Memoir Reading Unit: Engaging Non-fiction
When I was told I would be teaching a section of 7th grade in the 2021 school year, I immediately was super stressed. I already do ALL the things in 6th, what else could I possibly do with 7th?
I knew I needed to incorporate non-fiction in some way. In 6th grade, I do a major research unit early in the year and mid-year I do debates. What could I do differently for 7th?
Well, the first non-fiction I decided to do is a research unit focused on online research using a controversial topic of their choice (link for that coming soon). That segwayed into a research argument essay. I figured this covered the argumentative aspect of the standards and I covered a ton of non-fiction skills that way.
During this time, I was reading Molly Shannon's memoir and came to a realization...isn't this non-fiction? And I am SO into it! I realized memoirs are a GREAT way to tackle non-fiction skills and plus, these books are super engaging.
So, a memoir reading unit was born!
If you've been reading my blog and following me on Instagram, you know that I always teach in units and use choice reading. I dug around on the internet and reached out to my local librarian for some ideas of good memoirs for 7th graders. I also offered students could choose ANY memoir as long as I approved it (if there was a specific celebrity they wanted to focus on, for example).
I compiled my lists and had them choose a book with a partner of their choice. My read-aloud became the book Americanized by Sara Saedi. I LOVED this book. If you were born in the early-mid eighties, this book is for you! It is young adult and focuses on a girl who grew up in America as an illegal immigrant from Iran. Just a note...if you do decide to read this book aloud, there are definitely parts you may want to censor. I only read excerpts. Some topics may be a bit much for 7th grade.
I won't go through every single lesson, but I will give you the main highlights.
What is a memoir and what does it contain? What is different about these types of books compared to other fiction books? This is how I kick it off.
A focus on author's ideas, opinions and issues/themes. These authors are often trying to get across points. There is a reason they sat and wrote these books. It's important to know what messages they are trying to get across.
Influence: Influence of others is a big part of this unit. We go over how others caused them to do certain things OR how multiple things caused one major effect for the author. We also get into how others impact the author based on advice or things said to the author.
Challenges and conflicts: How does the author handle the challenges that come their way? They support this with text detail.
Students analyze titles, first lines, last lines, etc. They determine why an author chose to include such titles/lines. This is great analysis and connection.
P.I.E.: Persuade, inform, and entertain. They look for specific lines in which the author does these three things. Why does the author do each of them? In a memoir, the author definitely does ALL of these. It's different from a typical non-fiction text in that way.
Perspective: Students determine what shaped their author's perspective. What in their author's lives lead their author to certain decisions made?
Timelines: I have students create timelines. These are not basic timelines where they just list the order of events of their author's lives. The goal is to list all the most IMPORTANT events. I also have them connect two moments to show how events lead to other events based on character actions.
Main idea vs theme: This is such a great lesson to do with a memoir since it's non-fiction but also written like a story. I start with giving them basic sentences to fill in for main idea vs. theme to help them distinguish the difference. My students have been exposed to these sentence structures in other capacities throughout the school year. Here's my main idea lesson.
After I wrap up the reading portion of this unit, students write a literary essay focusing on author's craft. This is a separate mini-unit. You can read about that in my blog post.
Consider changing up your non-fiction unit. My 7th graders get a LOT of non-fiction reading in Social Studies, which is great! That reading is more informational, so memoirs are a great way to change it up in the E.L.A. classroom. You can get this entire unit by clicking the picture below.
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