A random autobiography is an autobiography--in free verse form--with tidbits of our lives arranged randomly. I've likened them to a 3-D movie. Events from our lives come flying out at the reader in an unpredictable way. Look out! Duck! There goes another thing zinging at us from our past.
After we talk about what an autobiography is, and what random means, we do some brainstorming. What kind of happenings can we include? The contributions that usually come up are things like:
- a trip to the ER
- a special holiday
- the death of a friend/relative
- a memorable gift
- having to move
- losing a pet
- a incredible vacation
Below is a kid-friendly random autobiography I recently shared at a writing festival for students in the 3rd-5th grade. I was quick to say that it was still rough, and I was not at all happy with the ending yet (the conclusion is just kind of crammed in there), but the young writers gave me some ideas. One student noticed that nature is a major theme, so when I'm revising it, I might include that as a "thread."
I suggest, if you haven't already, working on a random autobiography on your own...and then having your students work on one.
A Random Autobiography
When I was 7 or so, I caught a stingray.
We were fishing in Florida, and since it wasn’t a fish,
my dad cut it loose.
(I was furious.
It dangled from my fishing line,
its sleek gray body thrashing as it tried to get away.
Once my father took a pocket knife to the plastic fishing line,
it glided away…out of my life forever.
Once, my brother brought us home a puppy.
We already had a dog—Lady—so we had to hide it overnight
in our garage.
We put the little girl pup in a box, with a bunch of blankets.
When our parents heard strange noises,
they discovered our secret.
At first they said, “No more dogs,”
but we begged them to, “Look at its face”
and they fell in love with her.
We named her Jen Jen,
and she was a member of our family
for the next fourteen years.
Words on paper have power.
When I was 13,
I got a spot on the school newspaper.
The other kids laughed at my humorous stories.
I loved the idea of my writing
making people chuckle.
I still get excited over it.
I discovered at recess that I was definitely not an athlete.
I think I was ten.
No matter how the kids yelled at me
or how hard I tried,
I could only swing…and miss
(and I missed every time)
when we played baseball.
To this day, the thought of playing ball
makes me sweat.
When I was eight, I got to ride on an elephant.
It happened an hour or so before the circus began,
and my mom and dad paid $20
for me to sit on top of that huge animal.
I rocked back and forth,
Like I was on a six-ton rocking chair.
I still remember how its skin felt.
with wiry hairs
sprouting out here and there.
I traveled through the Smoky Mountains
with my family
in our old station wagon
and saw bears come right up to our car window.
I once fell off the high diving board
and broke my arm,
and I’ve hunted for crawdads and snails
in the creek across the street.
What I’ve found—so far—is life is great.
When Jen-Jen died, I sobbed for days
but when I saw my byline
on the front page
of our school newspaper,
I squealed with joy.
Yes, life is good…