Personal writing is a good way to get to know students a little better (and safer for certain students than many ice breaker activities.) Another bonus to using personal writing at the start of a year or semester is using these initial writing activities to better gauge where students are at in writing and narrative ability.
Personal writing can be done as a narrative- just telling the story. For added complexity, students can be directed to write a narrative essay, which includes a thesis (or at least main idea) and reflection along with the actual narrative.
In addition, personal writing can be used as a way to get students to relate to a story. At the beginning of the year, or semester, if your roster is still in flux, then a personal writing compared with a short story can work as a flexible beginning to the year.
Here are some thought-provoking personal writing topics, and short stories they pair well with:
Personal Metamorphosis: Oh, how middle and high school students are in a state of change, figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Even if they don’t feel they have changed much, they may have a friend who has changed drastically that they can write about and reflect on. Also pairs nicely with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
Unappreciated: Teens frequently feel they are not appreciated for their efforts. It can be useful for them to not only reflect on how they felt, but also on how the situation could have been avoided. Pairs well with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”
It Didn’t Work Out: Students reflect on a time where things did not work out as they wanted or as they expected. This can be a good pair with many stories, including “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.
Unheeded Advice: This can be a challenging one, since students may not always be ready to admit the consequences of when they didn’t listen to advice (or why they ignored that advice.) Pairs well with “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.
My Personal Time Machine: An opportunity for students to reflect on what they could change, if they had a time machine. How would changing that event effect where they are now? Pairs nicely with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
Importance of Honest Communication: As teenagers are learning the values of communication, this can be a good opportunity to reflect on importance of honest communication and how it impacted a situation in their lives. It can be something they didn’t say, or something not said to them. Goes nicely with “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant.