Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Pennies of My Life Part I

Jeanne Barber-Morris
Santa Rosa District Schools


Students write their autobiographies, collect pennies for each year of their lives, and illustrate their favorite yearly activities, after they read and discuss the book [The Hundred Penny Box]. This is part one of a two-part project lesson.


The student uses a variety of strategies to prepare for writing (for example, brainstorming, making lists, mapping, outlining, grouping related ideas, using graphic organizers, taking notes).

The student establishes a purpose for writing (including but not limited to informing, entertaining, explaining).

The student revises draft to further develop a piece of writing by adding, deleting, and rearranging ideas and details.

The student interacts with peers in a variety of situations to develop and present familiar ideas (for example, summarizing information from group activities, recognizing different perspectives).


-Copy or classroom set of [The Hundred Penny Box] by Sharon Bell Mathis, New York: Puffin Books, 1986
-Notebook paper and pencils
-Large tablet of lined chart paper
-Parent Note for Penny Collection Homework Card per student (See Associated File)
-Penny Collection Homework Card on cream-colored card stock paper per student (See Associated File)
-Parent Note for Lifeline per student (See Associated File)
-Lifeline: Final Draft form per student (See Associated File)
-Sixth, First, and Second Year Memory Paragraph pre-writing forms per student (See Associated File)
NOTE: File contains several pages and may take a while to download


1. Obtain a copy or class set of [The Hundred Penny Box] book.
2. Gather notebook paper and pencils for students.
3. Prepare one copy per student of the following Associated Files:
-Parent Note for Penny Collection Homework Card
-Penny Collection Homework Card (on cream-colored card stock paper)
-Parent Note for Lifeline
-Lifeline: Final Draft form
-Sixth, First, and Second Year Memory Paragraph pre-writing forms
4. Prepare large chart tablet on its side, clipped on the loose sides by paper clips so pages won’t flop. Draw the lifeline chart like the students do on their papers, either ahead of lesson time, or with your class. (See Procedures, step #6)
5. Have a ruler for each student.


LESSON ONE, DAY ONE (An Introduction)

Make sure to read the book first. You need to experience the book to appreciate the depth of all the little oddities and side-drawn family feelings. Ask students: How many of you have grandparents? Do they live with you? What is an autobiography? How is an autobiography different from that of a biography? Do you have special things that have happened to you in your life that you feel need to be recorded and remembered? Discuss what they are.

1. Read the book to the class, with numerous spurts of energy and voice changes from the adults and the little boy. Try to really sing-song the verses of songs being sung by Grandma. Use voice inflections to show the emotion the boy and his mother felt.

2. After reading the book ask: How did this book make you feel? Whose aid did you want to come to? Why? Why do you think the boy liked the hundred penny box so much?

3. Ask questions about the author and her writing traits.
-Does the author write with most of the six-traits of writing?
-Which ones are strong and stand out?
-Give me an example of voice? Word Choice? Sentence Fluency? Ideas and Good Content? Organization?
-Why do you think she wrote this story?
-Basically, what was the story line really about?
-Was Ms. Mathis sharing a part of someone’s life? How?
-What do we call this type of writing?

4. After the class discussion, introduce the writing project of writing their own autobiographies. Tell the class that in the next lesson, “We’ll start planning [your] life story!”


1. Review yesterday’s lesson.

2. Review the genre of writing an autobiography. Compare this with a biography. Show the meaning of “bio-” and “auto-.” “Bio-” means “life,” and “graph” means “something written or drawn” (biography = life + written). A biography is a written account of someone’s life. “Auto-” means “self,” so an autobiography (self + life + written) is a biography of a person written by himself or herself.

3. First recall how the grandmother collected pennies for each year of her life. Tell the students they are going to collect pennies for their years of their life, with their parents' help.

4. Pass out the Penny Collection Homework Card with the Parent Note attached. (See Associated Files) Go over the directions and give them a reasonable amount of time to collect their coins.

5. Explain to [only tape] the coins to the card, [not glue] the pennies. They won’t stay. Have a plastic shoe size box for the students to keep them in, when they are returned to school.

6. Next, start the students on their lifelines. This is a timeline of the student’s first six years or so. Your students won’t remember their first few years and will need to get help from their families to give them the information needed to start writing their paragraph stories of their lives.
Use the following directions for the first lifeline (a rough draft):
-Pass out a piece of notebook paper for each child.
-Have them head their papers with their name and today’s date.
-Have the children turn the paper where the three punched holes are at the top of their desk (in landscape position). Teacher should model this step using the large chart tablet, turned on its side. NOTE: Either do the drawing of the chart ahead of time, or during class lesson time, with the students.
-Have them draw a straight line with their rulers about a ½- inch above the red margin line that is now at the top of their paper.
-Have them write their first year (year of birth) between the two lines, starting at the left side of the horizontal double lines.
-Leaving about a ½- inch or so between, write the next sequential year date.
-Have them continue until they have written their first five or six years between these lines.
-Using a ruler, now draw neat vertical lines between each of the written years at the top of the lifeline, starting at the top horizontal line and drawing the line down. This should fill the front of the page.
-Model this using a large tablet of lined chart paper, turned on its side. Draw a similar example to help students visually see how their papers should look.

7. Pass out the half-sized Parent Note for Lifeline (See Associated File) and have them staple this to the upper left-hand corner.

8. Read the note and give students a week to get the information from their families. (I like to give this assignment on a Monday with a long weekend attached.)

9. Give each child that returns his/her Penny Collection Homework Card and the rough draft lifeline a treat or a star sticker or some small reward to encourage students to do the work.

10. As students bring in the rough draft forms of their lifelines, have them copy this information on the Lifeline: Final Draft form. (See Associated Files) Have students print neatly and spell words correctly.

11. Pass out the Sixth Year Memory Paragraph pre-writing form and direct students on how to complete it for their first grade experience. Walk the students through the process of filling in the blanks on this form with information from their lifelines.

12. After the students have successfully followed this form, have them complete the First Year Memory Paragraph and Second Year Memory Paragraph pre-writing forms on their own. These forms help the students get their ideas out more fluidly and without frustrating moments that can take time. (See Associated Files)

13. Collect and hold each student’s homework items, so they may be used during part two of this project.

14. Now the students are ready for Pennies of My Life Part II.


NOTE: Parent/guardian/family involvement is important and time consuming. They all really get into this project. Students should receive some type of reward for returning their pennies and information from parents.

Assess students formatively on their completion of the First Year Memory Paragraph and the Second Year Memory Paragraph pre-writing forms. Formatively assess as students develop this information into paragraphs. Circulate and offer feedback and instruction.

When students begin to peer edit, assess them on their ability to offer advice on corrections. Assess students as they correct and rearrange their paragraphs to make them better.

Formatively assess students to make sure they have the chronology of the pennies and the events of their lives correct. Offer feedback and suggestions to students who seem to have difficulty.

A point sheet, Penny For Your Thoughts, is attached to part two of this project. Criteria involves the writing steps, story telling devices, spelling, grammar, writing, content area and the artistic value of the work.


1. Previous knowledge of narrative writing is needed.
2. On their lifelines you may want them to do every year, in order for each student to get a complete set of information on each year (if there is time).
3. For the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Year Memory Paragraph pre-writing forms, see part two of this project. (Pennies of My Life Part II)
4. Assessment is to be done after all parts of this lesson project are completed. (See Assessments in Pennies of My Life Part II)
5. Additional student instructions to circle certain parts of speech are included on some pages. No direct instructions for this are included in this lesson, however, this can be used as a review or reinforcement of LA skills.

Web Links

Web supplement for Pennies of My Life Part I
Penny Math Activity

Directions for creating origami boxes (to hold students' pennies)
My 100 Pennies Book

Penny Facts

Pennies in the News

Penny Research

Penny Details

Web supplement for Pennies of My Life Part I
History of Money

Web supplement for Pennies of My Life Part I
Beginning of the Penny

Web supplement for Pennies of My Life Part I
Project Work Approach Link

This is the second part of this two part lesson.
Pennies of My Life Part II

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