Classroom Activity 1: Show Tell and Write
This activity should happen in the beginning of the unit. Students will look through their phone, and look for a picture that elicits an emotion and or strong memory. They will then share the stories behind these pictures through writing and speaking. The purpose of this is to introduce and become accustomed to low-stakes, yet meaningful, writing. This is also a way for the classroom community to develop meaningful relationships. For prep, you will need to create a google slide presentation with one slide per student, and one for yourself. Students will need editing access.
Warm Up: Free Write
Ask students to open their notebook to a clean page. For five minutes, they will write whatever is on their mind. There is no wrong answer, no need to worry about punctuation, however, the only rule is they should not stop their pens from moving. Emphasize that if students don’t know what to write, then write “I don’t know what to write” until something pops up. It may be useful to project an example of your own free writing. In your example, be sure that it is more informal, unedited, and an authentic representation of your free writing. Emphasize to students that this will not be shared, and if there is ever a time you will ask people to share, you will tell them in advance. While students are writing, keep prompting them to continuously write.
Selecting A Picture That Tells a Story:
Project your slide with a meaningful picture, and speak to these three questions: What is the story behind this memory? How did you feel at the time of this memory? What is the lasting impact of this memory? In your explanation, be sure to go into depth, and reveal details about yourself that your students wouldn’t know had it not been for this moment. Be sure to emphasize a specific feeling, and or adjective and give an explanation. Write the three questions on the board, or project it so students can see. Give them access to them editing access to a powerpoint and instruct them to scroll through their phones and select at least two pictures that will help everyone learn about them. They should insert these picture(s) on an empty slide on the powerpoint.
Small Group Share
Put students in groups of 3-4. Ask students to each show their picture, and verbally respond to the three questions. Emphasize students should be actively listening, and not responding to each other until all students are done sharing. When all group members are done, encourage them to ask follow up questions to each other, and also any connections. Emphasize them to be ready to share.
Free Write Part 2:
In the note section on the powerpoint slide, instruct students to engage in a free write for 5 minutes. They are to pick at least one of the three questions, and write everything they can within the time frame. Emphasize not to worry about grammar, or structure. The goal is for us to be able to learn something new about you. In about 7 minutes, tell class to stop and then instruct students to take time to read at least five people’s stories. Ask them to jot down two different quotes that stand out to them for any reason.
Ask the group, what did you learn about someone else, or what connection did you make with someone? You can do this via an online platform where everyone can see responses, for instance using the Padlet app. You can also ask students to write on sticky notes and post it somewhere, or do a quick round where students verbally answer questions. It’s important that students walk away from this activity being conscious of the connection they made.
Potential Extension Activities:
- This activity can be used as a way for students to unpack their perspective on many things: readings, quotes, art pieces, social media posts--anything at all.
- Have students pick out the emotion they associate with this picture, and then write lines of imagery that help emphasize the specific emotion.
- Project two slides somewhere in the beginning, middle, and or end of upcoming classes and ask the specific students to share the whole group the story about the picture.
- Have students continue to keep adding to the note section about this specific picture, but with new questions.
- Have students decorate the slide with meaningful pictures, symbols.
- Have students copy and paste what is on the note section, and add in a writing technique you learned from the day.
Classroom Activity 2: Reading to Feel/ Empathy
This activity comes in the beginning of the unit and will be the precursor to race conscious reading. Students will read poetry and reflect on the specific words, feelings and emotions that the author elicits. Students will analyze specific lines in order to understand why the poet included them, and also what they reveal about the poet themself. Students will make a conscious attempt to empathize and connect with the writers. Engaging with poetry is essential in opening up a student's perspective on writing and intellectual rigor.
Opening Free Write:
Put the word “poetry” in the middle of the board. Ask the students to write as many memories, associations, thoughts, reactions and questions as they can for four minutes. Prompt students to select a few lines from their response, and share with each other. Doing this will give you a better sense of comfort levels with more ambiguous writing, and also, to get the conversation started. Emphasize that the goal of reading and analyzing poems today is to understand the experience of the author.
Reading The Poem:
The poem for this activity is, I Tried to Be a Good Mexican Son, by José Olivarez. This is from his debut poetry collection, Citizen Illegal. Before reading the poem together, read the brief bio of José Olivarez as a class. On the first read, prompt students to allow themselves to feel and listen deeply to his words. Before beginning, plan out which student is going to read each segment.
Prompt students to read and annotate the text and look for the five lines that stand out to them most, and for each line, write a feeling or emotion that this line makes them feel, and also, what this line tells them about the author. Tell them to be ready to share the line, the feeling, and speak to why it makes them feel this way. Emphasize that if something stands out to them, and they aren’t sure yet why, this is OK too. Give students about 10 minutes to do this. When they’re done, give them 5-10 minutes to share some of their lines in small groups.
First ask students to list every feeling or emotion that was felt. Record answers and make a collective list on the board. Even if students felt the same feeling, record this--it will be important to visually see the trend. After you list emotions, ask students what patterns they notice. Choose the two emotions you see the most, and ask students why they think these specific emotions were felt. Prompt them to refer to specific lines from the poem in their response, and encourage personal connections. As a reader, be ready to either in the beginning, or during the discussion also tie a line to a memory or personal experience.
What can we learn from poetry? Have students respond to this in writing, and hand in.
Potential Extension Activities:
- Select poems from the collection Soul Sister Revue, edited by Cynthia Manick, Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez, or Poetry for Resistance and Justice.
- Invite students to bring in poetry they found on youtube, read, or have even written to share at any point.
- Have students make a list of texts that best exemplified a specific feeling or emotion, and to consistently share with each other.
- Create a gallery walk with poems and art, and do the Big Paper
- Have students select a specific line in a poem, and free write an anecdote in connection to the line. Make sure they explain the connection.
Classroom Activity 3: Using Imagery to Describe Neighborhoods
This activity is meant for students to practice translating images and emotion into words, as well as characterizing settings proximate to their daily experience. Activity can be done in a classroom, and also in collaboration with a neighboring school engaging with the same prompts, in a larger room. This is meant to be implemented in person, although a virtual translation is possible with breakout rooms. If school is a neighborhood school and not a magnet, mirror the activity except with specific streets. For a smaller scale, topics can be adjusted to “school, family, church, my home” or any other major institution in students’ lives.
Day 1: Individual Prompt
First, as a class, engage in an exercise. Have the class write down every visual detail they see in the classroom. They are likely to stop after naming specific objects, or a few colors. Push students to write about textures, smells, sounds, and everything they can. Model what this looks like. After this activity, is done as a class, give students this prompt:
Writing Prompt: Imagine you take a step outside from where you live. Using nothing but sensory details, without any reflection, reaction, or set up: fill up an entire page describing different parts of your neighborhood. Include sights, sounds, smells, textures, and anything else you deem important--but do not reveal what it is.
Day 2: Story Sharing
Part 1: Whole Group Discussion
- On a large map of New Haven county, circle or put a thumbtack (if applicable) where you live.
- What patterns do you notice?
- What questions does this raise for you?
Part 2: Small Group Activity: Active Listening Protocol
- Find 2 individuals who live in different neighborhoods than you.
- Each group member reads what they have without any edits, summary, or explanation.
- After everyone shares, each group member picks one detail from another group member’s writings, and the group member is required to verbally share a story involving this detail of their writing, and also, explain why they chose to include this.
- Students then engage in asking students for more detail about the details of their story.
Part 3: Closing Written Reflection
- What did you feel today? What led to this emotion?
- What did you learn about your community, peers, and yourself?
- What do you want to write about next, and what inspired this?
Other Relevant Activities/ Practices/Resources
- Unpacking the common application questions, determining which questions best cater towards what students would like to share, and how they would like to characterize their experience, and which question best fits what they want to share.
- Facilitate story sharing circles, inviting students to share excerpts of anything they’ve written in class, and out of class. As well as parts of their formal writing.
- Self Reflection: Students overview and reflect on their list of writing strategies, and share with each other which ones they feel the most and least confident with.
- Multimodal Story of Self: Students draft a story that utilizes written expression and at least one other modality: audio, video, or visual art.
- Empathy Interviews: Students practice asking students questions involving their understanding of race, power and justice.
- Class Anthology: Students create a digital anthology, putting a collection of their work together, and democratically coming up with a class title. Anthology will include description and picture of each author.
- Writers Workshops Days: Students practice writing differently in order to portray a specific emotion in words--they select together the emotion they want to practice, and together, come up with things they’d like to work on.
- Formal feedback days: students submit an excerpt from their written work, and in small groups, pose a specific feedback question.
- Free Writing Journal: students should, at all times, have a journal designed specifically to free write.