Have you heard of Smokey Bear? Did you know he was associated with a real bear? What do you know about him?
The "real" Smokey Bear died in the 1970s. People still see him as a symbol for fighting forest fires. Why do you think he's had such a lasting impression on people?
Smokey Bear was a symbol for the wildfire-safety campaign. Other campaigns have symbols, too. List all the symbols you can think of. Which symbols do you think were more effective than Smokey? Which were less effective? Why?
Author Karen Signell wrote her book about Smokey from the bear's perspective. In the article, she said that this was not an easy thing to do. What do you think is the most difficult part of writing from someone else's perspective? What do you think is the best way to overcome this challenge?
- Prior to conducting this activity, gather several age-appropriate memoirs to share with the class. If necessary, ask your school librarian for help in selecting books.
- Inform students that there are three main types of nonfiction books written about people's lives. An autobiography is a chronological story that someone writes about his or her own life. A biography is much the same, but the author writes about someone else. A memoir is different. Instead of following a timeline, the author writes about key events in his or her life. All of those events are linked to a central theme.
- Invite students to examine the books you collected in small groups. Rejoin as a class to identify additional characteristics of a memoir. For example, a memoir is always written in first person. Memoirs also contain a variety of sensory details.
- Instruct students to identify an important or interesting time in their lives. Then have them make a list of events that led up to or are somehow connected to that time. Challenge students to make note of what they saw, heard, felt or even smelled during each instance.
- Encourage students to incorporate as many details as possible as they write an interesting, factual and creative memoir about their lives.
Invite students to share their memoirs with the class. As a class, identify the key events and central theme in each story.
CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:
Explain to the class that a story written in first person uses the word "I." In a memoir the author is the main character. The story is all about that person and how they viewed something that happened to them. Provide suggestions as students write their memoirs. Encourage students to include dialogue and descriptions as they develop their stories.
If necessary, remind the class that a story written in first person uses the word "I." In a memoir the author is the main character. The story is all about that person and how they viewed something that happened to them. A memoir doesn't contain every single detail about what happened. But it does contain enough details for readers to understand what's going on and for the writer to tell an exciting tale. Encourage students to include dialogue and descriptions as they develop their stories.
Inform students that memoirs do more than state the facts. They also build an emotional connection between the author and those who are reading about his or her life. Instruct students to identify the emotion they want others to feel after reading about their lives. Challenge them to write a memoir filled with dialogue and details that help them achieve this result.
Inform students that memoirs do more than state the facts. They also build an emotional connection between the author and those who are reading about his or her life. Sometimes that connection is light-hearted. Other times, it can leave the reader in tears. Instruct students to identify the emotion they want others to feel after reading about their lives. Then have them identify the audience for whom they are writing. Instruct students to select their words carefully as they write a detailed memoir suitable for this audience.
This lesson from the Smithsonian Institution libraries develops the theme that advances in science are built on the past achievements of many individuals. Students will conduct research to learn about important astronomers and scientists and then make presentations on their achievement.
Read this Smithsonian article to learn about five famous autobiographies that were anything but authentic.
In these Smithsonian Folkways recordings, Ossie Davis reads excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, which traces the abolitionist and statesman’s life from early childhood through his most significant political accomplishments.
In this online challenge from the National Museum of American History, students examine evidence and read a short biography to correctly identify historical figures.
Read this Smithsonian article to learn how, with the help of his friend Mark Twain, Grant finished his memoirs—and saved his wife from an impoverished widowhood—just days before he died.
In this lesson from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, students create an autobiographical comic book or graphic novel to go on a blog website.