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The Skin You're In

diary entries from historical
characters that parallel life

The writing of author Sharon G. Flake is inspiring student writers to try new techniques with the traits of idea development and word choice. Join us in teaching (and adapting) this on-line lesson and sharing your students' work.

You can publish up to three of your students' edited and revised diary entries at this page so that other students from all over the world can read their work!


Use these samples to inspire your student writers! Discussing the strengths of published student samples before, while, and after using this on-line assignment is important. If your students are engaged in trait- or skill-inspired discussions about any of the samples we've posted here, they will produce better writing, especially if you help them take their writing all the way through the writing process.

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Student Samples: Middle School

Oregon Trail Diary
by Connor, sixth grade writer

Dear Diary,

My hands are trembling just writing this. My head is still spinning after what happened. I’m just getting over the disease, cholera. Mother says I am lucky to be alive. The cold puke is dried onto my dirty clothes. The smell of death and dry barren wasteland hang in the air around the wagon. Mother always said sickness was just a typical event on the Oregon Trail, that was until I caught it and four people died. One person who died was my friend, Charles. We buried him right on the side of the trail. I heard that his mother, Mrs. Lazeny, was in tears. I would have been so sad to see him go, but I was stuck in the sick wagon and was later told what had happened.

I am now in the sick wagon with Mr. Howagon, Mrs. Wright, and Marco Dinerio. A dark, hard wagon mixed with the fear of death inspires very little conversation. Mr. Howagon is in the worst condition. Doctor James, the doctor who’s traveling with us, says he has only three days to live. I hope not, but I fear he is right.

Mrs. Wright is the newest member of the sick wagon. She has two kids, Leandra and Mersin. They didn’t want to come on the Oregon Trail, so they stayed with their Uncle Mizzy. They made a promise to their mother that when they heard the first train whistle to Oregon, they’d hop right on.

Marco Dinero is a cruel, drunken mess of a boy. Even though we are the same age and height, I am much stronger than him. He pushed me and the other kids around like he was our master. He has been in the sick wagon now for six weeks. At first, I was overjoyed by the fact that he was out of my hair for awhile. Then I caught the disease and now know how he feels. It is awful, by the way. I guess it was, hmmm, what do they call it? Karema, krema, oh yeah… Karma.

Goodbye for now,

The River Crossing
by Jordan, sixth grade writer

Dear Dairy,

Miles, miles ahead. Miles left to travel. I fear sleeping in the woods, Indians attacking, and water rapids. These fears fill my head with rage! They’re attacking my body. I just can’t take it any more! The insides of me come out. Why, why me? Why did I have to get driven out of my house? Why? How come I have to be in this old, ugly, wooden wagon train? It just had to be me!

Today, as we traveled, we came to a raging river. The white rapids trickled across the river. I felt terror inside me. “How do we get across the river?” I yelled to my father. I had no idea how we would get across the river with the wagon in one piece.

As Mom and Dad discussed how to get across the river, my brothers Joseph, Thomas, and I played a game. In the game we had to throw three pebbles and see which ones went further. We threw a sheep-wool gray rock, a dark and sparkly rock, and a brown dirt-colored rock. I won twice, but before we could finish the last game to see who would finally win, Mom yelled at us. She told us to get back in the wagon unless we all wanted to stay there. Joseph, Thomas, and I looked at each other, wondering if we it would be better to stay, but instead we got on the wagon.

Mom and Dad started to get the crusty wheels in the four-foot deep water. My brother rocked back-and-forth, and then the first two wheels fell in. Dad started to frighten me by saying that the wagon wasn’t strong enough to get across the raging rapids of water. Joseph tried to get on the wagon with all his might. With a little pull from Mom, he got up just fine.

Mom started to cry! Oh, I hated seeing Mom cry! It was very hard to watch. As her tears rolled down her face, I started to cry too. It was the worst day of my life! Soon, my brother’s face started to get so red. At first, I was going to ask if they were scared, but then he started to cry, so I didn’t. I knew that he was crying too.

We started to move forward and the other wheels fell in. I could feel the water splashing in my face. I felt a slide to the side, and I knew that we are going down! The wagon tipped immediately towards the raging rapids. The cold, fishy, water hit me like a million needles scratching my body. I tried to hold my breath. I thought that it was all over. Now I WILL DIE!

I was about four-feet deep in the water. I could feel the fish pass by me. It was like they where laughing at me saying that they could breath underwater and I could not. I just hated it! I was so scared! I couldn’t get out! I was going to die! I heard my dad yell to me, “Eliza, Eliza, come to me please, come to me, Eliza!” I saw his hand, but I could barley touch it. Dad got out of the wagon to get me. I heard the inside of my head telling me to go back in the wagon, but he didn’t listen. He grasped my hand and pulled me in! I was safe! I’m alive! I love my father!

Eliza Rosella Extranara

A Historical Injury
by Nathan, sixth grade writer

Dear Diary,

My head throbbed harder than my heart as I was placed on a pure white stretcher and thrown into the ambulance. The six rough and orange Velcro straps put me in a bear hug and dug into my skin like sharp pieces of shrapnel slapping me. The crowd, stunned at what had just happened, was as quiet as a cat. All of my friends, everybody on the Florida Gators, crowded around me and were saying things I couldn’t make out. And then, everything went black, black as the sky without stars.

All of the hospital rooms I’ve ever been in are cold and damp, like you’re living inside a fridge, and they smell of hand sanitizer, old people, and toothpaste. This one is no exception­ - even when you get a severe concussion. You’d think they’d give you a better room after you’d just been sacked by a bull!

It had been my best game. Ruined.

The grass had that sweet aroma I love when it just gets cut, the crowed chatted nervously as the game crawled near, and I had my team’s first offensive play of the game. I made it count. Seventy-four yard touchdown pass--grabbed at the 30--ran the rest of the way, sprinting through the middle of the safeties, thrusting the ball into the end zone as he dived. I was BEASTING, putting every pass on target like it was a piece of cake. Then it happened. I got the ball from the shotgun and patiently waited for my receivers to get open. As I was doing this, a linebacker curled around the right of the offensive line, sprinted at me, and sacked me, harder than I’ve ever been hit. I hadn't seen him coming! I was rammed by a bull at full speed, untouched. I went down so hard I couldn’t get up. I didn’t want to. There were bright flashing lights in my eyes and people were shouting. Then I was out like a light.

Now I’m sitting in this frigid hospital bed, wondering if I’ll play LSU Saturday. The doctors say no, the coaches say yes. I’m going to play.

Tim Tebow

The Runaway Slave
by Ariana, sixth grade writer

Dear Diary,

Crack! I watched someone get beaten! My master who is tall, white, bald, and strong was furious today because said that we weren’t doing our work. He planned on attacking most of us. The sound of the yelling, whipping, and crying scared me. I tried not to cry while I watched the others being hurt. If I did start to run, he’d get me. Sometimes, I want to stand up for myself and for other people. I want to go to my strong master and tell him, “Just because we’re all black doesn’t mean you should treat us like dirty trash.” I’m too chicken to talk to him. I’ll go to the slammer if I do! I really wish I could though.

All of a sudden, my master went up to my face and said, “It’s your turn next, so be prepared for the smack down of your life.” When he started to leave for his meal I started to quiver. I ran to a nearby corner and started to cry. Then I remembered what my mom used to say: “Don’t let fear bring you down!” Next thing I knew, I was standing up and wiping my tears away. I saw my master coming out from lunch. He looked angrier and his face was bright red.

I put my feet on the cold, sandy floor, and I stood up tall. It was time to stand up and be strong. I sprinted for the nearby dark woods. I cut between two large, leafy trees. I ended up in an old beat-up railroad track. Right behind me was my master, guards, and his two German shepherd dogs. I ran as fast as I could. While I was running, I felt sharp pains on the bottom of my feet. I looked down and saw red blood covering my toes. Each step I took hurt more and more.

I tripped over a long and hollow log. I tasted the dirt in my mouth. I reached my hands down to the cold ground, lifted myself up, wiped sweat off my face, and ran further in woods until I couldn’t run no more. I looked behind and to my surprise, the men and dogs were not to be found. Then, I looked up, and I saw a golden apple. I picked the apple and took a delightful bite. I looked ahead of me and saw freedom. This was the beginning of a whole new life!


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