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Title: A Memoir-able Experience - Learning history from the accounts of those who experienced it.

Grade Level(s): 9

Age Levels(s): 14-15

Subject Area: Language Arts or Social Studies

Guiding Question: How was the experience of immigration for those who came to the US from foreign countries similar or different than for those who migrated within the US?


  1. Goal 1:

Curriculum Standards:

The Memoirs:


Revere Beach Images:

For use with Mary Antin readings

The Research Sites: Worksheets:

Timeframe: Two 55-minute periods

Student Foundational Skills: Students must be able to read a text at grade level.

Learning Activities and Organizational Notes:


We all know a story of someone who experienced something so exciting, so horrific, or so life changing that it was made into a book. Examples are: A Child Called It by David Pelzer - the classic child abuse memoir: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston - a survivor's memoir from the fellow who cut off his own arm when it became caught between two rocks while he hiked alone: Bad Boy, a Memoir, by Walter Dean Myers, popular high school author of Slam and Monster, who was told he'd never amount to anything because of his speech impediment. These three stories are examples of the writer's format we call a MEMOIR.

The word memoir derives from the Latin word "memoria", which means memory. Therefore, a memoir is a written account, or memory, of an event or time in a person's history. That is how a memoir is different from an autobiography, which is an account of all the details in a persons life.

In this lesson students will be introduced to two very special local people who had life altering experiences: Mary Antin and Ralph Moody. Both have written memoirs of the period in their lives when they moved from one home - or homeland - to another. The time period of these memoirs is between 1890 and 1912, when immigration to the U.S. was at an all time high.

  • Ralph Moody lived in Medford as a boy. He moved there from Colorado with his mother and siblings after the death of his father. After about a year, Ralph moved to Maine to live with an uncle. The books, Mary Emma and Company and The Fields of Home are two books in Ralph's memoir series called 'Little Britches. These two books tell about Ralph's time in Medford.

  • Mary Antin was a Russian immigrant who moved to Chelsea in 1894 when she was 13 years old. Mary entered the Chelsea schools and within six months advanced through grades 1-5 and had her first poem, Snow, published in Primary Education. She and her family soon moved to the South End of Boston where she continued her schooling. The chapters selected for this project deal with Mary's time in Chelsea.'
In reading exerpts from primary sources, such as their memoirs, looking at maps, viewing historical websites and creating a comparison of the two experiences you will be the historian and explore migration in the late 1800's and early 1900's both within the United States and from another country. Through this study you will also search for further proof of the authenticity of their experiences, whether they were similar or different, and determine if their memoirs can truly be used as primary sources.


Following a PowerPoint presentation featuring brief biographies of Ralph Moody and Mary Antin, as well a look at the primary sources that will be used for the lesson, student groupings will be given selected readings from the memoirs and then be assigned a specific research task, which will be shared with the class at the end of the second session.

(1) Day 1

Note: This lesson is designed to follow a 3-day project on Chinese immigration, which will cover some immigration details not included in this lesson. Additional discussion may be desired before commencing with this lesson.

Powerpoint Presentation

Mary Emma and Company by Ralph Moody

Students will view a PowerPoint presentation that will include the following:

  1. Brief descriptions of the two memoirs and their authors:
  2. Review some biographical information and pictures of the writers
  3. Pose the question -- What is a memoir and why use it for historical research?
    Give an example of an inauthentic memoir - A Million Little Pieces by James Frey - reading a memoir with a critical eye
  4. Have students look at primary sources, explain what constitutes a primary source, and then view TRITEC partners
  5. Have students take a tour of the online sources:
    • Medford and Chelsea Historical Societies with attention paid to historic maps
    • Then have students view the Boston Public Library, Norman Leventhal Map Room, for maps of the period
    • Students may also take a brief look at google earth comparing old and new maps of Medford and Chelsea
    • Lastly, a look at the worksheets for the readings will be reviewed

Memoir Readings

Students will break up into preassigned groups of 5 and will be given readings to be read in class. The readings are:
  1. Each member of the groups will read the same passage(s).
  2. Students should take notes using the Readings Worksheet as a reading guide.
  3. Each group will work together to answer the questions at the end of the Reading Guide. This information will be used for day 2 activities.


Book Cover Images: From Google Books.

Organizational Notes: none

(2) Day 2:

In groups, students will go over their answers in the reading guide from the previous day. Each group will create one of the following:

  1. a PowerPoint presentation
  2. a Text document with Images
  3. a Storyboard
The presentation will answer the Guiding Question:
How was the experience of immigration for those who came to the US from foreign countries similar or different than for those who migrated within the US?

Assessments: Pre and Post Survey

Teacher Notes: none