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Ready-Set-Tech: When I Was Young in Brooklyn
When I Was Young in Brooklyn

This project began as an introduction to the genre of memoirs. Students read several memoirs, including those by authors Patricia Polacco and Cynthia Rylant, before deciding on a model for their own memoir book. Rylant's "When I Was Young in the Mountains" led to the development of "When I Was Young in Brooklyn."

The project enabled the children to take a piece of writing from seed idea through drafting, editing, revising, and finally publishing a book. This project works well for students of all ability levels, and fits into the current thinking of what constitutes a writer's workshop. It is a writing process that children can leave and return to at any time. ESL students will also enjoy this project, and can write books about their youth in their native country.

This project also incorporates technology to enhance the story and present it to a wider audience.

Ginny Clarke

Ginny Clarke has been teaching third grade for the past nine years at P.S. 205 in Brooklyn, New York. She has attended the Journeyman Program in District 20 and is now a mentor teacher for her school. She is also part of the P.S. 205 Instructional Team. Ginny loves children's literature and uses it to help her students become writers.



English Language Arts, Technology

Grade Level: 2-5

Time: This is a long-term writing process project that will take place over the course of several months

Materials: Internet connection; word processor; Kidspiration; scanner, printer, and digital camera; see books listed in each lesson plan








Students will:

1. Be able to identify various techniques used in memoirs.

2. Reflect on similarities and differences between two authors.

3. Use the Internet to read about authors.

4. Improve descriptive writing skills.

5. Work cooperatively with a "revision and editing" partner.

6. Draft, revise and produce a finished memoir using various software and technology tools.

Web sites:



1) Home Page of Cynthia Rylant

2) Inspiration Software Web Site

3) Online thesaurus

4) Lintor Publishing

Day One:

What are the features of a memoir?

Materials: Writer's Notebook, chart paper, and copies of memoirs writen by favorite authors. Some suggested memoirs are When I Was Young in the Mountains and The Relatives Game by Cynthia Rylant. Also, The Keeping Quilt and My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco.

•  Write the word "memoir" on chart paper. Ask the students what other words come to mind as they read this word. Elicit from the students words like "me", "memory", "remember" and any other words they think of. Add them to the chart.

• Add the definition of a memoir to the chart - "a memoir is a piece of our personal history highlighting a real-life experience in a specific point in time."

•  Read any two of the four suggested memoirs to the class.

•  Have the students use their Writer's Notebook to write about various techniques they noticed the authors used.

•  Bring the class together so that the students can share their observations.

Evaluation: Ask the students to write a brief memoir piece in their notebooks. They may write about any special memory they have. Ask for volunteers to share their "memoir" with the class.

Day Two:

What types of memories do we have of growing up in Brooklyn?

Use the same books as in lesson 1. Add Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. Chart paper.

•  Read the remaining two memoir books to the class.

• Have a chart prepared with Cynthia Rylant and Patricia Polacco's names on it. Ask the students to think about writing techniques that each author used. An example might be:

Cynthia Rylant Patricia Polacco
Writes about family Writes about family
Chooses one point in time Chooses one point in time
Uses repetitive phrases Uses real family photos
Uses lots of details Uses lots of details
Uses beautiful language Uses beautiful language
Uses an illustrator Illustrates her own books
Books center on extended family Books reveal family history
  Books focus on one particular family member


•  Reflect on similarities and differences between the two authors. Ask students which author's craft might best work for them. (This particular class decided to use When I Was Young in the Mountains as a model.)

•  Read Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. List the different types of memories mentioned in the book.

• Refer back to When I Was Young in the Mountains. Count the number of memories. Ask students to make a list of seven memories they have of growing up in Brooklyn.

•  Visit www.cynthiarylant.com to learn more about the author.

Evaluation: Have the students share the locales in Brooklyn where their memories took place.

Day Three:

How can we use descriptive language in our writing?

Materials: Flying Over Brooklyn by Myron Uhlberg, The Brooklyn Pop-up Book created by the Brooklyn Public Library, Kidspiration software program.

•  Read Flying Over Brooklyn and The Brooklyn Pop-up Book to remind the children of places in Brooklyn they may have visited.

•  Use Kidspiration (for more information visit www.inspiration.com) and create a web for the children to use as a writing prompt.

• Students should refer back to their original list of seven memories and decide to either keep them, or change them, using the web the class created.

• Students should take each memory and begin by writing one sentence for each. Each sentence should begin with the phrase, "When I was young in Brooklyn . . . "

• Begin to add more detail to each of the seven memories. Each time the students work with their memoir they should be adding more descriptive language. The use of similes, personification, hyperbole, and figurative language should be encouraged in order to make their writing come alive. Use www.visualthesaurus.com to replace every day words like "nice" with more descriptive and age-appropriate vocabulary.

• Assign each student a revision and editing partner. As the writing for each memory is completed, students should meet with their partner to work on editing (looking for errors) and revision (changing the writing to enhance clarity, be more descriptive, etc.) Periodic meetings with the teacher will also occur.

• The previous two steps will be repeated over the course of the next month, or until each student has completed a book.

Evaluation: Students will use a writing rubric specific to memoirs to help each other meet grade 3 writing standards.

Day Four:

How can technology assist us in completing our books?

Materials: Computers, printers, digital camera, scanner, word processing program, and binding materials.

•  Students will word process their books. They will learn how to set up pages and leave space for photos, clip art, and illustrations. Input will be done in the school computer lab. This will take several sessions. Upon completion, the books will be transfered to the classroom computers for final revisions.

•  Students will learn how to add clip art from Appleworks to their books. They will learn how to download clip art for particular themes, corresponding to the pages in their books.

• Students will scan photos, brought from home, and insert into their books.

• Students will design a cover.

• Students will learn how to print their books out.

• Students will bind their books with the help of the teacher. Blank hardcover books can be ordered at the following site: www.lintorpublishing.com

• Finally, each student becomes an author!

Evaluation: Students will visit their second grade teachers and share their books with the second grade students. Parents will be invited to the classroom for a special "Author's Day" where each student will read his or her book. An extra copy of each book will be made for the school library.


Students explore a new genre and are able to identify memoirs. They learn to evaluate books for literary merit. They learn to ask specific questions to help clarify meaning, and to use personal experiences to explain information. Students use the writing process to produce a well-constructed text, observing the basic conventions of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Students use a variety of technological equipment and software to enter, process, display, and communicate information. The computer is used as a publishing tool.



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