This exercise was inspired by the film with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep about a man
who, before finding his place in heaven, must stand before a tribunal and watch episodes
of his life played before them. He must then defend his actions and explain himself.
This activity emphasizes the same principle that there are signifcant moments in all of our
lives, including some we may not be proud of. It demonstrates how writers use memories
from their own lives for materials for stories, essays, and novels, and encourages
students to use their own lives as a basis for their essays.
Setup for Defending Your Life Exercise
Give your students plenty of time to write and enough time to share their ideas with their
group members. This activity may be viewed as a preview for their topic-finding for the Literacy Essay.
Ask them all to think of a moment in their lives that they're not too proud of. If someone
could look back at this moment (perhaps a time they cheated on a test or let down a friend
who was counting on them), what might this person think about them or their actions? This
should help students think about issues of audience and the need to explain things fully
to readers who have not lived their lives with them (something they sometimes forget). Then
ask them to explain why they did what they did. This should emphasize the need for
description, detail, and development.
When they have finished, ask them to consider what they think this moment might
reveal about them. Then have them share their story with their group or a partner, and have
the group or partner decide what they feel the episode reveals about the writer.
Hopefully, these two purposes will match, and may give them an idea for an essay topic.