Story Catching: Mining Memories Through Guided Autobiography

Need a writing kick-start? Guided Autobiography provides a gently structured nudge to help you recall, write about and share meaningful and engaging memories. Originally developed as a method to enhance life review, Guided Autobiography leaves you with five short legacy stories and insights into who you are and the life you’ve led.

Each week we’ll explore a common theme, such as family, health or work. Between classes you’ll write roughly two pages about your experience of the theme, then share this aloud with your small group in the next session. We share only what is comfortable to share.

Note: Classes are offered at set times, with everyone meeting online together. All you need is a quiet space and a computer with a camera and microphone.

To see what it's like to participate in this live and interactive online course, click here.

A $60 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Schedule clarification: Classes meet online on Tuesdays, 9:30–11:30 a.m. (PST), Jan 7–Feb 18.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Have completed five short life stories of roughly 1,000 words capturing and describing a memory of an important life event
  • Write a short life story in a way that shows a three-part structure and includes a scene with sufficient detail to help your reader understand your experience
  • Articulate what "Show Don’t Tell" means and describe how a metaphor brings a scene alive
  • Explain how sharing your story aloud with a small group contributes to a more focused and engaging story 
  • Explain how feedback acknowledging and discussing the experience you have shared can lead to insights and validation
  • Explain how writing on a pre-selected theme, accompanied by questions designed to support recall, can help focus stories and stimulate memories

Learning methods

  • Online, small-group instruction, using Zoom video-conferencing software
  • Interactive online discussion, using Zoom
  • Writing and sharing of writing with peers
  • Reflective essay (applicable only to certificate students)

To see what it's like to participate in this live and interactive online course, click here.


Week 1: Online Orientation

This is a short session (less than one hour) intended to familiarize you with the platform and ensure you are able to successfully access the program. We’ll also review the course outline and discuss what you can expect in a typical session.

Week 2: Branching Points

We’ll learn about guided autobiography, and review guidelines including maintaining confidentiality and providing helpful feedback. We’ll discuss this week’s theme, Branching Points, and how to plot those pivotal events on a life graph. We’ll also be introduced to the basics of story structure and get a taste of writing and sharing.

Week 3: My Family, My Self

No matter what kind of family we come from, we can’t escape their influence and this week’s writing homework will be to write a short story that illustrates how you have been influenced by your family or a family member. Visual and clustering exercises help trigger these memories, as do sensitizing questions. We’ll share our Branching Points stories in small groups.

Week 4: My Life’s Work

“Show Don’t Tell” is a mantra for writers, but what does it really mean? We’ll talk about ways to “show” through sensory details and devices like metaphor, then turn our thoughts to this week’s theme—your life’s work, whatever it may have been for you. We’ll end by sharing our stories about how growing up in our family may have shaped the person we’ve become.

Week 5: My Body, My Health

This week, our writing theme encourages us to write about an aspect of our physical self that played a role in our personal development and life decisions. We’ll explore concepts of self, and comfort levels in self-disclosure. Must memoir be factual? We look at ways in which memoir borrows from fiction, as well as key ways in which it differs, and share our stories of our life’s work and what that has meant for us.

Week 6: Coming of Age

Getting older is about more than just the physical changes that happen in our bodies. It’s about how we think and feel about life and others. What have we learned? What do we want next? This week, our learning and writing addresses thoughts about aging, and we share what we wrote about how our health or body image may have influenced our attitudes and behaviour in the past, and now.

Week 7: Next Steps

In this final session, we’ll take stock of the attributes we have, their origin, and how we may be passing our own values onto others. We’ll share our stories about aging, and consider where we want to take our writing from here, including various presentation formats.

Books, materials and resources

You will access reading material using SFU's online course management system, Canvas.

Hardware and software requirements

We deliver this course using SFU's online course management system, Canvas, and video-conferencing software, Zoom. You will receive course details, Canvas access instructions and Zoom information three business days before the first class. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here. The first class is a one-hour orientation to ensure you are connected. Please note, you will need a computer with a camera and microphone.

To get the most out of the online course, you should be comfortable using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media. In this course, you will be engaged in live interaction with other students online. There will be exercises and activities to be completed during the class, and you will also be writing stories on your own between classes.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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