Personal Essay Workshop #1 | Writing a Personal Essay Workshop #2

Learning Objectives: Students will examine the specific Point of View used in the personal accountof " Chinese Experience" by Eric Liu as well as "Finding My Marathon Legs" by  ROB HOERBURGER; students will understand the opposite approachs of examining a situation(" looking out from within'' or " looking in from the outside" ) and how the different views can create misunderstanding in our lives. Students will write a personal essay to explore such a situation in which misunderstanding occurs.

Aim: Why does misundersanding occur in our lives?


Day 1 Teaching Point:

Read " Chinese Experience" by Eric Liu and "Finding My Marathon Legs" by  ROB HOERBURGER and do the following-

Application: Think of a situation where misundestanding occurred. Describe the situation and why and how the misunderstanding occurred . Where do you stand in this "clash"?


Day 2

Learning Objectives: Students will gain ideas and techniques to write a personal essay by discovering their nner voice through examining Darst's "Vicious Little Women" and relating it to their own "strangeness".

Aim: How can we develope a unique voice through our "strangeness"?


Material: Vicious Little Women

Teaching Point-

I. Finding Your Subject - How do I decide what to write about?

Writers in search of a subject might ask themselves these questions suggested by Boston Globe columnist and writing coach Don Murray:


  • What are you thinking about when you're not thinking?
  • What makes you mad?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What past events were turning points in your life that you'd like to understand?
  • What do you know you should write about but have been afraid to?

II. Discovering Your Story: How do I get started?

As you think about topics and begin to write, consider these comments from two deft personal essayists:

"You can't write a personal column without going to some very deep place inside yourself, even if it's only for four hours. It's almost like psychotherapy, except you're doing it on your own. You have to pull something out of yourself and give away some important part of yourself...It's a gift you have to give to the reader, even if it's the most light-hearted piece in the world."

Jennifer Allen, The New York Times

"Feeling is at the basis of everything. When I was asked to consider becoming a full-time columnist, part of my hesitation was that I knew I could not pretend to be this dispassionate, all-knowing, authoritarian voice on high. I couldn't do that. That would be a lie....For me, it's like The Godfather. Everything is personal."

Donna Britt, The Washington Post

  • Write every day.
    Writing is a process of discovery. You will discover what you want to say and how to say it in just one way: by writing. "You don't know the story until you've written it," Murray says.

    Begin, as Cynthia Gorney described the beginnings of her powerful pieces for The Washington Post, with babble. Surprise yourself, as she does, by discovering the story you want to write halfway down the page.

  • Lower your standards.
    Ignore the voice that says "This stinks" - The first step to producing copy
    on deadline in time for revision that storytelling demands.
    The first draft contains the promise of the final one.
III. Learning to self-edit
  • Rewrite.
    "You write to discover what you want to say," Murray says. "You rewrite to discover what you have said and then rewrite to make it clear to other people."

The Last Word

The personal essay assignment demands the critical thinking, communication, and collaborative skills required of today's journalist. This is not about therapy; it's about craft. Memoir, the writer Patricia Hampl says, is about exploration, not revelation. Like all good journalism, that requires solid reporting, critical thinking, careful editing, the skills we all hope to improve.

* This passage is selected from

**The article is selected from



A. Read a personal narrative Vicious Little Women by JEANNE DARST and park your annotations and reflections on the poster board in the following areas-

  1. What's so unique or strange about the story?
  2. How would you describe the narrator?
  3. Where did the narrator situate herself in the story?
  4. Why does the narrator refer to the Marches family in "My Little Women"?
  5. How did the misunderstanding occur?
  6. What is her outer persona? who is she really inside?
  7. What's revealed about me in the end?

B. Writing Prompts:

  1. What's so unique or even strange about you? Has that uniqueness ever become an issue? In what kind of situations?
  2. Do you have a public voice and a private one? Why ? What kind of voice do you have in the public and private?
  3. Does your distinctive voice come from your culture or upbringing or peer influence? Which one prevails more? How does the conflict of your "voices" reconcile?
  4. Who else in involved in your personal story? What's his/her importance?
  5. What may have causesd misunderstanding in our life? Through the misunderstanding, what's revealed about "me", the narrator?

C. Techniques: dialogues, vignette, internal monologue, flashback, binaries( opposite images or thoughts), cultural specific, setting ( local coor), diction (slang, native language, dialect, etc)

Assignment: Use the writing prompts and tips from Darst's personal essay to compose your own personal essay.