Sample Lesson Plan for Personal Essay: Developing Voice, Exploring Roots


Using these essays from The Common as inspiration, bring your completely current voice to an exploration of history; write a concise personal essay exploring your personal history or the history of a place.

Coastlines” by Teow Lim Goh (may also be presented in conjunction with other California authors: Fante, Didion, Jeffers, Hong Kingston, Mori, Himes, etc.)

The Teak House” by Lamtharn Hantrakul

The Town with the Golden Future” by Will Preston (Issue 14) 


Write a “roots” paper; dig into family photo archives, probe family lore, myth and history, and perhaps, interview. Below are some examples from The Common.

Death of the Family Farm” by Sarah Smarsh (Issue 8): This essay demonstrates how an author (and student) might make a gentle shift away from personal narrative (and out of the spotlight) into the role of observer or even chronicler.

Country” by Mistinguette Smith: An edgy and persuasive argument, its voice, its deeply personal and historical braid provide a wonderful model for conveying the family history through a particular lens. Supports a discussion on craft while students are working on personal essays (may also be presented in conjunction with other texts that probe migration within the US – Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, etc.).

Project for a Trip to China” by Lisa Chen (Issue 16): This elliptical essay delves into familial history, obligations, and relation to an ancestral homeland through the lens of Susan Sontag’s writings and travels to China.

Leave the Child” by Akwe Amosu (Issue 12): A collage of poetry, images, and extracts from letters and other ephemera combine to evoke a child’s experience of parental conflict and Nigeria’s political strife in the 1960s; this hybrid piece provides students an example of how they might employ source material in new ways. 

Adapted from Ralph Sneeden, English Teacher, Phillips Exeter Academy

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Sample Lesson Plan for Personal Essay: Developing Voice, Exploring Roots

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Resources to help you plan for the fall semester

We know this fall’s going to be a weird one. We’re here to help with your classroom (or home school) planning!  Here’s one thought:  Give your students a break from the screen by putting print issues of The Common in their hands– just $20/student:  Two issues for each student, free desk copies for teachers (that means you too, parents!),