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Teacher Tips and Answers

Warm-Up for Personal Essays

What is your very first memory? Was it splashing in a bathtub with little plastic boats, or sharing a cookie with the kid who lived next door, or seeing a reindeer in a holiday parade? People say that your very first memory says a lot about who you are. Why? Because the experience meant something to you at the time and still means something to you now—since you've held onto it all these years.

In fact, the reason we can't remember our earliest years is that we hadn't yet begun to develop what psychologists call autobiographical memory. You probably learned to walk when you were very young but have no memory of it. That's because you didn't start to fashion a mental narrative of your life until you were about three years old. At that point, you started remembering experiences because they helped to explain who you are. Your very sense of self is tied to the memories you have and the stories you tell about them.

You can explore an especially important period in your life by writing a personal essay.

What Is a Personal Essay?

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Writing Literary Analysis
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A personal essay is a narrative about an important time in your life, showing how it shaped who you are. Instead of focusing on just one event, a personal essay relates a number of events over an extended time frame, weaving them together into a "story of you." It won't be enough just to put details in chronological order—first this happened . . . then that happened . . . and afterward this other thing. . . . Instead, you need to show the significance of each event and build them into a narrative arc. You'll learn how in the coming lessons. First, though, you can warm up by imagining you have a time machine.

Thinking About Your Past

In the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chronic overachiever Hermione Granger uses a "time-turner" to jump back in time and attend a second class while her first self was busy studying in a different class. Now imagine that you have your own time-turner—but you won't be using it to attend classes.

Also, your time-turner works a bit differently. It takes you back to relive three months of your life. You don't watch yourself from the outside. You experience everything again, only this time with your memories of the future riding along. What time period would you choose? Why?

You can use a cluster to explore possible times. Think of "seasons of your life" (approximately three months) and write down at least three such time periods. Then explore each season by adding images, thoughts, actions, and sensations. Use this student cluster as inspiration:

Cluster Diagram

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