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How To Write A Short Autobiographical Essay

Preinstructional Planning

During Instruction

Post Instructional

Preinstructional Planning

Objectives


Materials

  • Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable for each student
  • Who Am I? Example Essay printable for each student
  • Expository Essay Rubric printable for each student
  • Lesson Exit Survey printable for each student
  • Rubric for Writing Informational Essays printable for each student
  • Optional: projector

During Instruction


Set Up

1. Write following student task on the board or have it projected for students to view.

Write a well-organized autobiographical essay that tells all about you. Title the piece ‘Who Am I?’ or create your own title. Include details on your:

  • Family
  • Personality
  • Likes and Dislikes
  • Goals and Aspirations
  • Life-changing Experiences

2. Either make one copy of the Who Am I? Example Essay printable for each student or create your own essay. The latter is recommended to serve as a means of better connecting with your students. If you decide to create your own autobiographical essay, you may want to complete a copy of the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable and display it using a projector. Otherwise,  display the blank the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable for the class to view together.

3. Print copies of the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable, Who Am I? Example Essay printable, Expository Essay Rubric printable, Lesson Exit Survey printable, and Rubric for Writing Informational Essays printable for each student.


Lesson Directions

Step 1: Have students answer the following: What is one word or phrase that you would use to describe yourself? What person or experience do you think made you that way?

Step 2: Inform students that you will be reading a brief piece that will allow them to learn a bit more about you. Read aloud your model autobiographical essay.

Step 3:  Reveal and explain the task to students (listed in the "Set Up and Prepare" section above). Distribute the Writing to Inform rubric printables, the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? and Who Am I? Example Essay printables to the students.

Step 4: Review the rubric with the class and make sure that all students understand the requirements of the task. Display a copy of the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable on a projector. Then explain how to complete each section of the organizer.

Step 5: Have students complete the first two sections of the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable.

Step 6: Students will fill in the remainder of the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable independently.

Step 7: After completing the Reflection Worksheet: Who Am I? printable, students should use the information to write an essay draft using the Who Am I? Example Essay printable as a model.


Lesson Extensions

  • Set students up in partnerships and have them conduct peer revising and editing.
  • Plan a publishing party to celebrate student writing. If possible, invite parents and staff. Post student writing throughout the room and allow time for guests to peruse. Allow a few students to orally present their pieces.

Home Connections

Students will ask parents, older siblings, and other members of their household the following question:  "How do you feel that living with you influences me?"  Instruct students to use the responses of their family members to add details to their "Who Am I" essays.


Assignments

  • Students use completed graphic organizers to write the first draft of their "Who Am I" essays.
  • Students use thesauruses to revise their first drafts to make essays more engaging.

Post Instructional


Evaluation


Lesson Assessment

Use the Rubric for Writing Informational Essays printable to assess student writing.


Students will:

  • Create autobiographical essays
  • Use appropriate adjectives to describe themselves
  • Use a graphic organizer to plan their written pieces

Students complete the Lesson Exit Survey printable at the conclusion of the lesson.

How to start an autobiography can be a tricky issue.

Do you begin with your birth? With a description of your parents, or maybe even your grandparents?

With the first notable thing you did? With the biggest crisis point in your life, and then go back to the beginning?

While there is no single “best” way to start an autobiography, there are different approaches. The key is to find the one that works best for your story.

How To Start an Autobiography: 4 Examples

Here are excerpts showing four interesting ways that have been used to open an autobiography. One author uses his birth name to foreshadow the life that lies ahead; one paints a simple sketch of his parents; one talks about the beliefs that shaped him; and one reflects on the influence of chance. Each is different, and each is just right for its subject. Perhaps one of these approaches will be right for you! (I’ve linked the titles of each book below to Amazon.com so you can click on the “Look Inside” button and read more.)

In the opening paragraph of Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa hints at the tumultuous life that lies ahead:

Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlala. In Xhosa, Rholihlala literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be “trouble maker.” I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered.

In Take Me Home: An Autobiography, singer-song writer John Denver uses only a few words to sketch a portrait of his parents:

“They met in Tulsa. Dad was a ploughboy from western Oklahoma; Mom was a hometown girl. He was in the Army Air Corps, studying the mechanics of flight at the Spartan School of Aeronautics, and she had been first-prize winner in a jitterbug contest the year before. It was 1942: She was just turning eighteen, a high-school senior; and he was twenty-one.”

Chris Kyle begins his American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by listing the life-long beliefs he inherited from his family and environment:

Every story has a beginning.

Mine starts in north-central Texas. I grew up in small towns where I learned the importance of family and tradition. Values, like patriotism, self-reliance, and watching out for your family and neighbors. I’m proud to say that I still try to live my life according to those values. I have a strong sense of justice. It’s pretty much black-and-white. I don’t see too much gray. I think it’s important to protect others. I don’t mind hard work. At the same time, I like to have fun; life’s too short not to.

Former President Ronald Regan opens An American Life by talking about the effects of chance:

If I’d gotten the job I wanted at Montgomery Ward, I suppose I never would have left Illinois.

I’ve often wondered at how lives are shaped by what seem like small and inconsequential events, how an apparently random turn in the road can lead you a long way from where you intended to go—and a long way from wherever you expected to go. For me, the first of these turns occurred in the summer of 1932, in the abyss of the Depression.

How to Start An Autobiography?

There is no single best way. The goal is to draw your readers in with your first sentences; to make them want to read more by telling them something about you that makes you and your life story irresistible. If you can do that, you’ve figured out how to start an autobiography.

Before deciding how you’d like to open your autobiography, go back and review the purpose of the autobiography and what it must contain. See: “What is an Autobiography.” Once you know where you’re headed, you’ll be able to zero in on the “right” opening more effectively.

If You’d Like to Learn More About Writing Your Life Story…

…see my “Memoir Ghostwriter” page.

I’m Barry Fox, a New York Times bestselling author and ghostwriter. If you need help writing your autobiography or memoir, give me a call at 818-917-5362. 

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