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Tools of the Trade: Using Objects to Spark Memory Writing

by Kelly Virgin

In Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas a little boy literally interprets explanations of memories and brings a collection of objects to his aging neighbor. At first the neighbor, Miss Nancy Allison Delacort Cooper, thinks the boy is strange, but then as she handles each object she begins to remember…

This story of friendship proves how powerful objects can be in provoking strong and vivid memories. With this in mind, my students and I spent a week observing the tangible in hopes of triggering the intangible.


A Penny for Your Thoughts

Students selected a penny from a small pile on their table and then quickly listed as many memorable moments from the year on that Penny as possible. (Note: be sure to only offer pennies with dates from your students’ accessible memories – for my students this was 2007 – 2018) I prompted students to first orient themselves in that year by considering what grades they were in and then to think about milestones, celebrations, friends, family members, homes, etc. We rotated quickly through several rounds of this brainstorming before students returned to their lists and picked one surprising or unexpected memory to write about. The fast pacing of the list brainstorming prevented students from editing their thoughts and the longer second round of writing enabled them to really dig into one or two memories. Read more