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From the Classroom: Finding “Moments Worth Writing About”

by Tricia Ebarvia

It’s just after 7:20 a.m. and my students are settling into their seats. Although it’s early, this class is usually lively, with students generally willing to try out whatever their English teacher has planned for them that day. This morning, I pass out cream-colored quarter sheets of paper and several tape dispensers. I go over the lesson plan to the sound of pages flipping, synchronized to the squeaky pulling and staccatoed tearing of tape. Into their notebook, students tape the following Willa Cather quotation:

“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”

Today is Day 1 in a brief unit on the personal history essay. I decided to call this next essay a personal history rather than the more familiar term memoir for a few reasons. One, the term memoir feels a little intimidating to me; the term has always implied a confessional quality to it, like a great secret is about to be shared, a great burden lifted. For better or worse, memoirs feel too big a task, too much to ask.

So instead, I like the term personal history. Read more