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Personal Essay Writing Essentials

Crafting Your Stories, Shaping Your Future

Recommended grades: 8+ graders (advanced 7th graders welcome) 

Personal Story.png

Course Schedule:

Spring Qtr: Jan./Feb. - April | Summer Qtr: June/July - Aug.

Fall Qtr: Sept. - Nov. | Winter Qtr: Nov. - Jan.

In-Class Instruction Time 10 hours 

Course Overview

We are all storytellers. The skill to narrate engaging personal tales is crucial in various situations, such as K-12 school admissions, college applications, summer program entries, club elections, and job interviews. However, despite its importance, systematic training in storytelling is often absent from the K-12 educational curriculum.


This course will focus on the stories that we, as writers, tell others about ourselves and our communities. In order to build our understanding of both the form and function of the personal essay, we will be looking at examples from both creative nonfiction and fiction. Students who complete this course will:

  • Gain the skills needed to execute the genre of personal essay writing that has become essential to K-12 school/college admissions;

  • Cultivate a life-long habit of intensive self-examination and build a unique sense of the self to stand out.

Students should expect 1-2 hours of weekly homework, including readings and writing projects. Throughout the course, the mentor offers essential oral feedback on writing and written feedback at the end of each multi-phase project. 

Tiny Memoir Workshop

As part of the course, we host a workshop inspired by The New York Times Tiny Memoir Contest for Students. We invite and teach teenagers of all writing levels -- whether or not they finally decide to submit their work to the contest -- to tell a short, powerful, true story about a meaningful experience from their life, each with a unique voice and style. This workshop is designed to provide an open space for teenagers to listen, share, and grow both as a writer and a person. It also serves as a rehearsal of crafting personal narratives for college admissions. 

Contest rule: Your tiny memoir should be a short, powerful, true story about a meaningful experience from your own life. It must be 100 words or fewer, not including the title.

Age eligibility: 13 to 19 in middle school or high school 

**More essay contests that welcome submissions of personal essays: 

Mentor: Dr. Kemick


Dr. Kemick is an award-winning poet, journalist, and fiction writer. His new nonfiction book, I Am Herod, takes readers backstage and undercover at one of the world’s largest religious events. He is also the author of Caribou Run, a collection of poetry.


Dr. Kemich has published widely in all three genres, and his work has been included in anthologies in North America and Europe. He is the recipient of multiple awards including two National Magazine Awards.

Ph.D. in Creative Writing
Award-winning poet, journalist, and fiction writer

Dr. Kemick shares his own story: his obsession with his meticulously crafted miniature Christmas village. 

Questions to Explore

  1. How to select personal stories to construct a likable personality for different purposes -- private school admissions, college admissions, and future job interviews?

  2. What are ways we can add style and voice to our writing in order to make it more compelling?

  3. How can we communicate complicated ideas in the clearest way?

  4. Why is it important to value not just what we are writing but how we are writing?

  5. How can we include metaphors and imagery into our writing to make it more memorable and effective?

  6. What are the characteristics of a paragraph that moves our essay forward while emphasizing our overall arguments?

Homework & Feedback

Classes will be structured around a close-reading of texts and a discussion of their merits and faults. The student will be encouraged to offer examples of writing that they enjoy in order for each session to be tailored to their interests. The student will also be encouraged to bring new writing to each class for the instructor to edit and provide feedback. Upon completion of the course, each student will receive overall feedback from the instructor.


"I enjoyed the much more in-depth and challenging discussion about the subjects. It was unbelievably helpful and really opened my eyes to what I could write. As for the instructor, I have never had an instructor or English teacher as compassionate, patient, knowledgeable, and articulate as Dr. Kemick. He has definitely played a big role in my writing journey, and has brought forth so many new ideas and thought processes to the table."


“I enjoyed the discussions and the questions that he asked us to answer and because I was doing it with my friends it made it more fun to talk and collaborate. The assignments that were assigned were very different than what I'm used to, but I really enjoyed them because they were creative writing. Our instructor Mr. Kemick is really nice and honestly makes you feel welcome to talk and he was fun to listen to. He makes us answer questions so we can teach each other.”


"​I did enjoy the course; I really liked how flexible it was and how the instructor would adjust the syllabus based on our personal needs and always asked for our opinions on homework assignments and reading material. The instructor’s greatest strengths were the questions he asked us during class to lead us into further understanding and interpreting a certain story or article, since it really forced us to think deeper and process what we were reading, and it also taught us that in the future, we can ask those questions to ourselves to help digest a piece of writing. I also particularly liked how he would give us very straight-to-the-point feedback, both good and bad, to help us realize our shortcomings and help us improve for next time."

"I really enjoyed the deep and thoughtful conversations that we had on the different books.  This class really was an eye opener into the world of classical literature and I liked the variety of books that we were able to read and discuss.  Dr. Kemick is phenomenal at encouraging conversation and deep thinking."


"The course material was new and the instructor made the sessions engaging. I liked the small class size and how the instructor called on people instead of making us volunteer. This forced me to do my homework on time so I wouldn't embarrass myself. The assigned/recommended reading list on the syllabus was interesting and I will probably find myself going back to finish reading all of them."

"I really enjoyed the course in general. The teacher made me look forward to the classes each week, and on top of that, I learned a ton of new information. I think the course was pretty much perfect, and I do not have any suggestions for how to improve it."


"I enjoyed this course. Dr. Kemick was very straightforward in letting me know what he wanted. His methods are clear, concise, and easy to understand. In my opinion, his lack of sugarcoating is one of his strengths. His lessons were beneficial for letting me write more descriptive essays"

"I think this course did help my writing skills. The instructor is super chill and really smart. In his analysis, he's able to pick apart the small details of one's writing and see their main point/big picture. His advice really helped my writing skills"

"Mr. Kenwick is a very experienced instructor. He is good at engaging his students to participate in class discussion and delivering the lecture in a way which won’t make his audience feel bored. My daughter enjoyed attending his class."

"I enjoyed the readings he chose to share with us and the helpful tips he gave. I think the strength of the instructor is asking questions about the text that allow us to interpret the text better."

"I enjoyed the part where the instructor would go over our homework in class and give feedback. The instructor was very clear which made it easy to understand."

"I like the questions the instructor asked to help the understanding of the readings. The readings are fun and interesting. The instructor is thoughtful and open to different ideas."


"Richard was approachable, friendly, and enthusiastic, which made me want to come to class. I learned a lot from him." 


"Richard was very approachable and very helpful. He explained everything with great detail, and he made the class very fun and entertaining."


"Richard’s enthusiasm and humor approach to the course made it entertaining while also making it easy to learn."


"Richard has a very unique way of explaining things which have proved to be very helpful." 



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