My freshmen English class will be turning in their latest writing assignment today. Each student had to write about a personal experience.
When we first started talking about this assignment, the students had lots of questions.
"Does it have to be about something that happened to me?"
Yes, it does. That's why it is called a "personal" experience. In this case personal means relating to the person, not something that is private or something that a person would want to keep a secret.
"Does it have to be true?"
Yes, it has to be something you have experienced, so it has to be something that actually happened.
"But what if I don't know what to write about?"
That last question is always a concern. Finding a topic for any writing project can be challenging.
So I shifted into instructor mode.
"Everyone get out a piece of paper."
This statement is equivalent to a spelling bee participant's request for a word's language of origin.
Both will buy more time.
As the students were getting out paper, I started thinking about how to help them brainstorm ideas.
"Number your paper from one to five."
This was another tactic that would allow me to think about the exercise.
"OK. Next to No. 1 write down your most embarrassing moment."
As they were doing this, I thought about my most embarrassing moment. It happened at church, of all places.
I was in the choir loft, coming down the stairs with the rest of the choir members. As I walked down the side aisle, I caught the eye of my pastor's wife and we both smiled. My focus was on her, not on where I was heading.
In the corner of my eye, I saw a man who was my husband's height and I slipped into the pew beside him.
After picking up a hymnal, I turned to say something to my husband, only to realize that the man I was seated beside wasn't my husband.
Then I realized that the people sitting behind me were chuckling. As I moved back to where my husband was sitting, the man I sat beside shrugged it off and said he thought I just wanted to sit in that pew that day. My husband said he wondered what I was doing when I walked right by him.
That story seemed to help my students think of things that had happened to them. When I was finished telling it, I saw them turn to each other and start talking about potential ideas.
The next time you are asked to write about yourself, try one of these topics that I gave the ninth-graders. You'll be glad you did.
1. What was your most embarrassing moment?
2. What was your happiest moment?
3. What was your saddest moment?
4. Describe an experience that made you feel smart.
Are your wheels turning? Good. You have a story to tell.
Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.