titles are links to my portfolio, special handouts and useful
Cover, Title Page, & Table of Contents
1. Prologue (or Introduction): Explain
the significance of your title, making clear why it is relevant
to your life in particular. Introduce yourself gracefully to
your reader and capture our attention. Include a brief description
of this writing project and its purposes -- in your own words.
= Abstract Noun + IS + Concrete Example
2. What’s in a Name? Names
are an integral part of who we are. They shape our sense of who
we are. Explore your feelings about “the unity between [your]self
and [your] name.” Are these the names you would have chosen
for yourself? Surname, middle name, Christian name? Is there
a story behind your naming? Someone famous, a family member,
weird initials? Does your name have symbolic meaning? Is it ethnic
or historic or literary? Did your parents consider other names?
In short, how do you live with your name?
3. Personal Alphabet: Browse through a dictionary,
looking for adjectives to describe yourself. Know the meaning
of the words you select and be able to explain how each word
you've chosen fits you. Choose at least one adjective for each
letter of the alphabet. Be sure you choose the adjective form
of words. For example, “excite” is a verb and “excitable” is an adjective. “Exciting” is a participle so it can
be used as an adjective . . .BUT “excitable” and “exciting” mean very different things.
4. Likes / Dislikes
two columns, one titled “Likes,” the other “Dislikes,” and list from ten to fifteen specific items in each column. Avoid
naming specific classmates and teachers by generalizing. For
example, “that mean teacher who's making me write an autobiography,” not my name!
5. Sensory Experiences: The
five senses allow us to perceive whatever is tangible, or concrete.
A sensory experience is something we can taste, touch, smell,
see, or hear. For example, ice-cold water-melon, hot dogs sizzling
over a charcoal fire, mosquito bites, fireworks, and the music
of the ice-cream wagon are sensory experiences I associate with
a Fourth of July picnic. Describe a specific time and place which
recalls rich sensory experiences for you. Include at least two details that appeal to each of the five senses.
6. Metaphorical Definitions:
This kind of definition helps make
abstract words easier to under-stand by giving a specific concrete
example. A famous metaphorical definition is “Happiness
is a warm puppy.” For you, happiness may be something very
different a raise in your allowance, a banana split, a room of
your own. Write metaphorical definitions of ten different abstract
nouns. Your concrete example must be something specific that
you can sense taste, touch, smell, see, or hear. Your definitions
should follow the format below:
7. A Quality Personality: In
J. Ruth Gendler’s The Book of Qualities, 70 abstract
qualities come to life, walking and talking, borrowing Grandmother’s
shawl and telling scary stories late into the night personification
at its best! Precise, specific images reveal each abstract quality
as a vivid personality. After you read samples in class, choose
one quality from the list provided. Check the dictionary and
the thesaurus, exploring possible meanings and hunting down synonyms.
qualities are real people, with weird relatives, bad friends,
unique clothing styles, and strange stories to tell. Make your
chosen quality a real personality, too. Complete a sensory cluster for your quality sight, smell, taste, touch, sound. Then write
and carefully polish a one-to-three-paragraph personification
of your quality. Make every word count on this one!
8. Color Your World: In color, and
about color, this assignment honors every crayon ever nibbled
by any kid. Although you don’t have to use crayons, use the color(s)
themselves as part of your writing. You could write a poem about
the things you associate with a specific color, such as all the
blues there are! Or write an explanation of the colors you associate
with different emotions. Or make lists of best colors to wear
or drive in orYou have freedom with content here, since color
is the key ingredient. Maybe a myth about “How Pink Was
9. Room Sweet Room: We
are territorial animals, instinctively seeking a place we can
call our own. The rooms we live in and how we decorate them are
as revealing as our clothing. Examine your own room and all the
things that make it uniquely yours. Describe the room, not just
by listing the things in it, but by conveying the feelings you
have for the room and the items in it.
10. Personal Metaphors: Make
a list of metaphorical comparisons. Think, “If I were an
animal, what kind of animal would I be?” For each item,
write the general label and then your specific comparison. Be
realistic, be somewhat honest, and be able to explain your choices.
Don't say you are a rose, if you're really a daisy.
3. Article of Clothing
4. Day of the Week
9. Type of Building
12. Geometric Shape
13. Piece of Furniture
15. Season of the Year
16. Television Character
17. Cartoon or Comic Character
18. Appliance or Machinery
19. Natural Phenomenon
11. Extended Metaphors: Go
back to your list of personal metaphors. Choose five that you
can extend by explaining the comparison in detail. Write a paragraph
for each personal metaphor by giving four or five specific points
of comparison. For example, if you are like an alley cat, discuss
four characteristics of an alley cat and explain the ways
in which you have the same characteristics.
12. Symbolic Recipe: Write a symbolic
recipe for yourself. This means your ingredients are not blood,
muscle, bone, and a hank of hair, but abstract qualities and
personality traits (like patience, friendliness, humor). What
is really necessary to create you. Follow standard recipe format:
a list of ingredients and exact measurements, followed by a paragraph
of instructions, advice about the proper sequence of the steps,
and any tips or warnings.
13. The Ultimate All-Purpose
in case you are tardy some day, write an elaborate, exaggerated,
fantastic excuse for yourself. Be as creative as you can. In
about 150 words, convince your heartless English teacher that
your excuse is a valid reason for being tardy.
14. Telling Tales: Think back to memories you associate with family storytelling. You know, the ones youhear over and over every holiday. Maybe these tales are the legends that have given your family courage in hardship? Maybe they are religious stories or goofy songs or true family history? Maybe they all seem to be about what a bad kid you were? Embarrassing, hilarious, unbelieveable? Retell a story you remember as part of your family’s heritage OR makeup one you wish had been told (and may tell in your own family circles later).
Sentences: Complete each of the following sentences by
expanding them into short paragraphs. As always, be specific.
I usually worry about . . .
2. I feel angry when . . .
3. I'm moody when . . .
4. I'm happiest when . . .
5. I feel confident when . . .
6. I feel frustrated when . . .
7. I feel depressed when . . .
8. I am comfortable when . . .
9. I feel nervous when . . .
10. I feel sentimental when . . .
16. Personal Symbol: Write
about an object that has special symbolic meaning for you. It
might be a gift from someone you love, an award of which you
are proud, a souvenir from a place you miss, a childhood toy
you still treasure, a family photograph, whatever. Describe the
object, appealing to the senses as appropriate and giving specific
details. Then explain what it symbolizes for you.
17. Map of Life: Draw
a stylized map or timeline, beginning with your birth and ending
with the present. Along the way, include little labels or diagrams
of what you remember as important events, places, and people
in your life. Keep all items in order, but leave enough space
between individual items to fill in as you think of additional
information. Write small since it must fit on one page. If necessary
to save space, you may use branching paths or a legend.
18. A Mysterious
Place: Describe in a full page some place that seemed
mysterious, exotic, or fearful to you. Concentrate on creating
the same impression on your reader by a careful selection of
sensory details which recreate the setting. Help us recognize
what was special about this place. Or make up a fantasy place
that has these qualities . . . just describe it well enough for us to
believe in it too.
19. Synectics: Synectics makes the familiar
strange and the strange familiar. It is the basis of all metaphor
and involves the process of creative problem-solving. Each of
the following sets of questions ask for choices between unrelated
answers answers which can be logically related somehow and yet,
there is no single correct answer. BUT correct answers would
rephrase the question as part of the answer.
carefully about the choices offered, make a choice, and then
explain your reasons for choosing as you have. It is your explanation
which proves your answer “right” or “wrong.” Answer at least ten.
Which is wiser? a pen or a pencil?
2. Which is easier to forgive? a street or a sidewalk?
3. Which is smarter? a clock or a calendar?
4. Which is easier to teach? a question or an answer?
5. Which is like a contest? a cloud or a sunset?
6. Which is more fearful? new or old?
7. Which is like a promise? mathematics or science?
8. Which is more difficult? a dream or a nightmare?
9. Which is braver? an hour or a year?
10. Which has more pride? an entrance or an exit?
11. Which is easier to close? a road or a map?
12. Which is like a legend? a mirror or glass?
13. Which is more suspenseful? rain or snow?
14. Which has less charm? a signature or an autograph?
15. Which is more trustworthy? history or literature?
16. Which is more useful? a friend or an enemy?
17. Which is sadder? seek or find?
18. Which costs more? a home or a house?
19. Which is happier? music or art?
20. Which is like a valentine? the truth or a lie?
20. A Day in the Life: Write about a part of your life as if it were a passage from a novel. Refer to yourselfin the third person -- not “I woke up” but rather “she woke up.” Exaggerate, elaborate, and prevaricate if you wish -- there's truth to be found in fiction, too.
21. These Words
Belong to Me: Make a list of words which have special power
and magic. Think of common words with uncommon meanings, or even
strange new words which allow you to think a new kind of thought.
For example, do you know what “serendipity” means?
Find out why it’s so wonderful. What's ironic about a “scar”?
List and define at least ten words. For each word, explain why
this particular word belongs to you. Or perhaps give me a hint
hidden in a question?
22. In Other Words: Try
expressing yourself through someone else's words. Select at least
ten “Quotable Quotes” which express your philosophy
of life. Choose quotations which represent your thought on several
aspects of life not only love, but also faith, success, integrity.
character, friendship, etc. List the ten you have selected, including
attribution (who said it).
23. Flashback: If
you could relive one day or experience in your life, what would
it be? You might choose to relive this time because it was so
wonderful you want to experience it again, or you might choose
a day you want to change in some way. Identify the day or experience,
tell why it was so important to you, and explain what reliving
it would accomplish.
of Things Present: In twenty
years you will have forgotten most of the things that fill your
life now. What are the things about who you are now, what you
enjoy and value, what you do with your time, and so on that you
want to remember twenty years from now? Imagine what will be
important to your memory of yourself later on. Write these things
25. As Time Goes
Bye-Bye: Carpe diem
(or, Seize the day!). Before time passes you by, what things
do you want to do? What one thing do you most want to do by the
time you are thirty-five? Why? What have you already said good-bye
to people, places, ideas, stages in your life, hopes, dreams,
sorrows? Reflect on those good-byes and/or grand plans. Make
a list with short explanations, or concentrate on explaining
one specific goal or farewell in depth.
26. My Own List of
Lists: Now in its third edition, The Book of
Lists lists facts from history, literature, science,
entertainment, etc. For your list of lists, I have selected more
personal topics. Write the general label for each category and
underline it. Then list from six to ten specific items under
each category. You may write in two columns to save space.
People who have influenced me
2. Places that make me happy
3. Places I would like to go
4. Things in people which I like
5. Things in people which I dislike
6. Things that worry me
7. Things I would like to know how to do
8. Things that have moved me
9. Ideas that intrigue me
10. My personal favorites
27. Cheer Yourself
Up!: Got the blues? Down in the dumps? Make a list
of crazy things you could do to distract yourself from your troubles.
Some possibilities -- Play Frisbee with your old, worn-out records,
smile all the way through class and make your teacher wonder
what's going on, or cover your front teeth with foil to look
like braces. Think of your own ideas, both sane and crazy. You
might want to draw cartoons to go with some of your ideas.
28. Metamorphosis: Make
a list of objects, places, ideas that could stand for your younger
self, symbols for the way you used to be. Then make a contrasting
list that could stand for your current self, symbols that represent
the way you are now. Sort of an “I used to be . . .but now I am” kind of chart. Use these contrasting lists to write a free verse
poem on your transformation.
29. Picture This: Find
an acceptable visual image that you can actually include in your
portfolio a photo of friends, a copy of a well-known painting,
magazine clipping, original artwork, etc. Paste it on the page
with identification (caption, title and artist, bibliography,
etc.) Then write a response, clearing stating your opinion of
the work and supported by details from the work. Sound familiar?
30. Look Who I Look
Up To: Think
of three people of established reputation whom you admire. You
may need to do some formal research on these people, so don't
choose your Aunt Helen unless she’s in the encyclopedia. You
must be specific. If you admire Martin Luther King, Jr., saying
he fought for civil rights isn't enough. Exactly what did he
do? Devote one solid paragraph to each person, telling what each
person has done to deserve your admiration.
31. Remembering the
Child: Imagine yourself a sweet little toddler. How
did others see you when you were very little? Interview someone
who knew you as a small child -- one of your parents or grandparents,
an older sibling, or an aunt or uncle, for example. Write about
their favorite memory of you. Some possibilities are when you
learned how to walk or ride a bike, a memorable sports game or
musical event, a visit to grandparents, a special birthday, a
fulfilling and relaxing evening at home, or anything else that
32. One Medium Suitcase:
Imagine you are leaving home forever, and you can only take with
you what will fit in one medium-sized suitcase. Specifically,
what will you take with you and why? Explain.
33. The Perfect Present: Since I am the perfect teacher, I have the ability
to select the perfect present for each of you. It’s something
you’ve always wanted, something you've secretly yearned for.
It’s not a black Trans-Am or designer jeans because there’s
a catch -- the gift is intangible, or abstract. This means that
you cannot perceive it with the five senses. For example, you
might want patience, self-confidence, intuition. Tell me what
the gift is, why it's the perfect gift, why you need it, and
how it will affect your life.
34. Memorable Event: Include
a ticket stub, program, or some other tangible evidence to represent
an event you experienced this year that in some way was memorable.
Describe the event, with whom you attended, what was special
about it, if you would do it again, etc. For example, you might
describe a concert of your favorite group, a movie you anticipated,
a family reunion, or a birthday party. Don’t forget the evidence!
35. How to. . .: Write a paper explaining
how to do something somewhat strange -- how to wreck a car, how
to break a heart, how to survive football practice, how to make
enemies, how to lose a job, how to get suspended, how to be miserable,
etc. Get the idea?
36. Always Say Never: Make a list of books
you never want to read again, places you never want to go again,
people you hope you’ll never see again, things you hope you’ll
never have to do again, and/or any other “nevers” you’d
like to explore. Now spend a page explaining the lists.
37. Are You Hungry?: In
great detail, using lots of description, tell us about your favorite
meal. Where is it served? When? Who cooks it? What dishes does
it include? What's your favorite part of your favorite meal?
This can be a home-cooked meal or a fancy dinner out or even
your usual fast foood . . . whatever makes you lick your lips.
38. Where I’m From: Using
George Ella Lyon’s poem as your inspiration, compile a list of
specifics that reveal your roots. Specificity is the key -- exact
things, places, traditions, sayings . . . Let where and what and who you
are from reveal how you have become who you are now.
39. Deck of 52:
The enormously popular 52 Deck series offers whimsically
illustrated adventures and activities -- 52 Alternatives to TV,
52 Cheap Dates, 52 Relaxing Rituals, 52 Things to Do in a Museum,
52 Great Books, 52 Romantic Films, 52 Adventures in Chicago (or
LA or our town), etc. Create your own concept for a deck and
come up with a working list of what will be on each card. You
may collaborate with up to three more people on this, maybe even
dividing the deck into four suits like playing cards.
40. The Examined Life: Divide a sheet of paper in half. On one side,
list the best things about yourself. On the other side, list
your greatest faults. Your good side must be at least as long
as your bad side! Note that, like everyone else in the world,
you have a combination of desirable and undesirable traits.
41. Annual Report: Write a kind of annual report on the state of
yourself. Compared to what you were a year ago, what are you
now? What do you hope to be a year from now? What do you expect
to be? Do you expect to make “progress”? If so, how
has your last year proven your ability to progress? Are you
better off than you were a year ago? Or worse off?
42. Ekphrasis: Select
(and include) a painting or a photograph which inspires you, and . . .
be inspired! Write a poem, a story, an essay, or even create a parody.
Include the original artwork and fully attribute it. Examine The Poet Speaks of Art to see how others have been inspired.
43. Visually Speaking: Cut
out words, phrases, logos, small photos, whatever impresses you
visually and create a colage which expresses your ideas on a specific
subject. There should be a title on tere somewhere.
44. Lessons I Learned
After It Was Too Late: It seems that we always learn the
most important lessons the hard way, usually when it's too late,
when we've already made our big mistakes. Look back over your
life and write approximately a page on the lessons you learned
after it was too late.
45. The Door: Imagine you are sitting in your English class and it is almost time for the bell to ring. You are to write two paragraphs by completing the sentences below. Let your imagination loose, expanding and extrapolating from the imaginative to to the unbelievable. Think of dozens and dozens of details for each topic.
- When I walk out that doo, I want . .
- When I walk out that door, I don’t want . . .
46. Advice to the Young: Right now, based
upon your experience, what practical information about life,
living, and growing up could you give to a younger person? You
may write this to a generalized “young person,” to
the child you hope to have some day, to a specific young person
you know, or even to your younger self.
47. Who Am I?: Everyone
is a combination of many selves. You play a variety of roles,
such as student, brother or sister, friend, basketball player,
music lover, worker, reader, and the like. Make a list of five
nouns that you would use to identify yourself. What does the
list suggest about your view of yourself as a person? Explain
each role, citing your experiences as illustrations.
48. Rewarding Experiences: List the ten most
rewarding and beautiful experiences you’ve ever had. Write a
sentence explaining why each experience was special to you.
Let your list “jell.” After a few days, reread your
list and think carefully about which experiences were most rewarding.
Then in the margin, rank them from one to ten.
49. Valuable Lessons: List the ten most
valuable lessons you’ve ever learned. Write a sentence explaining
why each lesson was valuable to you. Consider such things as
learning to multiply, but also think of the more abstract lessons
concerned with wisdom and experience rather than skills. Once
again, let your list “jell” for a few days. Then rank
the lessons from one to ten in the margin.
50. Futures -- Fantasy
and Fact: This is a three-part
assignment. In the first paragraph, pretend that you can see
yourself 10 years from now. Describe your future as it could
be if all your wishes came true. This description is “romantic.” In the second paragraph, describe what your life will be like 10
years from now if you continue just as you are now. No miracles
or magic allowed. This view is “realistic.” For most
people, the “romantic” and “realistic” descriptions
are very different. In the third paragraph, analyze the discrepancy.
Discuss the specific differences between your two descriptions
and how you feel about these differences. Finally, explain the
steps you can take to find a sensible compromise between the
romantic and the realistic.
Five Free Choice Assignments: Each should be a significant
piece of work, not one haiku, but a page full. If you use assignments
from previous years or earlier this year, attach a note explaining
why the assignment belongs in your autobiography. In other words,
what does the work show about you. Hint: These are my free choices. Yours may be very
different. Feelfree to include more than five if you wish.
51. Free Choice #1:
Titled and included in
the Table of Contents.
52. Free Choice #2:
Titled and included in
the Table of Contents.
53. Free Choice
#3: Titled and included in the Table of Contents.
54. Free Choice
#4: Titled and
included in the Table of Contents.
Choice #5: Titled
and included in the Table of Contents.
51. That Time of Day
Go to General Directions OR Home.
52. On Being Fat in a Thin World
53. Mary E. Bivins Memorial Library
54. Ah, Leonardo!
55. Memoirs by Neruda
56. Academics Essay
58. How I Write
59. Miscellaneous Poems
that a complete stranger just picked up this portfolio. The stranger
reads it from page one to page thirty-nine. How would this stranger
conceive of the author? What kind of person appears to have filled
these pages? Write a character sketch of the person captured
in these pages from an outsider's point of view. Refer to specific
pieces of writing to support the stranger's impression of the
author (you, of course).