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


Using these two 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


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

Death of the Family Farm” by Sarah Smarsh: 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, 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.).

Adapted from Ralph Sneeden, English Teacher, Phillips Exeter Academy

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