overcome

6, 7, 8

Students edit their memoir drafts, adding dialogue and figurative language in this guided writing session. This lesson will help students realize that struggles they experience in their lives often lead to a new understanding or lesson learned. Students will reflect on how their experience impacts others. They will use this realization to identify how they can address needs in their own community.

PrintFive 50-Minute Sessions

The learner will:

  • use the writing process to develop a memoir that clearly describes a struggle and the new understanding/realization learned.
  • analyze the lesson learned or new understanding from their memoir to identify a community need.
  • apply the new understanding to a community need.
  • Teacher memoir to use as a model.
  • Chart paper to make anchor charts.
  • Examples of anchor charts (from Pinterest) to build co-constructed charts with students.
Teacher Preparation 
  • Write a memoir about an experience in your own life. It shouldn't be polished or perfect since you want to use it to demonstrate to students how to make revisions to their own copies.  
  • The memoirs are a good base to then develop Spoken Word poems that students can share with their peers and the community.  A performance in front of an audience is very beneficial and can build great support among the students and the teacher.  If you choose to do a performance, you will need to find a venue and work with students to identify a need in the community that they would like to meet. Give students as much responsibility as possible in organizing the event.
  • memoir: a narrative piece of writing that explains an experience and the lesson learned or new understanding realized by the writer
  • figurative language: language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation
  • transitions: a word or group of words that relate something that came before to what comes after
  • conclusion: the last part of something or an opinion reached
  • simile: a figure of speech where two unlike things or compared using "like" or "as" followed by a figurative example
  • metaphor: a word or phrase used to compare two unlike objects, ideas, thoughts or feelings to provide a clearer description
  • idiom: language or expressions used by a specific group of people that can't be translated into other languages
  • personification: giving human characteristics to non-living things or ideas
  • dialogue : conversation or exchange of ideas
  • Spoken Word poetry: poetry that is written on a page but performed for an audience.  This poetry tends to demonstrate a heavy use of rhythm, improvisation, free association, rhymes, rich poetic phrases, word play and slang.
Home Connection 

After adding a conclusion to their memoir, Day 4, have students take Handout 1: Memoir Reflection Questions, home to share with an adult. Ask the adult to read their memoir and answer the reflection questions to help them improve the sharing of the experience.


Pinterest:  for examples of anchor/co-constructed charts.


  1. Day 1

    Anticipatory Set:

    Have students share their memoir rough drafts with each other. Ask them to share as feedback "2 Stars and a Wish" -- two things that they like about the writing and one thing that they wish the writer would have told the reader to make it more interesting or clear.

  2. Ask students to identify the narrator (themselves) of the memoir. Tell them, "It's important to show what the narrator is experiencing and not just tell about the experience. You can do this through using dialogue."

  3. Review how dialogue can directly or indirectly reveal information about characters or show why the events are significant to the characters.We learn how a character thinks, feels, and acts by the things they say and how they say it.

  4. Review rules and uses for dialogue. Have the students contribute to the list of what they know about dialogue.

  5. Build a co-constructed anchor chart, "Dialogue Rules" with the class. Have students write this into their writing notebooks as you make a large copy together to be hung up in the classroom.

  6. An easy place to incorporate dialogue is to have students use it to grab their readers at the beginning of the writing piece.

  7. Use the teacher memoir as a model and have students help you add dialogue to your own memoir.

  8. Give students time to make dialogue additions to their memoir.

  9. As time allows, have students share with a partner or table group the changes that they've made to their memoir.

  10. Day 2

    Anticipatory Set: Write the words "adverb" and "adjective" on the board. Ask students to define the words. Discuss the meanings and how they are different.

  11. Tell students that adverbs and conjunctive adverbs can add depth and understanding to a text. They can also act as transition words to help a reader better understand a writer's ideas. Memoir writers use transition words to signal a shift in time and sequence. They link sentences and paragraphs.

  12. Build a co-constructed anchor chart on transition words. (Note: I really like a chart called "Traffic Light Transitions" found on Pinterest that divides the words according to where they are used in the writing.) Tell students to write in their writers' notebooks what goes on the chart.

  13. Have students work with the teacher (using the teacher memoir displayed overhead) to make changes/additions to the model text.

  14. Ask students to apply what they've just learned to their own memoirs.

  15. As time allows, have students share with a partner or table group the changes that they've made to their memoir.

  16. Day 3

    Anticipatory Set: Write the words "figurative language" on the board. Ask students to write a definition and give an example of what they know about figurative language. Discuss what students have written down and clarify any misconceptions.

  17. Explain that memoir writers use imagery and figurative language to create an effect on the reader.

  18. Writers use words to help their readers visualize the event that has taken place.

    • For example, instead of writing, "The boy fell down," you might write, "As the teenager was tearing down to the corner store, a piece of concrete grabbed his toes and sent him cartwheeling head over heels, smashing his face into the ground."
  19. The most common types of figurative language are similes, metaphors, personification, and alliteration.You may also want to add onomatopoeia, idioms, and hyperbole.

  20. Build a co-constructed anchor chart on "Figurative Language" with students as they define each of these terms. Tell students to record what goes on the chart in their writers' notebooks. Display your chart in the classroom for future reference.

  21. Use the model text (teacher memoir) to show students how they might add one of the types of figurative language to their own writing. (In my text it said that I was excited. We changed that to "I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning.)

  22. Ask students to work on their own memoir and add figurative language to create better understanding by their reader.

  23. As time allows, have students share with a partner or small group, the changes that they've made to their memoir.

  24. Day 4

    Anticipatory Set: On the board write: "What did you learn from the experience that you've described in your memoir?" Discuss some of the student answers to this question.

  25. Discuss that this new understanding is the anchor of their memoir. It's that moment when the reader says, "Ah-ha, I get it now!" This is when the reader really connects with the author.

  26. Pass out copies of the example text "Everything Will Be Okay" by James Howe for students to mark on. (This texthas a very strong conclusion, but you may also choose a text of your own)

  27. Read the story as a class and then ask students to mark on their copy and identify the BEFORE, the EVENT, the AFTER and the new understanding/realization.

  28. Have students work with a table group to discuss the author's feelings in the text. Once they've had time to do this, come back together as a whole group to talk about each of these parts of the memoir.

  29. Students will then trade their memoir with a partner and use Handout 1 (Memoir Reflection Questions) to identify these parts in another student's writing. When this is completed, the two students should discuss their findings and help each other identify if any part is missing or not clear.

  30. Give students an extra Memoir Reflection Question handout to take home as homework. They should have an adult read and reflect on their memoir.

  31. Students should use these reflection sheets to make revisions to their own writing.

  32. Give time, as needed, for revising and editing to make final copies of the memoir.

  33. Use Handout 2 (Memoir Rubric) to grade student memoirs.

  34. Prepare students for a voluntary read-aloud of their memoirs in front of the class for Day 5. Tell them to prepare for the day by practicing reading aloud their memoirs. You can bring in some snacks/beverages and make it similar to a coffee house type of reading and sharing. Don't forget to make it a safe environment by preparing the class and instructing them how to react for a performance (which this is).

  35. Day 5

  36. This is the day when you celebrate your writers and their stories with an in-class performance. Have volunteers take turns telling their stories to the class.

  37. End the class period with a student reflection about the importance of the lesson they learned through their experience.

  38. Ask the following questions or come up with your own.

    • How might you have done things differently if you could make a change to the experience?
    • How did your experience impact others?
    • What can others learn from your experience?
    • Can your new understanding change how your view others around you? How?
    • What can you do to make a difference in your community because of what you know now?
  39. See the Service Experience above to lead a discussion about turning this learning experience into an evening performance of spoken word poetry. The goal would be to impact others and build community connections through advocacy.


Day 1: Students will demonstrate their understanding of dialogue by adding it to their memoirs. Day 2: Students will demonstrate their understanding of transitions by adding it to their memoirs. Day 3: Students will demonstrate their understanding of figurative language by adding it to their memoirs. Day 4: Students will demonstrate their understanding of a strong conclusion by adding one to their memoirs. Day 5: Final copies of the memoir that have been graded using the rubric.

Cross Curriculum 

As an extension to this lesson, students develop an idea from their memoir into a Spoken Word poem. They organize a performance of Spoken Word poetry for the school community and ask for food/book/clothing donations as admission, depending on community need and student interests. Have the students take responsibility for the planning, invitations, securing the venue, and planning the agenda for the performance. They can give it a theme related to an issue area and community partner.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define and give examples of the motivations for giving and serving.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      2. Benchmark MS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.