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: This is a six-week online course. It runs from Monday, September 14 to Friday, October 23. It is based on live videoconferencing sessions, during which you will discuss and complete autobiographical writing exercises. Students enrolled in Section 1 will participate in videoconferences each Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PT; students enrolled in Section 2 will participate in videoconferences each Monday at 9:30 a.m. PT.

Learning objectives

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: 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 2: My Family, My Self

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

Week 3: 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 4: 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 stories of our life’s work and what that has meant for us.

Week 5: 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'll share what we wrote about how our health or body image may have influenced our attitudes and behaviour in the past and now.

Week 6: 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.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online course management system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • In the week before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you’ll access it. 
  • A few days before the course starts, you will receive an email invitation from the Canvas learning platform system (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

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

Look at other courses in