This winter, the boys delved into autobiographical writing by creating an Alpha Biography. This idea was inspired by James Howe’s novel, Totally Joe, a humorous story in which each chapter’s title is significant to the main character and connects to his name.
In the Alpha Biography brainstorming session, boys started to make connections to topics that defined them. For instance, A is for athlete and K stands for kayak. Many boys also connected E to energy or J to jittery. According to one student, “When I went to preschool, I would play with other kids or ride a scooter or bike. When I went to kindergarten, however, I had to sit in class and listen. I had so much energy that I actually bit another kid one time.”
After each chapter, students had to include a life lesson. These lessons show the depth of awareness that boys have around their learning and school. You can see through some of these lessons such as, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It can open up a whole world” or “Express your feelings by using art.” How wise, funny, and earnest sixth graders are when they are asked to write in a memoir format. It also helps me to get to know my students at another level and gives new talking points for the boys to connect with each other midway through the year.
Initially, this project appears daunting as they are asked to produce nine chapters total; however, as soon as they grasp that they can write about anything that defines them, they get excited and focused. Ralph Fletcher, a writer and leader in the field of boy writers states in his book, Guy Write, “Many guys like to take chances. It’s part of our DNA. But often when guys take chances in their writing and push the limits of what is allowed in school--Wham!--they run into a buzz saw and get knocked down by the powers that be.”
In the Alpha Biography project, I ask the students to write outside their comfort zone and explore new techniques using details, showing and not telling, and using humor in their storytelling. This project is a chance to wade into the waters of personal writing and taking chances. The wisdom and humor that comes from this project is incredible to witness. The advice of these life lessons is often practical as well. One student who wrote “T is to travel,” included this comment: “At a rest stop always check which bathroom is which so you don’t go into the wrong one.” Boy writers have a lot to say.
Choose groups to clone to: