Learning to Read and Write the World from Rural America

Schoolhouse South: Learning to Read and Write the World from Rural America The Literacy Narrative 

Guidelines As you begin this essay-writing process, I would like for you to reflect on your experiences and attitudes about reading and writing. Some of us have negative early experiences with reading and writing, ones that have affected the various ways we feel about reading and writing as adults. For others, reading and writing are treasured skills that come out of a childhood fascination with language and self- expression. Some of us have experienced the strangeness of language in a foreign country, while others have sat in a writing classroom and felt it little different from a foreign country – a place unfamiliar and remote. Regardless of our backgrounds, our ideas of literacy often become deeply ingrained as good or bad without much thought from us as to how those views came to be. As a result, many of us have definitions of literacy – of reading and writing – that could benefit from a thoughtful and honest close self-examination.


Topic Choices Please draw from the following topics as you develop your essay focus. Also note that not all of the suggested topics are focused on traditional literacy instruction and learning (see the last two). If you have other ideas, please let me know. We can always add to this list.

• Narrate an early memory about writing or reading that you recall vividly. Then explain why this event is significant to you now.

• Describe someone who taught you to read or write and explain this person’s significance in your life.

• Identify a book or other text and explain its significance for you in your reading and writing.

• Narrate an experience with a writing or reading task that you found (or still find) difficult or challenging.

• Describe a memento/artifact and explain how it represents an important moment in your reading/writing development.

• Recall a time when you learned a profound lesson or experienced an epiphany. That lesson does not necessarily have to have happened within a traditional classroom; however, it must be tied to “reading” situations, people, events, etc.

• Consider a specific talent you possess or special task/activity at which you are adept. Those specializations have their own jargon and terminology and learning them requires a highly-specialized type of literacy. Focus your essay on how you learned how to create/perform that talent or task.


Key Features / Literacy Narrative

• A Well-Told Story. Bring your narrative to life by using concrete and vivid details. Details can bring a narrative to life for readers by giving them vivid mental images of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the world in which your story takes place.

• Narrative’s Significance. Make clear why the incident you narrate matters to you now by explaining its significance.

• Well-organized. Whatever strategy you use (narrative, descriptive, etc.), make sure that your organization (beginning, middle, and end) is effective, engaging, and clear.

• Thesis Statement: State the main idea of your essay somewhere in your introduction in a thesis statement (implied or direct). Then make certain that every supporting paragraph relates to and supports that main idea. Suggestion: Go back and revisit the vignettes and impressions you have written about thus far. You will need to get the moment right and clear in your own mind. You cannot really start in the pre-planning stages with this. Start with the impressions and vignettes and make sense of that first. Find the big idea(s). See sample literacy narratives provided below.


• Use concrete, vivid descriptions and focus on a specific event.

• Consider using dialogue between the characters in your narrative.

• Write 1,500-3,000 words (about 3-5 full pages, typed, double-spaced, in 12-point font, Times New Roman or other conservative font, free of grammatical and usage errors; MLA format).


Sample Literacy Narratives

• “A Way with Words” by Sasha Steinberg & “Cultural Literacy over Chicken Salad” by Christina Collins http://www.english.msstate.edu/comp/compmaterials/2011_Literacy_Narrative.pdf

• “Following the Rules” by Elizabeth Jones http://blogs.uis.edu/multicomp101/files/2013/11/Jones-Literacy-Narrative-Rules-compressed.pdf

• “Jesus Shaves” by David Sedaris (audio from “This American Life”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5apZmwR9UI

• “Thanks, Ms. T: Learning How to Speak the Language” by J. Jeter (see full text below)

• The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives http://www.thedaln.org/#/home & https://thedaln.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/the-ocean/

• The world of cinema and film also pays homage to literacy and learning. See link below for film models. https://www.nwea.org/blog/2014/11-movies-inspire-educate-favorites/

o Other Meaningful Models from Film: The Great Debaters, Auntie Mame, The Color Purple, Akeela and the Bee, In America, The Philosopher Kings (documentary featuring custodial / service workers at the nation’s most prestigious universities).

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