Personal Essay: “Words of the Wiser”

In literature, the “Words of the Wiser” signpost reveals a “scene in which a wiser and often older character offers a life lesson of some sort to the protagonist” (Beers and Probst 72).  In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim reminds Gilgamesh that in life, there is no permanence—that when the gods created man, they kept eternal life for themselves. Instead, Gilgamesh must learn to make his life meaningful not in quantity but in quality, thus eventually becoming a good—and wise—king.


For your first personal “signpost” essay, consider the role of “wise words” in your own life. Choose one of the following prompts to guide you:

  1. Write about the best advice you have ever received: Who did it come from? Why was it given? How was it useful? What did you learn?
  2. Describe an important role model in your life—a “wise person”—from whom you’ve learned something significant.
  3. Find “wise words” from something you have read or seen (book or film) and explain how these words hold true in your own life.


Clearly identify the lesson (the “words of wisdom”) or what makes the person wise. Be sure that the lesson or words of wisdom are specific. For example, let’s say you are writing about your grandfather’s advice to “be a good person.” What does it mean to be a “good person”? Define “good.”

Speaking of being specific… make sure that you SHOW and not just tell. In other words, you may tell the reader the advice you received (“Always be honest”) but you should give examples that show what this lesson looks like in your life (a story about how you were caught cheating on a test by your 5th grade teacher) or other examples in society (a story from the news or about a public figure, i.e. how Lance Armstrong was caught cheating or “Deflate-gate” and the New England Patriots).

Review the writing you have done in your notebook—many of our quickwrites in class represent your initial thinking about any one of the topics above.  For example, in our notebooks we wrote a list of advice we’ve been given and how that advice has affected us. We also listed people—real, historical, or fictional—whom we considered “wise and knowledgeable” and wrote about what made the “wise figures.” We also responded to some of the advice given in the article, “Life Advice from my 99-year-old Grandpa” as well as the Epic Reads video “Words of Wisdom from YA Books.” We thought about what we learned at different points in our lives and from whom. Any one of these quickwrites could form the basis of your first draft.

Use the mentor texts as your guide. Review the essays distributed in class (there are seven total).

  • What did these writers do well? What strategies do they use to express their ideas? What examples do they include and how? What specific details do they include and what do these details show?
  • Note the way the mentor texts essays are organized. How do they start? How do they end? What’s in the middle?
  • What types of sentences do the writers use? How are the paragraphs structured and organized?
  • Take one or more things that the writers did well and make it your own.
  • Remember that unlike more structured literary analysis essays, there is no one right way to write a personal essay. The “right” way is the way that best expresses your ideas and presents those ideas in a meaningful, logical way.

We will have some time in class to write and revise. Your first draft is due Wednesday, October 14. Typed and double-spaced. Be prepared to share.

Reader’s Memoir

In a brief, well-developed essay, reflect on your experiences as a reader. You may focus on a particularly meaningful reading experience—either in school or out—or you can provide a general overview. As such, essays can range in focus and scope, depth and breadth. Your essay should, however, address significant works you’ve read and give me a better idea, overall, of the kind of reader you are. After reading your essay, your attitudes and experiences about reading should be clear to your audience. Your essay should not be a list of works you’ve read, but rather a reflection on those works that have played a significant role in your development as a reader, in a positive or negative way.

This is a personal essay; your voice emerges through thoughtful choice of words and sentence structures. Be sure that each paragraph is focused (avoid writing the “one-paragraph essay”). Consider telling a story, giving a well-chosen example, comparing and contrasting, providing a definition of what makes a good book to you, etc. At least half of the time you spend working on this essay should be focused on reflection.

Be prepared to share (read aloud) your essay in whole or in part with the class on the due date. 1 ½ to 2 pages, double-spaced.

Consider addressing the following questions in your essay. The best essays will touch on most of the questions below while focusing/developing one or two of the questions in more detail.

  • What type of reader are you?
  • What types of books do you like to read? Why? (Consider your reading trees!)
  • What types of books do you not like to read? Why?
  • Why do you read? For what purpose or goal? (Remember our angles? Do any fit you?)
  • What experiences have shaped your attitudes towards reading? (Look in your notebook at what you wrote in class.)
  • What is your earliest memory of reading?
  • Overall, what does “reading” mean to you?

On Wed-Fri this week, we spent some time in class pre-writing and brainstorming for this essay. Again, our first pre-writing activity―drawing our reading trees―should help you think about the types of reading you’ve done in your life. See below for a draft of my own reading tree (remember to leave yourself at least two pages in your notebook for this tree―we’ll be adding to it throughout the year!):

reading tree

If you need additional inspiration or to see an example of how to write about a specific meaningful book in your life, read the last few paragraphs below. This is an excerpt from an essay by author Kate Walbert about how Charlotte’s Web changed her reading life.

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Below, you can read what The Little Engine that Could meant to journalist Jeff Benedict, both as a child and as an adult.

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And finally, feel free to read my own reader’s memoir that I wrote especially for this assignment. You can find my personal example by clicking here.


(Don’t forget that you also need to bring in your IR book to class that day!)

Summer Book Club Discussion

This week, we’ll share what we read for summer reading in small groups and with the whole class. First, on Wednesday, you’ll meet in small groups “book clubs” with other students who read the same summer reading book. Together you’ll discuss the book, especially the parts that you found most interesting as a reader.

Tuesday Night (due Wednesday)

To prepare for this discussion, please come to class on Wednesday, 9/9, with your summer reading books. Review the books and choose the three most compelling, interesting, or thought-provoking parts in each book. Mark these parts by inserting three post-it notes into your book. On each post-it note, write down a few sentences that describe why this part of the story stood out to you.

To recap: When you come to class on Wednesday, bring both of your summer reading books, each one with its three post-it notes marked inside.

Wednesday’s Class

During class, you and your book club group will discuss your summer reading using the American Library Association’s “book club” discussion questions. You may want to review the questions ahead of time, which can be found by clicking here.

Thursday’s Class

Your group will prepare and present a 10-minute book talk to the rest of the class about your book. Your book talk should include the same components that were modeled in the All the Bright Places book talk from last week. Click here for the guidelines on how to give a book talk.

Summer Reading In-Class Write

On Tuesday, 9/8, you’ll spend the class period reflecting and writing about your summer reading books. Specifically, you’ll be asked to consider how our discussions of “why literature matters” this week apply to the two books you read over the summer.

You will need (bring to class):

  • Copies of your summer reading books
  • “Why Literature Matters” article
  • “Why Literature Matters” chart
  • Any notes you have taken
  • Pen/pencil

You will be given a choice of two prompts; choose one. To prepare for the in-class write, be sure to review specific moments in each novel that stood out to you and why these moments were significant. As always, you’ll be asked to give specific examples from the texts.

A Year in Your Reading Life: An Infographic

As a final reflection for the school year, create an infographic that represents your life as a reader over the course of ninth grade.


Create a list of all the books that you have read over the course of this year (both class novels and independent reading). Consult your Goodreads page and/or the Online Independent Reading Log to make sure you’ve accounted for all the books you’ve read since September (for example, here’s my Goodread’s page with my recently read books).

Make sure your books have the accurate “Date Read” recorded. A quick way to check is to click on your “My Books” link and check, as below:

Goodreads date read


When your Goodreads account is updated, you can not only keep better track of all your books, but Goodreads has a neat “stats” feature that will automatically tally your total number of pages read! Go to the “My Books” link in your Goodreads account and follow the screenshots below to see how many pages you’ve read.

Goodreads Stats

Clicking on “Stats” will take you a page that allows you to see bar graphs with how many books you’ve read, by year:

Goodreads Book Stats

If you click on Pages, Goodreads will automatically convert how many books you’ve read into total number of pages:

Goodreads Pages Stats

NOTE: Goodreads calculates by the regular calendar year, so you’ll have to add the number of pages from 2014 to 2015. Also, in order for this to work properly, each book you’ve read this year must have an accurate “Date Read” for each book – see above.


Take a look at the books you’ve read.

Think numbers: how many books have you read? pages?

Think patternsWhat stands out to you? What similarities/differences do you notice? Think about how you can represent the books you’ve read visually through graphs or charts.


  • Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 2.44.02 PMUse an online program such as to create simple charts and graphs. If you use this site, be sure to register for a free account so that you can save your charts to edit and work on later.
  • Download images of book covers to add visual interest, and use eye-catching fonts and colors throughout to create a consistent design.
  • Browse the gallery of images, pictures, icons, and other graphics available on (or whatever other program you may be using) to brainstorm ideas for how you can represent your data (for example, there are some great illustrations of trees… think of how each branch could represent a different genre of book).
  • Use a blank piece of paper to “draft” your infographic by hand before creating your final version.


Your infographic should include a clear title with your name and dateplus the following:

  1. Total number of books read this school year, displayed prominently
  2. Indication of type of books you’ve read (a breakdown by genre or other type)
  3. At least one book-related superlative (for example: favorite book, book that made me cry, biggest cliffhanger, happiest ending, etc.)
  4. At least one character-related superlative (for example: favorite character, character I loved to hate, character I’d want to be my best friend, etc.)
  5. At least one “notable quotable” from one of your favorite books
  6. A total number of 7 elements on your infographic (#1 to #5 listed above, plus two more of your choice).


You may use any online program to create your infographic, especially if you have already used an infographic program for another class. However, whatever program you choose, you  must be able to send me a digital copy of the infographic.

For that reason, I strongly suggest using (what we used for our Read-A-Thon posters), which allows users to download the digital files. Canva, however, does not allow you to create charts and graphs within the program, but you may use to create a chart of graph and then upload it to your Canva account (This is what I did to create my infographic, below). Updated: Another recommended online program is A few students recommended using this and it also looks great and user-friendly!


If you are artistic and would rather create your visual by hand, please do so! All the requirements listed above still apply.


  1. Download the image file (jpg, png) or PDF of your infographic when you are finished.
  2. Upload the file to your school OneDrive account.
  3. Select the uploaded file. Click “Share” and search for “Ebarvia, Tricia.” Then hit “Share.” See screenshots below (click to enlarge):

Due Friday, 6/12, by the start of class.


And finally, here’s what I came up with. Notice that in addition to the title and name, there are ten distinct elements included on this infographic: # of books, favorite book, books by type (pie charts), book ratings (bar graph), 5-star book list, characters I loved, books that made me…, notable quotables, # books published this year, and what I’m currently reading.

Also, don’t forget to Google additional ideas for your infographic. While certain information is required, how you design your infographic is up to you—and the possibilities are endless!

Year in Reading 2015 (1)