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Lemon Writing/ Introduction to Autobiography or Journal Writing Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-WCP002
Submitted by: Jody K. Vilschick
Endorsed by: Diane Jacobs, Professor
Special Note: Al Eisel, JHU Professor and teacher at Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney, Md., contributed the idea for the lemon activity
School, or Affiliation: Johns Hopkins University Date: December 5, 1995

Grade Level(s): 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


  • Language Arts/Writing (composition)

Description: This lesson plan serves as an introduction to a study of autobiography (such as Frederick Douglass’) and/or journal writing. In addition, students will learn to distinguish between facts they know, sensory detail, and their imagination, and practice applying all three to their writing. This lesson plan covers two days and can be used for 8th through 12th grade students.

Objective: After completing this lesson, students will be able to produce a short fictional autobiography using their imagination and sensory details.


  • prepared and blank transparencies
  • six lemons (or one for each group)
  • brown paper grocery bag


Day One
  • The teacher begins the class by a five-minute free write on: What would you write about if you were writing your autobigraphy. Afterward, the students will share what they’ve written.
  • The teacher will ask the students to get into groups of four or five students and will hand out a lemon to each group.
  • The teacher will ask students to individually answer the following questions:
    What are lemons used for?
    What songs or stories you can think of that have been written about lemons or used lemons in the title?
    Describe your group’s lemon, without using yellow or sour.
    What does your lemon smell like?
    What does your lemon feel like?
    If you were a lemon, where would you have been born?
    If you were a lemon, what experiences might you have had before arriving in this classroom?
    If you were a lemon, how might those experiences shaped how you see yourself?
    If you were a lemon, how did your experiences shape your characteristics, or vice versa?
  • Next, the teacher will ask the students to share some of their answers with each other in groups and discuss possible answers the students could have written down. The teacher will also ask students to draw lines in their answers in a way that makes sense to them (clustering fact, sensory, and imaginative answers). Then the the teacher will ask the students to identify what was just clustered.
  • The teacher will ask students working in their groups to name their lemon and continue to get to know their lemons, carefully noting the lemon’s characteristics and determining what makes it different from other lemons they have seen. Then the teacher will ask students to put their lemons in a big brown bag. After the lemons have been collected, the teacher will ask each group to send up a representative to identify and retrieve its lemon. They will be able to so identify!
  • Then the teacher will ask the students to explain how they knew the lemons belonged to their group. The goal here is to elicit the concept that although each lemon is similar to other lemons, each has markings and characteristics that make it an individual; despite these differences, they are all equally lemons. The teacher will discuss with the class the following questions:
    How are your brothers and sisters like you, but different as well?
    How are people in your school like you, but different as well?
    How are people in your town like you, but different as well?
    How are people in the United States like you, but different as well?
    How are people in other countries like you, but different as well?

    Day Two

  • As students come in, the teacher will ask the students to write two sentences describing their group’s lemon from memory.
  • The students will reconvene in their groups and review their notes from the day before. The teacher will ask the students to retrieve their lemons and work together (in groups) to write a biography for their lemon and then prepare to share or act out the diary with the class.
  • The groups will share or act out an event or events from their lemons’ biography.
  • The teacher can now introduce autobiography, autobiography writing, journal writing, or the diary genre.

  • Evaluation:

    The teacher will assess student learning by gauging their active paricipation in group activities and by the creativity of the lemon autobiographies. The teacher will assess overal class interest and understanding by its participation in the class discussions.