with First Writes



The hardest part is getting started…
So First Writes has started them for you.

For many, it is easier to finish a sentence than answer a question. So what we have are sentence starts. Topics range from Heroes to Home Remedies and from Parades to Pet Peeves. For each topic, at least one page of sentence starts will prompt the memories that turn into stories to share. All in large easy-to read print, these lessons come with the rights for you to photocopy them as often as you want.

Use them for small groups, for one-to-one, for table talks, for room visits. Consider making a book of completed exercises for each of your residents.

First Writes are materials developed and field tested by Margaret Gulsvig to assist seniors to begin writing their own stories, or to help someone else write theirs.  The working exercises can be can be used for small group discussions, with all ages. The catalyst to stimulate memories and provoke thinking of the past, is called slotting.
Consider starting a binder of completed exercises for each person—a great tool for individual visits and discussion! Experiment with using different methods in small group discussions —read one sentence start and let each person in the group finish it. Let one person's memory prompt another's, as an intergenerational "interview" tool for students, family members or volunteer visitors

First Writes Table of Contents

1. I Am
2. Home Remedies
3. School Days
4. A Memorable Teacher
5. Birthdays
6. Toys
7. My Unforgettable Moments
8. Weddings
9. My Heroes
10. Friends
11. Shopping in the Good Old Days
12. Colors in My Life
13. Early Appliances and Other Conveniences
14. My Relatives
15. Jewelry
16. Doctors in My Day
17. The Silver Screen
18. Trips and Travel
19. From Victrola to Television
20. Home
21. Tables and Chairs
22. The Weather
23. Flowers in My Life
24. Bridges
25. Superstitions
26. My Kind of Music
27. Books in My Life
28. Old-Time Religion
29. Happy New Year
30. Easter time
31. When It’s Springtime
32. Memories of Mother
33. Memories of Father
34. When the Fourth was Glorious
35. The Long Hot Summers
36. Heigh Ho! Off to the Fair
37. Eyewitness to History: Assassination
38. I Give Thanks For
39. Eyewitness to History: Pearl Harbor and WWII
40. Christmastime

"When you buy the forty exercises in the three-ring binder, you have permission to make as many copies as you want or need for those with whom you program or visit.  Keep the blank exercises intact for programming forever."  Lynne Martin Erickson May 16, 2013

Lynne Martin Erickson
Bi-Folkal Productions, Inc.
514 Dunning St.
Madison, WI 53704
800/568-5357 or 608/251-2818
Fax 608/251-2874

Please go to the www.bifolkal.org for e
asy to use First Writes Resources and costs.



Home 20


1. One of the homes I grew up in was located in__________________

2. It was a____________________________________________house of

____________ stories.

3. It had ____________ rooms, but we congregated in the__________

most of the time.

4. My bedroom was ___________________________________________

5. The attic was _________________________________________and I


6. The lawn was ___________________________________and we had

_____________ trees

7. The house was heated by ___________________________________

8. The things I liked about this house included __________________

9. Things I disliked: __________________________________________

10. I moved from this house in _____________ because____________

11. I have moved ______________ times in my life.

12. My feelings about moving: _________________________________

13. Of later homes, the one I liked the most was in_______________

14. What I liked best about it was ______________________________

15. We had many neighbors throughout the years but my favorites

were ___________________________ because _________________

16. We put in our first oil (or gas) burner in _____________________

17. We first had hot running water in___________________________

18. Today my home __________________________________________

19. Our most expensive house was _____________________________

Many of us have lived in several houses in our lifetimes. Which one do you think of first when you hear the word “home?” Write a description of that place and tell why it means “home” to you. Or, write a story about why you would or would not like to return to a home in your past.

Participants in this lesson realized they had a new label for themselves: “the attic generation.” Most of them could remember digging around or just playing in the attic. Rainy days made great “attic days.” The other room that we talked about was the parlor. Many could remember parlors which were kept shut by sliding doors except for special occasions such as a death when the deceased lay in state until the day of the funeral.

The experience of returning to an old home many years later brought the same response from everyone who had done it: “It was so much smaller than I remembered it!”

From First Writes by Margaret Gulsvig ©1987 Bi-Folkal Productions, Inc. www.BIFOLKAL.org


Memories of Mother 32

1. My mother’s name was _____________________________________

2. I called her ________________________________________________

3. She was born at ________________________________________ on


4. She met my father at _______________________________________

5. In a family of ____________________________ children, I was the


6. Her eyes were _________________________; her hair__________

7. Words that describe my mother are __________________________

8. Things that made her happy were____________________________

9. The sorrows in her life were_________________________________

10. She worried about________________________________________

11. In my mind’s eye I see her wearing __________________________

12. Her main enjoyment at home was ___________________________

13. She liked to go to __________________________________________

14. She was very good at ______________________________________

15. She never really learned to ________________________________

16. What other people thought about my mother was ____________

17. A saying she often repeated was ____________________________

18. She made sacrifices so that I could  __________________________

19. My favorite story about my mother is about the time _________

20. She died in ____________________________________________ of


Paint a word picture of your mother for the grandchildren or other relatives who never knew her. Try to explain why they would  have liked her, or what it would have been like to spend a day with her.


It was inevitable that someone would start singing “M is for the million things she gave me…” But though they could hum the melody, the exact words eluded them. That is until they came to the last lines, “Put them all together, they spell MOTHER, A word that means the world to me.”  The fond memories of mother included her sacrifices and her worries. Those who had been members of large families remembered hand-me-down clothes. It took ingenuity for mother to restyle and resize them.

The lines for the song “MOTHER” in themselves offer a beginning for a discussion:
M is for the million things she gave me.
O means only that she’s growing old.
T is for the tears she shed to save me.
H is for her heart of purest gold.
E is for her eyes, with lovelight shining.
R means right, and right she’ll always be.
Put them all together, they spell MOTHER,

A word that means the world to me. Each line suggests discussion points, beginning with the first one—what are some of the “million things” your mother gave you? What other things that relate to “Mother” begin with each of these letters.

From First Writes by Margaret Gulsvig ©1987 Bi-Folkal Productions, Inc. www.BIFOLKAL.org

Memories of Father 33

1. My father’s name was ______________________________________

2. I called him _______________________________________________

3. Other people called him ____________________________________

4. He was born on _________________________________________ at


5. He was the _______ child in a family of ______ boys and ____ girls.

6. His schooling included ______________________________________

7. He met my mother _________________________________________

8. He had _________ hair and _______ eyes.

9. His most prominent feature was his _________________________

10. He was about ______ tall and weighed about ________ pounds.

11. I inherited from my father _________________________________

12. He made his living as a ____________________________________

13. His favorite leisure activity was ____________________________

14. He lived ____________________ years, dying in _____________ of


15. My best memory of him concerns the time he ________________

16. He laughed when _________________________________________

17. I saw him cry when________________________________________

18. I saw him angry when _____________________________________

19. The thing(s) I did that made him proud were_________________

20. The thing(s) I did that made him angry were_________________

21. I treasure my possession of_________________________________

22. The best picture I have of my father was taken_______________

23. He held offices in (political, town, church) ___________________

24. The one word that describes him is _________________________

25. My favorite story about my father __________________________



Write a story about your father, either describing him in detail or telling one incident about him that stands out in your mind.

The activity director posted stories written by residents on a Father’s Day bulletin board in the lobby. The display was of great interest to all the residents who could make their way down to the lobby, and to visitors to the home. Once there, they had to make their way through the crowd of the authors themselves who spent considerable time admiring their own achievements. One of the stories was read at a Father-Son banquet, to the delight of the writer.

From First Writes by Margaret Gulsvig ©1987 Bi-Folkal Productions, Inc. www.BIFOLKAL.org

Dollars and $ense 26

1. As a child, I needed money for ___________________________________________________


2. The one I would go to most often would be ______________________________

3. I used to dream about having money to buy _____________________________


4. I have kept my money in a variety of places, including


5. The first money I remember earning was for ___________________________


6. The most money I have ever found was ____________________________________

7. I lost $_______________ when ________________________________________________________________

8. I opened my first bank account _________________________________________________

9. What I remember about bank closings is __________________________________


10. If I were given $1,000 right now and told I had one day to

spend it, I would most likely ______________________________________________________


11. Money I spent foolishly and later regretted was _______________________


12. As for saving money, I ________________________________________________________________


13. If I won a million dollars, I would _____________________________________________


From More Writes and Visits by Margaret Gulsvig. © 1993 Bi-Folkal Productions Bi-Folkal Productions, Inc. www.BIFOLKAL.org