In the textbook Essentials of Children’s Literature, Brown and Thomlinson (2005) identify a thematic unit as, “Organizing a study of literature by theme … Focusing on the multiple connections and interpretations” (p. 254). These series of lessons, incorporates several books across the genres; drawing into the main topic of the unit. This is commonly used within the classroom, as it is effective in engaging students with a variety of literature. Brown and Thomlinson (2005) states, “These units allow students the opportunity to read a set of books related to the theme and explore the theme through questioning, journaling, reflecting, discussing, writing, responding through drama and art, and further reading” (p. 255).
My middle school English Thematic unit is on literary selfies. A literary selfie is an amusing, relevant term to describe an autobiography to students ages 11-14 years. I believe, reading about the lives of extraordinary people through autobiographies and personal memoirs is a great way to learn about their stories; not only to receive information, but to inspire and challenge readers as well.
This unit will assist you in the classroom toward meeting the English Language Arts Common Core State Reading Standard 10 (2010); read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently. This unit will also assist you in the classroom toward meeting the English Language Arts Common Core Writing Standard 7 (2010); write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences. Using several fiction and non-fiction books, online resources, related literature, and a variety of activities we will acquire knowledge about autobiographies and personal memoirs; then incorporate this material in a personal memoir writing activity.
There are an abundance of incredible books that can be used in a literary selfie unit; after careful consideration, I have chosen the following books for the students to read:
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai (Young Readers Edition). An autobiography of an inspiring story that begins when she was only 10 years old. Malala’s region was taken over by the Taliban; one of their many rules refrained girls from attending school. Malala disagreed with these rules and stood up for her and her peers, fighting for their education. One horrific day, Taliban fighters shot her as she traveled home from school. No one thought she would survive the accident, fortunately she did. Now she is a symbol of peace and become the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. The Lexile Score for this book is 830L and Readability Grade 5.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. An autobiography of a young girl who received a blank diary on her 13th birthday, just weeks before her and her family would take hiding into an attic of an Amsterdam warehouse. Her impressively detailed, personal entries chronicle 25 months of claustrophobic, irritable intimacy with her parents, sister, a second family, and a dentist who had very little acceptance for Anne’s high-spiritedness. Anne writes until the day they were found, she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, three months before her 16th birthday. Miep Gies found the diary after the Nazis arrested the Frank family in Amsterdam in 1944. The Lexile Score for this book is 1080L and Readability Grade 5.9.
Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography. An autobiography, adapted for a younger audience of an adventure seeking young man from a remote island off a Britain’s coast. Known and admired by millions as the star of Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls has survived where few would dare to go, Mount Everest. Now, for the first time, Bear tells the story of his action-packed life. The Lexile Score for this book is 930L and Readability Grade 6.3.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story. A fictional autobiography, this is a genre that an author chooses to tell a real experience, or the full story of their life, as a fictional account. In this book, Vizzini writes about his experiences of school and being hospitalized for depression through the character, Craig. Craig works extremely hard at being a good student and is aware that it is important to attend the right schools in order to be accepted at the most prestigious colleges. He does what it takes to obtain entrance in a top New York city high school; it is here that life is no longer the same and he finds himself an “average joe”. This brings upon several difficult, crazy experiences and Craig begins to see his perfect future start coming apart. The Lexile Score for this book is 700L and Readability Grade 4.
I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser. A non-fiction New York best seller with the idea to write a six-word personal memoir. From death to social-media, dating to parents, and getting into trouble to falling in love, these memoirs tell us that some of the smallest writers have the biggest stories to tell. The Lexile Score for this book is 850L and Readability Grade 6.
Throughout this unit, I will use a few online resources; I found the following websites beneficial to the study on literary selfies:
SixWord Memoirs Teens A Six-Word Memoir® is the story of your life, some or all of it, told in six words. At Six Words Teens, they provide a place to share your six words and provide daily prompts to share your six-word ideas on today’s latest topics. This site also includes a blog, resources, and a variety of ways schools can implement six words in the classroom.
WritingCube Creator Provided by the website, Read Write Think, this tool helps students create four different types of writing; biography/autobiography, mystery, basic elements story, and create-your-own-topic.
In addition to the books and online resources in our literary selfies unit, we will use the following related literature:
What’s a Memoir? by Shmoop. A fun, engaging YouTube video that teaches us about personal memoirs. A memoir is a piece of literary non-fiction where the writer is the main character and is written in themes reflecting on a moment, a day, a portion of life, or a lifetime.
Six Tips for Writing Six-Word Memoirs. A short, fun YouTube video that includes tips for writing Six-Word Memoirs from SMITH Magazine, the creators of the Six-Word Memoir project and bestselling book series.
An introduction to the thematic unit to engage the students into literary selfies, we will begin a K-W- L chart. Starting a new unit with this graphic organizer enables the teacher to assess student’s background knowledge of the topic, by answering the question what do you know? Once this information has been identified and written in the chart we will discuss what was found out about literary selfies. Next, we will address the second portion of the chart, what do we want to know? In this class discussion, we will generate a list of questions about autobiographies and personal memoirs that the students are interested in learning during the unit. Now, we will move on to the second activity as we have completed all that we can in the K-W-L chart, we will return to it at the end of the unit to answer the final portion of the chart, what have I learned? This will be an interactive way to conclude the unit and assess the knowledge gained throughout the lessons, activities, and readings.
The second activity we will complete will help us learn all the new vocabulary we will be introduced to throughout the unit’s readings. As a class, we will discuss the strategy Context-Structure-Sound-Reference (CSSR) and create a wall chart as a reference throughout the unit. In learning about CSSR, I will cover in detail about each specific part and how it can help us find out what words mean that they do not know. I will provide a sample passage that will allow us to practice this strategy as a group and then offer another sample passage that will allow the students to practice the strategy in pairs. Now, they will be instructed to apply the CSSR as they read their required books independently.
The third activity we will complete during the literary selfies thematic unit is participate in a literature circle. A literature circle is a student centered, collaborative reading strategy that gives them the opportunity to have an organized discussion on the books that we are reading. Prior to the day of the literature circles, students will be given reflection questions to answer on their own. This will give them the chance to develop ideas toward the questions we will use to initiate the conversation of the material they acquired while reading the books. During the literature circle, students will begin with the reflection questions given, and the teacher will assist the direction and motivation of the activity.
Overall, the literary selfies thematic unit will provide students with an understanding of autobiographies and personal memoirs. The unit began and ended with a K-W-L chart which allowed us to assess prior knowledge and knowledge learned. We learned a new strategy that will help us find out meanings of new words found when we read. We read five books from different genres that helped us better understand the importance of an autobiography; as well as being introduced to some incredible, inspiring young people. After our readings, we discussed them within our literature circles giving us the ability to see the books through the eyes of our classmates, expanding our perceptions. Throughout the unit’s lectures, we watched videos and visited websites that introduced us to writing personal memoirs, specifically a well- known one with only six-words. In the end, we had the opportunity to create our own six-word personal memoir, just as Ernest Hemingway (1920’s) had been known to complete. He wrote,
“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,”
reminding us that in writing each individual word counts, an entire story can be written in just a half a dozen words.
Until next time – a latte of blessings & sparkles,
Frank, A. (1952). The diary of a young girl. Garden City, NY: Doubleday
Grylls, B. (2011). Mud, sweat, and tears: The autobiography. London: Transworld PublishersLynch-Brown, C., Short, K. G., & Tomlinson, C. M. (2005).
Essentials of children’s literature(8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Oviatt, B. [Six Words]. (September 8, 2010).
Six tips for writing six-word memoirs. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/nCJyUMHaL_g
Read Write Think. (2001). Writing cube creator. NCTE. Retrieved fromhttp://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/cube_creator/
Shmoop. (June 11, 2013). What’s a memoir? [Video File]. Retrieved fromhttps://youtu.be/PLHkuSpJxPs
Six word memoirs teens. (2005 – 2016). Retrieved fromhttp://www.sixwordmemoirs.com/teens/
Smith, L., & Fershleiser, R. (2009). I can’t keep my own secrets: Six-word memoirs by teensfamous & obscure. New York, NY: Harper TeenVizzini, N. (2011).
It’s kind of a funny story. New York, NY: Miramax BooksYousafzai, M. (2014).
I am Malala: How one girl stood up for education and changed the world (Young Readers Edition). New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company