The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Teacher Lesson Return to "Change for the Better"
Change for the Better
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ELA Literacy & Social and Emotional Learning
Change for the Better


Story Summary: Nhi’s first days in the U.S. are frustrating and unnerving. When she makes an effort to be social, her willingness to step outside her comfort zone is rewarded.

Lesson Objectives and Common Core Connections:
• Students make personal connections to a text and successfully participate in story-based activities and discussions.
• Students build social awareness by being better able to empathize with others’ experiences and take on diverse perspectives.
• Students build self-awareness by being willing to reflect on their sense of self and identity.
• Students develop interpretive and evaluative questions for further exploration of the topic (CCLS R.1.a).
• Students will read and comprehend literary nonfiction proficiently (CCLS R.10).
• Students will use a variety of visual representations to express personal, social, and cultural connections and insights (CCLS W.11.a).

Before Reading the Story (15 min)
This opening activity will activate background knowledge to boost reading comprehension and set the emotional tone for the story.

1. Introduce the concept social comfort zone to the group. When we interact with people and places, we often gravitate to ones that are familiar and that we think are like us. We feel uncomfortable with people and places we don’t know or who seem different from us. Reassure group members that feeling some discomfort with difference is natural.

2. Introduce free-drawing by explaining that students will have five minutes to respond to a prompt with drawing and words. The goal is to express their thoughts freely without worrying about writing conventions or artistic skills. The expectation is that everyone draws/writes, without stopping, for the full time.

3. Free-draw prompt: Think about some groups of people, places, and experiences that are in your social comfort zone, and some that are not. Think about why it might feel more awkward for you to be with some groups than with others. Think about when you have experienced being uncomfortable in different environments or situations.

4. Free-draw directions: On a blank piece of paper draw yourself in the middle, with a circle around you to show your social comfort zone. Using images and words, respond to the prompt by expressing groups of people, places, and situations that are inside and outside of your social comfort zone. Represent visually the feelings you might experience, or have experienced, when you move between these zones. (Note: your drawing is for your personal reflection, you won’t be showing it to anyone.)

5. Large group discussion questions:
• Ask students to describe—without naming the groups—why it might feel more awkward to be with some groups than with others. Students might say, “Because I don’t know what to say or do,” or “I don’t want to say the wrong thing and offend someone,” or “We don’t speak the same language,” or “I don’t think they like me.” Discuss the kind of social barriers that separate people who are different from each other. Are these barriers present in school?
• Ask students to describe how they have felt (or might feel) when they have been in situations and places that were out of their social comfort zone.
• Ask students to consider what benefits we can experience personally by stepping outside of our social comfort zones. Why might this be worth the risk for ourselves and for others?

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 teacher, 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 text coding. This will help them read for a purpose and be prepared to use the text in later activities.

4. Text coding directions: While reading the story aloud together, notice when you make a picture in your mind. (Visualizing the text when we read supports our comprehension.) Write a “V” in the margin next to the text that you visualized.

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 have text coded and why (“When I read _________, I saw ________.”) 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:
• At first, what about Forest Hills High was outside of Nhi’s social comfort zone?
• Why do you think Nhi changed her name to Michelle at first? Why do you think she changed back to wanting to be called Nhi?
• What did Nhi gain by stepping outside of her social comfort zone? What did her peers at school gain?

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

1. Text illustration directions:
• Select a moment in Nhi’s story when her writing painted a picture in your mind. Look at where you coded a “V” in the text. For example, this quote has an illustration in the magazine:
“Moving to the United States feels like walking into a vast room with many doors labeled with lots of different choices and I am allowed to choose the one I think I’ll like the most.”

• Using the available art supplies, draw the image that comes to your mind from the selected text. After you are done drawing, write the quote from the text as a caption with your drawing.

2. After students have written their quotes and completed their illustrations, ask them to craft an open-ended question that further explores the main idea from the text they represented. They can start by writing on the back the prompt “I wonder….?” As time allows, have students share their questions in a group discussion.

3. Finally, invite students to place themselves in the picture. On the back of their paper, ask students to imagine they are in the scene and have them write to this prompt: “If I was in this picture, I would wonder/feel/think/ask/say/do…” (Alternatively, they could represent this visually.)
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[Other Teacher Resources]
(NYC-2015-03-10)

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