On Writing a Personal History Essay

UPDATE: FRI, 2/19

Please have an electronic version of your revised essay available on WED, 2/24. We will pull them up on the laptops for review.


UPDATE: WED, 2/10

I’m out today because I’m home with my youngest (ear infection). Let’s push everything this week back by a day. Printed rough drafts (for sharing in peer response groups) are now due on FRIDAY, 2/12 (not Thursday, as originally planned). If computer space is available tomorrow, we will continue to draft (if not, we’ll do something else writing related). Also, this week’s vocab quiz is whenever I return (hopefully tomorrow!). Finally, blog posts look great! Don’t forget to comment thoughtfully at least twice per week.


Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.

In writing our personal history essays this week, we’ll use the definition that the New Yorker uses:

Writers reflect on the intimate events and memories that shaped their lives.

With this in mind, some guidelines:

  • Choose a specific moment—or series of related moments—in your life that shaped you in a meaningful way.
  • When choosing this moment(s), review the notebook work we’ve done recently and all year. Specifically, think about the childhood memories that Roxaboxen may have unearthed, the emotions evoked in your Lena Dunham write-like exercise, or the significant plot points in your life graphs.
  • Be reflective in tone. In what ways this moment(s) has changed you? Use a combination of show and tell strategies to convey this change(s). Think about the personal history essays we’ve read—how did each writer convey the  impact of significant   moments in their lives?
  • Speaking of the personal history essays we’ve read, think about  what made each of these essays successful. As with all the professional texts we read, what can you learn and borrow from these writers?
  • Although all Six Traits are important in any essay, in a personal history essay, voice is key. As you draft your essay, read aloud your sentences to make sure the rhythms are engaging but natural.
  • Use the organization strategies we reviewed in class to help you develop your ideas.

Have a complete rough draft ready for peer response groups  on Thursday, 2/11.

As with our On Essays, I’ll be writing beside you. Click here to see how my draft is coming along; suggestions always welcome (click the “comment” bubble in the upper right hand corner).

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