Another type of writing that comes easier to students is the autobiography. After all, they are familiar with the subject!
When we think of a biography we envision the detailing of an individual’s life. The prefix bio- comes to us from the Greek bios meaning “human life.” The suffix -graphy also comes from the Greek -graphia meaning “writing.” So put them together and we are talking about a writing about the human life.
The prefix auto- comes from the Greek autos meaning self. So an autobiography is an account of person’s life written by himself.
Writing an autobiography is like writing most things—you start at the beginning and progress to the end. Making the assignment less open-ended by focusing on two or three character traits will also make this an easier assignment for the writer.
- Think about what characteristics you will emphasize. What traits that make you you would be interesting for others to read about? If there are two or three areas that you can focus on, these can become the framework for the writing.
- With that framework in mind, start with the facts:
- Where were you born? When?
- What are your first memories?
- Who has played the biggest role in your life in forming those character traits in you?
- What are significant events in your life that formed or demonstrate the character traits you are focusing on?
- How do you see these traits playing out throughout your life?
- What types of things do you hope to accomplish?
- What types of obstacles do you think you will need to overcome?
- These questions can be answered in outline form, which will then become the framework for the essay.
- If after answering the questions above you are still stuck for ideas, go through the family photos. Choose two or three that can be used as part of a collective theme. What do the pictures say about you?
- Review famous autobiographies or autobiographies that you have already read to get ideas for interesting introductions.
- Show; don’t tell. Make sure you are using interesting language that shows the reader what you are thinking, doing, explaining, or demonstrating — incorporating active voice and vivid verbs.
- Include anecdotes if they help give a point depth.
- Include conversation/dialogue if it helps make the writing more interesting.
- When you are done writing, ask yourself whether someone who knows you well would recognize you from the essay if they didn’t know in advance who it was about.
Three easily accessible autobiographies to explore for ideas:
- Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
- The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Although this is written for younger students, older students may find the questions helpful in completing their essay.
Sample Character Traits
A large list at ReadWriteThink to spark ideas.
Show-Me Sentences Handout
Handout at ReadWriteThink for practice in writing vividly or showing instead of telling.