CommonLit CommonLit 360 “Writing Your Story: Memoir and Application Essays”: CommonLit 360’s 12th Grade Unit Helps Students Craft their College Essays

This ELA Unit includes high-interest memoirs by contemporary authors like Trevor Noah and Michelle Zauner to serve as examples for students’ application essays.

What Is CommonLit 360?

CommonLit 360 is a free English Language Arts curriculum that includes content-rich units and compelling texts. After seeing so much enthusiasm for CommonLit 360 in grades 6-10, we have started releasing units for 11th and 12th grade. The first unit is available now, with the second and third units being released later in 2022. These units will look a little different from our 6 to 10th grade units because we understand that 11th and 12th grade classes are unique, while including all the parts of CommonLit 360 teachers and students love – meaningful essential questions, highly engaging grade-level texts, and rigorous writing outcomes.  

The first unit is focused on memoir writing, which will be followed by a novel and textual study units for Frankenstein and Othello.

A screenshot of the units for 11th and 12th grade.

Why Unit 1 Is Great for 12th Graders

We are so excited to offer our brand-new 12th grade Unit 1: “Writing Your Story: Memoir and Application Essays.” This unit allows seniors to tackle the important task of application essay writing. This unit is sure to be a hit amongst teachers looking to help students craft personal narratives.

The Essential Question of this unit is “What moments and experiences define me? How do I tell my story?” Throughout this unit, students will engage with exciting, contemporary memoirs by authors such as Trevor Noah that serve as exemplars for student writing.

This unit encourages student voice through discussion and journaling about important life moments and memories. Students will gain excitement around memoir with videos of storytelling from The Moth. Additionally, many lessons in this unit provide students with examples of both memoirs and model application essays that they can use to formulate their application essays.

Unit 1 Is a Drive for Student Success

This unit starts with an introduction and a Related Media Exploration that gives students advice from professional memoirists to understand why writing this genre is both uniquely challenging and rewarding.

The reading lessons in this unit incorporate three memoirs by well-known authors to serve as baselines for students to understand memoir writing.

  • Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner: this poignant memoir explores the link between culture and identity as Zauner describes how visits to H Mart grocery stores evoke joyful memories of her mother and reconnect her with her Korean roots
  • “Chameleon” by Trevor Noah: this excerpt from Born a Crime explains how identity can be shaped by several factors told as Noah describes his experience as a mixed-race child in South Africa
  • “The Monster of Kings Island” by Christopher Bollen: a lighthearted memoir about a moment when the author overcame a childhood fear

This unit also includes two model college application essays to give students examples of how they can transform vignettes into meaningful and symbolic responses to application prompts. Students will find these examples illuminating, allowing them to begin brainstorming how they can write their own narratives.

Understandably, many lessons in this unit are focused on writing. As a former teacher, I know just how difficult teaching writing can be. Luckily, this unit is scaffolded so students can formulate their memoirs step-by-step, gain feedback from peers, and write a successful narrative. Students will engage in writing lessons that will help them select topics and create scenes, practice alternating between action and reflection, give students traits of strong application essays, plan their essays, and more.

Students will also participate in three brainstorming lessons where they will think about and discuss impactful people and places, components of their identity, and life adventures and experiences that shaped them. These crucial brainstorming lessons allow students to discuss their application topics with a partner and weave in the lessons learned from the unit texts as they begin to plan their application essays.

A screenshot of the writing choice board.
This is a screenshot of the Independent Writing Choice Board, which will allow students to practice popular memoir strategies like in media res, using humor, and connecting to a specific program. 

As students move through the unit, they will engage in writing lessons about creating scenes, alternating between action and reflection, and using a choice board to learn tactics like in media res, using humor, or connecting an essay to a specific program. They will strengthen their narrative writing skills and learn techniques to structure their writing, incorporate voice, and address a specific audience. Through discussion, free-writing, drafting, peer review exercises, and multiple rounds of revision, students produce memoirs and application essays that they can use beyond the classroom. The end of unit essay tasks students with synthesizing all of their learning to write their application essay.

How Unit 1 Drives Teacher Success

CommonLit 360 provides a wealth of tools that will make lesson planning a breeze. Each comprehensive unit is set up for teachers and includes everything from fully-fleshed out lesson plans to vocabulary quizzes to discussion prompts and more. If your school purchases our School Essentials PRO package, you can access our Professional Development Portal. These self-paced tutorials are specifically designed to help teachers utilize all CommonLit 360 has to offer in their classroom.

Additionally, digital grading and feedback tools, interactive reading and writing lessons, and data tracking can save you hours previously spent on planning and grading. Working within contract hours will no longer be an unattainable pipe dream, and you can use the extra time to continue to focus on relationship building in your classroom.

Next Steps

Sign up for a CommonLit 360 webinar to get a comprehensive overview of how the curriculum works and how to use the digital platform.

Interested in gaining access to on-demand professional development that will help your team take full advantage of CommonLit 360?