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Literacy Update: Memoirs, Text Connections, and Evidence

November 14, 2022 | Heather Palmer Welesko


This is the last week of literacy in fourth and fifth grade, and they will be finishing their studies on memoirs and personal narratives. Both grades have been studying what elements contribute to a memoir (first person, small moment stories, themes of connection and making meaning of memory). Fourth graders have had eighth grade visitors come to the class to read their memoir writing. The eighth grade helps edit fourth grade work with them. Each fourth grade student has a writing buddy. In addition to writing a memoir, fifth graders must also write two responses about personal narratives they’ve read over the course of the last three weeks.

The first response required fifth grade students to identify a character’s main personality trait, and then give evidence to that trait from three separate references to their action. Students needed three separate citations from the text to support three different types of action: one action of speech, one action of thought, and one action of something the character did. This assignment was difficult! First, students must identify a trait–not a passing feeling. A feeling is something that is fleeting (scared, happy, sad), a trait is “tried and true.”

Then, students searched their book for three actions: thought, word, and “deed”, to give evidence to their character’s trait. Finally, writers needed to tie-in the character’s actions to the overall theme of the book. For instance, one student argued that the character was very creative, and their actions of creativity contributed to the book’s theme of “making connections and meaning of memory” because creativity allows one to give meaning to one’s own story.

Here are two examples of students’ outlines and preparation for their response:

This type of writing both explores and analyzes the text, and masters the following three common core standards:

  1. Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text
  2. Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions)
  3. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.

Here are some fifth graders hard at work on their reader’s response.


Amid our studies, fifth graders made Venn diagrams to contrast character actions and character traits. They wrote a second reader’s response to make text-to-self connections. Students needed to make three separate connections to three separate passages from the text, and then illustrate how they as readers can or cannot connect to these passages. Surprisingly, students stated that this assignment was harder than the “character actions” assignment.

Here are two sample outlines of the character connections assignment:

These two assignments show skill-building to the following standard: “Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).”

All fifth grade students wrote and finished their responses, and now all students–both fourth and fifth grade–are writing their own personal narrative/ small moment memoir. Their memoirs will be the culmination of their learning this term, and we are excited to read them! Make sure to ask your fourth and fifth grader about their small moment story! If your child is a fourth grader, ask them how working with eighth graders went. If your child is in fifth grade, ask them which reader’s response was harder. Regardless of their grade, every child is ready for the upcoming break!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Heather Palmer Welesko

Literacy and Assistant Teacher, Grades 4 & 5

Heather Welesko has taught at Mustard Seed School for nearly a decade as a literacy and assistant teacher. She has taught literature and writing at Kean University and Harold Washington College of Chicago. Heather holds an MFA in writing and poetry from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from Evangelical Seminary.

Ms. Welesko is enthusiastic about professional development, and has advanced training in the Handwriting Without Tears program; the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Program, and the Responsive Classroom/ Development Designs Program through Origin. She continues professional develop through The Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She’s passionate about literature, creativity, comprehensive education, and believes strongly in teaching identity and diversity awareness and inclusion.

Ms. Welesko is a poet, artist, and yogi, and is still, always learning.

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