It started with objects. Nina Harmande, third grade teacher at Calhoun, brought in three of her favorite objects with special memories. Nina introduced the concept of the “who, what, where” line of questioning, and taught them how to analyze her objects thoroughly. The third graders were excited to see their teacher’s objects and listen to her memories. They loved analyzing the larger meaning of small objects, and looked forward to embarking on their own adventure through their memories.
The Memory Collection is a writing project for third graders at Calhoun. The students are tasked with writing a personal narrative about an object that brings up a fun memory; it challenges them to think about how objects tell a story, and how history, geography and identity play a role in the narrative. They go through the entire writing process, including brainstorming, independent work, peer editing and publishing, and learn the value of longform writing.
The Writing Process
Before collecting any objects, Nina read Mem Fox’s Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, which is about a boy who helps an elderly friend who has lost her memory. In the book, the main character, Wilfrid, sets out to learn what a memory is, and asks the elderly people in his life. Each person reflects on the many emotions that come with memory, such as laughter, sadness, and nostalgia, and Wilfrid sets out to “find” memories through objects for his friend that has lost hers. This important lesson helped the students understand how precious their memories are, and how important certain objects can be for remembering events from the past. Then, Nina assigned them to bring three objects to class that brought back any memories, much like Wilfrid did.
Nina’s class split into groups with their objects and discussed the memories with their peers. In their unit on adjectives, Nina went over the definition of an adjective and the varieties they may see in their reading and writing; they were able to use those skills here to describe their objects, emotions and memories. Nina explained how important the description of an object is, as it creates an image in the mind of the reader. It was important for them to get their ideas out before they started the big task: writing a personal narrative.
The last part of the brainstorming is the pre-write. This is led by the five-finger story, where the students had to pick five significant events in their story and place them on a drawing of a hand. The peak of the story was either on the third or fourth finger; this helped the students learn the logical sequence of events, and choose the most important parts they wanted to include in their story.
Understanding that writing an entire narrative can seem daunting at first, Nina decided to break it down in a fun, interesting way. She showed them a visual of watermelon, and used it as a metaphor for building a story. The watermelon appeared as slices in the following image, and then as seeds in the image after that. Nina used this image to symbolize the writing process and to emphasize the importance of details in writing. She taught her students to pick one slice (one part) of their memories, start with the seeds (the details) of that slice, and build up to the eventual watermelon, which symbolized the whole story. The seeds, though small, are vital to creating something bigger than themselves. Breaking the parts of the story down like this helped the third graders take on longform writing in a fun way; going step by step made the process manageable for them.
Once their first drafts were finished, Nina introduced the students to peer editing and coaching. They split into groups of two, and with the help of the Learning Support Coordinator Liz, gave feedback on each other’s stories. The students told each other what excited them about their stories, as well as what needed to be clearer: “At this age, what their peers think is important to them. Having their feedback for their stories is helpful because they can influence each other in positive ways and motivate each other to write the best story possible,” said Nina.
They read and commented on each other’s writing and gave honest opinions on their stories. During flex time, Nina worked with the students independently on sentence structure, syntax, punctuation, diction and spelling within reason. She also supplied them with an editing checklist, so they could make sure each sentence had exactly what it needed. Lastly, after the third graders work on their edits, Nina sat with each student to make sure their stories are polished before they went into the publishing phase.
The students loved the publishing process. Once they finished editing, they rewrote their stories to apply the edits and make them look neat and sharp. They also designed their own covers to their story. Each student then built their book with binds and decorations and read their stories aloud to their classmates. Nina then instructed the class to give “glows,” which are compliments on their peers’ stories and sharing what they enjoyed. Afterwards, the student reading their story talked about the challenges of the project and how they worked through them. This type of reflection helped support further growth in the writing process.
The class enjoyed hearing each other’s stories, and asked follow up questions to learn more about each other’s experience. Additionally, they added their projects to the classroom library, and many students opt to read the stories of their peers during their free time. Some in the class even decided to write one or two more stories because they had so much fun writing the first one. The families of the third graders came in for a family share to hear their children read their stories aloud. Every single student felt very accomplished and proud of their story!