In Creative Writing 1 this year, we’re starting with the genre of memoir. I think most students have plenty to say about themselves and their life experiences–heck, most people can talk about themselves easily. It’s a natural part of being human. The longest paper I wrote in undergrad was for a human development class, and I basically just wrote down the highs and lows of my life up until that point. I think it hovered somewhere around 14 pages. I should try to find it.
One way I introduced memoirs to my students was through the PostSecret website, which is updated weekly with people’s secrets from around the nation. Some secrets are funny; others are heartbreaking. And others are NOT appropriate for the classroom, so I tried my best to screen the ones I showed my students. Even with my careful attempt, I accidentally scrolled down too far, and some of them caught a glimpse of a secret that had something to do with a crooked penis. Whoops! The class roared with laughter, and I quickly closed the window. Such are the perils of the PostSecret site, but the students found it highly engaging. (Quick aside: I think some of the secrets on the website are completely fabricated or just plain rude or jokey and not really secret-y at all. But who knows? I digress.)
I also showed my students the TED talk by Frank Warren, the founder of the PostSecret website:
When we were finished, I invited my students to write about a secret. It could be old or recent, silly or serious, personal or attached to someone else. Did they have a secret meeting place? (One of my students did. She described a creek and little waterfall where she goes to escape it all.) Were they ever left out of a secret? Did they get away with something? I promised that I would not read these, and that I would not turn them over to our principal. At the conclusion of class, the waterfall student suggested that we all make our own PostSecret display. I agreed that it was a good idea.
After writing groups met yesterday, we had some extra time, so I gave students paper while two students helped to pass out markers, crayons, and colored pencils. I told them they didn’t have to make a secret poster if they didn’t want to. They were to remain anonymous, so they did not need to sign it. Looking back, I wish I had had students write down their secret in regular handwriting on a strip of paper. Then I would have collected all of them, shuffled them, typed them up, and then redistributed them to students. Then they could have written someone else’s secret in their handwriting. As it is, our current PostSecret display features students’ secrets written in their own handwriting, so sneaky people could probably figure some of these out. A few students wrote too small, and I should have made everyone use markers because colored pencil is too hard to read.
All day long at the start of my classes–whether it was Pre-AP English 2, Creative Writing 1, or Creative Writing 2–students were reading the PostSecret display. One English student remarked, “I want to take your creative writing class next year.” Bring it on!
Some secrets were cute and silly while others were sad and disturbing: