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What does the life of a ninth
grade American student in 2008
have in common with the life of
Holocaust victim Anne Frank? Or
with Frederick Douglass and the
Civil War? With the characters
yearning for freedom in Maya
Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged
Bird Sings How might the sharing of life stories among teenage
peers be a meaningful activity,
building skills in social awareness,
communication, empathy, writing, and reading?
After reading the assigned
memoirs and selected chapters The authors suggest
from longer works, students write using shorter memoirs
four or five autobiographical and book-length mem-
oirs such as Narrative
sketches describing meaningful, of the Life of Frederick
funny, or transformative events Douglass, American
in their lives. Next, using a free Slave.
online word processor such as
Google Documents, Zoho Writer, big questions a nd
or Thinkfree, pairs of students will give big answers, and how to
peer-edit their memoir collections. explain their decision-making
In the course of the unit, stu- process about the edits they have
dents learn how to cooperatively made to their peer authors.
revise and edit text as they do the The author reminds teachers
work. One of the strengths of the that an assignment such as this
collaboration is the ability for all can place students in a vulner-to review and revert to previous able place, and so it requires the
versions. Throughout, students teacher to meet with groups each
are taught how to be supportive of day in conferences.
one another and how to contribute —Adapted from English Language Arts:
suggestions that are useful and ap- Units for Grades 9–12, by Christopher
propriate. They are taught to ask Shamburg, (ISTE, 2008).
PHOTO OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, C. 1890 BY MATHEW BRADY STUDIO, U.S. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
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