Teaching Memoir: Using 180 Days in the ELL Classroom

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I finished reading 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle this fall. This book was exactly what I was looking for. Their ideas line up with what I had been thinking about changing up how I teach my ESOL class. I pondered switching to a more workshop based model this summer and this book provided me a framework for doing exactly that. The difficult thing is modifying some of the ideas for an English Language Development specific class. While I understand Gallagher works with a large population of ELLs, he is still teaching high school English and thus tied to that curriculum.

I’m not able to follow the book’s plan exactly for several reasons. First, I teach ELLs so things were going to need to be modified. Second, I am trying to hit the English Language Development (ELD) standards not the CCSS ELA standards– although I try to do both.

To begin the year I wanted to do narratives, specifically memoirs. That is what the authors start with as well. We did a lot of the things included in the book although we didn’t make it as in-depth with our memoirs as perhaps they did.

To do this unit I compiled a list of really good mentor texts that my students got super excited about.  I thought I would share those here:

  • Americanized by Sara Saedi
  • Funny in Farsi, excerpt used, chapter “Bernice”
  • In the Country We All Love by Diane
  • The Distance Between Us by Reina Grande
  • The Glass Castle, excerpt used, “I was on fire.”
  • “Hands” by Sarah Kaye- I used the youtube clip (link above) instead of reading it.
  • “Knock Knock” by Daniel Beatty, I used the youtube clip instead of reading it.
  • Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Educated by Tara Westover

After sharing each of these poems or excerpts I had students free write in response. I used the idea from Penny Kittle to do this. Students were writing in their writer’s notebooks at this point and could respond in any way that they wanted.

We did work through the progression of writing as suggested in the book. First, we did tweet 240 character memoirs. Those were fun and were easy to use to create a fun bulletin board. I asked them to include a hashtag.

Next, after reading a large selection of these texts, we brainstormed some elements of good memoir as a class and created an anchor chart. Students were then asked to select an idea either from their writer’s notebook, or something else that jumped out at them and write a memoir. We took these memoirs through the writing process and I tried to make sure to conference with each student. There are a large selection of conference forms available on the web, you can also just make some notes on a spreadsheet about each kid.

Finally, students took those ideas and the information from the conferences we did, then wrote their own short 100-word memoirs as suggested in 180 Days.

I used this assessment tool which I think came from the AMAZING facebook group for 180 Days. I discovered Facebook groups for teachers this year and it is the collaborative space I never knew I needed!

Happy teaching,


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