Badminton and Lightening Bugs – Using the Memoir to Teach Middle School Students to Write

One of the best ways to get middle school students to write, begin to enjoy writing, and eventually find their own voice is to teach them to write memoirs. Once they learn to put their own thoughts and feelings on paper, writing memoirs can have a double benefit. Often, with a little prompting, students can write memoirs that quite naturally fit into the structure of a well-written essay. But how do you get them started? The very best way is to model an example for them. When you assign them a topic, complete the assignment yourself, give it your best effort, and share your writing with your students. Share with them how you brainstormed to narrow down your topic, how you organized it, and how, why, and where you edited and revised it. Students will follow your lead. If you produce good writing, they will watch and model you and they will produce good writing. Try it and see.

What follows is one of the first memoirs I produced and shared with my students. They were writing pieces for an autobiography and this piece was called, “My Most Treasured Childhood Memory.” They were free to change the title or add sub-titles as their pieces progressed. Mine became: “Badminton and Lightening Bugs.”

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Badminton and Lightening Bugs

(My Most Treasured Memory)

When I think about my most treasured memory from childhood, it isn’t a trip or vacation or a special occasion, like a birthday or a particular Christmas. Instead, my favorite memory centers around those long summer evenings when my family was all together and we did nothing special at all. What makes those evenings stand out in my mind and my heart? Perhaps it was the easy-going carefree atmosphere, kind of like the Andy Griffith Show. Or maybe it was that all my family was there, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. That treasure is something I’ve lost forever. My brother and sisters are busy with their own lives, my parents have passed away, and my cousins have all moved away. Another family lives in our house now. The memory of those summer evenings lives only in my heart.

I grew up in a small, white house with my mom and dad, two sisters, and a brother. In the summer, with no air-conditioning in the house, we found ourselves outside as much as in. Our house had a concrete porch with steps that led down to a sidewalk. At the end of the sidewalk, two more steps led down to our gravel driveway. The sidewalk separated our yard into two halves. A pine tree marked the edge of the left side of the yard and a large, spreading elm shade tree marked the edge of the right side. It was a lovely yard to play in, and the sidewalk made a natural division for choosing sides and playing Tag or Red Rover or our favorite summer game – Badminton.

We had a number of cousins who lived within walking distance, so many times in the late summer evenings, one or more of them showed up at our house and a game of one kind or another got started. It was easy to play Badminton because the sidewalk made a kind of natural “net” and we didn’t have to worry about setting up or taking down an actual net. In fact, I can’t recall us ever owning a real net. We just grabbed the Badminton rackets and a couple of “birdies” out of the basement and the games were on. Our yard was big enough to play one against one or even two against two. The trees on either side of the yard served as boundaries. Our games were sometimes fiercely competitive elimination games, especially as we grew older and more skilled, but just as often they continued in a friendly, easy-going manner until the dusk overtook us and we could no longer see the birdie well enough to hit it.

By that time, the lightening bugs were out and flying everywhere around us. One of us took the Badminton rackets and birdies to the basement and returned with a couple of mason jars. Then a new competition started as we ran around the yard in a frenzy, each of us trying to get the most lightening bugs in our jar. Just as tricky as catching them was keeping them in the jar as we added to our stash. Sometimes two or three escaped when we tried to put a new one in. We got extra points for having bugs with different colored lights. Did you know that lightening bugs’ lights are different colors? They are – I can tell you that for a fact. I don’t know what the different colors are supposed to mean – if it’s evidence of the bug’s age or gender or what – but the lightening bugs in our yard could be dark or light green, dark or light orange, or golden yellow. Whoever got at least one bug of every color in a single night was “King of the Lightening Bug Catchers” for that day.

Eventually our parents, who were sitting outside on the porch watching us, called us in to get ready for bed and sent the cousins back home. We set our lightening bugs free and put our jars away, ready to be filled on another evening. As the summer wore on, the katydids started chirping and the number of lightening bugs slowly diminished, going, I suppose, where all lightening bugs go with the coming of fall. The night air started getting nippy and soon it was time for school to start. That was the end of our late evening “Gatherings on the Lawn” until the next summer called us out to play once more.

It’s been many years since I last played Badminton or caught lightening bugs in my front yard, but it doesn’t take much to awaken those memories in my heart. The smell of freshly-cut grass or the deep green scent of a pine tree, the swooshing sound of a birdie being hit by a badminton racket, the keen, echoing chirp of a katydid, and of course, the tiny glow of a lightening bug are all it takes to carry me back to my most treasured childhood memory – Badminton and Lightening Bugs.