Use memoir mentor texts to help you teach this genre to your students. Here is a list of mentor texts to help you get started.

Looking for texts to use to introduce your students to memoir writing?  Or the genre of memoir?  Here are 13 texts to get you started!

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When you start teaching memoir writing or personal narratives, you’ll want to provide students with mentor texts that they can analyze. There are so many great memoirs you can use! Here is the start of my list!

👉You can find two free memoir anchor chart mini lessons & more in my exclusive resource library.  Click here to gain access!

How to use memoir mentor texts

  • Read alouds. Open your reading workshop by reading a portion or chapter of a memoir.
  • Writing prompt. A book like When I was Young and In the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant provides a perfect writing prompt with the repeated statement “When I was young and in…” students can use this same prompt to write about many different situations. For example, “When I was young and in summer camp” or “When I was young and taking piano lessons.” You could use this prompt several times with different memories sparked.
  • Idea generators. After reading a text (or selection) to students, have them brainstorm ideas from their own lives that the text sparked. I love What We Keep by Bill Shapiro since it provides a natural opportunity for students to think about an item in their life that holds a memory for them.
  • Reading analysis. Ask students to work independently or with a partner to analyze one of the mentor texts. This works well with picture books. Share as a class using an anchor chart.
  • Analyze descriptive writing. Because the writer wants the reader to experience an event, memoir writing relies on vivid details and precise language. Ask your students to find “mentor sentences” that they can record in their resource books as examples for their own writing.
  • Use as literature circle texts. Even a picture book can be used as a book club or literature circle text. For example, The Memory String by Eve Bunting can be read on many different levels. Students can analyze internal conflict, character development, and point of view. This text also relies on a lot of inference. Great way to practice reading skills as students dive deep into the elements of a successful memoir.

(If you’re ready to start teaching memoir writing, you can find 20 mini lessons in my shop that will help you every step of the way!)

Memoir Mentor Texts (Book Length)

Here are several ideas for mentor texts you can use with your class. You may want to read excerpts or chapters aloud to your class to illustrate points.

  • What We Keep by Bill Shapiro. This book is a great place to start a class discussion and brainstorming session on what a memoir is. The authors of this book collected stories from people — asking them about one object that they have that brings them “joy, magic, and meaning.”
  • You will want to preview stories to make sure they’re appropriate for your students, but there are real gems here that your students will be able to relate to.
  • These fun, short reflections that are perfect to get your students started with writing a memoir. Have their bring in (and share) an item that is important to them.
  • My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen. I absolutely LOVE this book! Paulsen uses the dogs he has had over the years to focus on different times in his life. It is such a beautiful, moving book. Even though, like so many books that feature dogs, the dogs do die, it is a wonderful collection of memories — and perfect to read just one chapter aloud to your class.
  • Guts by Gary Paulsen. I have to confess that I think Gary Paulsen is an amazing writer!! If your students have read the “Brian books,” they will love this true story about the inspiration behind Hatchet and the sequels.
  • Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton. This book does have a religious aspect that might not make it appropriate for your school, but the first section of the first chapter “Halloween Morning” is a compelling read. Hamilton includes vivid details that you can use as examples for your students’ own writing.
  • Knots in My Yo-yo String by Jerry Spinelli. You can quickly read a chapter to your students to be transported into Jerry Spinelli’s childhood. The chapters are short and vivid — each focusing on a different aspect of his life. The chapter “Never the Monkey” tells the story of a race Spinelli won. “A Little Stiff from Swimming” relates his relationship with reading and words.
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl
  • Marshfield Dreams: When I was a Kid by Ralph Fletcher. This memoir is packed with vivid language, dialogue, and humor. The short chapters make this a great read aloud to start your writing workshop.
  • I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai

👉You can find two free memoir anchor chart mini lessons & more in my exclusive resource library.  Click here to gain access!

Memoir Mentor Texts (Picture Books)

  • The Harmonica by Tony Johnston.
  • The Memory String by Eve Bunting. I dare you not to cry! This is a moving story. Fiction, yes. But the premise behind it is similar to What We Keep. In this story, Laura keeps a string of buttons and each one has a memory.
  • Rescue & Jessica by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. This is another story that will bring tears to your eyes! Based on the true story of a women who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing and her service dog, this story describes the recovery of Jessica and the dog named Rescue who rescues her.
  • When I was Young and In the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. This is a great read to get students thinking about their own life experiences. Rylant uses the phrase, “When I was young and in the mountains” to recall different events of her childhood. Students can use a similar phrase like “When I was young and in preschool” or “When I was young and lived on Maple Street” to generate ideas. You can use this for a warm up writing prompt — or even as the basis of their memoir.
  • Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. This story is based on the author’s experience with difficulty reading as a child.
  • Knots in My Yo-yo String by Jerry Spinelli. You can quickly read a chapter to your students to be transported into Jerry Spinelli’s childhood. The chapters are short and vivid — each focusing on a different aspect of his life. The chapter “Never the Monkey” tells the story of a race Spinelli won. “A Little Stiff from Swimming” relates his relationship with reading and words.

Providing your students with memoir mentor texts will help them understand the genre.

Be sure to allow them to dig into a variety of different texts so they can compare, contrast, and list elements they thing help create a vivid, meaningful memoir.

This is just a partial list of mentor texts. What other ones would you add?


👉You can find two free memoir anchor chart mini lessons & more in my exclusive resource library.  Click here to gain access!

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