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Teacher Lesson Return to "Growing Up Homeless"
Growing Up Homeless
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ELA Literacy & Social and Emotional Learning
Homeless, Not Hopeless


Story Summary: Daren writes about moving in and out of homelessness for most of her teen life. She struggles to keep up her grades amid an unstable, chaotic life in shelters.

Lesson Objectives and Common Core Connections
• Students make personal connections to a text and successfully participate in story-based activities and discussions.
• Students will respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives (CCLS SL.1).
• Students will read and comprehend literary nonfiction proficiently (CCLS R.10).
• Students will write routinely over extended and shorter time frames for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences (CCLS W.10).
• Students will be able to take the perspective of others from diverse backgrounds (social awareness).
• Students will be able to reflect on their sense of self and identity (self-awareness).

Before Reading the Story (10 min)
This opening activity will activate background knowledge to boost reading comprehension and set the emotional tone for the story.

1. Welcome students to the group. Introduce the lesson by telling them you will be reading a true story by a teen who struggles to succeed in school and in life despite moving in and out of homeless shelters.

2. Introduce the Toss One, Take One activity by explaining that they are going to do an activity that gathers everyone’s ideas and allows them to hear multiple perspectives.

3. Pass out pieces of scrap paper and pencils. Tell group members not to write their name on their paper. This is an anonymous activity.

4. Ask group members to write a response on their paper to this prompt:
• Imagine that you were forced to become homeless: What would you put in your backpack and keep as your only possessions? Why?

5. Give group members three-five minutes to think and then write their responses. If some group members are struggling, ask them to write about why they find it difficult to answer the prompts.

6. Write your own responses to the prompts to model the activity.

7. After group members have written their responses, tell them to crumple them into balls and toss them into the large container in the middle of the circle.

8. Model for the group how you expect them to crumple and toss their responses into the center of the circle.

9. After everyone has tossed, each group member should retrieve an anonymous response from the container and return to their seats. As an alternative, walk around the circle with the container and have each group member blindly pick a paper ball. (If a group member happens to choose their own response, it’s OK because no one will know.)

10. Go around in a circle or ask for volunteers to read aloud the response from the paper.

11. Invite group members to comment on what they heard, such as similarities, differences, or personal connections to their peers’ responses.

During Reading (20 min)
By practicing active reading strategies while reading aloud and discussing as a group, students build comprehension and support fluency.

1. Introduce the story (see the summary above).

2. Share the expectations for a group read-aloud: volunteers take turns reading aloud as much or as little as they would like. As the group leader, you may stop periodically to discuss or check in on active reading by asking students to share their responses to the story.

3. Tell students they will practice an active reading strategy called reading for a purpose. This will help them read for a purpose and be prepared to use the text in later activities.

4. Reading for a purpose directions: Ask students to read for moments in the text when you notice the writer describing how homeless affects her-- academically, socially, personally, or otherwise. When this occurs in the text, students should write a star in the margin.

5. While sitting in a circle, read the story aloud together. Stop to discuss periodically, supporting peer-to-peer talk and non-judgmental listening. To do this, ask for volunteers to share what they wrote a star next to and why. Alternately, you can pose an open question such as “What stands out to you in this section and why?”

6. Next, ask the group to further consider these questions:
• What do you think was hardest about being homeless for Daren?
• What would be hardest for you?
• How do you think the experience of homelessness affected Daren?
• How do you think it would affect you?

After Reading the Story (15 min)
During this post-reading activity students will make connections, build understanding, and rehearse positive behaviors.

1. Introduce the Dear Teen Writer activity by explaining to the group that they will write a letter to Daren based on her story.

2. Read the Dear Teen Writer guidelines aloud (you can also post them on chart paper):
• Greeting: “Dear Daren, I just read your story, “Story Title…”
• What stood out to you about Daren’s experiences?
• What’s something you learned about what it’s like to be a homeless teen?
• What lesson(s) did you take from her story?
• What is a question you’d like to ask her?
• Closing: “Sincerely, (Your Name)”


3. Pass out journals or notebook paper and pencils.

4. Give group members about eight minutes to write their letters. Move around the room offering encouragement and support.

5. When about eight minutes are up, tell group members to finish their last thought and put their pencils down.

6. Explain to the group that they are now going to do a Pair Share. Tell them to turn to the person next to them and take turns sharing the parts of their letters that they feel comfortable sharing.

7. Each member of the pair should take about a minute to share. Cue partners to switch roles after the first minute. Use a timer or wait until the hum of conversation dies down before closing the activity.

8. Time permitting, lead a discussion by asking group members to comment on what they heard, such as similarities, differences, or personal connections to their peers’ responses. They can also discuss points they agree or disagree with, new ideas they’ve been given, and questions they still have.

9. Thank group members for sharing.
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[Other Teacher Resources]
(NYC-2018-01-12)

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